Patriarch (Greek: patriarches, Latin: patriarcha) is the specific title given to the primate of certain of the autocephalous Orthodox churches. The term patriarch may also refer to certain of the Old Testament fathers of the Jewish nation, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The word Patriarch means the father or chief of a clan or family and is used biblical in a number of passages of the Old Testament: in Chronicles of the Septuagint for the chiefs of the tribes and in Hebrews and Acts of the New Testament when applied to Abraham, to David, and to the twelve sons of Jacob. The word patriarch began to be applied gradually to Christian dignitaries as technical terms of titles of honor during the early Christian centuries. By the fourth century, the word patriarch began to be used to designate prominent bishops.
After the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, the church structure was patterned after the administrative divisions of the Roman Empire wherein a metropolitan or bishop of a metropolis came to be the ecclesiastical head of a civil capital of a province or a metropolis. Whereas, the bishop of the larger administrative district, diocese, came to be called an exarch. In a few cases, a bishop came to preside over a number of dioceses, i.e., Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. At the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451, Constantinople was given jurisdiction over three dioceses for the reason that the city was "the residence of the emperor and senate". Additionally, Jerusalem was recognized at the Council of Chalcedon as one of the major sees. In 692, the Quinisext Council formally recognized and ranked the sees of the Pentarchy in order of preeminence, at that time Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
Today, a Patriarch is the ruling bishop of the following autocephalous Orthodox Churches:
- Church of Constantinople
- Church of Alexandria
- Church of Antioch
- Church of Jerusalem
- Church of Russia
- Church of Georgia
- Church of Serbia
- Church of Romania
- Church of Bulgaria
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