The title "Archimandrite" (Greek: polytonic|ἀρχιμανδρίτης - "archimandrites"), primarily used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches, originally referred to a superior abbot whom a bishop appointed to supervise several "ordinary" abbots (each styled "hegumenos") and monasteries, or to the abbot of some especially great and important monastery. Today, the title is also used as one purely of honor, with no connection to any actual monastery, bestowed on clergy as a mark of respect or gratitude for their services (this honor is only given to those priests who have taken vows of celibacy — "monastics" — while married clergy may receive instead the title of "archpriest.")

The term derives from the Greek: the first element from polytonic|ἀρχι "archi-" meaning "highest" or from "archon" "ruler"; and the second root from polytonic|μάνδρα "mandra" meaning "enclosure" or "pen" and denoting a "monastery" (compare the usage of "flock" for "congregation").

The title has seen common use since the 5th century, but occurs for the first time in a letter to Epiphanius, prefixed to his "Panarion | Panarium" (ca. 375), but the "Lausiac History" of Palladius may evidence its common use in the 4th century as applied to Saint Pachomius.

When the supervision of monasteries passed to another episcopal official — the Great Sakellarios ("sacristan") — the title of "archimandrite" became an honorary one for abbots of important monasteries (as opposed to an ordinary abbot, a hegumenos).

Russian usage

The Russian Orthodox Church acquired the title of "archimandrite" in its later meaning. Initially in some cases it served as an extra title: for example, manuscripts of 1174 mention Hegumen Polikarp of Kiev Cave Monastery as "Hegumen Archimandrite".

In 1874 the Russian Orthodox Church secularized its monasteries and ranked them each in one of three classes, awarding only the abbots at the head of monasteries of the second or first class the title of "archimandrite".

The duties of both a "hegumen" (abbot of a third-class monastery) and an archimandrite do not differ, but during the divine service the hegumen wears a simple mantle, while the higher-ranking archimandrite wears a mantle decorated with sacral texts, a mitre and bears a pastoral staff ("pateritsa").

The Russian Orthodox Church commonly selects its bishops from the ranks of the archimandrites.

Western usage

An Archimandrite who does not function as the abbot of a monastery has the style "The Very Reverend Archimandrite"; and one with abbatial duties uses the style "The Right Reverend Archimandrite".

The word occurs in the "Regula Columbani" (c. 7), and du Cange gives a few other cases of its use in Latin documents, but it never came into vogue in the West; yet, owing to intercourse with Greek and Slavonic Christianity, the title sometimes appears in southern Italy and Sicily, and in Hungary and Poland.


*"Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie" (in French)

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