The Eastern Christian Churches by Ronald Roberson

The Autocephalous Churches

There are fourteen Orthodox churches that are generally accepted as “autocephalous,” which in Greek means “self-headed.” An autocephalous church possesses the right to resolve all internal problems on its own authority and the ability to choose its own bishops, including the Patriarch, Archbishop or Metropolitan who heads the church. While each autocephalous church acts independently, they all remain in full sacramental and canonical communion with one another.

Today these autocephalous Orthodox churches include the four ancient Eastern Patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem), and ten other Orthodox churches that have emerged over the centuries in Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, and the Czech and Slovak Republics.

The status of two additional churches is disputed. First, in 1970 the Patriarchate of Moscow granted autocephalous status to most of its parishes in North America under the name, “The Orthodox Church in America,” but this action has never been recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Secondly, in January 2019 the Patriarchate of Constantinople granted autocephalous status to two non-canonical churches in Ukraine, as well as a portion of the Orthodox in Ukraine that had been part of the Moscow Patriarchate, under the name, “The Orthodox Church of Ukraine.” This was not accepted by the Moscow Patriarchate which, in response, broke communion with Constantinople.

Nine of these autocephalous churches are Patriarchates: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia. The others are headed by an Archbishop or Metropolitan.

Last Modified: 02 January 2021

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