a-h | i-z


Icon. (Gr. "image"). A Byzantine-style painting in oil on wood, canvas, paper, or a wall (fresco) representing Christ, the Virgin Mary, or other Saints and scenes from the Bible. The Orthodox Church uses icons for veneration with the understanding that the respect is paid not to the material icon but to the person represented "in spirit and truth" (cf. John 4: 24).

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iconoclasm. (Gr. "the breaking of icons"). It refers to the conflict in the Byzantine Empire between 727 and 843 over the use of icons in the church. The Seventh Ecumenical Council (787 and 843) decreed the use of icons, following in the main teaching of St. John of Damascus.

Iconography. The study and the art of painting of icons. In the Orthodox Church, iconography was developed mainly in the monasteries, which became the centers of its study and development.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iconostasis. (Gr. "an icon-stand"). In the Orthodox Church, the term signifies:

  1. The stand on which the main icon of the Patron Saint of the church is placed for veneration.
  2. The screen separating the sanctuary or altar from the church proper and adorned with various icons. There may be two or three tiers of icons in an iconostasis, but the main tier must follow a certain iconographic form, as follows (from north, or left, side to south): the icon of the Patron Saint of the church, of the Virgin Mary, of Christ, and of St. John the Baptist.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Iliton. (or Eiliton, Gr.). The silk cloth used to wrap the corporal (or antiminsion).


Jesus Prayer. A short prayer that the Orthodox constantly repeat to practice devotion to God; the tradition of repeating this distinctive prayer was developed in Orthodox monasteries. The text of the Jesus Prayer is:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

Judgment. The Last or Final Judgment, which, according to the Church's belief, will occur at the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. The judgment that takes place immediately after an individual's death is called particular judgment.

See also the article on

The Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Jurisdiction. (Gr. Dikaiodosia). The right and the authority of a bishop to rule over his diocese as a spiritual overseer. It includes legislative, judicial, and executive authority, which can be exercised only by individuals who have been canonically ordained and appointed to rule over the jurisdiction in question.


Kalymauki or kamilafki. (Sl. kamilavka). The black cylindrical hat worn by Orthodox clergy. The black monastic veil (epanokalynafkon) worn by the celibate clergy at various services or ceremonies is attached to the kalymauki (see Epanokalymafkon).


  1. Short hymns consisting of nine odes, sung at the service of Matins.
  2. The special service known as the Great Kanon sung on the evening of the Wednesday of the fifth week of the Great Lent.

Kathisma. Liturgical hymn.

  1. The twenty stanzas into which the Orthodox Psalter is divided.
  2. The second kanon of the Matins.

Keri. (see candles).

Kerygma. (Gr. "message; preaching"). Proclaiming or preaching the word of God in the manner of the Apostles. It is a method of church instruction centered mainly on Christ and the concept of salvation.

Koimissis. (see Dormition).

Kolymbethra. A large, often movable, circular basin on a stand, containing the water for immersion in Baptism. It symbolizes the Jordan River or the pool of Siloam.

Kontakion. A liturgical hymn that gives an abbreviated form of the meaning or history of the feast of a given day. The kontakion is sung after the sixth ode of the Canon in the liturgy and the Service of the Hours. St. Romanos the Melodist is considered to be the most important hymnographer of the Kontakion.

Koumbaros (fem. koumbara).

  1. The "best man" in a wedding.
  2. The sponsor in a baptism.
  3. The address that Greek Orthodox use for their best man or their child's sponsor.


Laity. (Gr. Laikos; Sl. Miryane). Members of the Church who are not ordained to the priesthood.

Lamb. (Gr. Amnos). The symbol for the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross (cf. John 1: 29). In the Orthodox liturgy, the amnos is the first square piece from the altar bread (prosphoro), inscribed with the letters ICXCNIKA (an abbreviated form for "Jesus Christ conquers"). This particular piece is to be consecrated during the Eucharist.

Lamentations service. (Gr. Epitaphios threnos). Special hymns referring to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and His burial (see Epitaphios).

Lance or spear. (Gr. Lonche). A small, lance-shaped, double-edged knife used by the priest for the cutting of the altar bread in the service of the Preparation of the Holy Gifts (see Proskomide).

Language. According to the Orthodox tradition, the Church adopts and uses the language of any particular country or ethnic group that she serves. The main liturgical languages in the Orthodox Church are Greek, the various descendants of old Church Slavonic, and Arabic.

Last Supper. (Gr. Mystikos Deipnos; Sl. Taynya Vercherya). The last meal of Christ with His disciples in the "Upper Room" before his arrest. With this supper, he instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Leavened Bread. (Gr. artos). Bread made with yeast (enzyma) and used for altar bread for the Orthodox Eucharist (as opposed to the unleavened bread used by the Latin Church). Leavened bread is also acceptable for the purpose in the more liberal Protestant churches.

Lent. (Gr. Sarakosti). The fifty day fast preceding Easter for the spiritual preparation of the faithful to observe the feast of the Resurrection. Besides Lent, the Orthodox Church has assigned a number of other fasting periods (see abstinence).

Liturgics. The theological field that studies the liturgies and the various services and rituals of the Church.

Liturgy. (Gr. "a public duty or work"). The main form of worship for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Orthodox Church celebrates four different versions of the liturgy:

  1. The Liturgy of St. James,
  2. The Liturgy of St. Basil,
  3. The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which is the most common, and
  4. The Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts performed only during the period of Great Lent.

See also the articles on:

Worship and Worship in the Orthodox Church

Logos. (Gr. "word"). A symbol for Christ, the word incarnate, or "word made Flesh," which is also called "the Word of God" (cf. John 1:1-4).

Lord's Prayer. The prayer taught by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 6: 9-33 and Luke 11: 2-4). It begins with the phrase "Our father..." and is the most common Orthodox prayer.


Magnificat. (Lat. "My soul doth magnify the Lord"; Gr. Megalynalion). A hymn of praise in honor of the Mother of God (Theotokos). Its verses follow Mary's own words beginning with the phrase "My soul doth magnify the Lord" (cf. Luke 1: 46-55). It is sung after the eighth Ode of the Canon at Matins.

Mantle. (Gr. Mandias). A distinctive and elaborate garment, purple or blue in color, worn by the bishop in various church ceremonies and services, such as Vespers, but not during the liturgy.

Martyr. (Gr. "witness"). One who willingly suffered death for the faith.

Martyrika. (Gr. "a sign of witnessing"). Small decorative icons or crosses passed out to the guests who witness an Orthodox Baptism.

Martyrology. A catalogue of martyrs and other saints arranged according to the calendar.

Matins. (Gr. Orthros). The Morning Service, which is combined with the liturgy. It begins with the reading of six psalms (Exapsalmos), the reading of the Gospel, the chanting of the Canon, and the Great Doxology.

Memorial. (Gr. Mnymosyno). A special service held in the Orthodox Church for the repose of the souls of the dead. Memorial services are held on the third, ninth, and fortieth day; after six months; and one or three years after death. Boiled wheat is used as a symbol of the resurrection of everyone at the Second Coming of Christ.

Meneon. A liturgical book containing the lives of the saints and the special hymns (stichera) for the feast-days of the Orthodox Saints. It is divided into twelve volumes, one for each month.

Metropolitan. The prelate of the largest or most important city (Metropolis) or province with primacy of jurisdiction.

Mitre. (Gr. Mitra). The official headdress or "crown" of a bishop. In Slavic churches, some archimandrites are allowed to wear the mitre as a recognition of their service to the church (mitrate or mitrophoros). The mitre derives from the crown of the Byzantine emperor.

Monastery. The dwelling place and the community thereof of monks or nuns living together in a communal life (cenobites) in a convent and practicing the rules of prayer and vows. The members of some monasteries live alone in solitude (anchorites).

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church

Monk. (Gr. Monachos; fem. Monache). An individual who denies the world in order to live a religious life under the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church

Monophysitism. A heresy which arose in the fifth century concerning the two Natures of Christ. The monophysites accepted only the Divine Nature of Christ and were condemned as heretics by the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Nicaea (451 A.D.) (see also Copts).

Monothelitism. A heresy of the seventh century, which developed in an attempt to reconcile the monophysites with the Orthodox. The monothelites accept the two Natures of Christ, but deny His human will (Thelesis), accepting thereby only his Divine

Mortal Sins. (see capital sins).

Mother Church. The Church of Jerusalem, as being the first Christian Church. Commonly, the Orthodox consider as Mother Church the Ecumenical Patriarchate as being the senior Church of the Orthodox World.

Mount Athos. The center of Orthodox monasticism, situated on a conical mountain on the Chakidi Peninsula, Greece.

See the article on

Monasticism in the Orthodox Church , which has links to the monasteries of Mt. Athos.

Mysticism. The search through various prayers and practices to achieve unity with God in life (theosis) (see hesychasm).


Name-day. (Gr. Onomastiria or Onomastiki eorti). The tradition of the Orthodox people is to celebrate one's name-day instead of a birthday. Since the Orthodox people are usually named after a saint's name, all those having the same name celebrate together. Celebration of the name-day is considered to be spiritually important, and the celebrating individual develops special spiritual ties with his Patron Saint and consequently, with God.

Narthex. The vestibule area of the church, leading to the church proper or the nave. In the early Church, this area was assigned for penitents and those who were not yet baptized (catechumens).

Nave. The center, the church proper of an Orthodox Church, where the faithful remain to observe the liturgy and other services.

Neophyte. (Gr. Neophotistos). A newly baptized individual or convert of the early Church.

Nounos. (see godparents).

Novice. (Gr. Dokimos). An individual who accepted the monastic life, undergoing a period of probation in preparation for taking his vows.

Nun. (Gr. Monachi (fem), or Kalogria). A woman following the monastic life, living in a convent and leading a strict contemplative


Oblation. (see Proskomide).

Offertory. (see Proskomide).

Oktoechos. (Gr. "eight modes" or Paraklitiki). Service book containing the canons and hymns of the eight tones or modes of Byzantine music. They are used in all services, arranged every eight weeks, one for each tone, and are attributed to St. John of Damascus (eighth century), one of the greatest Orthodox hymnographers and theologians.

Omophor. (see Pall).

Orarion. (Lat.) One of the deacon's vestments, made of a long band of brocade and worn over the left shoulder and under the right arm. It signifies the wings of the angels.

Ordination. (Gr. cheirotonia). The sacrament of the Holy Orders, imparted through the laying on of hands upon the candidate for the priesthood.

Orthodox. (Gr. "correct or true belief"). The common and official name used by the Greek Christians and Eastern Christian Church. The Orthodox Church maintains Her belief that She alone has kept the true Christian faith, complete and unaltered.

Orthodox Sunday. The first Sunday of Lent, commemorating the restoration of icons in the church (see Iconoclasm).

Orthros. (see Matins).


Paganism. Belief in religions other than Christianity, especially ancient Greek polytheism, which was a non-revealed religion.

Pall. (Gr. Omophorion). One of the bishop's vestments, made of a band of brocade, worn about the neck and around the shoulders. It signifies the Good Shepherd and the spiritual authority of a bishop.

Palm Sunday. (Gr. Kyriaki ton Vaion; Sl. Verbnoye Voskresenye). The Sunday before Easter, commemorating the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem. The Orthodox use palms or willow branches in the shape of a cross, which the priest distributes to the faithful after the liturgy.

Panagia. (Gr. "All Holy"). One of the Orthodox names used to address the Mother of God. In Orthodox art, the term Panagia denotes an icon depicting the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child, or the bishop's medallion (Encolpion) which usually is decorated with an icon of the Panagia (especially in the Russian Church). (See also Theotokos.)

Pantocrator. (Gr. "He who reigns over all; almighty"). One of the appellations of God. In Orthodox art, Pantocrator is the name of the fresco decorating the center of the dome, depicting Christ as the almighty God and Lord of the Universe.

Paraklitiki. (see Oktoechos).

Pascha. (see Easter).

Paschal week. (Gr. Diakaimsimos or "bright week"). The week following the Sunday of Easter (Pascha), signifying the spiritual renewal and joy brought to the world by the resurrected Christ.

Paschalion. The table of dates for Easter and all movable feasts of the year.

Pastoral theology. The theological field that studies the ways and methods to be used by the clergy for carrying through their duties as Pastors of the Church.

Paten. (Gr. Diskos). A small round and flat plate made of gold or silver on which the priest places the particles of bread at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Patriarch. (Gr. "in charge of the family"). The highest prelate in the Orthodox Church. Today, there are eight Orthodox prelates called patriarchs (see Patriarchate).

Patriarchate. An ecclesiastical jurisdiction governed by a patriarch. There are eight such jurisdictions today in the Orthodox Church, the four ancient Patriarchates of the East, and the four Slavic patriarchates.

Patristics. The theological field that studies the lives and the writings of the Fathers of the Church.

Patron Saint. (Gr. Poliouchos; Sl. Nebesny Pokrovitel). A saint chosen by a group, nation, or organization to be their special advocate, guardian, and protector. The Patron Saint of an individual is usually the saint after whom the individual is named. See also the article on Saints in the Orthodox Church.

Pedalion. (see Rudder).

Pentecost. (Gr. "fiftieth Day"). A feast celebrated fifty days after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples of Christ. It is considered to be the birthday of Christianity.

Pentecostarion. A liturgical book containing all the prayers, hymns, and services performed during the period of fifty days between the feasts of Easter and Pentecost.

Polychronion. (Gr. "for many years"). A prayer sung by the chanter or choir in honor of the celebrant bishop or presbyter. Its full version is: "for many years of life" (Gr. Eis Polla Eti Despota; Sl. Mnogaya Lyeta).

Polyeleos. (Gr. "oil candelabrum"; "abundance of oil and grace").

  1. Special hymns sung during the Service of Matins.
  2. The great candelabra hanging from the ceiling of an Orthodox church.
  3. A descriptive adjective used to describe Christ as the God of Mercy.

Presbyter. (Gr. "elder"). A priest in charge of a parish. A protopresbyter is an honorary title granted by a bishop in acknowledgement of service to the church.

Presvytera. (Gr.; Sl. Matushka). An honorary title for the priest's wife or mother.

Prokeimenon. (Gr. "gradual introduction"). A liturgical verse or scriptural passage sung or read before the reading of the Epistle. It serves as an introduction to the theme of this particular reading.

Proskomide. (Gr. "gathering of gifts" or "preparing to receive the gifts"; Sl. Shertvennik). The Service of the preparation of the elements of bread and wine before the Liturgy. It takes place on the Table of Oblation (Prothesis), which is situated at the left (north) side of the altar.

Prosphoro. (Gr. "offering gift, an item dedicated to God and offered as a votive," also prosphora). The altar bread which is leavened and prepared with pure wheat flour to be used for the Eucharist. It is round and stamped on the top with a special seal (sphragis or Panagiari). Sometimes it is made in two layers symbolizing the two natures of Christ (Human and Divine). The inscribed parts of the top are used for the Eucharist, and the rest of it is cut into small pieces to be distributed to the faithful (antidoron).

Pulpit. (Gr.; Sl. Amvon, "an elevated place, podium"). A small raised platform or elaborate podium at the left (north) side of the solea and in the front of the iconostasis. Decorated with representations of the four Evangelists, it is the place on which the deacon or priest reads the Gospel and delivers his sermon.


Raso. (see cassock).

Reader. (Gr. Anagnostis, Sl. Chtets). The individual assigned to read, chant, and give responses in church services. Usually, such a person will be blessed by the bishop with special prayers and in a special ceremony.

Relics. (Gr. Leipsana Agia). The remains from the body of a Saint or even a Saint's possessions, such as clothes or vestments. The relics are honored and venerated by all Orthodox. Upon the consecration of a new church, the consecrating bishop embeds holy relics in the Altar Table, following the ancient traditions of the church in performing the Eucharist on the tombs of Martyrs (Martyria).

Rite. (Gr. Telete, Sl. Tchin). The performance of a religious ceremony following a prescribed order of words and actions (typikon).

Rudder. (Gr. Pedalion). The book containing the rules and regulations prescribed by the Ecumenical Synods and the Fathers. It is the Constitution of the Orthodox Church.


Sacrament. (Gr. Mysterion; Sl. Tainstvo). The outward and visible part of religion, consisting of various ceremonies, words, and symbolisms, producing an invisible action by the Holy Spirit that confers grace on an individual. All Sacraments were instituted by Christ for the salvation of the believer (see separate sections on the Sacraments and the Sacramental Life in the Orthodox Church).

Sacrifice. (Gr. Thysia; Sl. Zhertva). The bloodless offering to God, which is the Holy Eucharist offered at the Liturgy. It signifies the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for man's salvation. Also, refer to the article on the Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Sacristy. (Gr. Skevophylakion; Sl. Riznitsa). A utility room at the right side (south) of the altar, where vestments and sacred vessels are kept and where the clergy vest for services.

Saints. (Gr. Agios). All holy men, women, and angels, who, through a pure and holy life on earth or through martyrdom and confession of faith in word and deeds, have merited the canonization of the Church. The saints and the other pious people who are in glory with God constitute the "Triumphant Church." See the article on Saints in the Orthodox Church. .

Sakkos or Dalmatic. The main vestment worn by the bishop during the Liturgy. It originates from the vestments of the Byzantine emperor.

Salutations. (see Akathistos hymn).

Schism. Formal separation from the unity of the one true Church. Although the Christian Church has witnessed several schisms, the most disastrous was the separation of the Greek Eastern and the Roman Western Church in 1054, dividing Christendom into two parts (see separate section on Church history).

See. (Gr. Hedra or Thronos). The official "seat" or city capital where a bishop resides (esp. for a large jurisdiction); hence, the territory of his entire jurisdiction may be called his See.

Service books. They are special books containing the hymns or the services of the Orthodox Church. There are eight, as follows: Gospel (Evangelion), Book of Epistles (Apostolos), Psalter (Octoechos or paraklitiki), Triodion, Pentecostarion, Twelve Menaia, Horologion, and Service or Liturgy book (Euchologio or Ieratiko).

Service Book or Ieratikon or Litourgikon or Euchologio. (Sl. Sluzhebnik). The liturgical book containing the prayers and ceremonial order of the various church services including the Liturgy.

Sign of the Cross. The Orthodox make the Sign of the Cross to signify their belief in the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross for man's salvation. It is made by the right hand in a cruciform gesture touching the forehead, chest, right and left shoulders with the tips of fingers (the thumb, index, and middle finger joined together as a symbol of the Holy Trinity, the ring and little fingers touching the palm as a symbol of the two Natures of Christ).

Solea. An area with elevated floor in front of the iconostasis of the church, where the various rites and church ceremonies are held.

See also the article on:

Orthodox Art and Architecture

Soteriology. Theological field studying the mission and work of Christ as Redeemer (Soter). Also, refer to the article on the Dogmatic Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Sphragis. (see prosphoro).

Spiritual relationship. (see affinity).

Stavropegion. Monastery or monastic community directly under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Stichar. (see Alb).

Subdeacon. (Gr. hypodiakonos). A layman who has received a special blessing by the bishop to serve in the church, assisting in the services and ceremonies.


  1. A brief biography of a saint read in the church on occasions of his feast day.
  2. Book or books containing lives of the saints.

Synaxis. (Gr. "assembly"; Sl. Sobor). A gathering of the faithful in honor of a saint or for reading passages from his biography (synaxarion).

Synod. (see Ecumenical Council).


Tabernacle. (Gr. Artophorion; Sl. Darochranitelnitsa). An elaborate ark or receptacle kept on the Altar Table, in which the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist are preserved for the communion of the sick or for the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts during Lent.

Thaumatourgos. (Gr. "miracle-worker"; Sl. Chudotvorets). A title given to some saints distinguished among the faithful for their miracles.

Theotokos. A theological term commonly used by the Orthodox to indicate the doctrinal significance of Virgin Mary as Mother of God.

Theotokion. (Gr. "referring to Theotokos"; Sl. Bogorodichey). A hymn which refers to or praises Theotokos, the Mother of God.

Three hierarchs. The Orthodox Church considers in particular three bishops (hierarchs) of the Church as Her most important Teachers and Fathers, who contributed to the development and the spiritual growth of the Church. They are St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. John Chrysostom. Their feast day is observed on January 30, a day also dedicated to Hellenic letters since the three hierarchs contributed to the development of Greek Christian education and literature.

Titular bishop. An auxiliary bishop without his own territorial or residential diocese, who is usually assisting a senior bishop with a large jurisdiction (Archbishop or Patriarch). The episcopal title of a titular bishop is taken from an ancient diocese which once flourished but now exists only in name, and, therefore, a titular bishop does not have his own jurisdiction.

Tradition, Orthodox. (Gr. Paradosis). The transmission of the doctrine or the customs of the Orthodox Church through the centuries, basically by word of mouth from generation to generation.

Transfiguration. (Gr. Metamorphosis). The transfiguration of Christ is a major feast day (August 6) commemorating the appearance of Christ in divine glory along with Moses and the prophet Elias on Mount Tabor (cf. Matt. 17: 1-7).

Triodion. (Gr. "three odes or modes").

  1. The period between the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican, and Cheese-Fare Sunday.
  2. A Liturgical book containing the hymns, prayers, and services of the movable feast before Easter, beginning with the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican and lasting until Easter Sunday.

Trisagion. (Gr. "thrice-holy").

  1. One of the most ancient hymns of the church, used by the Orthodox in every prayer or service: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy upon us."
  2. Memorial Service performed by the graveside or in church for the repose of the soul.

Typikon. (Gr. "following the order"; Sl. Sluzhebnik). Liturgical book which contains instructions about the order of the various church services and ceremonies in the form of a perpetual calendar.


Unleavened bread. Used in the eucharist in Latin (Western) churches.

Unction. (see Chrism).

Uniats. (see Byzantine Rite).


Vespers. (Gr. Esperinos; Sl. Litiya). An important service of the Orthodox Church, held in the evening, which is mainly a Thanksgiving prayer for the closing day and a welcome of the new one to come the following morning. On the eve of an important holiday, the Vesper Service includes Artoclasia or the blessing of the five loaves (Gr. artos; Sl. Litiya) for health and the well-being of the faithful.

Vestments. (Gr. Amphia). The distinctive garments worn by the clergy in the liturgy and the other church services

See also:

  • Epigonation
  • Epitrachelion
  • Omophorion
  • Orarion
  • Rason
  • Sakkos
  • Sticharion
  • Zone

Vigil. (Gr. olonychtia). Spiritual exercises during the night preceding the feast day of a saint or another major feast, observed by various spiritual preparations, prayers, and services.


Year of the Church. (see calendar).


Zeon. (Gr. "boiling"). The hot water used by the priest for the Eucharist. It is added to the chalice during the Communion hymn in commemoration of the water that flowed out of the side of the crucified Christ when he was pierced with the spear.

Zone. The belt or girdle worn by the priests on his stichar. It signifies the power of faith.



appr. = approximately
Ar. = Arabic
Aram. = Aramaic
cf. = see, check
esp. = especially
fem. = feminine n. = neuter

Gr. = Greek
Hebr. = Hebrew
Lat. = Latin
masc. = masculine
Sl. = Slavonic

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