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
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
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
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 celebrate 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:
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.
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. In churches of the Russian tradition, 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). In churches observing Greek practice (where the title of protodeacon is not used), an archdeacon may be either married or celibate. There is traditionally only one archdeacon within a diocese.
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).