History of Orthodox Autocephaly

I’m having a huge trouble trying to find the answers to some very specific historical questions through the internet, so I really do hope our resident Orthodox can help me out.

  1. What were the autocephalous patriarchates during the time of the Great Schism? I’m assuming they included the 4 remaining Orthodox of the Pentarchy (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem) plus Cyprus, Georgia, and Bulgaria. Is this correct? Am I missing any?

  2. After the Great Schism new autocephalous patriarchates were formed presumably from existing autonomous churches under already autocephalous jurisdictions. For each of the autocephalous churches of today could you name when and from whom autocephaly was obtained? Does all autocephaly come from the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Were all of the historical Orthodox national churches under the Ecumenical Patriarchate prior to their gaining of autocephaly?

Any further reading concerning the development of autocephaly in the Orthodox world as it historically occurred for the various churches would be quite helpful! Thanks.

Technically speaking, the Church of Cyprus is not a patriarchate. Its head is the Archbishop of Nea Justiniana and All Cyprus.

I see, thanks. So autocephaly doesn’t necessarily mean a church constitutes a patriarchate.

Thanks for mentioning Cyprus, as I originally thought it was autonomous, not autocephalous. Autocephalous means that it is self-governing and appoints its own head. Autonomous means that that is self-governing, but an autocephalous church appoints its head. An example of this is the Patriarch of Jerusalem appoints the head of the Church of Mt. Sinai (St. Catherine’s Monastery).

As for the remaining patriarchates/autocephalous churches during the Great Schism, they were Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Cyprus.

As far as I’m aware, yes, but with the proviso that the Church of Bulgaria didn’t exist as a separate entity for the whole period between the schism and the present day.

Thanks Rohzek!

So what about all the other autocephalous churches today? Which autocephalous jurisdictions did they come from before gaining autocephaly? I know I specifically posed this question within the context of the Great Schism, but for the purposes of this post you can ignore that. Feel free to tell me about all of the autocephalic churches in Orthodoxy (even if they gained their autocephaly prior to the schism).

Here’s what I was able to come up with last night from a cursory reading of the internet. Please correct any mistakes you make see:

Ecumenical Patriarchate - always autocephalous
Bulgarian Orthodox - Autocephalous from Constantinople
Serbian Orthodox - Autocephalous from Constantinople
Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia - Autocephalous from Serbia
Russian Orthodox - Autocephalous from Constantinople
Polish Orthodox - Autocephalous from Moscow
Orthodox Church of Greece - Autocephalous from Constantinople
Albanian Orthodox - Autocephalous from Constantinople
Romanian Orthodox - ??? (Moscow? Constantinople?)

Antioch - always autocephalous
Cypriot Orthodox - Autocephalous from Antioch
Georgian Orthodox - Autocephalous from Antioch (at least initially)

Alexandria - always autocephalous
Jerusalem - always autocephalous

Georgia too had a history of on and off Autocephaly. First it was dependent on Antioch. I think that it formally received autocephaly sometime after the schism, but I’m not entirely sure. Later the Russians suppressed the autocephaly of the Georgian Church.

I read last night that it was granted autocephaly by Antioch during the 5th century, but was placed under Moscow -]during the Soviet occupation/-] by Tsar Alexander I and later received its autocephaly anew. I’ll try to see if I can find my sources again…

Edit: Source

If you want to include the OO churches, the Eritrean church gained its autocephaly in 1993. It was formerly part of the Ethiopian church, but its autocephaly was granted by the Coptic church. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eritrean_Orthodox_Tewahedo_Church

There was something I read which seemed to imply that Antioch had granted greater autonomy to the Georgian Church sometime in the second millennium, on account of difficulty carrying out communications.

Thanks. I was fixing my error while you were typing. :slight_smile:

Thank you! I managed to wade through the non-Chalcedonian’s history rather easily thanks to there being only 7 churches and their histories being rather straight forward. Same with the Church of the East (although as I’m starting to read about the Church in India it looks even more complicated than Byzantine history!)

Thank you everyone for all your help so far!


To help Catholics understand, I’ve sometimes used the comparison that Autonomous and Autocephalous (note that’s Autocephalous not Patriarchal) Orthodox Churches are like Major Archepiscopal and Patriarchal EC Churches. (Anything else I can capitalize in that sentence? :D)

That is of course just an analogy, and not meant to imply that any EC Churches are Autocephalous.

Anyone know if my list is correct, or know of any good places I could check out to confirm myself?

Like many things in Orthodoxy there doesn’t seem to be a strictly defined and adhered to method of a church becoming autocephalous. I note that there exist a number of churches that declare themselves autocephalous (or have been declared autocephalous by other autocephalous churches) but this autocephaly is not universally recognized.

What effect does this have on the intercommunion of the various churches? The OCA and the Russian Orthodox Church say that the OCA is autocephalous. Everyone else in Orthodoxy says no, they aren’t, yet I haven’t heard anything about the OCA not being in communion with the other Orthodox churches besides Russia. The Macedonian Orthodox Church has also declared its own autocephaly which is not recognized by any of the other autocephalous churches, but according to this page on OrthodoxWiki they are not in communion with the other Orthodox churches. Is their lack of communion due to the other churches not recognizing their autocephaly or is it incidental to it?

I don’t know much about the Macedonian church, but I would say the situation is different in that the OCA was given autocephaly by the Russian church, whereas the Macedonian church appears to have taken the initiative to declare itself autocephalous. In any case the OCA is recognized as a fully canonical Orthodox church in the USA.

I think the MOC is more problematic than that, though I don’t recall for sure. (I’m actually on an Orthodox forum, but the Macedonian church doesn’t come up too much.)

They were created by the Communist leaders of their country as one part of a program to ‘create’ a Macedonian conciousness among the Population. Another part was deliberately altering their language (spelling and grammar) to distance themselves from their Slavic roots and also having people change the spelling and endings of their surnames, again to distance themselves from their Serbian or Bulgarian origins. This went alongside propaganda convincing people that they were in fact descendants of the Ancient Macedonians with a view to laying claim to the Northern Greek region of Macedonia.

The whole lot is based on falsehood which is why the MOC is not recognised by any other Church.

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