What’s Up with all the Fancy Garments?

I’ve always wondered what’s up with all the fancy clothes worn by pastors or priests during church ceremonies. It seems like a relic from ancient times when they had no fashion sense. An example from the Russian Orthodox:

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Churches that are more liturgical from the high church tradition tend to have this kind of robes for their clergy. Where did this idea come from? Is it even relevant in our times of torn jeans and straightcut blazers? If we look into the Old Testament, God gave Moses specific instructions how to make the garments for the priests and Levites. It took skill and wisdom to craft one. It might have looked something like this in the past:

Image result for high priest dressingWhy was it so elaborate (not to mention gaudy)? Though we can explore the words of the turban, the inscriptions on the ephod or the colour of the robe, I shall highlight a general purpose that God mentioned to Moses.

Next, have your brother Aaron brought to you from among the Israelites, along with his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, to serve Me as priests. Make holy garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and splendor.

Exodus 28:1-2

Did you catch it? God told Moses that the purpose was to “give him dignity and splendor.” Another translation says “glory and beauty”. In order to set up the tabernacle and order the services, the priests had to be consecrated. They had to wear specific garments that God ordered. An important lesson: You need to worship God in the way He prescribes, not the way you think He wants. It sets the priest apart from the usual dressing of the common people. Seeing the priest in his glorious garb evokes a sense of reverence and importance as we come before God. That might be one reason for God to emphasise this unusual dressing as they come to serve him as God’s representatives to his people. Don’t lose the awe of God.

Next time, as we see the intricacies and beauty of these gowns, may we gain more reverence of the God who is wholly Other and different from us. May we tremble in the holy mystery that the God who transcends all descriptions comes to live within each us when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.

 

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