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Originally a patriarch was a man who exercised autocratic authority as a pater familias over an extended family. The system of such rule of families by senior males is called patriarchy. This is a Greek word, a composition of (pater) meaning "father" and (archon) meaning "leader", "chief", "ruler", "king", etc.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are referred to as the three patriarchs of the people of Israel, and the period in which they lived is called the Patriarchal Age. It originally acquired its religious meaning in the Septuagint version of the Bible.

The word has mainly taken on specific ecclesiastical meanings. In particular, the highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church (above Major Archbishop and primate), and the Assyrian Church of the East are called patriarchs. The office and ecclesiastical conscription (comprising one or more provinces, though outside his own (arch)diocese he is often without enforceable jurisdiction) of such a patriarch is called a patriarchate. Historically, a Patriarch may often be the logical choice to act as Ethnarch, representing the community that is identified with his religious confession within a state or empire of a different creed (as Christians within the Ottoman Empire).

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodoxy

Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch.

Eastern Patriarchs out of the Orthodox Communion

Oriental Orthodox Churches

see: Oriental Orthodoxy

Syriac Christianity

Roman Catholicism

As part of the Pentarchy, the Pope's Patriarchate of Rome was the only one in the Western Roman empire. It was roughly coterminous with present territory of the Latin Rite. In the past popes have used the title Patriarch of the West or Patriarch of Rome and All the West. However, this title was removed from a reference publication issued by the Vatican in 2006, although it was not abrogated. The Orthodox, however, believe that among the five Patriarchs and ancient Patriarchates (i.e., Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem), a special place of honor belongs to the pope, a "primacy of honor," but not of supremacy.

Latin Rite

Patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches

see: Patriarchs of the East

Historical Latin Rite Patriarchs

Catholic Patriarchs not in communion with the Church in Rome


According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 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. One of the patriarch's primary responsibilities is to give Patriarchal blessings, as Jacob did to his twelve sons in the Old Testament. Patriarchs are typically assigned in each stake and hold the title for life.

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