Autonomy Lost and Regained: The Ukrainian Orthodox Metropolia of Kyiv, 1633-2019Main MenuIntroductionOverviewExarch of the Apostolic Throne(before 1685)Autonomy Lost(1685 to 1905)The Struggle for Autocephaly(1905 to 2019)the Ukrainian History and Education Centerb536a53657e04c4edda7414158720b005f01afa8This exhibition was made possible by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, a state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
The structure of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches (as of 2020)
12021-05-04T14:17:27-04:00Michael Andrecb47dc81430ec8a9df031d1883b5156df4684c67021plain2021-05-04T14:17:27-04:00Wikimedia Commons —by "Akhenaten0", CC BY-SA 4.0Michael Andrecb47dc81430ec8a9df031d1883b5156df4684c670
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12021-05-04T13:01:59-04:00Autocephaly and Orthodox Ecclesiastical Structure11The Orthodox Church is administratively decentralized, and "autocephaly" is one way that this decentralization manifests itself.plain2021-05-18T15:48:45-04:00Unlike in the Catholic Church, the tradition in the Orthodox world has been one of administrative decentralization. Thus, while there is only one indivisible Orthodox Church, there are many jurisdictions that recognize each other as "canonical" but exercise administrative independence within their respective territories. Many Orthodox jurisdictions are "autocephalous" (pronounced "auto-SEF-a-lus"; from Greek, meaning "self-headed"), which means that their prime hierarch does not report to any other higher-ranking bishop. In some respects, this is similar to the role of "provinces" within the Anglican Communion (e.g. the Episcopal Church in the United States could be thought of as being vaguely "autocephalous").
In the early centuries of Christianity, church affairs were governed by the five major episcopal sees (or Patriarchates) of the Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Since then, numerous additional jurisdictions have been been recognized as having the status of autocephaly (or the somewhat related but more restricted status of "autonomy").
These jurisdictions usually correspond to political boundaries, and autocephaly has been closely linked to national self-determination and political independence. This can cause complications if political boundaries are re-drawn, one political entity is absorbed by another, an empire fragments, or if there is mass migration of Orthodox populations to a country that does not already have a strong Orthodox jurisdiction (as was the case in the United States and Canada). This sometimes uncomfortable interplay between Church and State can manifest itself as the intrusion of geopolitics into the sphere of religion, as can be seen repeatedly in this exhibition.
Even worse, there is no well-defined, systematic procedure by which autocephalous jurisdictions become recognized. There have been many cases of jurisdictions unilaterally claiming autocephaly, but where that self-proclamation was not accepted and the jurisdiction found itself in a state of "schism" with respect to its parent Church. Similarly, a jurisdiction might initially be recognized by only one or a very small number of Patriarchs. This process of recognition can play out over many years or even decades before a consensus is finally reached.