AskDefine | Define archdeacon

Dictionary Definition

archdeacon n : (Anglican Church) an ecclesiastical dignitary usually ranking just below a bishop

User Contributed Dictionary



arch- + deacon


  1. In the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox systems, a senior administrative official in a diocese, just under the bishop, often in charge of an archdeaconry. As a title, it can be filled by either a deacon or priest.

Extensive Definition

A position of archdeacon is a senior position in Anglicanism, Syrian Malabar Nasrani, and in some other Christian denominations, above that of most clergy and below a bishop. An archdeacon is responsible for administration of an archdeaconry, which is the principal subdivision of the diocese.

Catholic Church

In the Catholic Church, the post of archdeacon was once one of great importance as a senior official of a diocese. It has fallen into disuse, and its duties are now part of the work of such officials as the vicar general, episcopal vicar, and the vicar forane/dean/archpriest.


In 11th-century England, a diocese was meant to be about 3,000 square miles (8,000 km²). In theory, this meant that every part was reachable within a single day's ride. In practice, some dioceses were much larger, taking up to five days in some cases to go end to end. Additionally, some had topographical considerations that greatly limited travel within them (meaning that much shorter distances could be covered in a single day than in other areas). The response to the demands of such distances and terrain, and the increasing demands of church business, was territorial subdivision. The primary unit of subdivision of a diocese was the archdeaconry. An ecclesiastical council held at Windsor in 1070 ordered "that bishops should appoint archdeacons in their churches".


The archdeacon acted as the bishop's representative with the duty of supervising parish churches, for example ensuring they had proper training in how to lead Mass and use the proper equipment.
These words, slightly adapted from the text of an archdeacon's installation in England in 2001, are indicative of the form that this ministry now takes:
"Archdeacons are called to share in the mission of the church, and to exercise their ministry in conjunction with the Bishop. They each have a part in the oversight, discipline and pastoral care of the clergy and people in their archdeaconry. They are to ensure that the Bishop is aware of the needs and concerns of clergy and people, and to foster in them a fuller sense of their responsibilities as members of Christ's body. Archdeacons share the ordinary jurisdiction of the Bishop of the diocese, and exercise the juridiction of the Consistory Court of the diocese as the Chancellor directs. They present candidates to the Bishop for ordination as deacons and priests. They are to induct and install ministers as priests of their parishes, to conduct visitations of the parishes, and to admit Churchwardens to their office on behalf of the Bishop. By word and deed, and by their own example, they are to encourage good administration and observance of the law of the church, exercising their authority with wisdom, gentleness and vision; in all things remembering that they minister as priests and pastors in the church of God."
In practice archdeacons are concerned with decisions relating to resourcing and deployment and in the setting-up and evaluation of experimental and innovative patterns of ministry. They are ex-officio members of principal diocesan committees. In certain circumstances the archdeacon may be required to act as complainant in order to initiate an action under the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003.

Anglican Communion

In the Anglican Communion, an archdeacon is usually styled "The Venerable" instead of the usual clerical style of "The Reverend". In the Church of England the position of an archdeacon can only be held by an ordained priest who has been practising for six years; in some other parts of the Anglican Communion the position can be held by a deacon as well. In some parts of the Anglican Communion where women cannot be ordained as priests or consecrated as bishops, the position of archdeacon is effectively the most senior office a female cleric can hold: this being the current situation, for example, in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

Eastern Orthodox Church

In the Eastern Christian Churches (Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches), an archdeacon is an ordained deacon who holds a senior position of responsibility and honor on the staff of a bishop—an archdeacon is part of the "monastic" (that is, celibate) clergy, as distinguished from a similar position of seniority and honor, the protodeacon (for married clergy).

Syrian Malabar Nasrani

The Archdeacon was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India.” Portuguese colonists stopped this practice among the Catholic Syrian Christians and Pulikkottil Mar Dionysias stopped this amongst the Orthodox Syrian Christians in 1816.
According to the traditional structure, the Indian diocese of the Church of the East was governed by a Metropolitan sent by the Catholicos Patriarch, from Seleucia-Ctesiphon. At the same time, on the local level, in India, Church affairs were governed by the Malabar Assembly. There was also an indigenous head of the Church of Malabar, which, according to historians, means “the head of the caste,” that is, the head of the St Thomas Christians, but also the “Archdeacon of All India.” Apparently, in his person an indigenous function, characteristic of the St Thomas Christian community, was combined with an existing function of the Church of the East.
The Persian Patriach Thimothy (780-826) called him the head of the faithful in India.


According to the canons of the Eastern Church, the Archdeacon is the highest priestly rank: he is the head of all the clerics belonging to a bishopric; he is responsible for the whole worship of the cathedral church and represents the will of the bishop in his absence. One clearly understands how the appointment of an indigenous Archdeacon of All India served the needs of the ecclesiastical organisation of the Church of the East. While the Catholicos Patriarch of Seleucia-Ctesiphon reserved for himself the right to send his own prelates originating from Iraq to the Indian diocese, the continuous governance of his Indian flock was secured by the indigenous Archdeacon serving as the head of all the priests in Malabar and representing the bishop’s will.
However, from the local point of view, the rank of the Archdeacon was more important than this; not only was he the most important priest of the community, but he also fulfilled the role of an Ethnarch. He was “the prince and head of the Christians of Saint Thomas” and had such titles as “Archdeacon and Gate of All India, Governor of India.” The origin and the meaning of the term “Gate” is mysterious. One might suppose that it is a Christological title: “I am the Gate of the sheep” (Gospel of John 10:7).
While originally the Archdeacon in the Church of the East was elected by the bishop according to merit, the office of the Archdeacon of India seems to have been hereditary. It was the privilege of the Pakalomattam family, at least from the sixteenth century onwards. Indeed, we know about a number of Pakalomattam Archdeacons, beginning with 1502, when Metropolitan John of India appointed George Pakalomattam. The name of the family varies, and the family seems to be identical with the Parambil family, translated into Portuguese as De Campo.
The Archdeacon had all the attributes of a secular leader and was normally escorted by a number, sometimes several thousands, of soldiers. It is important to note that while there could be several bishops appointed for the Malabar Diocese, there was always only one Archdeacon, a custom contrary to the canons of the Church of the East. This situation is best explained by the fact that from the point of view of the East Syrian Church structure the Archdeacon was an ecclesiastical function, but from that of the St Thomas Christian community it was also a socio-political, princely function, representing the unity of the Christian nation, or caste(s), of Hendo (India).
archdeacon in Aragonese: Arziagne
archdeacon in Modern Greek (1453-): Αρχιδιάκονος
archdeacon in Spanish: Archidiácono
archdeacon in French: Archidiacre
archdeacon in Italian: Arcidiacono (religione)
archdeacon in Dutch: Aartsdiaken
archdeacon in Norwegian: Erkediakon
archdeacon in Polish: Archidiakon
archdeacon in Portuguese: Arcediago
archdeacon in Chinese: 會吏長
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