This article originally appeared on VICE Greece.
Athens's Apollo Street is considered to be the mecca of ecclesiastical items. It is where Byzantine and Russian art meet Orthodox Christian "fashion" to create the most impressive liturgical garments imaginable. It's where one can find the Versaces and Armanis of priest robes and vestments.
For some Orthodox priests, Easter Week (which for Orthodox Christians is happening right now)is a fashion event. It's a week of "performances"—a literal devout festival—with daily highlights including the Procession of the Epitaph, Holy Saturday, as well as the readings of the Twelve Gospels. All of these are compelling reasons for Greek clergymen to look their best and fanciest.
Considering there is no mention of the use of special vestments in the New Testament, it is almost certain that Jesus gave the Sacrament of the Eucharist in casual attire. The establishment of functional vestments started in the Middle East, a little earlier than the fourth century, without ever being fully deployed.
"There isn't a specific number of robes that every clergyman should own. It's like asking how many shirts can someone have in their closet. Priest robes are the equivalent of civilian garments. These garments depict the clergyman's personality and church," says Mr. Braouzis, the owner of Patrikon, one of Athens's oldest priest boutiques. "Everyone buys vestments based on their taste and pocket—the Church doesn't cover any of these expenses. These are all personal orders. There are some private donors that might order these as a gift though," he adds.
As there are no seasonal robes for winter and summer, robe designers play with different colors. "During Christmas clergymen wear white, for Easter Week purple and black, Resurrection means burgundy, Epiphany [means] blue, and it's blue or green for Crucifixion," says Mrs. Aleka, who works at nearby nearby boutique Chiton. She also notes that "One could own just one vestment and to use it for every celebration. However, those who have been working as priests for a few years can usually afford to change outfits between festivities."
Design as well as price rules are way stricter when it comes to the ranks of the clergy, which are three: deacon, priest and bishop. For example, a deacon should be content with simple vestments, that cost about 400 euro [$423]. These would be a versicle or an "orarion."
A priest, on the other hand, can up his game though that depends on the severity of his rank. If you are a dean for example, the cost of your robes starts at 800 euro [$850]. That is mostly due to the fact that a complete archbishop ensemble consists of multiple items like the chasuble (the fancy robe), the stole (the bit of colored cloth parishioners bow beneath and confess to), a belt (which stabilizes the stole for bigger dudes), and cuffs. Priests with an "oficio" (that means a title) also get a knee-length rhomboid towel called "the knee."
However, the true joy for priest boutique owners is when bishops show up. Just the vestment and all the different items can amount to tens of thousands of euro. Now add to this the stuff bishops need like the scapular (a thick scarf symbolizing the lamb) and the matrix (in layman's terms, the crown, which can be made of gold, platinum, or silver, and is always covered in rubies and other precious gems) and costs are taken to a different level. Still, being a bishop requires patience as a full outfit can take months to be sewn.
When it comes to design there are only two elements designers need to take care of. Firstly, the stole has to have three crosses—that is called "Russian style"—or six crosses (three and three) if a priest has ordered a double stole—that is called "Byzantine style."
Secondly, on the back of the vestments there must be a cross or a portrait of Jesus Christ, which obviously costs more. Beyond that, the options are limitless. Some clerics bring their own fabrics from China and India, while others bring photographs they've found on the internet and ask for something similar.
"Clerics are way more obsessed with their clothes and appearance than us normal people," says Ms. Aleka, who has sewn for international clergymen. Holy men from Canada, Australia, USA, Poland, Russia, and the Balkans constitute 80 percent of her clientele.
Many of her visitors are on their way to Mount Athos—an autonomous polity in the north of Greece that is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries and attracts thousands of religious male visitors every year. On their way to Mount Athos, most clerics will pass by Apollo street to renew their wardrobe. "The best customers are Russian, but the most faithful we have is one Australian priest, who comes in every couple of months," says Ms. Aleka.