Designation for the religious leader in several religions. It is not a universal term, for many other religions other terms are used.
There is also no universal meaning to the term, but in brief a priest can be said to be the one performing daily rituals as well as rituals during certain holidays. A priest is generally a profession, although part-time priests can be found in all religions.
The term is derived from Christianity, from Greek presbyteros, "elder".
In Christianity, a priest is the religious leader of a church and its congregation. Among the central tasks of a priest is to celebrate Mass, administer most of the sacraments and matrimony and in most churches, perform confirmation. The only sacrament priests cannot perform is that of ordination, or Holy Orders, these are reserved for the bishop. With this comes that a priest only can be ordained by a bishop.
Early in the development of the church, there was no distinction between bishop and priest, their respective terms were used interchangeably. With the increasing institutionalization of the church, a distinction between the priest of the largest church in the city and other priests was developed. Still, terms were not finally determined. To the distinction was that the higher priests were the only ones to perform certain rituals, like the Eucharist, but this would later change.
In most churches, only men can be priests. The minimum age for a priest is 25 years in the Roman Catholic Church and 30 in the Orthodox churches.
Celibacy is an obligation in the Roman Catholic Church, while married men can become priests in Eastern Orthodox churches and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Bishops, however, are expected to be unmarried.
Priests wear special clothes during service, and many are obliged to wear even a distinctive form of street dress. While the priests of Western churches have a stiff white collar, this is not found with priests in Eastern churches, who wear long robes.
A priest is part of the diocese and administration of a bishop.
Priests of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church are allowed to marry.
In Judaism, clergy known as kohan is usually labelled priest. While there still was a temple in Jerusalem, the kohans were of great influence, being a hereditary clergy.
Kohans were responsible for daily and special Jewish holiday offerings and sacrifices within the temple. Since the destruction of the temple, rabbis would emerge as the leading clergy, but even in modern Judaism, kohans are still in charge of rituals like the Pidyon Ha-Ben.
To a great extent, the modern rabbi is often equated with the priest.
A Zoroastrian priest is known as a mobed, and during ancient times when Zoroastrianism was the Persian state religion, he acted as more than only a religious official. Due to his knowledge of reading and writing, his was also important in local administration. Mobeds played an important role in the selection of new rulers and the policy of the central government. The long night-office ritual in Zoroastrianism, which shall protect against demons, the inhabitants of darkness, can only be performed by priests (see Vendidad).
Yazidism employs priests, but they appear to be mainly in charge of certain annual rituals.
Mandaism also employs priests, who to a large degree are the only ones with a knowledge about the core theology of their religion.
Ancient Egyptian Religion
In Ancient Egyptian Religion, the clergy is referred to as priests. The Ancient term as hem netjer, "servant of god".
A priestess was named hemet netjer. Priestesses were especially common with the cults of Hathor.
Egyptian priests did not necessarily work full time at the temples. The purposes of the priests were mainly to cater for the gods, as represented by statues, not administer rituals in which humans participated. There were several levels of priests, and usually, only the high priest was allowed to come in physical contact with the divine representations.
The institutions of priest was often hereditary. There was little or no education involved in becoming priest on the lower levels.
High priests had great influence over religion and society. In some eras, the high-priest was influential enough to topple the political power. This was especially the case with the High Priest of Amon at Thebes during the New Kingdom.
Priests in Mesopotamia acted out their priesthood in manners quite similar to that of Ancient Egypt.
In Sumer, the king also had to be the highest priest, known as a priest-king. Below him, many of the bureaucrats had status as priests.
Mesopotamian priestesses are noted for having worn false beards during ceremonies.
Canaanite and Phoenician religions
In Canaanite and Phoenician religions, priests could have sacred prostitutes below to perform sexual rituals in the temples. There was also room for oracle priests or prophets who received messages from the gods during states of ecstasy.
With the Ammonites, the priests had supernatural abilities, controlling both death and forecasting of the future.
In Hittite religion, the king was the supreme priest. Several central rituals could only be performed by him.
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