The highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church (above major archbishop and primate), and the Church of the East are termed patriarchs (and in certain cases also popes).

The word is derived from Greek πατριάρχης (patriarchēs),[1] meaning "chief or father of a family",[2] a compound of πατριά (patria),[3] meaning "family", and ἄρχειν (archein),[4] meaning "to rule".[2][5][6][7]

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 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 the Christian Church. 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.[8]

Catholic Church

Catholic Patriarchal (non cardinal) coat of arms

Patriarchs

Map of Justinian's Pentarchy
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 serious reasons.[9]

Since the Council of Nicaea, the bishop of Rome has been recognized as the first among patriarchs.[10] 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:[11]

Eastern Christianity

Eastern Orthodox

Other independent uses

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

Independent Catholic
Independent Eastern Catholic
Independent Eastern Orthodox
Independent Oriental Orthodox
Protestant
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.

Others