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In the Latter-day Saint movement, a patriarchal blessing (also called an evangelist's blessing) is a blessing or ordinance given by a patriarch (evangelist) to a church member. Patriarchal blessings are modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death. They are gifts of knowledge and strength of one's coming challenges and blessings.
Patriarchal blessings during the life of Joseph Smith, Jr.
The first Latter Day Saint patriarchal blessings were performed by Joseph Smith, Sr., the father of Joseph Smith, who ordained his father to the role of patriarch on December 18, 1833, with a mission to provide "father's blessings" to those in the priesthood without fathers. Smith, Sr. gave his son a blessing on December 9, 1834, prophesying that the younger Smith would establish Zion, subdue his enemies, enjoy his posterity to the latest generation, and "stand on the earth" to witness the Second Coming. Before Joseph, Sr. died on September 14, 1840, he ordained his eldest living son, Hyrum Smith, to succeed him as Patriarch to the Church. From that time forward, Hyrum gave patriarchal blessings until his own death on June 27, 1844.
According to historian D. Michael Quinn, patriarchs were paid in the early years of the LDS Church. The practice of paying patriarchs diminished in the 20th century and was officially ended in 1943. "'Both the Presiding Patriarch and local stake patriarchs charged a fee. In the 1840s the fee was $1 per patriarchal blessing at Nauvoo; by the end of the nineteenth century it had increased to $2 per blessing. Joseph Smith, Sr., gave patriarchal blessings without payment of a fee, but would not record them. 'Uncle' John Smith commented that he "lived very poor ever since we left Kirtland Ohio" (from January 1838 until January 1844). Then his nephew, Joseph Smith, ordained him a patriarch 'through which office I obtained a comfortable living.' "....Patriarchal blessing fees ended in 1902, although patriarchs were allowed to accept unsolicited donations. Not until 1943 did church authorities prohibit patriarchs from accepting gratuities for giving blessings."
Patriarchal blessings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), a patriarchal blessing is given when an authorized patriarch (a man ordained to the priesthood office of patriarch) places his hands on the head of the recipient and pronounces said blessing. The recipient must have previously received a recommendation for the blessing from his or her bishop. This is dependent on an interview by which the bishop determines the applicant's worthiness and readiness. The purpose of a patriarchal blessing is (1) to identify the tribe of Israel to which some people belong, others who do not are then "adopted" in and given the same blessings; (2) to bless the member with knowledge and the spiritual gifts that may be obtained by obedience to Gospel principles; (3) to give advice or help to the individual (often this includes foretelling of possible future events, opportunities, and temptations). Within the church, a patriarchal blessing is considered to be a revelation for the recipient, with the promises made in the blessing considered conditional upon the recipient's obedience to Gospel principles.
A person is informed of the tribe of Israel to which they belong. This is done to acknowledge the fulfillment of the church doctrine that through baptism members become part of the house of Israel. Additionally, it is believed that each tribe differs slightly and a person may come to understand the unique circumstances of his or her life better by knowing to which tribe they belong. The differences between the tribes are generally acknowledged to arise from the differences in the blessings Jacob pronounced upon his sons and Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
A patriarchal blessing is usually pronounced upon a member only once. In certain rare circumstances, a person may receive permission to receive an additional patriarchal blessing. The blessing is usually performed in the home of the patriarch or of the seeker. In general, only close family members, such as parents or the person's spouse, are allowed to be present. The patriarch places his hands on the seated person's head and speaks the blessing aloud. A record of the blessing is made at the same time. Transcribed copies of all blessings are stored in church records and are considered by the church to be revelation.
Members receive a copy of the blessing, and are advised to consult it throughout their lives. Since adherents believe the blessings are direct revelation from God, the church advises members to treat them as sacred, not to be shared casually with others.
Any member found worthy and spiritually mature by their priesthood leader may receive a patriarchal blessing. Individuals who have been members from childhood generally ask to receive their patriarchal blessing as adolescents.
According to former church president Ezra Taft Benson, "A patriarchal blessing is the inspired and prophetic statement of your life’s mission together with blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give." (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1986, pgs. 43-44). Blessings given in the 19th century often made use of themes, such as an millennialism and polygamy, that are not common in today's blessings. During his presidency, Joseph Fielding Smith advised patriarchs to be conservative in their blessings unless "especially inspired otherwise".
Although they may not be ordained patriarchs, every Latter-day Saint father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood can pronounce blessings upon his child or spouse, as necessary. Such blessings do not reveal the Tribe of Israel to which a person belongs. The church encourages families to create their own records of such blessings, but does not accept them into the official church archives in Salt Lake City as they would a blessing from an ordained patriarch.
Those who have received a patriarchal blessing are told to read it "humbly, prayerfully, and frequently." Only by following the counsel in a patriarchal blessing can one receive the blessings contained therein.
As with the pre-1844 church led by Joseph Smith, an important part of patriarchal blessing in the LDS Church is the declaration of lineage. Members receiving the blessing are told to which of the twelve Israelite tribes they belong. Opinions differ as to whether the lineage is intended to mean literal ancestry, or whether the lineage is metaphorical or adoptive, as there are many recorded instances of children having a different lineage from their parents. Daniel H. Ludlow has said "in a patriarchal blessing, lineage is being declared ... when terms indicating direct descent are used, such as 'son of,' 'daughter of,' 'seed of,' 'blood of,' 'descendant of,' or 'from the loins of.'"  The church also teaches that "[b]ecause each of us has many bloodlines running in us, two members of the same family may be declared as being of different tribes in Israel".
The overwhelming majority of blessings declare the recipient to be a member of the tribe of Ephraim or Manasseh. Ephraim is the dominant tribe declared for people of European descent and Manasseh dominates for Pacific Islanders and South Americans. Jews have typically been assigned to the tribe of Judah.
Evangelist's blessings in the Community of Christ
In the Community of Christ, part of the Latter Day Saint movement, the term patriarchal blessing was renamed "evangelist's blessing" in 1985, to reflect the change in terminology from patriarch to the gender-neutral "Evangelist" when women were first ordained to offices of the Priesthood. An evangelist's blessing may be said for families, congregations, and individuals. In recent years, practices have changed so that the blessing, formerly performed only once in a person's life, can be given more than once, especially during times of great change or turmoil in an individual's life. Although tribal lineage was revealed in earlier years, that practice has decreased.
Some former Mormons and LDS Church critics have said that patriarchal blessings are similar to fortune telling, and that like fortune telling the practice is unfairly giving members false information that members will often later use to make major life decisions. According to an article from Mormonism Research Ministry, the blessings' fulfillment are often conditioned on members' faithfulness to the church, helping keep members obeying the church leaders and blaming themselves instead of patriarchs' accuracy when the promises are not fulfilled.
- Patriarchal blesing given by Joseph Smith, Sr., Patriarch of The Church of the Latter Day Saints, to his son, Joseph Smith, Jr., on 9 December 1834.
- D. Michael Quinn, "The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power," Chap 6, Signature Books, 1997.[full citation needed]
- Bates, Irene M. (2011). "Patriarchal Blessings and the Routinization of Charisma" (PDF). Dialogue. 26. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- June 28, 1957, in a letter to all stake presidents. Quoted in Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine ("Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient...").
- Daniel H. Ludlow, "Of the House of Israel", Ensign, January 1991.
- "Patriarchal Blessings", lds.org. Retrieved on 2010-12-11.
- Petersen, Mark E. (1981). Joseph of Egeypt. Deseret Book Company.
- Barney, Kevin. "Patriarchal Blessing Lineages". By Common Consent. Retrieved 8 May 2016.
- Sharon Lindbloom (n.d.). ""Are Patriarchal Blessings "A Star to Follow"?"". Mormonism Research Ministry. Retrieved 2013-04-29.[unreliable source?]