Source: Orthodox History
May 26, 2022
The oldest autocephalous church in the world attained its current form in 1845.
Today, depending on whom you ask, there are fourteen or fifteen or maybe sixteen (or seventeen?) autocephalous Orthodox Churches in the world. In dispute are the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), which everyone accepts as canonical but most churches don’t accept as autocephalous, and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), the autocephaly and canonicity of which is rejected by most churches, recognized only by the churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Cyprus, and Greece (and in some cases, only parts of those churches). And now, we have another claimant to autocephaly: the “Macedonian Orthodox Church” (or, if you prefer, the “Archbishopric of Ohrid”), which was declared autocephalous by the Serbian Orthodox Church just hours before the publication of this article. As of now, only the Serbian Church has recognized this new autocephaly, and no one is sure what will happen next.
Leaving those disagreements aside, let’s examine each of the fourteen universally-recognized autocephalous churches. When did they become autocephalous? When did the current ecclesiastical structures that govern those churches come into being? This seemingly straightforward question is actually quite the can of worms…
We’ll go through the diptychs in reverse order, from bottom to top, using the diptychs according to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (EP) prior to the formation of the OCU. (“Diptychs” refers to the list of autocephalous primates that are commemorated liturgically by each autocephalous primate. Every bishop commemorates the bishop in his church who “ranks” immediately above him; so, for example, a Metropolitan in the Patriarchate of Antioch will commemorate Patriarch John of Antioch, while Patriarch John himself will commemorate all of the other autocephalous primates, beginning with the Ecumenical Patriarch and continuing on down to the primate of the Czech Lands and Slovakia.)
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