AskDefine | Define eparchy

Dictionary Definition



1 a province in ancient Greece
2 a diocese of the Eastern Orthodox Church [syn: exarchate]

Extensive Definition

Eparchy is an anglicized Greek word, authentically latinized as eparchia and loosely translating as 'rule over something', but has the following specific meanings, both in political history and in the hierarchy of the Eastern Churches.

Secular jurisdictions

Roman Imperial administration

Diocletianian reforms

see Roman province Originally eparchy (επαρχία) was the Greek equivalent of the Latin term provincia, one of the divisions of the Roman Empire at the third echelon. The Tetrarchy ("rule of four"), an overhaul of the imperial structure by Emperor Diocletian (284-305), divided the empire into four great areas, governed by two senior and two junior emperors, each aided by a praetorian prefect, as a sort of chief of staff. Eventually these four areas became established as praetorian prefectures: they were Gaul and Italy in the West, and Illyricum and Oriens in the East.
Each of these was subdivided into dioceses, each under a vicarius, and these again into provinciae or eparchies, i.e. Roman provinces (but smaller than before, in many cases resulting from the split of a pre-existing province, and thus more numerous), under governors with different ranks (in many cases praeses provinciae, but also various terms tied into the pre-Dominate vocabulary) reflecting the province's intrinsic and/or strategic importance, for which the generic Latin term rector was used.


In the linguistically often illogical, mixed Greco-Latin jargon of Byzantine administration, eparchy was mainly used as the literal Greek version of the Latin praefectura ("prefecture"), i.e. the office, term or resort (rather Latin provincia in the widest sense, not necessarily territorial) of any praefectus, or governor, and not tied to a particular type of administrative division.

Modern Greece

The term eparchia was revived as one of the administrative sub-provincial units of post-Ottoman independent Greece, the country being divided into nomarchies ("Prefectures"), of which in turn some are subdivided into eparchies.

Church hierarchy

The Christian Church (before the split into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) adopted the temporal administrative division since the Tetrarchy in the Dominate, and part of its terminology, as convenient for internal use, but adapted it as follows.
  • The Praetorian prefectures of Gaul, Italy (i.e. the whole western empire), and Illyricum made up the Roman Patriarchate, under the Pope of Rome
  • the Prefecture of the East was divided (in the fourth century) between the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch and three deputies styled Exarchs.
    • the Diocese of Egypt was the Patriarchate of Alexandria
    • the Diocese of the East (not to be confused with the Prefecture of the East) became that of Antioch.
    • the Diocese of Asia was under the Exarch of Ephesus
    • the Diocese of Pontus under Cappadocia, and Thrace under Heraclea.
Under these patriarchates and exarchates came the eparchies under metropolitans; these had authority over the bishops of various cities. The original ecclesiastical eparchies then were provinces, each under a metropolitan. The First Council of Nicaea in 325 accepts this arrangement and orders that: "the authority [of appointing bishops] shall belong to the metropolitan in each eparchy" (can. iv), i.e. in each such civil eparchy there shall be a metropolitan bishop who has authority over the others. This is the origin of ecclesiastical provinces.
Later in Eastern Christendom, after a process of title-inflation, multiplying the numbers of dioceses, metropolitans and (arch)bishops and reducing their territorial size, the use of the word was gradually modified and now it means generally the diocese of a simple bishop.
Thus in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Eastern Catholic Churches, an eparchy is the jurisdiction of a bishop, corresponding to what in the West is called a diocese.
The name Eparchy was, however, not commonly used except in Russia, as the usual term for a diocese. The Russian Orthodox Church in the early 20th century counted eighty-six eparchies, of which three (Kiev, Moscow, and St. Petersburg) were ruled by bishops who always bore the title "Metropolitan", and fourteen others under archbishops. In 1917 an All-Russian Sobor restored the patriarchate and Saint Tikhon was elected the first Patriarch of Moscow in the modern era.

Sources and references

eparchy in Czech: Eparchie
eparchy in German: Eparchie
eparchy in Spanish: Eparquía (religión)
eparchy in Polish: Eparchia
eparchy in Portuguese: Eparquia
eparchy in Slovak: Eparchia (diecéza)
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