Michael Prokurat, Alexander Golitzin, Michael D. Peterson
The A to Z of the Orthodox Church


ETHNARCH. Literally meaning “head or ruler of a nation,” the origins of this word lie perhaps in the world of Hellenistic Judaism where it signified the local head of the Jewish community. As used by the Byzantine state, it seems to have meant the commander of a band of foreign mercenaries. Later, in the history of the Orthodox Church after Byzantium (q.v.), it serves to translate the Turkish phrase milletbashi, used during the Ottoman Empire (q.v.). Since the Ottomans followed the practice of Islam (q.v.) and did not distinguish between Church and state, this title and its accompanying civil responsibilities were assigned to Orthodox ecclesiastics during the Turkish period, in particular to the bishops and preeminently the Ecumenical Patriarch (q.v.). The latter therefore enjoyed both civil and religious jurisdiction over his flock. This legal linkage between nation and church was reinforced by revivals of nationalism in the 19th c. Balkans (q.v.) with consequences that still afflict the Orthodox Church today.