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The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church (above major archbishop and primate), the Hussite Church, Church of the East, and some Independent Catholic Churches are termed patriarchs (and in certain cases also popes – such as the Pope of Rome or Pope of Alexandria, and catholicoi – such as Catholicos Karekin II, and Baselios Thomas I Catholicos of the East). [1]

The word is derived from Greek πατριάρχης (patriarchēs), [2] meaning "chief or father of a family", [3] a compound of πατριά (patria), [4] meaning "family", and ἄρχειν (archein), [5] meaning "to rule". [3] [6] [7] [8]

Originally, a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. [9] The system of such rule of families by senior males is termed patriarchy. Historically, a patriarch has often been the logical choice to act as ethnarch of the community identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (such as Christians within the Ottoman Empire). The term developed an ecclesiastical meaning within Christianity. The office and the ecclesiastical circumscription of a Christian patriarch is termed a patriarchate .

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period during which they lived is termed the Patriarchal Age. The word patriarch originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible. [10]

Catholic Church

Catholic Patriarchal (non cardinal) coat of arms External Ornaments of Primates and Patriarchs.svg
Catholic Patriarchal (non cardinal) coat of arms


Map of Justinian's Pentarchy 1800 Wilkinson Map of the 4 Eastern Churches rectified.jpg
Map of Justinian's Pentarchy
Patriarch of Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak wearing a distinctive clothing of a patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak par Claude Truong-Ngoc mars 2014.jpg
Patriarch of Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak wearing a distinctive clothing of a patriarch

In the Catholic Church, the bishop who is head of a particular autonomous church, known in canon law as a church sui iuris, is ordinarily a patriarch, though this responsibility can be entrusted to a major archbishop, metropolitan, or other prelate for a number of reasons. [11]

Since the Council of Nicaea, the bishop of Rome has been recognized as the first among patriarchs. [12] That council designated three bishops with this 'supra-Metropolitan' title: Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. In the Pentarchy formulated by Justinian I (527–565), the emperor assigned as a patriarchate to the Bishop of Rome the whole of Christianized Europe (including almost all of modern Greece), except for the region of Thrace, the areas near Constantinople, and along the coast of the Black Sea. He included in this patriarchate also the western part of North Africa. The jurisdictions of the other patriarchates extended over Roman Asia, and the rest of Africa. Justinian's system was given formal ecclesiastical recognition by the Quinisext Council of 692, which the see of Rome has, however, not recognized.

There were at the time bishops of other apostolic sees that operated with patriarchal authority beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, such as the Catholicos of Selucia-Ctesephon.

Today, the patriarchal heads of Catholic autonomous churches are: [13]

Four more of the Eastern Catholic Churches are headed by a prelate known as a "Major Archbishop," [15] a title essentially equivalent to that of Patriarch and originally created by Pope Paul VI in 1963 for Josyf Slipyj. [16]

Minor Latin patriarchates

Minor patriarchs do not have jurisdiction over other metropolitan bishops. The title is granted purely as an honour for various historical reasons. They take precedence after the heads of autonomous churches in full communion, whether pope, patriarch, or major archbishop.

Historical Latin patriarchates

Patriarch as title ad personam

The pope can confer the rank of patriarch without any see, upon an individual archbishop, as happened on 24 February 1676 to Alessandro Crescenzi, of the Somascans, former Latin Titular Patriarch of Alexandria (19 January 1671 – retired 27 May 1675), who nevertheless resigned the title on 9 January 1682.

"Patriarch of the West"

In theological and other scholarly literature of the Early Modern period, the title "Patriarch of the West" (Latin: Patriarcha Occidentis; Greek: Πατριάρχης τῆς Δύσεως) was mainly used as designation for the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome over the Latin Church in the West. From 1863 to 2005, the title "Patriarch of the West" was appended to the list of papal titles in the Annuario Pontificio , which in 1885 became a semi-official publication of the Holy See. This was done without historical precedent or theological justification: There was no ecclesiastical office as such, except occasionally as a truism: the patriarch of Rome, for the Latin Church, was the only patriarch, and the only apostolic see, in the "west".

The title was not included in the 2006 Annuario. On 22 March 2006, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity offered an explanation for the decision to remove the title. It stated that the title "Patriarch of the West" had become "obsolete and practically unusable" when the term the West comprises Australia, New Zealand and North America in addition to Western Europe, and that it was "pointless to insist on maintaining it" given that, since the Second Vatican Council, the Latin Church, for which "the West" is an equivalent, has been organized as a number of episcopal conferences and their international groupings. [17]

Though the formulation "Patriarch of the West" is no longer used, the pope in that role issues the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church. During the Synod of Bishops on the Middle East in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI appeared, as patriarch of the Latin Church, with the other patriarchs, but without the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, though he was present at the same synod. [18]

Current and historical Catholic patriarchates

Current and historical Catholic patriarchates
of autonomous
particular churches
Latin Rome Pope Francis
Coptic Alexandria Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak
Syrian Antioch Ignatius Joseph III Younan
Maronite Antioch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi
Greek-Melkite Antioch Youssef Absi
Armenian Cilicia Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian
Chaldean Baghdad Louis Raphaël I Sako
Latin Church
Latin Aquileia suppressed in 1751
Latin Grado suppressed in 1451
Latin Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Lisbon Rui Valério
Latin Venice Francesco Moraglia
Latin Alexandria suppressed in 1964
Latin Antioch suppressed in 1964
Latin Constantinople suppressed in 1964
Latin East Indies Filipe Neri Ferrão
Latin West Indies vacant since 1963

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodox

The five ancient Patriarchates, the Pentarchy
TitleChurchRecognition / Additional notes
Patriarch of Rome the Pope of RomeOriginally "primus inter pares" according to Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized in 325 by First Council of Nicaea. Currently not an Episcopal or Patriarchal authority in the Eastern Orthodox Church, following the Great Schism in 1054.
Patriarch of Constantinople the chief of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople The "primus inter pares" of post-Schism Eastern Orthodoxy, recognized in 451 by Council of Chalcedon. [19]
Patriarch of Alexandria the Pope of All Africa and the chief of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria Recognized in 325 by First Council of Nicaea.
Patriarch of Antioch the head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East in the Near EastRecognized in 325 by First Council of Nicaea.
Patriarch of Jerusalem the chief of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in Israel, Palestine, Jordan and All ArabiaRecognized in 451 by Council of Chalcedon.
The five junior Patriarchates created after the consolidation of the Pentarchy
TitleChurchRecognition / Additional notes
Patriarch of All Bulgaria the chief of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Bulgaria Recognized as a Patriarchate in 918-919/927 [20]
Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia the chief of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Georgia Recognized as a Catholicate (Patriarchate) in 1008 [21]
Serbian Patriarch the chief of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia (and the former Yugoslavia)Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1375 [22]
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia the chief of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1593 [23] [24]
Patriarch of All Romania the chief of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Romania Recognized as a Patriarchate in 1925 [25]

Patriarchs outside the Eastern Orthodox Communion

Patriarchs outside the Eastern Orthodox Communion
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia The chief of the Russian Old-Orthodox Church.
The Patriarch of Kyiv and All Rus-UkraineThe chief of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Canonical.
Patriarch of the Autocephalous Turkish Orthodox Patriarchate

Oriental Orthodox Churches

Oriental Orthodox leaders
ChurchTitleAuthorityAdditional notes
Coptic Orthodox Church Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa The chief of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in Egypt and All AfricaThe Spiritual Leader of Oriental Orthodoxy.
Ethiopian Orthodox Church Archbishop of Axum and Patriarch Catholicos of All Ethiopia Chief of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Ethiopia
Eritrean Orthodox Church Archbishop of Asmara and Patriarch of All Eritrea Chief of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Eritrea
Syriac Orthodox Church Patriarch of Antioch Syriac Orthodox Church of AntiochSupreme Leader of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church.
Catholicos of India Maphrian, the second highest ecclesiastical authority in the Syriac Orthodox ChurchThe local head of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church
Indian Orthodox Church Catholicos of the East.Holds the additional title of Malankara Metropolitan The supreme leader of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
Armenian Orthodox Church Catholicos of Etchmiadzin, Armenia and of All Armenians Supreme leader of the Armenian Apostolic ChurchSupreme Patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church
Catholicos of Cilicia Chief of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Great House of Cilicia Chief of Diasporan Armenians of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Headquartered in Antelias, Lebanon
---Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople Chief of the Armenians in Turkey.
---Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem and of Holy Zion Chief of Armenians in Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Persian Gulf

Church of the East

Catholicose of the East is the title that has been held by the ecclesiastical heads of the Church of the East, the Grand Metropolitan of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, since AD. 280.

It refers to Patriarchs of the Church of the East, primate (Catholicos-Patriarch) of the Church of the East now divided into:

Other Christian denominations

The title of "Patriarch" is assumed also by the leaders of certain Christian denominations, who are seldom in communion with none of the historic Christian Churches. Many, but not necessarily all such patriarchs are church leaders of the following Churches:

Independent Catholic
Independent Eastern Catholic
Independent Eastern Orthodox
Independent Oriental Orthodox
Latter Day Saint movement

In the Latter Day Saint movement, a patriarch is one who has been ordained to the office of patriarch in the Melchizedek priesthood. The term is considered synonymous with the term evangelist, a term favored by the Community of Christ. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the patriarch's primary responsibilities is to give patriarchal blessings, as Jacob did to his twelve sons according to the Old Testament. Patriarchs are typically assigned in each stake and possess the title for life.


The term patriarch has also been used for the leader of the extinct Manichaean religion, initially based at Ctesiphon (near modern-day Baghdad) and later at Samarkand.

See also

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  5. ἄρχω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
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Further reading