Autocephaly (6 of 20)

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


Is not the title of patriarch always the title for the chief bishop of an autocephalous church, and does not each Orthodox diocese have to be “under” a patriarch?


The answer to both parts of the question is no. The title of patriarch is used for the primates of the four original patriarchates of the Roman-Byzantine Empire which have remained faithful to Orthodoxy, as well as for the primates of four national churches which emerged after the end of the imperial era, and the Church of Georgia. Thus, none of the primates of present autocephalous churches have the title of patriarch.

The title of archbishop or metropolitan-archbishop is used for six of the primates of contemporary autocephalous churches including the ancient Church of Cyprus and the new Orthodox Church in America.

Some of these primates are addressed as His Holiness, and others bear the traditional title of His Beatitude.

One must never fail to remember at this point, however, that in Orthodoxy all bishops, from the most humble village to the most exalted patriarchal see, are absolutely equal and identical in their sacramental office, and have governing powers as bishops strictly within the limits of their own particular flock, or as we would say today, diocese.

This means that in the Orthodox Church no bishop is “over” any other bishop and no bishop is “under” any other bishop. Indeed in the Orthodox Church we do not even rightly say that a bishop is “over” his church or priests or people. The bishop is “in” the church like everyone else, no matter what his particular title may be. And so certainly it is not right to think that every diocese in the Church has to be “under” a patriarch. The best example here is the Church of Cyprus which is perhaps the oldest autocephalous church and which was never “under” any patriarch.