The First Five Ranks

Oikonomos – Οἰκονόμος

Oikonomos – Οἰκονόμος

The οἰκονόμος (steward) is an ecclesiastical rank in the Orthodox Church. The word οἰκονόμος is a compound word from ὄικος (home) and the verb νέμω (dispense) which meant, in ancient Greek, the one who takes care of the house. In modern Greek, it means one who wants to economize.

In the Eastern Church

In the Church of the fourth century, the οἰκονόμος was an official responsible for managing ecclesiastical property, under the supervision of the bishop. He was chosen by clergy and laymen who had some experience with the law. In the medieval era, the οἰκονόμος was a trustee and steward of the items necessary for the orderly functioning of his church, or of his monastery (if he was a monk). In Constantinople, during the early period, an οἰκονόμος was a high official in the service of the Church and not necessarily himself in the clergy. At least one Ecumenical Patriarch, Kyriakos of Constantinople (595–606), served as οἰκονόμος and treasurer of the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople prior to his election to the patriarchal throne.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 ce) decreed in Canons 9 and 26 that local bishops should appoint an οἰκονόμος only from the ranks of the clergy. This was so that the bishop might be spared this taxing kind of work and so that there would be no overlap between the private purse that the bishop brought with him when he assumed the office of bishop of a particular see and the property of the local church. The Council made this decision because Bishop Ibas of Edessa in Mesopotamia was accused of mismanagement of ecclesiastical property and promised in front of the Council that he would appoint an οἰκονόμος who would be responsible for managing ecclesiastical property. According to canon law, the bishop is responsible for ecclesiastical property. Therefore, whatever wealth he might acquire after his ordination would belong to the Church, and he should appoint an οἰκονόμος, from the clergy of his diocese, who would manage it according to instructions from the bishop. He would be assisted by notaries and secretaries. Thus, the οἰκονόμος, by decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, was recognized as an important officer of the Church in each diocese.

During the reign of Justinian I (527–565), when ecclesiastical property began to increase rapidly, a corporation was created that represented the Church, which granted the Church the legal right to own property. This was done because various donors ceded property to the Church and to philanthropic institutions of the Church, but not to a diocese itself. The management of these institutions was assigned as a special duty to the οἰκονόμος of the Church or the οἰκονόμος of the institution appointed by the bishop. The Fourth Ecumenical Council had previously decided (Canon 25) that in the event of the bishop’s death, the οἰκονόμος would continue managing the ecclesiastical property until a new bishop would decide upon the position of the οἰκονόμος.

The Church’s income came from its property. The Church rented property to various people, and the rental was called “tenure” (ἐμφύτευσις). The οἰκονόμος was also responsible for all collections and all other income from the property of the Church. He was expected to live up to his responsibilities with financial assistance to the poor, the widows, and the orphans. He was obliged to send reports regularly to the bishop and once a year submitted a normal written account. Patriarch Photios (858–867 and 877–886) writes that Justinian I, in his legislation, decreed that the οἰκονόμος should present statements of receipts and disbursements of the ecclesiastical property to his bishop at the end of each year. Photios also writes that if a bishop does not appoint an οἰκονόμος to manage the ecclesiastical property, then the archbishop of the larger district is required to make the appointment. This manner of managing ecclesiastical property continued until the eleventh century at which time a new group of officials came into the Church, the ἐξωκατάκοιλοι (“those living away from the diocesan offices”). At the head of the group was the οἰκονόμος known as the Great Oikonomos. A Great Oikonomos took on new duties and was responsible for managing the properties of Hagia Sophia as well as the properties of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Until 1057, the Great Oikonomos was appointed by the emperor. In 1057, Emperor Isaac I Komnenos transferred this right to Patriarch Michael Cerularios (1043–1059), because the Patriarch had helped him ascend the throne. From then on, only the Patriarch selected the Great Oikonomos and all his officers. 

The rank of οἰκονόμος exists in monastic life as well. He is responsible for managing monastic properties and for their income and expenses. The οἰκονόμος was subject to the ἡγούμενος (abbot) and to the bishop of his diocese, in accordance with the regulations that were determined in the typikon of the monastery and the canons of the Church. In addition to the daily expenses of the monastery, the οἰκονόμος was responsible for the monastery’s financial obligations to the diocese and for the payment of taxes to the state in view of the fact that monasteries were not always exempt from taxation. The οἰκονόμος was assisted in his duties by a παροικονόμος (assistant oikonomos) of the monastery. Later, as monastic life developed and expanded with annexes, cloisters, and chapels, a need arose for a co-ordinator who would head the financial affairs of the entire monastic community. He was called the Great Oikonomos and took over the management of all the properties. The duties of the οἰκονόμος were fulfilled by a canonically ordained clergyman.

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the rank of οἰκονόμος disappeared as an active post of the Church. It remained simply an honorary title to be awarded to presbyters by the bishop for exceptional service to the Church.

According to the Great Euchologion, the rank of Great Oikonomos belongs in first place in the first five ranks. The clergyman or monk is elevated to the title of Oikonomos or Great Oikonomos through a special ecclesiastical service, “Order for the Ordination of the Oikonomos,” and for the Great Oikonomos, “Order for the Ordination of the Great Oikonomos.” 

In the Western Church

The position of oeconomus is also found in the Western Church with the same duties both in the Church and in monastic life. The Council of Seville (in 618 ce) stated (Canon 9) that each bishop is obliged to appoint an oeconomus from the ranks of the clergy to manage the ecclesiastical property in accordance with the decisions of the Synod in Chalcedon. The Synod of Toledo (633), in Canon 48, decreed that every bishop is required to choose from clergy of his diocese, officials whom “Greeks call oecunomus” on behalf of the bishop. The Council of Meaux in France (845), in Canon 47, decreed that the clergy of each diocese could not choose an oeconomus to manage the secular needs, even on a temporary basis, without the consent of the bishop. If the bishop, due to old age or illness, cannot exercise his duties, then the archbishop of the larger district, can proceed to elect an oeconomus with the consent of the bishop. The Synod of Pontigo (876), Canon 14, decreed that in the case of the bishop’s death, the oeconomus takes on duties as the executor of the will and guardian of the property of the diocese. After the death of the Bishop of Salonon in Dalmatia, Gregory the Great (590–604) wrote that the oeconomus who was vicar (locum tenens) of the diocese would continue to manage finances and should prepare a report of receipts and disbursements to the newly elected bishop. The duties of the oeconomus are outlined clearly in detail by Bishop Isidore of Seville (560–634). The oeconomus would be responsible for the maintenance of church buildings; manage all legal problems of the church; supervise the fields, vineyards, and ecclesiastical real estate; distribute money fairly among clergy; offer financial assistance to the poor, orphans, and widows; supply clothing for clergy and all personnel of the diocese. In all aspects of his work, the oeconomus is under the supervision of the bishop. The oeconomus is also mentioned in the legislation of Charlemagne the Great (742–814). We find here the title of archioeconomus who is possibly the head of all the oeconomi, with special duties.

Within the monastic world of Latin Christianity, the oeconomus may carry the variant titles equonimus or custos monasterii (“guardian of the monastery”), or the supervisor responsible for the internal and the secular matters of the monastery, the purchase of wheat and lumber, and the acceptance of gifts and tributes from the faithful.

Oikonomos in Holy Scripture

He was the director or overseer of someone’s household. For example, Eleazer was a servant to Abraham, entrusted with the care of his family. And, in managing his household, Joseph served as οἰκονόμος to Potiphar, who “made him overseer in his house and all that he had he put into his hand.” All the kings of Israel had oikonomoi as managers of the palaces, as did David, “and stewards over all the property and possessions of the King,” and King Elah (886–885 bce) appointed Jesse of Sama. Every wealthy man would have an οἰκονόμος to manage his home and to take care of his children. Many times he was a servant, but sometimes he was a free man.

In the New Testament, the term οἰκονόμος means an “overseer.” The οἰκονόμος was either a servant, as in Matthew 24:5, or a free man, as in Luke 16:12. He would be responsible for managing the business affairs of his master and his family and was obliged to render financial reports whenever asked. The term οἰκονόμος is used both literally and figuratively: literally – “who then is the faithful and wise steward,” “there was a rich man who had a steward,” and again, “and the steward said to himself;” and figuratively – “ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God,” “the bishop must be blameless as the steward of God,” and elsewhere, “good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” In the Epistle to the Romans, Erastus is called the “oikonomos of the city.” He was the financial manager of the city of Corinth and a faithful Christian.


Sakellarios – Σακελλάριος

Both the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox Church had the rank of σακελλάριος. The word σακελλάριος was taken over from the Latin sacellarius, for one who kept the purse in late ancient Rome. The sacellarius would take on more specific duties over time. Du Cange states that the term sacellarius also referred to a treasurer. Du Cange claims that the sacellarius comes from the Latin sacellum, which meant a small box or a chest of sacred articles in which were kept various relics. In ancient Roman history, the sacellum was related to the sacred items of the gods. The sacellum could also be a small sacred area dedicated to a god with an altar and often with a statue of the god. This sacred area was rectangular or round in shape, without a roof, and was enclosed with a wall or a fence. Many Romans had their own private sacella in their homes. The city of Rome had many altars dedicated to various gods: to Hercules, to the Lares (who were the spirits of the dead), and to others.

In Byzantium, the σακελλάριος was a high official in charge of the finances of the empire for which he was entrusted by the emperor. The σακελλάριος was first mentioned as a rank and a position in the fifth century and in the following century we hear of him undertaking the management of the private treasury of the empire as “treasurer of the imperial money.” 

Theophanes mentions that during the reign of Heraklios, in the year 635, someone named Theodosios was an official in charge of finances with the title “Imperial Sakellarios.” During the reign of Constans II (641–668), a σακελλάριος began inquiries about Maximos, a clergyman and abbot in a monastery, who objected to the inquiry and defended himself in a letter to “Constantine, sakellarios,” as to the top official in the service of the empire. Theophanes also reports that during the reign of Justinian II (685-695 and 705-711), a σακελλάριος named Stephen was notorious and could accomplish much. In the Chronicon Paschale 701, Leontios is described as a σακελλάριος, a top official for the finances of the empire. 

That the σακελλάριος was in charge of finances is apparent. Agathias, a sixth-century historian, reports that, during the reign of Justinian I, Roustikos, a σακελλάριος, was asked to supply a military contingent in Lazike of Pontus with money “as the treasurer of imperial money from the imperial treasury.” In the sixth century, the σακελλάριος is understood to be a treasurer of the private treasury of the emperor who collected income from imperial property. During the seventh century, the σακελλάριος was the official responsible for the finances of the empire and supervised the departments related to finances. In the eighth century, the σακελλάριος became an overseer with authority over all the finances of the empire. He also retained his position as the one in charge of the imperial exchequer.

In his department, the σακελλάριος had secretaries, notaries who were department heads for each section in financial services, such as the imperial notary of the secretum of the σακελλάριος, a judge, and a transcriber, who were at his disposal for any mission. During the twelfth century, the σακελλάριος was made Great Sakellarios, in other words, general supervisor and overseer for all financial matters in the capital and in the provinces, “the Secretum of the Great Sakellarios.” In the special roster of officials, the σακελλάριος was listed immediately after the Great Domestikos and before the Great Logothetes. After the twelfth century, the σακελλάριος began to lose his high prestige and the splendor that he had enjoyed near the emperor and was replaced by the ἀκτουάριος  (aktouarios – “Accountant” or “Great Accountant”). After the fall of Constantinople, the σακελλάριος disappeared as a rank in the political scene and was retained only as an honorary title and a courtesy bestowed among the Greek millet of the Ottoman Empire.

During the years of the empire and afterward, the rank of σακελλάριος was bestowed upon educated and competent clergy, presbyters, and deacons, or to celibates who belonged in the monastic ranks. The rank was bestowed by regional bishops, and they were assigned additional duties, sometimes involving confidential missions between civil and ecclesiastical authorities or taking care of personal matters for the bishop. As a celibate, the σακελλάριος was given duties dealing with monastic life and the devotion and faithfulness of monks with respect to monastic canons, ecclesiastical provisions, and legislation concerning monasticism in the Byzantine Empire. 

The σακελλάριος participated in the regional diocesan spiritual courts as an active member appointed by the bishop to assist in judging various cases brought before the court. He was in charge of matters dealing with monasteries, defended their rights, and audited financial records of income and disbursements. Twice a year, he submitted a report to his bishop. During the divine services, he concelebrated as a presiding clergyman and, because of his rank, stood at the left side of the Holy Altar. The title of σακελλάριος was also bestowed upon a ψάλτης as an honorary title for his distinguished service.

According to the Great Euchologion, the rank of σακελλάριος takes second place in the first five offices and ranks. 

Skevophylax – Σκευοφύλαξ

The σκευοφύλαξ is a rank both ecclesiastical in the Orthodox Church and civilian in the Byzantine Empire. The word σκευοφύλαξ is derived from the word σκεῦος (vessel) and φύλαξ (guard). In other words, the one who safeguards the sacred vessels of the Church. He belongs to the group of ἐξωκατάκοιλοι – those who did not live at the patriarchal court.

This rank first appeared in the fourth century and has remained part of the Church until today. The σκευοφύλαξ is always a clergyman assigned to the care and responsibility for the sacred vessels in his church. In every church there is a special area or room called a σκευοφυλάκιον (sacristy or vestry) where the sacred vessels, relics of saints, vestments, and ecclesiastical books are kept. According to Sozomen, the σκευοφύλαξ was also called κειμηλιάρχης (keimiliarchis – “the one in charge of valuable articles” or “the one who holds the sacred utensils”). This rank was bestowed upon deacons, but there were cases where presbyters held this rank as well.

Before every Divine Liturgy and other services, the σκευοφύλαξ brought the sacred vessels and vestments needed from the vestry and returned them at the end of the service. While they were being returned to the vestry, a communion hymn was chanted and special prayers were read. In large churches, imperial decrees, legislation, and documents were also kept in the vestries. In addition, the σκευοφύλαξ was responsible for the chanting during the divine services so that it would be appropriate and decorous. He was also responsible for orderly conduct and behavior in the church. He was in charge of the decoration of the church during important holy day ceremonies and doxologies. In the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople during the reign of Heraklios (610–641), there were ten skevophylakes, four presbyters, and six deacons. The senior presbyter was called the Great Skevophylax. The rank of σκευοφύλαξ was much sought after, and many clergy who had served as skevophylakes eventually became bishops and even patriarchs, including Flavian (446–449), Kallinikos I (693–705), who had served as σκευοφύλαξ of the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos of Blachernae, and Macedonios II (495–511), who was σκευοφύλαξ of Hagia Sophia at the time of his election as Patriarch of Constantinople. Whenever the patriarch or any other hierarch served in a liturgy at Hagia Sophia, the Great Skevophylax stood in front of the vestry so as to furnish anything needed for the Divine Liturgy. The Great Skevophylax at times, upon orders of the patriarch, supervised various churches to make sure that the vestries were arranged neatly and orderly and supplied with all necessities for divine services. The σκευοφύλαξ was an ex-officio member of the standing Holy Synod in session, a regular member of the diocesan or patriarchal spiritual court, and also a member of the finance committee of his diocese. 

The imperial skevophylax had a special position in the personal and family life of the emperor. He was responsible for the imperial wardrobe, and his rank came immediately after that of the παρακοιμώμενος (the one who slept near the imperial bedroom and was the most trusted member of the emperor’s staff). During the reign of Justinian I, the σκευοφύλαξ displaced other officers and took over additional duties, presiding over great and magnificent ceremonies in the palace. He was in charge of public as well as private audiences, with a silver staff as the symbol of his important post.

According to the Great Euchologion, the σκευοφύλαξ as an ecclesiastical rank belongs in the third place of the first set of five of offices and ranks. 

Chartophylax – Χαρτοφύλαξ

The ecclesiastical rank of χαρτοφύλαξ first appeared in the sixth century. Originally, it was bestowed upon presbyters and later upon deacons, because they had fewer duties and could meet the demands of the rank more easily. The χαρτοφύλαξ served as a personal assistant of the patriarch. Among other things, he represented the patriarch on special missions and gave speeches on his behalf at festivals and other ceremonies. Deacon Chartophylax George of Pisidia, for example, was commissioned by his patriarch to deliver important speeches after the victorious campaign of Emperor Heraklios against the Persians in 626. These speeches were called “Historical Epic Poems” or more accurately, “Historical Encomia or Laudations,” written in iambic trimeters.

The χαρτοφύλαξ was also responsible for the archives in large churches and acted as guardian of official documents and other privileged papers. At the opening of the proceedings of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople (680), the χαρτοφύλαξ, as guardian of the archives of Hagia Sophia, upon orders of Emperor Constantine IV Pogonatos, presented the books with the official proceedings and canons of the previous Ecumenical Synods, which were kept in the patriarchal library. 

By the eleventh century, the exokatakoiloi had come into being, and among them was the χαρτοφύλαξ and others of the first set of great officials of the patriarchate. The duties of the χαρτοφύλαξ had evolved. He was responsible for the preparation of the Divine Liturgy and its sacred articles and vestments, including lighting and decorating the church in the Patriarchate during various feast days of the Church. The χαρτοφύλαξ was also responsible for ecclesiastical sacred treasures, valuable articles, sacred vessels, and liturgical books. In the monasteries, the χαρτοφύλαξ was a monk or a clergyman charged with the archives of the monastery, its arrangement, and classification, assisted by educated monks or clergymen and secretaries. Additional duties involved the supervision of the monastery for canonically correct liturgical rubrics, for discipline of the monks, and for faithful adherence to monastic regulations according to church canons.

In the Patriarchate, the χαρτοφύλαξ was, at first, responsible for the personal library and the personal archives of the patriarch. He took care of the personal correspondence of the patriarch and prepared all replies except those dealing with the private correspondence of the patriarch with other churches and patriarchates. Because of his close contact with other churches and patriarchates, the χαρτοφύλαξ became an important diplomat for the patriarchal administration. In the eleventh century, the influence of the χαρτοφύλαξ was so great that he even preceded metropolitan bishops and bishops in divine services and other ceremonies of the Church. The χαρτοφύλαξ received the position of general patriarchal vicar (locum tenens), because, according to Emperor Alexios I (1081–1118), the χαρτοφύλαξ was for the patriarch what Aaron was for Moses, in other words, his general representative. The χαρτοφύλαξ received additional duties from the patriarch, to oversee and observe the life and conduct of the clergy, to exercise disciplinary power over them, and to impose penalties in accordance with their transgressions. In addition, he approved all candidates for ordination prior to the sacramental rite. All weddings in the capital, further, had to have his approval and could be performed only with his permission. Finally, the χαρτοφύλαξ was the president of the patriarchal spiritual court and signed documents in the patriarch’s name. In other words, the χαρτοφύλαξ had great administrative authority and his decisions were quite influential. 

The appearance of the χαρτοφύλαξ in ceremonies was majestic. He had a gold tiara on his head, and was vested by his assistants. If he was a deacon, he wore a gold-threaded phelonion over his stiharion. Emperor Andronikos II Paleologos (1282–1328) bestowed upon John Koutales, a χαρτοφύλαξ, the title of “Great Chartophylax.” Andronikos II justified his decision, by saying that this made the title more substantial and more noble. From this time on, the title Great Chartophylax was bestowed regularly upon others who served in the patriarchate. As an ecclesiastical rank, a χαρτοφύλαξ belongs in the fourth place of the first set of five offices. 


Sakelliou – Σακελλίου

The σακελλίου is a rank both ecclesiastical in the Orthodox Church and civilian in the Byzantine Empire. This rank first appeared in the eleventh century as an ecclesiastical one in association with the first exokatakoiloi and completes the first set of five ecclesiastical ranks. The rank of the σακελλίου was bestowed upon either presbyters or deacons by the patriarch or a regional bishop. The σακελλίου represented the patriarch or his bishop, acting in his name. His duties were to oversee parish churches for their efficient functioning according to the provisions and canons of the Church. He supervised parish priests as to their devotion and faithfulness in their liturgical duties and for their diligence and care of sacred vessels and utensils. The σακελλίου could impose punishment if the need arose for minor infractions, but, if the infractions exceeded his authority, he referred them to the bishop.

The σακελλίου also oversaw monasteries for women, especially their adherence to monastic provisions and the canons of the Church in accordance with the vows they had taken when they became nuns. The σακελλίου further had the responsibility for benevolent institutions of his diocesan district, inns for travelers, and homes for the aged, for their functioning according to the canons, for the conduct of those working in them, and for their integrity and fidelity to the sacred purpose and mission of their institution. He received regular reports from all. The σακελλίου, as a representative of the bishop, substituted for him in other administrative duties related to material goods to be distributed among the poor. He was expected to keep records so as to give regular reports about his activities.

Similarly, the office σακελλίου was employed by the patriarchate to oversee parish churches within the patriarch’s immediate jurisdiction. He was the legal adviser and public prosecutor against clergy in Constantinople who committed offenses. He was called upon to take part in the ecclesiastical court, which adjudicated cases for both clergy and laity. In this capacity, he could serve as a substitute for the president of the court and, if so, his decisions were final. 

The rank of σακελλίου disappeared after the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire, continuing only as an honorary title. According to the Great Euchologion, the rank of σακελλίου belongs in the fifth place of the first set of five offices. 

As a civilian rank, the σακελλίου existed as early as the sixth century in the Byzantine Empire. The sakellion was a special department for the empire’s finances. The word sakellion means “treasury” or “money box,” and the σακελλίου was the guardian and paymaster of the empire. Anyone who had the responsibility of finances was also called σακελλίου. In the Chronicon Paschale, there is mention that Patriarch Thomas I, in 607, had a special σακελλίου in his service who looked after his personal finances and another σακελλίου for the finances of the Patriarchate. The generals also had a σακελλίου for their property and their personal treasury. Emperors even hired financial managers to deal with their property, the income from their property, their payments and financial obligations, and their own personal treasury.