AskDefine | Define archpriest

Dictionary Definition

archpriest n : a senior clergyman and dignitary [syn: hierarch, high priest, prelate, primate]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. (Eastern Orthodox Church) The highest rank given to a married priest.
  2. (Roman Catholic Church) An honorific title applied to a priest who has a specific function.

Extensive Definition

Archpriest is the title of a priest who has supervisory duties over a number of parishes. The term is most often used in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic Churches, since the corresponding office in Latin rite Roman Catholicism has been replaced by the vicar forane.


Much like the archdeacon was the head of the diaconate of a diocese in ancient times, the archpriest was first the chief of the presbyterium of the diocese. Eventually by the Middle Ages, the office evolved into the priest of the principal parish among several local parishes. This priest had general charge of worship in this archpresbyteriate, and the parishioners of the smaller parishes had to attend Sunday Mass and hold baptisms at the principal parish. The subordinate parishes instead held daily mass and homilies.
This system was soon changed, and by the time of the Council of Trent the office of archpriest was replaced by the office of vicar forane, also known as the "dean" in English. The oldest known use of this 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.
The practice of having an archpriest has remained in Rome and in some countries like Malta. The rectors of the major basilicas have the title archpriest. However, the title is entirely honorary, reflecting the fact that these churches held archpriestly status in Rome's past.

Roman Catholicism

There are currently four Archpriests of the Major basilicas in Rome. These are;

Byzantine Christianity

In Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek-Catholicism, the rank of archpriest remains as a title of honor or seniority. It is synonymous with that of protopresbyter in Greek usage, but in Slavic usage they are distinct offices, with protopresbyter the higher of the two. In either case, it is the highest rank married clergy can ordinarily expect to attain. Archpriests are styled "Very Reverend" and are distinguished by the award of a pectoral cross. In the Slavic tradition this is specifically the gold cross, and they may be further distinguished with the award of the purple kamilavka, the epigonation, the jewelled pectoral cross, and the mitre. The highest award for a priest is a second pectoral cross. They might possess some limited supervisory responsibility over other clergy as the local dean or diocesan chancellor, but only because as senior clergy they are more likely to be selected for such offices.


In the Church of England there is at least one Archpriest, the Archpriest of Haccombe. This is a hamlet in Devon, near Newton Abbot where the parish is combined with that of Stoke-in-Teignhead with Combe-in-Teignhead. 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 East Anglia.

See also


archpriest in German: Erzpriester
archpriest in Spanish: Arcipreste
archpriest in French: Archiprêtre
archpriest in Occitan (post 1500): Archiprèire
archpriest in Polish: Archiprezbiter
archpriest in Swedish: Ärkepräst
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