An assistant to a bishop. The rapid diffusion of Christianity in the early centuries and the consequent increase in the number of churches and the duties of the diocesan bishops necessitated the appointment of assistants to these bishops, holding the title of chorepiscopus, to assume some of the pastoral duties in rural areas.
In the Eastern church chorepiscopi first appeared in the third century in Asia Minor, and before long, clergymen elevated to that dignity spread in many parts of the Christian world. The earliest known was Zoticus, chorepiscopus of the village of Comana in Pamphylia. Some chorepiscopi also attended the Council of Ancyra (314), that of Neocaesarea (315), the first Council of NICAEA (325), and the Council of EPHESUS (431). None are known to have attended the Council of CHALCEDON (451).
In the Western church chorepiscopi were first mentioned in connection with the Council of Reiz (439). Later they grew in number in various parts of Europe, especially Germany and France. By the twelfth century, however, the rank of chorepiscopus had completely vanished.
The question of determining the exact position of a chorepiscopus in the hierarchical order of the early church gave rise to much controversy. To see the matter in its proper perspective, let us consider the stipulation of such authority as was granted to the chorepiscopus by various councils. According to Canon 13 of the Council of Ancyra: “It is not lawful for chorespiscopi to ordain presbyters or deacons, without the commission of the bishop given in writing. . . .” Under Canon 14 of the Council of Neocaesarea, “The chorepiscopi, however, are indeed after the pattern of the seventy; and as fellow-servants, on account of their devotion to the poor, they have the honor of making the oblation.”
Finally, according to Canon 10 of the Council of Antioch (341), “The Holy Synod decrees that persons in villages and districts, or those who are called chorepiscopi, even though they may have received ordination to the episcopate, shall regard their own limits and manage the churches subject to them, and be content with the care and administration of these; but they may ordain readers, subdeacons, and exorcists, and shall be content with promoting these, but shall not presume to ordain either a presbyter or a deacon, without the consent of the bishop of the city to which he and his district are subject.”
It is evident from the above that the office of the chorepiscopus is inferior to that of the bishop, that his duties are mainly concerned with rural areas and the care of the poor, that he and his congregation are subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop of the city by whom he is ordained or appointed, and that he is entitled to ordain readers, subdeacons, and exorcists in the villages in his charge.
Opinion is divided as regards the ecclesiastical classification of the office of chorepiscopate: some historians consider it an episcopal rank, others a clerical one, while a third group of historians believe that some chorespiscopi were full-fledged bishops and others were only titularly so. In the Coptic and other Eastern churches, the chorepiscopate is a clerical rank accorded at times to senior priests. In larger dioceses, however, an assistant bishop may be chosen to work under a metropolitan, enjoying the prestige of a bishop, without having his name mentioned during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. Such chorepiscopi may later be consecrated bishops, in the event of vacancies in their own or other dioceses.
- Asad Rustum. Kanisat Madinat Allah Antakiyah al-‘Uzma, Vol. 1, p. 164. Beirut, 1958.
- Habib Jirjis. Asrar al-Kanisah al-Sab‘ah, 2nd ed., p. 219. Cairo, 1950.