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A Dictionary of Orthodox Terminology

Rev. Fotios K. Litsas, Ph.D.


Abbess. (from masc. abbot; Gr. Hegoumeni). The female superior of a community of nuns appointed by a bishop; Mother Superior. She has general authority over her community and nunnery under the supervision of a bishop.

Abbot. (from Aram. abba, father; Gr. Hegoumenos, Sl. Nastoyatel). The head of a monastic community or monastery, appointed by a bishop or elected by the members of the community. He has ordinary jurisdiction and authority over his monastery, serving in particular as spiritual father and guiding the members of his community.

Abstinence. (Gr. Nisteia). A penitential practice consisting of voluntary deprivation of certain foods for religious reasons. In the Orthodox Church, days of abstinence are observed on Wednesdays and Fridays, or other specific periods, such as the Great Lent (see fasting).

Acolyte. The follower of a priest; a person assisting the priest in church ceremonies or services. In the early Church, the acolytes were adults; today, however, his duties are performed by children (altar boys).

A�r. (Sl. Vozdukh). The largest of the three veils used for covering the paten and the chalice during or after the Eucharist. It represents the shroud of Christ. When the creed is read, the priest shakes it over the chalice, symbolizing the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Affinity. (Gr. Syngeneia). The spiritual relationship existing between an individual and his spouse's relatives, or most especially between godparents and godchildren. The Orthodox Church considers affinity an impediment to marriage.

Agape. (Gr. "Love"). Feast of love; the common meal of fellowship eaten in gatherings of the early Christians (1 Cor. 11: 20-34). Agape is also the name of the Easter Vespers Service held in the early afternoon on Easter day. The faithful express their brotherly love and exchange the kiss of love honoring the resurrected Christ.

Age of Reason. This is the time in life when an individual begins to distinguish between right and wrong and becomes morally responsible for himself. It is considered to begin at the age of seven or so, and no later than twelve.

Agnets. (see lamb).

Agrapha. (Gr. verbal words; not written). Sayings or deeds of Christ which were never written or recorded in the Gospels (cf. John 21:25).

Akathistos Hymn. A hymn of praise comprised of twenty-four stanzas and sung at the Salutation Services, dedicated to Virgin Mary Theotokos. It is divided into four parts, one part sung on each Friday of the Great Lent. On the fifth Friday, the entire set is sung in commemoration of a miracle by the Virgin in Constantinople (626 A.D.). The hymn is also known as "Salutations" (Gr. Heretismoi).

Alb. (Lat.; Gr. stichari[on]; Sl. Podriznik). The long white undergarment of the clergy, with close sleeves, worn under the chasuble or the sakkos.

All Saints Sunday. (Gr. Agion Panton). A feast day of the Orthodox Church collectively commemorating all the Saints of the church who have remained anonymous. This feast day is celebrated on the Sunday following Pentecost.

Alpha-Omega. The first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, symbolizing "the beginning and the end," or the divinity and eternity of Christ. (Rev. 1: 8). These two letters also form the monogram of Christ.

Altar. (Hebr. "a place of sacrifice;" Gr. hieron; Sl. prestol). In Orthodox architecture the term signifies the area of the sanctuary divided from the rest of the church by the iconostasis.

Altar Bread. (seeProsphoro).

Altar Table. (Gr. Hagia Trapeza; Sl. Prestol). The square table in the middle of the altar, made of wood or marble, on which the Eucharist is offered. It is dressed with the "Altar Cloth," and contains the relics deposited there by the consecrating bishop. The center of the table is occupied by the folded Antiminsion, on which the ceremonial gospel book is placed, and behind it is the tabernacle with the "reserved gifts."

Ambon. (see pulpit).

Amnos. (see lamb).

Analogion. (Gr.-Sl. analoy). A wooden stand or podium placed on the right side of the soleas near the south door of the altar. Usually with a sloped top, it is used as a stand for the gospel book or icon.

Anathema. (Gr. a curse, suspension). The spiritual suspension with which the church may expel a person from her community for various reasons, especially denial of the faith or other mortal sins. The church also may proclaim an anathema against the enemies of the faith, such as heretics and traitors, in a special service conducted on the Sunday of Orthodoxy (first Sunday of Lent).

Anchorite. (Gr. Anachoritis, "a departurer"). A solitary monk or hermit; an individual who withdraws from society and lives a solitary life of silence and prayer.

Angels. (Gr. Angelos, "messenger"). Bodiless beings, purely spirits, created by God before man. They are superior in nature and intelligence to man; and, like man, they have understanding and free will. Some of them are appointed to guard the faithful (guardian angels). Angels are grouped in nine orders (tagmata) as follows: Angels; Archangels; Principalities; Powers; Virtues; Dominations; Thrones; Cherubim; Seraphim. In the Orthodox worship, every Monday is dedicated to the angels.

Annunciation. (Gr. Evangelismos). A feast of the Orthodox Church (March 25) commemorating the visit of Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary "to announce" that she was chosen to be the Mother of God (Luke 1: 26-33).

Anteri. (see cassock).

Antidoron. (Gr. "instead of the gift"). A small piece of the altar bread (prosphoron) distributed to the faithful after the celebration of the Eucharist. Originally it was given to those who could not take communion, but it became a practice for it to be offered to all the faithful.

Antimens or Antiminsion. (Gr. and Lat. compounds "in place of a table;" Sl. Antimins). It is a rectangular piece of cloth, of linen or silk, with representations of the entombment of Christ, the four Evangelists, and scriptural passages related to the Eucharist. The antimens must be consecrated by the head of the church (a Patriarch or Archbishop) and always lie on the Altar Table. No sacrament, especially the Divine Liturgy, can be performed without a consecrated antimens.

Antiphon. (Gr. "alternate utterance or chanting")

  1. A short verse from the scriptures, especially the psalms, sung or recited in the liturgy and other church services.
  2. Any verse or hymn sung or recited by one part of the choir or chanters in response to another part.

Apocrypha. (Gr. "hidden or secret"). Some of the books of the Bible not accepted by all denominations of Christians as true and divinely inspired. Some of them were written much later but attributed to important individuals of the apostolic times, thus bearing a misleading title (pseudepigrapha).

Apodosis. (Gr., Sl. Otdanive). The "octave-day" of a feast day which lasts more than one day and usually occurs eight days after the actual feast day. The Apodosis of Easter occurs after forty days, on the eve of the Ascension.

Apologetics. (Gr. "defenders").

  1. The individuals and saints who defended the faith and the Church by their ability to present, explain, and justify their faith.
  2. The theological science and art of presenting, explaining and justifying the reasonableness of the Christian faith.

Apolytikion. (Gr. "dismissal"). The dismissal hymn in honor of a saint, Christ, or the Virgin Mary on the occasion of their feast day, especially at the end of the Vespers Service.

Apostolic Canons. A collection of eighty-five decrees of ecclesiastical importance, referring mainly to ordination and the discipline of the clergy. The church believes that they were originally written by the Apostolic fathers.

Apostolic Fathers. Men who lived during the first century of Christianity, for the most part the disciples of the Apostles; their teachings and writings are of great spiritual value to Christians. Major fathers are St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Clement of Rome and the unknown author of Didache.

Apostolic Succession. The direct, continuous, and unbroken line of succession transmitted to the bishops of the Church by the Apostles. The bishops, who form a collective body (that is the leadership of the Church), are considered to be successors of the Apostles; and, consequently, the duties and powers given to the Apostles by Christ are transmitted through "the laying-on-of-hands" to the bishops and priests who succeeded them by ordination (cheirotonia) to priesthood.

Archangels. An Angelic order of angels of higher rank. The names of two archangels, Michael and Gabriel, are known (feast day on November 8); they are also known as "leaders of the angelic armies" (taxiarchai).

Archbishop. A head bishop, usually in charge of a large ecclesiastical jurisdiction or archdiocese (see Metropolitan).

Archdeacon. A senior deacon, usually serving with a bishop of higher rank (Archbishop or Patriarch).

Archdiocese. An ecclesiastical jurisdiction, usually a metropolis headed by an Archbishop.

Archimandrite. (Gr. "head of the flock or cloister"). A celibate presbyter of high rank assisting the bishop or appointed abbot in a monastery. In the Russian tradition some Archimandrites have the right to wear the mitre and the mantle (mitrophoros).

Armenian Church. A monophysite denomination which broke from the Orthodox Church in the fifth century (451 A.D.). Communities which belong to the Armenian Church exist in the United States and other parts of the world.

Artoclasia. (see Vespers).

Ascension. A movable feast day, forty days after Easter, commemorating the ascension of Christ into Heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts, 1: 12).

Ascetic. (Gr. "one who practices [spiritual] exercises"). Monks who have accepted a monastic life and intensively practice self discipline, meditation, and self-denial, motivated by love of God.

Ascetic Theology. A theological field studying the teachings and the writings of the ascetics of the Church (see also mysticism).

Assumption or Dormition. A feast day (August 15) commemorating the "falling asleep" (koimisis) of the Virgin Mary.

Asterisk. (Gr. "little stars;" Sl. Zvezditsa). A sacred vessel having two arched metal bands held together in such a fashion as to form the shape of a cross. It is placed on the paten and serves to prevent the veil from touching the particles of the Eucharist.

Atheism. (Gr. "godlessness"). Denial of the existence of God. An atheist accepts only the material and physical world or what can be proven by reason.

Atonement. (Gr. exilasmos). The redemptive activity of Christ in reconciling man to God. The Orthodox believe that Christ, through His death upon the cross, atoned or paid for human sins.

Autocephalous. (Gr. "appointing its own leader"). The status of an Orthodox church which is self-governed and also has the authority to elect or appoint its own leader or head (cephale).

Autonomy. (Gr. "self-rule"). The status of an Orthodox Church that is self-ruled. An autonomous church is governed by its prelate, who is chosen by a superior jurisdiction, usually by a patriarchate).

Axios. (Gr. "worthy"). An exclamation made at ordination to signify the worthiness of the individual chosen to become a clergyman.


Baptism. (Gr. "immersion into water for purification)". A sacrament instituted by Christ Himself, this is the regeneration "of water and the spirit" (John 3:5). An Orthodox baptism is administered by the priest (in case of absolute emergency, however, by a layman (aerobaptismos)) through three complete immersions and by pronouncing the individual's name along with the name of the Trinity, "the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen" Chrismation follows immediately after

Baptismal Font. (see kolymbethra).

Baptismal Garments. (Gr. Fotikia or baptisika; Sl. krizhma). The garments brought by the godparent to dress the infant immediately after the immersion in Baptism. In Orthodoxy, these garments are considered sacred and must be either kept safely or destroyed by fire.

Baptismal Name. (Gr. onoma). The individual's name given in baptism, commonly the name of a saint, who becomes the individual's Patron Saint. The baptismal names of the first-born are usually those of their grandparents.

Baptistry. A special room or area in the form a pool for baptizing in the ancient Church. Gradually it was replaced by the baptismal font (see kolymbethra).

Beatitudes. (Gr. Makarismoi ).

  1. 1. Blessings promised to individuals for various reasons.
  2. The eight blessings given by Christ at his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5: 3-12).
  3. Salutation addressed to an Orthodox Patriarch ("Your Beatitude").

Benediction. (Lat. "blessings to glorify God"). The closing blessing offered by a clergyman at the end of a service or other activity.

Bigamy. (Gr. Digamia). The act of contracting a new marriage while a previous one is still binding, an act forbidden by the Orthodox Church.

Bishop. (Gr. Episkopos, Archiereas). A clergyman who has received the highest of the sacred orders. A bishop must be ordained by at least three other bishops and is considered a successor of the Apostles.

Blasphemy. Evil and reproachful language directed at God, the Virgin, the Saints or sacred objects. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a mortal and unforgivable sin, because it presumes that God's saving action in this particular case is impossible. (cf. Matt. 12: 31).

Burial. (Gr. Taphe; Sl. Pogrebeniye). The act of interment of the dead body of one of the faithful in consecrated ground, according to the appropriate Orthodox rites and service of burial (Nekrosimos). The Church may deny an Orthodox burial to those who have committed a mortal sin such as blasphemy, suicide, denial of faith, or acceptance of cremation.

Byzantine. Referring or attributed to Byzantium, the ancient Greek city on the Bosporus, which later (331 A.D.) became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and then of the Medieval Greek Empire of Constantinople. Its people are known as Byzantines and its cultural heritage as Byzantine (i.e., Byzantine art, the Empire, church, architecture, music, etc.).

Byzantine rite.

  1. Performing church services according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
  2. Christians who belong to Roman Catholic jurisdictions and accept its beliefs, but follow the customs of the Greek Orthodox Church, celebrating the liturgy in Greek, Slavonic or in their native language, but in the Orthodox fashion.


Calendar. (Gr. Hemerologion). The yearly system determining the Orthodox holidays and hours. The Orthodox year begins on September 1. Since all feasts were arranged according to the Julian (old) Calendar, many Orthodox churches follow it to the present day, while other Orthodox churches have adopted the Gregorian (new) Calendar (since 1924). See also the article on the Calendar of the Orthodox Church.

Candles. (Gr. Keri[on]). Candles made of beeswax are used in the Orthodox Church as a form of sacrifice and devotion to God or Saints. They are used in various Orthodox services and ceremonies and are symbolic of Christ, who is "the Light of the World." According to a different symbolism, the two elements of a candle represent the two natures of Christ: the Divine (the burning wick) and the Human (the wax body).

Canon. (Gr. "rule, measure, standard").

  1. The Canon of the scriptures or the official list of books recognized by the church as genuine and inspired by God.
  2. The Canon of Matins (a collection of hymns consisting of nine odes, the Heirmos, and sung at the Matins Service, the Orthros).
  3. The Liturgical Canon which refers to all liturgical material, including the Creed, used for the Liturgy and the consecration of the Eucharist. (see also kanon and Typikon).

Canonization. The official declaration by the Church that a deceased Christian of attested virtue is a saint, to be honored as such, and worth of imitation by the faithful.

Canons. (orCanon Law). The law of the church, containing the various rules, ecclesiastical decrees and definitions concerning the faith or the life style of Orthodox Christians. The Canons generally provide for all administrative or disciplinary questions that might arise in the Church, and, consequently, are not infallible but can be changed or re-interpreted by an Ecumenical Council. See also the article on the Canon Law of the Orthodox Church.

Capital Sin (or Mortal or Deadly sin). Great offenses against God, or moral faults which, if habitual, could result in the spiritual death of the individual. The following sins are considered to be mortal: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth: they are the "Seven Deadly Sins" of the phrase.

Cassock. (Gr. Raso; Sl. ryassa). The long black garment with large sleeves worn by the Orthodox clergy as their distinct attire. Another such cassock with narrow sleeves (Gr. Anteri; Sl. Podrasnik) is worn under the cassock. It symbolizes the death of a clergyman to this world, and his burial and subsequent dedication to God and his heavenly kingdom.

Catechism. A summary of doctrine and instruction, teaching the Orthodox faith in the form of questions and answers. The catechetical or Sunday school of each parish is responsible for such instruction of children or other faithful.

Catechumen. (Gr. "those who learn the faith"). A convert to Christianity in the early church, who received instructions in Christianity, but was not yet baptized. Catechumens were permitted to attend the first part of the Eucharist (Liturgy of the Catechumens), but were dismissed before the Consecration of the Gifts.

Cathedral. (Gr. "the main chair"). The principal church of a bishop's jurisdiction, the chief church in every diocese.

Catholic. (Gr. "universal, concerning the whole;" Sl. Sobomaya). A term describing the universality of the Christian message, claimed to be exclusively theirs by the Orthodox Church. However, in the West, it has come to mean the Roman Catholic church (v. Eastern Orthodox Church).

Celibacy. The unmarried state of life. Unlike the Roman Church, Orthodoxy permits a clergyman to be married; however, his marriage must occur before the ordination to a deacon or presbyter. Orthodox bishops are only chosen from the celibate clergy, but widowers, who have accepted monastic vows, may also be chosen.

Censer. (Gr. Thymiato; Sl. kadillo). A metal vessel hung on chains, used in church ceremonies for burning incense. There are twelve small bells attached to the chains, representing the message of the twelve Apostles.

Chalice. (Gr. Potirion; Sl. Vozduh). A large cup of silver or gold, with a long-stemmed base, used for the Eucharist. It is one of the most sacred vessels of the church and is handled only by the clergy.

Chancellor. (Gr. Protosyngelos). The chief administrator and church notary in a diocese or archdiocese. He is the immediate administrative assistant to the bishop, and handles all records, certificates, and ecclesiastical documents of his jurisdiction.

Chant. (Gr. echos; Sl. glas). The music proper to the Orthodox services. There are eight tones or modes in the Orthodox Byzantine chant, chanted by the chanters or cantors.

Chanter. (Gr. Psaltis). A lay person who assists the priest by chanting the responses and hymns in the services or sacraments of the church. Today chanters have been replaced to some extent by choirs.

Chapel. (Gr. Parekklisi[on]; Sl. Chasovnya). A side altar attached to a larger church or a small building or room built exclusively or arranged for the worship of God. A chapel can belong either to an individual, an institution, or can be part of a parish church.

Chasuble. (Gr. feloni[on]; Sl. felon). A sleeveless garment worn by thepresbyter in the celebration of the liturgy. Short in front, with an elongated back, and an opening for the head, it is one of the most ancient vestments of the Church, symbolizing the seamless coat of Christ.

Chatjis. (see Hatjis).

Cherubic Hymn. (Gr. "the song of the angels"). Liturgical hymn sung after the Gospel-reading and during the Great Entrance. Its text in English is as follows:

"We, who mystically represent the Cherubim, And chant the thrice-holy hymn to the Life-giving Trinity, Let us set aside the cares of life That we may receive the King of all, Who comes invisibly escorted by the Divine Hosts."

Chrism. (Gr. Myrron). Sanctified oil composed of several ingredients and fragrances, used in the sacrament of Chrismation (after Baptism). The Holy Chrism in the Orthodox Church is exclusively prepared by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, blessed in a series of preparations and ceremonies. Holy Thursday is customarily the day of its consecration.

Chrismation. (see Baptism and Chrism).

Chrisom. (Gr. Ladopano; Sl. knzhma). A piece of white linen for the wrapping of the infant after Baptism. The Orthodox preserve it as a sacred object, since it signifies the purity and holiness of the baptized Christian.

Churching. (Gr. Sarantismos). A service of thanksgiving and blessing of women after childbirth. In the Orthodox church, this rite is performed on the fortieth day after birth and is reminiscent of the Old Testament ceremony of purification (Lev. 12: 2-8) and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2: 22-29).

Communion . (Gr. koinonia). The receiving of the sacrament of the Eucharist after proper preparation, fasting, and confession. Orthodox Christians are encouraged to receive communion as often as possible, even daily.

Communion of Saints. The Orthodox Church believes that all the people of God - members of the Church, either the living on earth or the departed in heaven, are in constant communion and fellowship with each other in faith, grace and prayers, since they constitute one Body in Christ - the Church.

Compline. (Gr. Apodeipnon; Sl. Velikoye PovecheAye). A woship service performed after dusk. It is often combined with Vespers, to form an all-night vigil. There is a Great Compline and its abridgement, known as Little Compline.

Confession. (Gr. Exomologisis). The act of confessing or acknowledgment of sins by an individual before God in the presence of a priest, who serves as a spiritual guide and confessor (pneumatikos) authorized to ask for forgiveness and to administer a penance.


  1. Pneumatikos (see confession).
  2. A person who defended and publicly confessed the Faith, thereby exposing himself to persecution (Homologetis).

Consecration. (Gr. Heirotonia). The ordination of an individual to priesthood through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Consecration of a Church. (see Engainia).

Copts. (Gr. "cut off from the main body"). These are the Oriental churches of the East which were separated from the Orthodox Church after the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) for following the false teachings of Monophysitism (belief in one nature (physis) of Christ).

Council, Ecumenical. (Gr. Synodos; Sl. Sobor). Assembly of representatives from all church jurisdictions convoked for the settlement of ecclesiastical or doctrinal problems and disputes. The Orthodox Church recognizes the following seven Ecumenical Councils:

  1. Nicaea, in 325. Fathers present, 318. Condemned Arianism, defined divinity of Christ, and composed first part of Creed.
  2. Constantinople, 381. Fathers, 180. Condemned Apollinarianism, defined divinity of Holy Spirit, and completed the Creed.
  3. Ephesus, 431. Fathers, 200. Condemned Nestorianism and defined the term Theotokos.
  4. Chalcedon, 451. Fathers, 630. Condemned Monophysitism.
  5. Constantinople, 553. Fathers, 165. Condemned heretics and pagans.
  6. Constantinople, 680. Fathers, 281. Condemned Monothelitism. The so-called Quinisext or in Trullo was held in Constantinople.
  7. Constantinople (Trullo), 692 and regulated disciplinary matters to complete the Fifth and the Sixth Ecumenical Councils.
  8. Nicaea, 787 (again in 843). Fathers, 350. Condemned Iconoclasm.

Crosier. (Gr. Ravdos or Pateritsa). The pastoral staff of a bishop, signifying his responsibilities and the authority by which he spiritually rules his flock.

Crowns. (Gr. Stephana). A metal crown or wreath made of cloth in the shape of lemon blossoms, with which the priest "crowns" the newlyweds during the sacrament of Matrimony. The crowns are white, signifying purity, and represent the power that is given to the newlyweds to become "king and queen" of their home.


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