Today hegumenos means “abbot,” or the head of a monastery. The hegumenos is usually chosen by the monks from their own community and approved by the patriarch, metropolitan, or bishop within whose jurisdiction the monastery lies. The hegumenate is the highest rank of the priesthood to which priests, married or celibate, serving in cathedrals or large parishes, may be raised. The Arabic equivalent term for hegumenos is qummus (protopriest).
The term derives from the Greek hegoumenos, whose primary meaning was “ruler,” well known in pagan Greek and also used by Christian authors to denote a bishop. In late Greek texts from Egypt and in Coptic texts, this title referred to clerics and monks and was given to whoever played the leading role in the group. Hence, hegumenos actually corresponded to archipresbyteros, a term rarely used in Egypt, or to the even rarer protopresbyteros. The Hegumen is in charge of several priests.
In the Historia Monachorum in Aegypto some monks are described as “fathers of many monasteries,” although here “monastery” has a different meaning from the one given to it later on. However, Palladius, who was in Egypt at the same time as the author of the Historia monachorum at the end of the fourth century, used hegumenos with the technical meaning that was to become usual later on.