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The ecclesiastical title of archpriest or archpresbyter belongs to certain priests with supervisory duties over a number of parishes. The term is most often used in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic Churches and may be somewhat analogous to a monsignor in the Latin Church, but in the Eastern Churches an archpriest wears an additional vestment and, typically, a pectoral cross, and one becomes an archpriest via a liturgical ceremony.


The term may be used in the Roman Catholic Church instead of dean or vicar forane.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, during the persecution of Catholics in England, an archpriest appointed from Rome had authority over all of the church's secular clergy in the country. In the present-day Church of England, a rural or area dean resembles an archpriest. In the Roman Catholic church traditionally a priest's first Mass has an archpriest assisting the newly ordained priest, functioning as the deacon otherwise does, but this is only for that event.


In ancient times, the archdeacon was the head of the diaconate of a diocese, as is still the case in the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the archpriest was first the chief of the presbyterium of the diocese. His duties included deputising for the bishop in spiritual matters when necessary.

Western Christianity

Latin Catholic Church

In the western church, by the Middle Ages, the title had evolved and was that of the priest of the principal parish among several local parishes. This priest had general charge of worship in this archpresbyterate, and the parishioners of the smaller parishes had to attend Sunday Mass and hold baptisms at the principal parish while the subordinate parishes instead held daily mass and homilies.

Exceptionally, the pope could elevate one to the rank of archipresbyterate nullius, detached from any prelature, yet under a non-prelate, as happened in 1471 with the future abbacy (1583) and (since 1828) bishopric of Guastalla.

By the time of the Council of Trent the office of archpriest was replaced by the office of vicar forane, also known in English as "dean". The first recorded use of this meaning of the title comes from St Charles Borromeo's reforms in his own diocese. Unlike vicars general and vicars episcopal, vicars forane are not prelates, which means they do not possess ordinary power. Their role is entirely supervisory, and they perform visitations for the bishop and report to the bishop or vicar general any problems in their vicariate.

From late Elizabethan England until 1623, an archpriest was appointed from Rome to oversee the Roman Catholic Church's mission in England, with authority over all secular clergy in the country. [1]

The title of archpriest has survived in Rome, in Malta and elsewhere, where it is now held by the rectors of the major basilicas. However, the title is entirely honorary, reflecting the fact that these churches held archpriestly status in the past.

There are four archpriests, for each of the four papal major basilicas in Rome, all of whom presently are bishops :

Many churches (thousands) in the world, other than basilicas, have the right to be governed by an archpriest, according to the specific historical tradition. Hence, the title is mostly honorary. Today, the archpriest has no control over the subordinate clergy. The use of "archpriest" in Roman Catholicism should not be confused with "protopriest", the senior Cardinal-Priest in the College of Cardinals.

Church of England

In the Church of England there is at least one archpriest, the Archpriest of Haccombe. The appointment, originally a Roman Catholic one predating the Reformation, was first made in AD 1315 and has been held ever since. It was confirmed by an Order in Council on 1 April 1913 under King George V. [2] The title reflects the fact that the archpriest has the right to sit beside the bishop and acknowledges no authority below that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, although today, it is more appropriate to go through the usual channels of the church's hierarchy. Haccombe is a village in Devon, near Newton Abbot where the parish is combined with that of Stoke-in-Teignhead with Combe-in-Teignhead. There is an hereditary patron for the Church of St Blaise, Haccombe. The modern office most closely resembling that of archpriest is the role of rural dean (rural dioceses) or area dean (urban dioceses). Like the archpriest of old, these officers have supervisory duties, but not ordinary jurisdiction, and are entitled to carry out visitations of subordinate parishes when so commissioned. With this in mind, although the Archpriest of Haccombe holds a unique role in the Church of England, it must be considered analogous with certain incumbencies which bear the title "Dean" regardless of whether or not their incumbent is the actual rural or area dean. One example of this historical oddity is the office of Dean of Bocking in Essex.[ citation needed ]

Eastern Christianity

A Russian archpriest in his street clothes - Feodor Dubyansky, confessor to the Empress Elizabeth and Catherine II (the portrait of Alexei Antropov, 1761) Portrait of Father Fyodor Dubyansky.jpg
A Russian archpriest in his street clothes – Feodor Dubyansky, confessor to the Empress Elizabeth and Catherine II (the portrait of Alexei Antropov, 1761)

Archpriest, also protopope (Greek : πρωτοπαπᾶς, protopapas) or protopresbyter (Greek : πρωτοπρεσβύτερος, protopresbyteros), is a clerical rank, a title of honor given to non-monastic priests [3] [note 1] and is conferred by a bishop with the laying on of hands and prayer. [4] An archpriest typically wears an epigonation, a vestment originally worn only by bishops; however, details vary locally, and in some places being given the epigonation is an honor that typically precedes being made an archpriest and in other places, it is an honor that is given to only some archpriests. [note 2] An archpriest also wears a pectoral cross both as part of his street clothes and when vested. [note 3] The ceremony for making an archpriest is analogous to other clerical promotions bestowed with cheirothesia: at the little entrance of the divine liturgy, the candidate is conducted to the ambo in the middle of the church where the bishop is at the time, and the bishop blesses him and says a prayer [4] addressed to Christ asking to "... endue our brother (name) with Thy Grace, and adorn him with virtue to stand at the head of the Presbyters of Thy people, and make him to be a good example to them that are with him ..." [5]

In the Russian tradition, protopresbyter is a higher rank than archpriest, as explained in a translation by the Orthodox Church in America:

Although entitled "for the making of a Protopresbyter" it is clear that what is now known as an "Archpriest" is what is usually meant. The rank of "Protopresbyter" as a distinction higher than "Archpriest" is a later addition. The same Order, naturally, is used for what is now called "Protopresbyter". [5]

Other uses

The Unitarian Church of Transylvania is divided into five Archpriestships as a form of territorial governance, [6] virtual dioceses.

See also


  1. Among monastic clergy in many places, the equivalent of being made an archpriest is to be given the rank of archimandrite as an honorary title (by original definition, an archimandrite is the abbot of a large monastery).
  2. And, in the Russian Church, the last situation is always true with the added complexity of – as a step before being made an archpriest – being awarded another vestment peculiar to the Russian tradition, the nabedrennik; numerous other local customs exist.
  3. In the Russian tradition, every priest wears a pectoral cross and being given a gold pectoral cross and then a jeweled one typically precede being made an archpriest and protopresbyter, respectively.

References and sources

  1. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Archpriest"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 446.
  2. "No. 28706". The London Gazette . 1 April 1913. pp. 2357–2360.
  3. Ware, Timothy (1963), The Orthodox Church, London, UK: Penguin Books (published 1987), p. 193, ISBN   978-0-14-013529-9
  4. 1 2 Sokolof, Archpriest Dimitrii (1899), Manual of the Orthodox Church's Divine Services, Jordanville, New York: Holy Trinity Monastery (published 2001), p. 136, ISBN   0-88465-067-7
  5. 1 2 The Great Book of Needs: Expanded and Supplemented (Volume 1): The Holy Mysteries (v. 1), South Canaan, Pennsylvania: Saint Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2000, p. 258, ISBN   1-878997-56-4
  6. (in Romanian) Marius Vasileanu, "Cultele din România: Biserica Unitariană", in Adevărul , May 25, 2006 (hosted by; retrieved July 27, 2007

Further reading

Related Research Articles

A vicar is a representative, deputy or substitute; anyone acting "in the person of" or agent for a superior. Linguistically, vicar is cognate with the English prefix "vice", similarly meaning "deputy". The title appears in a number of Christian ecclesiastical contexts, but also as an administrative title, or title modifier, in the Roman Empire. In addition, in the Holy Roman Empire a local representative of the emperor, perhaps an archduke, might be styled "vicar".

Vestment clothing prescribed for Christian clergy performing specific roles

Vestments are liturgical garments and articles associated primarily with the Christian religion, especially among the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Many other groups also make use of liturgical garments; this was a point of controversy in the Protestant Reformation and sometimes since, in particular during the Ritualist controversies in England in the 19th century.

Hegumen Head of an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic monastery

Hegumen, hegumenos, or igumen is the title for the head of a monastery in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, similar to the title of abbot. The head of a convent of nuns is called a hegumenia or ihumenia. The term means "the one who is in charge", "the leader" in Greek.

Archimandrite title

The title archimandrite, primarily used in the Eastern Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic churches, originally referred to a superior abbot (hegumenos) whom a bishop appointed to supervise several 'ordinary' abbots and monasteries, or to the abbot of some especially great and important monastery.

Epigonation liturgical vestment used in some Eastern Christian churches

The epigonation, or palitza, is a vestment used in some Eastern Christian churches.

Nabedrennik vestment worn by some Russian Orthodox priests

A nabedrennik is a vestment worn by some Russian Orthodox priests. It is a square or rectangular cloth worn at the right hip, suspended from a strap attached to the two upper corners of the vestment and drawn over the left shoulder. Unlike all other priestly vestments, the nabedrennik has no associated vesting prayer.

A dean, in a church context, is a cleric holding certain positions of authority within a religious hierarchy. The title is used mainly in the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and many Lutheran denominations. A dean's assistant is called a subdean.

Pectoral cross cross worn on the chest by Christian clergy of various denominations

A pectoral cross or pectorale is a cross that is worn on the chest, usually suspended from the neck by a cord or chain. In ancient and medieval times pectoral crosses were worn by both clergy and laity, but by the end of the Middle Ages the pectoral cross came to be a special indicator of position worn by bishops. In the Catholic Church, the wearing of a pectoral cross remains restricted to popes, cardinals, bishops and abbots. The modern pectoral cross is relatively large, and is different from the small crosses worn on necklaces by many Christians. Most pectoral crosses are made of precious metals and some contain precious or semi-precious gems. Some contain a corpus like a crucifix while others use stylized designs and religious symbols.

Choir dress a traditional costume of clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches

Choir dress is the traditional vesture of the clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches worn for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments except when celebrating or concelebrating the Eucharist. It differs from the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Eucharist, being normally made of fabrics such as wool, cotton or silk, as opposed to the fine brocades used in vestments. It may also be worn by lay assistants such as acolytes and choirs. It was abandoned by most of the Churches which originated in the sixteenth-century Reformation.

The Right Reverend is a style applied to certain religious figures.

Rural dean Clerical title in some Christian churches

In the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church as well as some Lutheran denominations, a rural dean is a member of clergy who presides over a "rural deanery" ; "ruridecanal" is the corresponding adjective. In some Church of England dioceses rural deans have been formally renamed as area deans.

Deanery an ecclesiastical entity in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of England and the Church of Norway

A deanery is an ecclesiastical entity in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, the Evangelical Church in Germany, and the Church of Norway. A deanery is either the jurisdiction or residence of a dean.

The Very Reverend is a style given to certain religious figures.

Chorbishop position

A chorbishop is a rank of Christian clergy below bishop. The name chorepiscope or chorepiscopus is taken from the Greek Χωρεπίσκοπος and means "rural bishop". In fact, a chorbishop is an honorary prelate, or archpriest, in several of the Eastern Christian Churches, and it should not be confused with the sacramental Order of Bishop.

Anglican ministry

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A protopope, or protopresbyter, is a priest of higher rank in the Eastern Orthodox and the Byzantine Catholic Churches, generally corresponding to Western Christianity's archpriest or the Latin Church's dean.

Pontifical vestments, also referred to as episcopal vestments or pontificals, are the liturgical vestments worn by bishops in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, in addition to the usual priestly vestments for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments. The pontifical vestments are only worn when celebrating or presiding over liturgical functions. As such, the garments should not be confused with choir dress, which are worn when attending liturgical functions but not celebrating or presiding.

Order of precedence in the Catholic Church

Precedence signifies the right to enjoy a prerogative of honor before other persons; for example, to have the most distinguished place in a procession, a ceremony, or an assembly, to have the right to express an opinion, cast a vote, or append a signature before others, to perform the most honorable offices.

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

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