Eastern Orthodoxy: the National Autocephalous Churches

This file contains the Churches of: Albania, America, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and the Autonomous Churches in Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia, Sinai, and the Ukraine.

Note also in a separate file the five primary Patriarchates: Church of Alexandria, Church of Antioch, Church of Constantinople, Church of Jerusalem, and a note on the Church of Rome.

ALBANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH Orthodoxy in Albania is a minority religion - some 70 % of the population is Muslim. When Albania emerged as a distinct entity in the early 20th century, local Othodox authorities had been under the direction of the Greek Orthodox establishment, represented primarily from Ohrid. A locally independent Orthodox establishment was advocated, and such a hierarchy did exist de facto from 1922. In 1937, Constantinople recognized an autocephalous patriarchate based at Tirana. However, after the chaotic times surrounding World War II, and the imposition of a militant and xenophobic Communist government, the Church suffered grievously, and is only now reemerging from the shadows

ORTHODOX CHURCH in AMERICA 1840 A Russian Orthodox diocese is founded in Sitka, Alaska. 1872 See transferred to San Francisco. 1905 See transferred to New York. 1924 Unilateral declaration of autonomy. 1946 Autonomy under Russia. 10 Apr 1970. Autocephaly granted by Russia (not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the majority of the Orthodox Churches).

ORTHODOX CHURCH of BELARUS 23 Jul 1922    Autonomy under Russia. 10 Aug 1927    Unilateral declaration of autocephaly. 1946 Autonomy abolished by Russia.

BULGARIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the seventh recognized autocephalous church within the Eastern Orthodox communion (after Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Cyprus and Georgia). Although Christianity flourished in Roman-era Moesia and Thrace, the coming of the Slavs and Bulgars wreaked havoc on local Church hierarchies. The church finally emerged from the shadows with the conversion of Khan Boris in the 860's, and Bulgaria became an ecclesiastic battleground between factions loyal to Constantinople and Rome. In 870 the Bulgarian Church was granted autonomy under the auspices of Constantinople by the Eighth Ecumenical Council. Its autocephaly was declared in 911 and recognized in 927, but due to the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria the Bulgarian church lost its autocephalous status until modern times, except for the century and a half between Bulgarian independence from byzantium (1235) and the conquest by the Turks (1393).

CYPRIOT ORTHODOX CHURCH The Cypriot Orthodox Church is one of sixteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Church. It was recognized as autocephalous against the claims of the Patriarch of Antioch, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, making it the oldest of the current autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches. Its This autocephaly was confirmed in the 470's, when the bishop of Salamis was raised to the status of metropolitan and Archbishop by Emperor Zeno. Its independence was confirmed by the Trullan Synod in Constantinople in 692. Attempts were made subsequently by the patriarchs of Antioch to claim authority over the Cypriot Church, the last as recently as 1600, but in vain.


ORTHODOX CHURCH of ESTONIA 1920  Unilateral declaration of autonomy. 1920  Autonomy recognized by Russia. 7 Jun 1923Autonomy under Ecumenical Patriarchate. 6 Mar 1945Autonomy abolished by Russia. 20 Feb 1996Autonomy under Ecumenical Patriarchate restored  (not recognized by Russia).

ORTHODOX CHURCH of FINLAND 26 Nov 1918    Unilateral declaration of autonomy. 1921 Autonomy recognized by Russia. 1923 Autonomy under Ecumenical Patriarchate. 1957 Russia recognizes autonomy under Ecumenical Patriarchate.

GEORGIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH These are the spiritual leaders of the Georgian people. The Armenian Church is a Monophysite communion, however, and has more in common thereby with Jacobite and Coptic Hierarchies. The Georgian Church is a part of the Eastern Orthodox communion, although it is fully independent as such and not within the authority of any of the other Patriarchates.

GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH (Athens) The Church of Greece is one of the sixteen autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches. In modern times it has become the most important of all the autocephalous churches in the Eastern Orthodox communion. Until 1833 it was part of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, but upon Greek indpendence it declared its autocephaly; this was recognized by Constantinople in 1850. It is governed by a synod of bishops under the presidency of the Archbishop of Athens It is divided into 81 dioceses, 20 of which are nominally under the ecclesiastic jurisdiction of Constantinople. Since 1864 it has been the national church of the Greek state.

ORTHODOX CHURCH of JAPAN  1880 Russian Orthodox diocese is founded in Tokyo. 1945 Unilateral declaration of autonomy. 1970 Autonomy under Russia (not recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate).

ORTHODOX CHURCH of LATVIA 1920 Autonomy granted by Russia. 1936 Autonomy under Ecumenical Patriarchate. 1940 Autonomy abolished by Russia.

MACEDONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (Ohrid) The Macedonian establishment is the youngest of the national patriachates and, in fact, remains unrecognized by Constantinople as of the present. It is based upon Ohrid, a small town in far southwestern (Slavic) Macedonia. A lakeside resort nowadays, the town is located on the western shores of Lake Ohrid, with Albania on the opposite side and the Greek frontier no more than about 25 miles (40 km.) to the southeast. Ohrid holds a uniquely authoritative tradition - from the 10th century, this community was the site of an archbishopric in the Orthodox Church, and for a time in the early modern era it was the central ecclesiatic authority for much of the Ottoman Balkans (Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia) although it's prelates were ethnic Greek nearly exclusively from the 12th century on. In the 17th century, Ohrid gradually lost influence, as various suffragan sees were split away from it. Additionally, there were numerous internal conflicts inasmuch as more than a few prelates were suspected by their contemporaries as working in league with Roman Catholics, not without reason in some instances. By the mid 18th century the See was a fractious fragment of it's former establishment, and in 1767 the archbishopric was formally suppressed by Ottoman authorities. With the conclusion of the First World War, and the expansion of Serbian authority into all of what became Yugoslavia, Ohrid once more received an administrator, and in 1920 was re-established as a Bishopric. With the establishment of a Communist Republic in Yugoslavia, the Bishopric was once more annulled, but with shifts in policy, a revival of the archbishopric took place in 1958. This new See formed the basis of the unilateral establishment of an autonomous Metropolitan See for Macedonia in 1967, on the 200th anniversary of the Ottoman dissolution. The Macedonian Primacy exists to this day, but is controversial - no other Orthodox authority recognizes it as an independent (autocephalous) communion within Orthodoxy, since it's rise to that status was irregular and, some would say, uncanonical.

POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH 1921Semi-autonomy granted by Russia. 13 Nov 1924. Autocephaly granted by Constantinople. 22 Jun 1948 Autocephaly recognized by Russia

ROMANIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH in 1872, the Orthodox churches of the former principalities (the Metropolitanate of Ungrovlahia and the Metropolitanate of Moldavia) decided to unite to form the Romanian Orthodox Church. In the process, they canonically separated from the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Romanian Orthodox Church declared autocephaly. In the same year a separate synod was constitued. The Patriarchate of Constantinople only recognized the autocephaly of the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1885. First organized with the rank of Metropolitanate, the Romanian Orthodox Church became a Patriarchate in 1925, when the ranks of the Romanian Orthodox Church grew following the formation of Greater Romania.

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (Moscow) Knyazy, Tsars, and Commissars may come and go, foreigners may invade only to be washed away again, but the Russian Orthodox Church has been the essence of what has kept this culture vibrant and alive through every time of trouble. Here is a note on the leadership of the church since the establishment of the Metropolitan Bishops in Moscow, under the Mongols. (For the secular rulers of Moscow, see just below, under Muscovy). For listings of the Four Primates of the Greek Orthodox Church, go to the Eastern Patriarchates page.

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH The Serbian Church is one of the major wings of the Orthodox faith, and has been vital in maintaining a sense of national identity among Serbs. Here is a record of successive leaders of this branch.

ORTHODOX CHURCH of MOUNT SINAI The orthodox establishment in the Sinai Peninsula is a fragmented remnant of a See which was once much larger. Nowadays, it consists of the Monastery of the Transfiguration (normally called St. Catherine's Monastery), located directly adjacent to Mt. Sinai, and several other associated sites, most notable among them the Monastery of Raithu and that of Farum. The archbishop is always the abbot at St. Catherines, which was established at the site of a shrine chapel dedicated to the miracle of the burning bush, sometime in the reign of the emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), and was granted autonomy within the prelacy of the patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1567. As an ongoing Orthodox See, it has become a diocese with nearly no parishioners as such - however, it has in recent decades been evolving into a unique sacred site, one accepted and utilized by all the Abramic faiths, inasmuch as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism each recognize and honor Moses; today pilgrims and tourists of each religion visit the place side by side. Among Muslims, the place has an added focus of devotion - when Arab armies occupied the Peninsula in the early 7th century, the Monastery of St. Catherine was granted a fatwa granting inviolability and protection, purportedly signed by Muhammad the Prophet himself.

UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH (Kiev) The ecclesiastic authorities of the city, and of the Russian people in general, until the removal of the see to Muscovy at the beginning of the 14th century.