Rowan Williams is to step down after 10 years as Archbishop of Canterbury to take up a new post as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Dr Williams, 61, will leave at the end of December in time to start his new role next January.
Lambeth Palace said the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, has been informed.
Dr Williams, who was confirmed as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion in December 2002, told the Press Association that occupying the post had been an "enormous" privilege.
He described the Church of England as a "great treasure" which was still a place where many people sought inspiration and comfort in times of need.
"I would like the successor that God would like," he said.
"I think that it is a job of immense demands and I would hope that my successor has the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros, really.
"But he will, I think, have to look with positive, hopeful eyes on a Church which, for all its problems, is still for so many people, a place to which they resort in times of need and crisis, a place to which they look for inspiration.
"I think the Church of England is a great treasure. I wish my successor well in the stewardship of it."
The Church of England could see its first black Archbishop of Canterbury. John Sentamu, 62, the Archbishop of York, is widely viewed as front-runner to replace Rowan Williams when he leaves at the end of this year.