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The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
F. L. CrossF. L. Cross, E. A. LivingstoneE. A. Livingstone


The title of a bishop exercising provincial, and not merely diocesan, powers. The organization of the early Church broadly followed that of the Roman Empire. Each city, with its territory, was governed by a bishop, and in each province the bishop of the civil metropolis (normally) came to possess rights over his comprovincial bishops, later called suffragans. These rights were determined by local custom before the Council of Nicaea (325), whose 4th canon, in which the title metropolitan first appears, began the gradual process of legal definition. The duties and rights of a metropolitan have varied in time and place. Chief among them are the summoning and presidency of provincial synods, the visitation of dioceses, the care of vacant sees, some share in the appointment and consecration of suffragans and some disciplinary powers over them. Owing to Diocletian's grouping of civil provinces into civil dioceses, metropolitans were in time subordinated to synods of the civil diocese or to a superior bishop (exarch, patriarch). The W. Church saw many conflicts between metropolitans and Popes, the latter being generally victorious (see pallium). Provincial organization continues in episcopal Churches (Canterbury, York), though the metropolitical see is not always the civil capital. In the early Church, the metropolitan of some African provinces was the bishop senior by consecration. Metropolitans have commonly the titles of archbishop and primate.

At the present time, in the Church of Greece all diocesan bishops have the title Metropolitan, but in the Russian Church the title retains more or less its original meaning.

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