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This article covers the organization of the Eastern Orthodox Churches rather than the doctrines, traditions, practices, or other aspects of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox church claims to be the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The term Western Orthodoxy is sometimes used to denominate what is technically a Vicariate within the Antiochian Orthodox Church and thus a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church as that term is defined here. The term "Western Orthodox Church" is disfavored by members of that Vicariate.

In the 5th century, Oriental Orthodoxy separated from Chalcedonian Christianity (and is therefore separate from both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches), well before the 11th century Great Schism. It should not be confused with Eastern Orthodoxy.

Eastern Orthodoxy

The Eastern Orthodox Church is a communion comprising the fifteen separate autocephalous hierarchical churches that recognize each other as "canonical" Orthodox Christian churches. There is an essentially political disagreement over the autocephaly of one of the churches—the Orthodox Church in America.

There is no single earthly head of all the Orthodox Churches comparable to the Pope of Rome. The highest-ranking bishop of the communion is the Patriarch of Constantinople, who is also primate of one of the autocephalous churches. These organizations are in full communion with each other, so any priest of any of those churches may lawfully minister to any member of any of them, and no member of any is excluded from any form of worship in any of the others, including reception of the Eucharist. Each local or national Orthodox Church is a portion of the Orthodox Church as a whole.

In the early Middle Ages, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church was ruled by five patriarchs: the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; these were collectively referred to as the Pentarchy. Each patriarch had jurisdiction over bishops in a specified geographic region. This continued until 927, when the autonomous Bulgarian Archbishopric became the first newly-promoted patriarchate to join the additional five.

The patriarch of Rome was "first in place of honor" among the five patriarchs. Disagreement about the limits of his authority was one of the causes of the Great Schism, conventionally dated to the year 1054, which split the church into the Roman Catholic Church in the West, headed by the Bishop of Rome, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, led by the four eastern patriarchs. After the schism this honorary primacy shifted to the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had previously been accorded the second-place rank at the First Council of Constantinople.


The autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches

(ranked in order of seniority)

  1. The Church of Constantinople, under the Ecumenical Patriarch
  2. The Church of Alexandria
  3. The Church of Antioch
  4. The Church of Jerusalem
  5. The Church of Russia (est. 1589)
  6. The Church of Serbia (est. 1219)
  7. The Church of Romania (est. 1925)
  8. The Church of Bulgaria (est. 927)
  9. The Church of Georgia (est. 337) (est. 325 in western part of Georgia)
  10. The Church of Cyprus (est. 434)
  11. The Church of Greece (est. 1850)
  12. The Church of Poland (est. 1924)
  13. The Church of Albania (est. 1937)
  14. The Church of Czech and Slovak lands (est. 1951)
  15. The Orthodox Church in America (est. 1972. Autocephaly not universally recognized)

The four ancient patriarchates are most senior, followed by the five junior patriarchates. Autocephalous churches whose leaders are archbishops follow the patriarchates in seniority, with the Church of Cyprus being the only ancient one (AD 434). From the Orthodox point of view there would be five ancient patriarchates had the Great Schism not occurred, severing the Church of Rome from the Orthodox Churches in the 11th century.

The autonomous Eastern Orthodox churches

Autonomy not universally recognized

The Eastern Orthodox churches without autonomy

Churches "in resistance"

Due to what these churches perceive as the errors of Modernism and Ecumenism in mainstream Orthodoxy, they refrain from concelebration of the Divine Liturgy with them while maintaining that they remain fully within the canonical boundaries of the Church: i.e., professing Orthodox belief, retaining legitimate episcopal succession, and existing in communities with historical continuity. With the exception of the Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance), they will commune the faithful from all the canonical jurisdictions and are recognized by and in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.

Due in part to the re-establishment of official ties between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of Greece (Holy Synod in Resistance) has broken ecclesial communion with ROCOR, but the converse has not happened. Where the Old Calendar Romanian and Bulgarian churches stand on the matter is as yet unclear.

Churches that have voluntarily "walled themselves off"

These Churches do not practice Communion with any other Orthodox jurisdictions nor do they tend to recognize each other.

Churches that are unrecognized

The following Churches recognize all other mainstream Orthodox Churches, but are not recognized by any of them due to various disputes:

The Russian Orthodox Church in America holds a policy much like the Churches list above as 'In Resistance'. Communing the faithful but not concelebrating among hierarchs. The ROCIA's status is unclear, with many faithful and even priests received into other Orthodox Churches including ROCOR, the GOA and the OCA with their sacraments recognized, but as the Hierarchs of the ROCIA do not seek to concelebrate with other Churches, the exact standing of those hierarchs remains unclear.

Churches self-styled as Orthodox, unrecognized as such

Sources and external links