Depending on the day of the church year, we see vestments of a particular color in the church. On some holidays, the most significant and solemn ones, the predominant color in the church is white. Why is that?
The spectrum of sunlight visible to the human eye is the seven colors of the rainbow. Taken together, they make up the clear white light that represents the uncreated Divine Light. These seven colors make up the basic range of colors in icon painting and in church decoration in general.
The rainbow is considered a special symbol for Christians. It was first seen by Noah as a God-given sign of the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth (Genesis 9:16). The bridge-like rainbow visibly linked the past with the future. They came together in the present, in the incarnation of Christ the Savior. That is why the rainbow is said to remind all who live on Earth of God.
The Apostle John the Theologian in Revelation sees the Lord Almighty sitting on the throne, and there was a rainbow round about the throne (Revelation 4:3). Elsewhere he sees a mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head (Revelation 10:1). The Evangelist Mark, describing the Transfiguration of the Lord, says that his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow (Mark 9:3).
That is why white in the church tradition is not one of many other colors. It is a symbol of the wonderful Divine light, shining with all the colors of the rainbow, as if containing all these colors. It is a symbol of God’s light that illuminates all, a symbol of purity and holiness, a symbol of salvation and hope, resurrection, and joy in the Kingdom of God.
That is why we see on the holidays dedicated to the events of the earthly life of the Savior that the decoration of the church and the clothes of priests (and often the people) are white. Speaking about the symbolism of white color as the light of God, it should be mentioned that the word “light” does not mean the flow of particles or electromagnetic radiation. The visible light is just an image, a symbol of the Reality that is impossible to tell about and that cannot be conveyed by any statements. That reality is accessible to the human heart, but not to the words of our language…
What kind of days are these? First of all, Christmas and Easter. The Easter service begins in white garments. The Epiphany and the Transfiguration of the Lord are among these feasts, too.
Funerals are also officiated by priests in white garments, for it is time for the deceased to meet the Lord. For the same reason the Sacrament of Baptism is held in white garments, as it is the Sacrament of one’s birth of water and spirit for eternal life with God, as Christ said.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds