The title archimandrite (Greek: ?, romanized: archimandrit?s), primarily used in the Eastern Orthodox and the Eastern Catholic churches, originally referred to a superior abbot (hegumenos, Greek: , present participle of the verb meaning to lead) whom a bishop appointed to supervise several 'ordinary' abbots and monasteries, or to the abbot of some especially great and important monastery.
It is also used purely as a title of honour, with no connection to any actual monastery, and is bestowed on clergy as a mark of respect or gratitude for service to the Church. This particular sign of respect is only given to those priests who have taken vows of celibacy, that is monks. Distinguished married clergy may receive the title of archpriest.
The term derives from the Greek: the first element from ? archi- meaning "highest" or from archon "ruler"; and the second root from mandra meaning "enclosure" or "corral", "pen" and denoting a "monastery" (compare the usage of "flock" for "congregation").
The title has been in common use since the 5th century, but is mentioned for the first time in a letter to Epiphanius, prefixed to his 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 (compared to an ordinary abbot, a hegumenos).
In 1764 the Russian Orthodox Church organized its monasteries and ranked them in one of three classes, awarding only the abbots at the head of monasteries of the second or first class the title of archimandrite. Abbots of third class monasteries were to be styled "hegumen".
The duties of both a hegumen and an archimandrite are the same; however, during the Divine Service a hegumen wears a simple mantle, while the mantle of an archimandrite is decorated with sacral texts; an archimandrite also wears a mitre and bears a pastoral staff (pateritsa).
The Russian Orthodox Church commonly selects its bishops from the ranks of the archimandrites.
An archimandrite is a priest who has taken monastic vows and is theoretically in line to be ordained a bishop. Churches under the spiritual jurisdiction of the four Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates generally require that such a monastic priest possess a university degree in theology before he is elevated to the rank of archimandrite. Sometimes the requirement is waived if the priest can show outstanding achievement in other academic fields, such as the humanities or science.
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An archimandrite who does not function as an abbot has the style "The Very Reverend Archimandrite" whilst 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 Croatia, Hungary and Poland.