Eastern Orthodox Church organization

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This article covers the organization of the Eastern Orthodox Churches rather than the doctrines, traditions, practices, or other aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy. Like the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church claims to be the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The term Western Orthodoxy is sometimes used to denominate what is technically a Vicariate within the Antiochian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Churches and thus a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church as that term is defined here. The term "Western Orthodox Church" is disfavored by members of that Vicariate.

In the 5th century, Oriental Orthodoxy separated from Chalcedonian Christianity (and is therefore separate from both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches), well before the 11th century Great Schism. It should not be confused with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Church governance

The Orthodox Church is a communion comprising the fifteen separate autocephalous hierarchical churches that recognize each other as "canonical" Orthodox Christian churches. Each constituent church is self-governing; its highest-ranking bishop (a patriarch or archbishop) reports to no higher earthly authority. Autocephalous churches may have one or more "autonomous" churches under their authority, which is exercised only at the time the autocephalous bishop appoints the highest-ranking bishop (an archbishop or metropolitan) of the autonomous church. Otherwise, each autonomous church is also self-governing. Normal governance is enacted through a synod of bishops within each church. In case of issues that go beyond the scope of a single church, multiple self-governing churches send representatives to a wider synod, sometimes wide enough to be called an Orthodox "ecumenical" council. Such councils are deemed to have authority superior to that of an autocephalous church or its ranking bishop.

The Orthodox Church is decentralised, having no central authority, earthly head or a single Bishop in a leadership role, having synodical system canonically, is significantly distinguished from the hierarchically organised Catholic Church whose doctorine is the papal supremacy. References to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as a leader are an erroneous interpretation of his title "the first among equals".[1][2] His title is of honor rather than authority and in fact the Ecumenical Patriarch has no real authority over Churches other than the Constantinopolitan.[3] His unique role often sees the Ecumenical Patriarch referred to as the "spiritual leader" of the Orthodox Church in some sources, though this is not an official title of the patriarch nor is it usually used in scholarly sources on the patriarchate.

The autocephalous churches are in full communion with each other, so any priest of any of those churches may lawfully minister to any member of any of them, and no member of any is excluded from any form of worship in any of the others, including reception of the Eucharist.

In the early Middle Ages, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church was ruled by five patriarchs: the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; these were collectively referred to as the Pentarchy. Each patriarch had jurisdiction over bishops in a specified geographic region. This continued until 927, when the autonomous Bulgarian Archbishopric became the first newly promoted patriarchate to join the original five.

The patriarch of Rome was "first in place of honor" among the five patriarchs. Disagreement about the limits of his authority was one of the causes of the Great Schism, conventionally dated to the year 1054, which split the church into the Catholic Church in the West, headed by the Bishop of Rome, and the Orthodox Church, led by the four eastern patriarchs. After the schism this honorary primacy shifted to the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had previously been accorded the second-place rank at the First Council of Constantinople.


Autocephalous Orthodox churches

Ranked in order of seniority, with the year of independence (autocephaly) given in the parenthesis.[4][5]

Four Ancient Patriarchates

  1. Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
  2. Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  3. Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
  4. Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem

Junior Patriarchates

  1. Russian Orthodox Church (1448, recognized in 1589)
  2. Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church (486)
  3. Bulgarian Orthodox Church (870)
  4. Serbian Orthodox Church (1219)
  5. Romanian Orthodox Church (1872, recognized in 1885)

Autocephalous Archbishoprics

  1. Church of Cyprus (431, recognized in 478)
  2. Church of Greece (1833, recognized in 1850)
  3. Albanian Orthodox Church (1922, recognized in 1937)
  4. Polish Orthodox Church (1924)
  5. Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church (1951,1988)
  6. Orthodox Church in America (1970, autocephaly not universally recognised[6])

The four ancient patriarchates are most senior, followed by the five junior patriarchates. Autocephalous archbishoprics follow the patriarchates in seniority, with the Church of Cyprus being the only ancient one (AD 431). In the diptychs of the Russian Orthodox Church and some of its daughter churches (e.g., the Orthodox Church in America), the ranking of four of the patriarchal churches is different. Following the Russian Church in rank is Georgian, followed by Serbian, Romanian, and then Bulgarian Church. The ranking of the archbishoprics is the same.

Autonomous Orthodox churches

under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
under the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
under the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem
under the Russian Orthodox Church
under the Serbian Orthodox Church
under the Romanian Orthodox Church

*Autonomy not universally recognised.

The Orthodox churches without autonomy

under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Churches in resistance

Due to what these churches perceive as the errors of modernism and ecumenism in mainstream Orthodoxy, they refrain from concelebration of the Divine Liturgy with them while maintaining that they remain fully within the canonical boundaries of the Church: i.e., professing Orthodox belief, retaining legitimate episcopal succession, and existing in communities with historical continuity. With the exception of the Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance), they will commune the faithful from all the canonical jurisdictions and are recognized by and in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

Due in part to the re-establishment of official ties between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance) has broken ecclesial communion with ROCOR, but the converse has not happened. Where the Old Calendar Romanian and Bulgarian churches stand on the matter is as yet unclear.

Churches that have voluntarily "walled themselves off"

These Churches do not practice Communion with any other Orthodox jurisdictions nor do they tend to recognize each other. Yet, like the "Churches in Resistance" above they remain fully within the canonical boundaries of the Church: i.e., professing Orthodox belief, retaining what they believe to be legitimate episcopal succession, and existing in communities with historical continuity. Nevertheless, their relationship with all other Orthodox Churches remains unclear, as 'Orthodox' Churches normally recognize and are recognized by others.

Churches that are unrecognized

The following Churches recognize all other mainstream Orthodox Churches, but are not recognized by any of them due to various disputes:

See also


  1. Clark, Katherine (2009). Orthodox Church - Simple Guides (v3.1 ed.). London: Bravo Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85733-640-5. Retrieved 1 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Autocephaly ( 6 of 20)". Retrieved 2 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Eastern Orthodoxy". www.britannica,com. Britannica. Retrieved 26 July 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Serbian Orthodox Church official site: Помесне Православне Цркве (Autocephalous Orthodox churches)
  5. Orthodox Church in America official site: World Churches
  6. See Orthodox Church in America.

Sources and external links