the male head of a family or tribal line.
a person regarded as the father or founder of an order, class, etc.
any of the very early Biblical personages regarded as the fathers of the human race, comprising those from Adam to Noah (antediluvian patriarchs) and those between the Deluge and the birth of Abraham.
any of the three great progenitors of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.
any of the sons of Jacob ((the twelve patriarchs),) from whom the tribes of Israel were descended.
(in the early Christian church) any of the bishops of any of the ancient sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, or Rome having authority over other bishops.
Greek Orthodox Church. the head of any of the ancient sees of Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, or Jerusalem, and sometimes including other sees of chief cities.
Compare .
the head of certain other churches in the East, as the Coptic, Nestorian, and Armenian churches, that are not in full communication with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople.
Roman Catholic Church.

the pope as patriarch of the West.
any of certain bishops of the Eastern rites, as a head of an Eastern rite or a bishop of one of the ancient sees.
the head of a Uniate church.

Mormon Church. any of the high dignitaries who pronounce the blessing of the church; Evangelist.
one of the elders or leading older members of a community.
a venerable old man.
Contemporary Examples

patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, went ahead with an official visit to Damascus last month.
Why Is Russia Supporting Syria’s President Bashir Assad? Owen Matthews December 1, 2011

The founder and patriarch of the Italian knitwear brand passed away at his home in Italy on Thursday.
Ottavio Missoni Dies at 92 Isabel Wilkinson May 8, 2013

Ramón Estévez, better known by his stage name, Martin Sheen, is the patriarch.
Sheen Family’s Epic Journey Marlow Stern October 6, 2011

The surprise choice was the gregarious rotund 77-year-old patriarch of Venice.
The Catholic Church Is Insular and Intolerant Robert Shrum March 7, 2013

The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church even opined that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.
Putin’s Post-Sochi LGBT Crackdown Jay Michaelson February 23, 2014

Historical Examples

And the patriarch came, walking nimbly needing neither guide nor crutch.
Russian Fairy Tales W. R. S. Ralston

patriarch was the name which many people delighted to give him.
Little Dorrit Charles Dickens

After a careful survey of the black horse the patriarch of the Jungle Circuit spoke.
Old Man Curry Charles E. (Charles Emmett) Van Loan

“Fine day,” chirped the patriarch in well-meant friendliness.
The Forest Stewart Edward White

I owns the patriarch and the Palermo and the Proosian and the whole line.
The Strand Magazine, Volume XXVII, Issue 160, April, 1904 Various

the male head of a tribe or family Compare matriarch (sense 2)
a very old or venerable man
(Old Testament) any of a number of persons regarded as the fathers of the human race, divided into the antediluvian patriarchs, from Adam to Noah, and the postdiluvian, from Noah to Abraham
(Old Testament) any of the three ancestors of the Hebrew people: Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob
(Old Testament) any of Jacob’s twelve sons, regarded as the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel
(Early Church) the bishop of one of several principal sees, esp those of Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria
(Eastern Orthodox Church) the bishops of the four ancient principal sees of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and also of Russia, Romania, and Serbia, the bishop of Constantinople (the ecumenical Patriarch) being highest in dignity among these
(RC Church)

a title given to the pope
a title given to a number of bishops, esp of the Uniat Churches, indicating their rank as immediately below that of the pope

(Mormon Church) another word for Evangelist (sense 2)
(Eastern Christianity) the head of the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian Jacobite, or Nestorian Churches, and of certain other non-Orthodox Churches in the East
the oldest or most venerable member of a group, community, etc: the patriarch of steam engines
a person regarded as the founder of a community, tradition, etc

late 12c., from Old French patriarche “one of the Old Testament fathers” (11c.) and directly from Late Latin patriarcha (Tertullian), from Greek patriarkhes “chief or head of a family,” from patria “family, clan,” from pater “father” (see father (n.)) + arkhein “to rule” (see archon). Also used as an honorific title of certain bishops in the early Church, notably those of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome.

a name employed in the New Testament with reference to Abraham (Heb. 7:4), the sons of Jacob (Acts 7:8, 9), and to David (2:29). This name is generally applied to the progenitors of families or “heads of the fathers” (Josh. 14:1) mentioned in Scripture, and they are spoken of as antediluvian (from Adam to Noah) and post-diluvian (from Noah to Jacob) patriachs. But the expression “the patriarch,” by way of eminence, is applied to the twelve sons of Jacob, or to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Patriachal longevity presents itself as one of the most striking of the facts concerning mankind which the early history of the Book of Genesis places before us…There is a large amount of consentient tradition to the effect that the life of man was originally far more prolonged than it is at present, extending to at least several hundred years. The Babylonians, Egyptians, and Chinese exaggerated these hundreds into thousands. The Greeks and Romans, with more moderation, limited human life within a thousand or eight hundred years. The Hindus still farther shortened the term. Their books taught that in the first age of the world man was free from diseases, and lived ordinarily four hundred years; in the second age the term of life was reduced from four hundred to three hundred; in the third it became two hundred; in the fourth and last it was brought down to one hundred” (Rawlinson’s Historical Illustrations).

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