The term exarch denotes a delegate and was applied to various higher and lower dignities in the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Eastern Churches. Exarchos was the official title given during the late Roman Empire to the governor of a civil diocese, which was divided into provinces. The ecclesiastical organization was formed parallel to this civil division of the Empire. The bishop was the superior of the paroikia, the metropolitan headed the eparchia, and the chief bishop of a civil diocese had the position of an exarch.
Besides those sees that later acquired patriarchal title and jurisdiction, namely, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, exarchial jurisdiction was enjoyed by the metropolitans of Ephesus (Diocese of Asia), Caesarea of Cappadocia (Diocese of Pontus), and Heraclea (Diocese of Thrace). However, the bishop of the newly established imperial residence in Constantinople overshadowed them so completely that these exarchs vanished from the scene.
The dignity of supra-metropolitan exarch was revived repeatedly in the Orthodox churches. Orthodox patriarchs appoint exarchs, who have subordinate bishops, for semi-independent groups of their jurisdiction, e.g., the exarchs of the Russian Church in various parts of the world.
The indefinite meaning of the term exarch (delegate) was the reason for its application to other representatives of patriarchs, archbishops, and even bishops; in some places it is a minor honorary title for diocesan priests, conferred upon them by their bishop. The visitors of stauropegial convents, i.e., monasteries that are exempt from the jurisdiction of the local bishop and directly subject to the patriarch, are also called exarchs. They are usually appointed to this office in a permanent manner and supervise all the stauropegial monasteries within the patriarchate.
Historically, Eastern Catholic canonical tradition recognized three kinds of exarch: (1) exarch with a territory of his own, (2) apostolic exarch, and (3) patriarchal (archiepiscopal) exarch.
Independent exarch. The exarch with a territory of his own is equivalent to a territorial abbacy in the Latin canonical tradition and is the superior of an independent monastery (monasterium sui iuris ). He is in charge of a territory separated from every other diocese, with his own clergy and people. An example is the Exarchial Monastery of the Byzantine Italian Basilian Fathers of St. Mary of Grottaferrata near Rome (Italy), founded by SS. Nilus and Bartholemew in 1004 (see grottaferrata, monastery of). The exarch-archimandrite is entitled to wear episcopal insignia with the exception of the saccos.
Apostolic exarch. An apostolic exarchy is established outside the patriarchate where the erection of a diocese is not yet feasible. Traditionally, Apostolic exarchs corresponded to the vicars and prefects apostolic of the Latin rite. Due to emigration, groups of Eastern Catholics are now found in all continents, far from their native regions. If their number is sufficiently large, the Holy See might erect ecclesiastical provinces and dioceses, e.g., for the Ukrainians in Canada and the United States. If this is not yet possible, they may be organized in apostolic exarchies.
The apostolic exarchs govern an ecclesiastical territory that is not subject to a Patriarch, Metropolitan or Major Archbishop, when, because of the small number of faithful or for some other grave reason, eparchies (i.e., dioceses) are not established. Such an exarch enjoys the same rights and faculties as residential bishops.
Patriarchal (archiepiscopal) exarch. Such an exarch is appointed in patriarchates and archiepiscopates (i.e., a territory governed by an Oriental archbishop) for a region where an eparchy (diocese) is not yet established. The jurisdiction of this exarch is ordinary but vicarious; i.e., he rules the exarchy in virtue of his office in the name of the patriarch or archbishop major. He is appointed by the patriarch (archbishop) with the advice of the permanent synod of the patriarchate (archiepisco-pate) and can be removed only with the consent of the same synod. His rights and duties are equivalent to those of the apostolic exarch, with the difference that he is entirely dependent on his patriarch or archbishop. He has the general jurisdiction of a bishop
Bibliography: j. faris, The Eastern Catholic Churches: Constitution and Governance according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Brooklyn 1993). v. pospishil, Eastern Catholic Church Law (Brooklyn, NY 1996).
[v. j. pospishil/eds.]