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An Anglican priest wearing a single-breasted cassock.
An Anglican priest wearing a single-breasted cassock.

The cassock, an item of clerical clothing, is a long, sheath-like, close-fitting, ankle-length robe worn by clergy members of some Christian denominations. The cassock derives ultimately from the tunic that was formerly worn underneath the toga in classical antiquity.

The word cassock probably comes from the word "casaque" which means cloak; or cassaca, which means white. In older days, it was known in Latin as vestis talaris.

Although the cassock was formerly the universal everyday clothing of the clergy, many have abandoned it as in favour of a clerical suit of more conventional design. In current usage, wearing of the cassock can sometimes be a mark of traditionalism; its abandonment, a rejection thereof.

Western Practice (Roman and Anglican)

The cassock, also known as a soutane, comes in a number of styles, though no particular symbolism attaches to these. A Roman cassock has thirty-three buttons (symbolic of the years of the life of Jesus) down the front; a French cassock has fewer front buttons, but buttons sewn to the sleeves after the manner of a suit, and a broader skirt. A Jesuit cassock has a fly fastened with hooks. An Anglican (or more correctly, a "Sarum") cassock is double breasted and fastens at the shoulders on the opposing side of the breast.

Ordinary cassocks generally come in black, but for clerics of higher ranking, colored piping and a fascia are added: in the cases of bishops and monsignors, the piping is amaranth and the fascia is purple; in cardinals, scarlet piping and fascia are the rule.

Choir dress cassocks for some monsignors (prelates of honor and prothonotaries apostolic) and bishops are fully purple with amaranth trim, while those of cardinals are fully scarlet with scarlet trim.

Cassocks are frequently confused with the simar, but there is a distinction in that the simar has the small shoulder cape without buttons that does not fasten in the front.

Cassocks are sometimes worn by lay people when they are assisting with the liturgy in church, such as altar servers, by seminarians studying for the priesthood, and for religious who are not priests (e.g religious brothers).

Eastern Practice (Orthodox)

In Orthodoxy, there are two types of cassock: the Inner Cassock and the Outer Cassock or Ryasa. Monastics always wear a black cassock, while non-monastics can also wear blue, grey, or white (especially at Pascha).

  • The Inner Cassock (more commonly, simply Cassock) is a floor length garment, usually black, worn by all clergy members, monastics, and male seminarians. The Russian version, called a Podryasnik (Russian: подрясник), is double-breasted, closely fitted through the torso and flaring out to the skirt, and with a high collar buttoned off-center [1]. The Greek version, called an Anteri or Rason, is somewhat fuller, gathered at the waist with a cord, and with a high collar buttoned in the front [2]. The inner cassock is usually worn by all clergy members under their liturgical vestments.
  • The Outer Cassock also called a Ryasa, Riassa (Russian: ряса), or Exorason is a large, flowing garment worn over the inner cassock by bishops, priests, deacons, and monastics [3]. It is not worn by seminarians, readers or subdeacons.
  • A Cassock Vest is sometimes worn over the Inner Cassock in cooler weather, especially in the Russian tradition. This is a closely fitted collarless vest with patch pockets, usually falling slightly below the waist [4].

Non-clerical sixteenth century jacket

A cassock is also a loose-fitting, pullover, hip-length jacket worn by ordinary soldiers in the sixteenth century. A cassock has attached sleeves and is open down the sides, similar to a mandilion.

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