THE BISHOP’S “OMOPHORION”
“Upon Your shoulders, O Christ, You have taken the lost nature and brought it to Your God and Father, now and ever and unto ages of ages.” (Omophorion Prayer, said as an “omophorion” is put on a bishop at the Vesting Rites of Byzantine Liturgy)
The “omophorion” (from the Greek words, ὦμος, “shoulder,” and φέρειν, “carry”), the Byzantine equivalent of the Western pallium, is worn only by our bishops. Its symbolism is already articulated by our first literary witness to the omophorion, St. Isidore of Pelusion (+ ca. 435), if you’ll excuse the long quote: “The omophorion,” writes St. Isidore in the 5th c., “which the bishop wears on his shoulders, and is made of wool, not linen, signifies the skin of that lost sheep which the Lord sought and, having found, carried on His shoulders. For the bishop, who is the image of Christ, accomplishes Christ’s work, and shows to all through his vestment (the omophorion) that he is the imitator of the Good and Great Shepherd who proposes to bear the weaknesses of the flock.” So, the “omophorion” signifies the bishop’s calling to leave “the ninety-nine sheep” in the hills to search for the lost “one” (cf. Mt 18: 12-13).
May God bless and strengthen our beloved bishops, with their own omophoria, for this difficult, Christ-like calling, “to bear the weaknesses of the flock.” Amen!