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The kohanim (sing., kohen) are a hereditary class whose special responsibility was the performance of the cultic ceremonies of the Jerusalem Temple. The Hebrew scriptures indicate in some places that only the descendants of Aaron have the right to priesthood (Leviticus 8) and in others that the entire tribe of Levi has a priestly role (Deuteronomy 33. 8–10); to these were added the Zadokites (perhaps predecessors of Sadducees) when David captured Jerusalem and assimilated the cult of Zadok. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the sacrificial system came to an end. Knowledge of priestly descent can no longer be proved. None the less supposed Kohanim enjoy certain privileges in the synagogue. Because of the doubt entailed in priestly ancestry, the Progressive movements disregard all the laws applying to Kohanim.


In Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches, the priest is the minister who is typically in charge of a parish. The English word is ultimately derived from Gk. presbyteros, as the office is derived from that of the early Christian presbyter. The idea of ‘priesthood’, in the sacrificial sense continuous with the Jewish office, only gradually attached to this order of minister. At first, the sacrifice of the eucharist was the function of bishops only, but with the spread of Christianity to country districts priests were allowed to consecrate the eucharist themselves. This opened the way for a doctrine that priestly powers were conferred in ordination, especially when in the 11th cent. the practice spread of ordaining priests who had no benefice. The priest thus became the normal celebrant of the eucharist and after 1215 the one who heard confessions. He remained, however, subordinate to the bishop, who alone could ordain and confirm.

The tendency of medieval theology to see the priesthood of the clergy in terms of the mass led to its rejection by the Reformers. Protestant Christians thus take the view that priesthood belongs only to Christ and, derivatively, to ‘all believers’ (1 Peter 2. 5, 9).

The term ‘priest’ is then sometimes applied to functionaries in other religions, as e.g. to mullahs in Islam, or to granthi or mahant among Sikhs, to hotṛ and brahmans among Hindus, to tao-shih among Taoists, to magi among Zoroastrians, but the differences in order, duties, appointment, and role are extreme.

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priest / prēst/ • n. 1. an ordained minister of the Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican Church having the authority to perform certain rites and administer certain sacraments. ∎  a person who performs religious ceremonies and duties in a non-Christian religion. 2. (in full fish priest) a mallet used to kill fish caught when angling. • v. [tr.] (usu. be priested) formal ordain to the priesthood. DERIVATIVES: priest·like / -ˌlīk/ adj.

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Priest ★★ 1994 (R)

Father Greg (an intense performance by Roache) is a young, idealistic priest who gets a rude awakening when he's assigned to a tough innercity Liverpool parish. His superior, Father Matthew (Wilkinson), is a middleaged rabble rouser who's openly having an affair with their black housekeeper Maria (Tyson). But Father Greg has a secret of his own—despite struggles with his sexuality he gets involved with Graham (Carlyle), a man he meets in the local gay bar. Greg's inner turmoil is heightened when a young parishoner confesses that her father is sexually abusing her but, because of the seal of the confessional, the priest cannot report the problem. Director Bird walks a fine line between criticism and condemnation of Catholic doctrine. British TV feature provoked a storm of controversy in the U.S.; originally released at 105 minutes. 98m/C VHS, DVD . GB Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlyle, James Ellis, John Bennett, Rio Fanning, Jimmy Coleman, Lesley Sharp, Robert Pugh, Christine Tremarco; D: Antonia Bird; W: Jimmy McGovern; C: Fred Tammes; M: Andy Roberts.

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priest clergyman in the second of the holy orders; (sacrificing) minister of religion. OE. prēost (with unexpl. ēo), corr. to OHG. priast, prēst; shortening of the form repr. by OFris. prēstere, OS., OHG. prēster (MDu., Du., MHG., G. priester) — ecclL. presbyter PRESBYTER, through pop. *prēster.
Hence priestess XVII. — (O)F. priesthood OE.

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priest priest's hole a hiding place for a Roman Catholic priest during times of religious persecution; these secret cupboards and passages, constructed especially in the Elizabethan period in the houses of Catholic gentry, were intended to provide refuge if necessary for days and even weeks.

See also once a priest, always a priest.

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priestarriviste, artiste, batiste, beast, dirigiste, east, feast, least, Mideast, modiste, northeast, piste, priest, southeast, uncreased, unreleased, yeast •wildebeest • hartebeest • beanfeast •anapaest (US anapest)

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