Autocephaly (1 of 20)

The answers in this section on autocephaly were provided by a seminary faculty member in a 1970 OCA publication.


What does the word autocephaly mean?


Autocephaly comes from the Greek words for self (auto) and head (kephale). It literally means self-headed or self-governing.

In church usage autocephaly refers to those churches which are in no way dependent for their life and mission upon any other church or churches.

In this sense autocephaly differs from autonomy which in normal churchly usage is employed in reference to those churches which are entirely self-governing with the one exception that their chief bishop (called the primate) is formally confirmed into his office by the blessings of the hierarchy of another church, and receives from this church the holy chrism used for the sacrament of chrismation (confirmation).

Thus, for example, the Churches of Finland and Japan are autonomous churches in the above-described relationship with the Church of Constantinople and of Russia, whereas the Orthodox Church in America is fully autocephalous.

We must hasten to mention at this point that according to Orthodox doctrine and practice, each and every Orthodox church, regardless of its particular status—just as each and every Orthodox Christian—is responsible for the faith and life of the other. Therefore any action of any church is subject to the review of the others in reference to its doctrine, morality, sacramental practices and canonical order.