Dear Fr Christopher,
During his ordination, as he processes around the holy Altar while
Dance, Isaiah is sung, a cleric kisses the epigonation of the presiding
bishop. What is the significance of the epigonation in this case?
With all due gratitude and respect,
Answer to Question 67.
The epigonation is given to priests when they become spiritual fathers
or when they receive an honorary title (Oeconomos / Protopresbyter) and
has two symbolic meanings. The first we obtain from the prayer of the
epigonation which the priest says during vesting: "Gird Thy sword
upon Thy thigh, O Mighty One, in Thy comeliness, and in Thy beauty; and
bend Thy bow, and prosper, and reign, because of truth and meekness and
righteousness; and Thy right hand shall guide Thee wonderfully."
Thus the epigonation represents a spiritual sword and those having the
dignity of wearing it are invested with the "sword
of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17); in
other words the priest is empowered with the spiritual sword to defend
the faith by smiting all that is false and impure.
According to Wikipedia, Its origin is traced to the practice of
Byzantine Emperors awarding ceremonial swords to their military
commanders in recognition of their valour in defending the empire. Such
swords were often accompanied by elaborate thigh-shields which were
suspended from the belt and protected the leg from bruising caused by
the constant bumping of the sword against the thigh. When the emperors
began to give awards to the clergy, the thigh-shield alone was awarded.
The second meaning of the epigonation is that it represents the towel (λέντιον)
that Christ girded himself with when he washed his disciple's feet and
dried them with the towel (John 13: 4-5) After this the Lord said :
"If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your
feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an
example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say
unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is
sent greater than he that sent him." (John 13: 14-16)
A priest as the image of Christ must therefore have the same humility
and service to others as Christ showed to his disciples and the
epigonation is a reminder to high-ranking priests that their position in
the priesthood should not be filled with high-minded thoughts, but that
they must always remember that first and foremost they are humble
servants of God and his people.
During the ordination of a deacon, as he is led around the Holy Altar
three times, he kisses the bishop's epigonation and right hand as a form
of promise that he understands that his ordination to the priesthood is
an office of dignity, but should never forget that above all it is an
office of humility and servitude and should be ready to wash the feet
(figuratively speaking) of those he has been entrusted to serve.
With love in Christ