Eastern Orthodox Church organization

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The Eastern Orthodox Church, like the Catholic Church, claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The Orthodox Church is a communion comprising the fourteen or sixteen 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, a metropolitan or an archbishop) reports to no higher earthly authority. Each regional church is composed of constituent eparchies (or dioceses) ruled by bishops. Some autocephalous churches have given an eparchy or group of eparchies varying degrees of autonomy (self-government). Such autonomous churches maintain varying levels of dependence on their mother church, usually defined in a Tomos or other document of autonomy. In many cases, autonomous churches are almost completely self-governing, with the mother church retaining only the right to appoint the highest-ranking bishop (an archbishop or metropolitan) of the autonomous church.[citation needed]

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 any autocephalous church or its ranking bishop.[citation needed]

Church governance[edit]

The Orthodox Church is decentralised, having no central authority, earthly head or a single Bishop in a leadership role. Thus, the Orthodox Church uses a synodical system canonically, which is significantly different from the hierarchically organised Catholic Church that follows the doctrine of papal supremacy. References to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople as a leader are an erroneous interpretation of his title ("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.[citation needed]

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 (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria). 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.[citation needed]

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 Catholic Church), well before the 11th century Great Schism. It should not be confused with Eastern Orthodoxy.


Canonical territories of autocephalous and autonomous Orthodox jurisdictions after the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Autocephalous Orthodox churches[edit]

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

Four Ancient Patriarchates[edit]

  1. Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (independence in 330 AD, elevated to the rank of autocephalous Patriarchate in 381)
  2. Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  3. Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch
  4. Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem (independence in 451 AD, elevated to the rank of autocephalous Patriarchate in 451)

Those four ancient Orthodox Patriarchates are of the five episcopal sees forming the historical Pentarchy, the fifth one being the See of Rome. They all adopted the Chalcedonian Definition and remained in communion after the schism that followed the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The council was the fourth of the Ecumenical Councils that are accepted by Chalcedonian churches which include the Eastern Orthodox, and also the Catholic, and most Protestant churches. It was the first council not to be recognised by any Oriental Orthodox churches (classified as non-Chalcedonian).

The title of Patriarch was created in 531 by Justinian.[6]

Junior Patriarchates[edit]

  1. Bulgarian Orthodox Church (870, Patriarchate from 918/919, recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 927[7])
  2. Orthodox Church of Georgia (486, Patriarchate from 1010)
  3. Serbian Orthodox Church (1219, Patriarchate from 1346)
  4. Russian Orthodox Church (1448, recognized in 1589[8])[a]
  5. Romanian Orthodox Church (1872, recognized in 1885, Patriarchate from 1925)

Autocephalous Archbishoprics[edit]

  1. Church of Cyprus (431, recognized in 478)
  2. Church of Greece (1833, recognized in 1850)
  3. Orthodox Church of Albania (1922, recognized in 1937)

Autocephalous Metropolis[edit]

  1. Polish Orthodox Church (1924)[b]
  2. Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia (1951, recognized in 1998)[c]
  3. Orthodox Church in America (1970, not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church and 5 other churches)[10]
  4. Orthodox Church of Ukraine (988, autocephaly from 15 December 2018, recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate on 5 January 2019, by the Church of Greece on 12 October 2019, by the Patriarchate of Alexandria on 8 November 2019, and by the Church of Cyprus on 24 October 2020)[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

The four ancient patriarchates are the 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 the five junior 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[edit]

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.

Semi-Autonomous churches[edit]

under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
under the Russian Orthodox Church

*Autonomy not universally recognised.

Orthodox churches with limited self-government but without autonomy[edit]

under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
under the Russian Orthodox Church

Unrecognized churches[edit]

Churches in resistance (True Orthodoxy)[edit]

These are churches that have separated from the mainstream communion over issues of Ecumenism and Calendar reform since the 1920s.[22] Due to what these churches perceive as being errors of modernism and ecumenism in mainstream Orthodoxy, they refrain from concelebration of the Divine Liturgy with the mainstream Orthodox, while maintaining that they remain fully within the canonical boundaries of the Church: i.e., professing Orthodox belief, retaining legitimate apostolic 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.

The Churches in resistance are:

Churches that voluntarily stay outside any communion[edit]

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 consider themselves to be within the canonical boundaries of the Church: i.e., professing Orthodox belief, retaining what they believe to be legitimate apostolic 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[edit]

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

Churches that are both unrecognized and not fully Orthodox[edit]

The following Churches use the term "Orthodox" in their name and carries belief or the traditions of Eastern Orthodox church, but blend beliefs and traditions from other denominations outside of Eastern Orthodoxy:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Due to the 2018 Moscow–Constantinople schism, the Russian Orthodox Church has cut ties with several other Churches in this list. The nature of their current relationship is uncertain.
  2. ^ The primate of the Polish Orthodox Church is referred to as Archbishop of Warsaw and Metropolitan of All Poland, but the Polish Orthodox Church is officially a Metropolis[9]
  3. ^ The primate of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church is referred to as Archbishop of Prešov and Slovakia, Metropolitan of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, but the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church is officially a Metropolis


  1. ^ Clark, Katherine (2009). Orthodox Church - Simple Guides (v3.1 ed.). London: Bravo Ltd. ISBN 978-1-85733-640-5. Retrieved 1 August 2015.
  2. ^ "Autocephaly ( 6 of 20)". Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  3. ^ "Eastern Orthodoxy". www.britannica.com. Britannica. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  4. ^ Serbian Orthodox Church official site: Помесне Православне Цркве (Autocephalous Orthodox churches)
  5. ^ Orthodox Church in America official site: World Churches
  6. ^ "L'idea di pentarchia nella cristianità". homolaicus.com.
  7. ^ Kiminas 2009, p. 15.
  8. ^ Kiminas 2009, p. 19.
  9. ^ "ORTHODOX | METROPOLIA". www.orthodox.pl. Retrieved 2019-01-05.
  10. ^ See Orthodox Church in America.
  11. ^ "Η Εκκλησία της Ελλάδος αναγνώρισε την Αυτοκέφαλη Εκκλησία της Ουκρανίας" [The Church of Greece recognized the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine]. eleftherostypos.gr. Eleutheros Typos. 12 October 2019. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  12. ^ "The Church of Greece has recognized the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine (upd)". Orthodox Times. 2019-10-12. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  13. ^ "It's Official: Church of Greece Recognizes the Autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine". The Orthodox World. 12 October 2019. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  14. ^ "Олександрійський патріархат визнав автокефалію ПЦУ". www.ukrinform.com. Ukrinform. 2019-11-08. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  15. ^ "Олександрійський патріархат визнав ПЦУ. Чому це важливо". www.bbc.com. BBC. 2019-11-08. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  16. ^ "The Patriarchate of Alexandria recognizes the Autocephalous Church of Ukraine (upd)". Orthodox Times. 2019-11-08. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  17. ^ "Letter sent by Patriarch Theodore to hierarchs on recognition of Ukrainian autocephaly". Orthodox Times. 2019-11-08. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  18. ^ "Александрийский патриарх признал ПЦУ". www.interfax-religion.ru. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  19. ^ Online, Εκκλησία (2020-10-24). "Αρχιεπίσκοπος Κύπρου: Η απόφασή μου αυτή υπηρετεί την Ορθοδοξία". ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ ONLINE (in Greek). Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  20. ^ "Кіпрська Церква визнала Православну Церкву України". Релігійно-інформаційна служба України (in Ukrainian). Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  21. ^ "Archbishop of Cyprus commemorates Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv for first time (upd)". Orthodox Times. 2020-10-24. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  22. ^ Beoković, Jelena (1 May 2010). "Ko su ziloti, pravoslavni fundamentalisti" [Who are Zealots, Orthodox Fundamentalists]. Politika. Retrieved 5 August 2014.

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