I. Dioceses – II. Parishes – III. Ecclesiastical provinces – IV. Patriarchates. I. Dioceses. The term diocese is derived from Roman public law: a dioecesis was a vast area of several provinces, ruled by a vicarius. In the ecclesiastical sphere the term diocese dioi,khsij was reached by a transition, in Christian antiquity, from the term church evkklhsi,a which referred to the universal church, the particular church and the church building to that of parish paroiki,a, and only later exclusively to that of diocese. In the West, besides paroecia, the terms ecclesia, territorium, fines episcopatus and dioecesis were also used. In 417 Pope Zosimus referred to rural communities, previously called dioceses, as paroeciae. From the end of the 6th c., with Sidonius Apollinaris, the two terms were used equivalently. From the 7th c., a bishop’s territory was called dioecesis and the particular community led by him was the paroecia.

The origin of the dioceses coincided with the beginnings of Christian preaching and is visible in the context of St. Paul’s journeys. In the territories of the Greco-Roman world the Palestinian Jewish sphere was ruled by the apostolic college, Paul founded Christian communities in the great cities, to each of which he appointed a college of presbyters, supported by deacons. Paul is seen assisted by other hierarchical members with subordinate powers, whom community members obey 1 Cor 16:15-16; 1 Th 5:12; Rom 12:6ff.. They are called elders, presbyters Acts 14:23; they are overseers evpi,skopoi to rule God’s church as pastors Acts 20:17, 28: at this point, presbyters and bishops designate holders of the same functions. Deacons have different tasks from those of presbyters-bishops 1 Tim 1:1-10; 5:17- 19; Tit 1:5-11. Alongside the hierarchical members, there are the charismatics with gifts, such as prophecy and tongues, aimed at keeping the new faith alive. As for Paul, his having been directly called as an apostle to the Gentiles justifies his unique place in the ordering of his communities 2 Cor 10:8; 13:10; 1 Cor 4:21, where he appears as teacher, judge and legislator 1 Cor 7:17; Tit 1:5. Likewise with Peter, beginning from Antioch.

The disciples, sent into these territories, inherited the task of government from their respective apostles, establishing an uninterrupted apostolic succession. Bishops were installed in the urban centers, which were more populated by Christians and were strategic missionary centers. Following the propagation of Christianity in various cities, a presbyter was put with the bishop. Each of these bishops was equal in authority to the other bishops, but any could excel in personal gifts. The setting-up of a diocese was more and more linked to the number of believers and to the rise of new cities Council of Serdica, can. 6; Council of Chalcedon, can. 17.


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