Moscow granted authocephaly to the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church, Constantinople later approved

An interesting fact just brought to my attention: Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church was first granted autocephaly by Moscow and only later was the autocephaly accepted by Constantinople. Constantinople’s claim that Moscow had no authority to grant autocephaly is inconsistent with its own practice it appears.

From the Wikipedia article on the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church:

After World War II the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia began its recovery without its beloved bishop. On December 9, 1951, the Patriarch of Moscow granted autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia, though this action was not recognized by Constantinople, which regarded the Czechoslovakian church as being autonomous under its authority. The Patriarch of Constantinople later granted a tomos of autocephaly on August 27, 1998.


  1. Is this in response to Shepherd Hopebearer’s speech at SVS? (btw, can we get the whole text up here, I’m loaded with comments). That isn’t the only inaccuracy. Georgia, for one, was granted autcephaly by Antioch in 467, i.e. after canon 28, and Georgia was outside the Empire, i.e. among the “Barbaians.” The EP also gave Poland a Tomos in 1924, by what authority no one knows: Moscow, the Mother Church, gave her a Tomos in 1948. As for only Soviet controlled Churches recognizing the OCA, can he explain Serbia, Romania and Albania, who didn’t (I can give him an excuse, but I’m not carrying his water. Let him bear hope).

    As to the change in title of the Pope of Alexandria, that was done by Pope Meletios, who seems not to have bothered to ask his successor as EP. The Pope has been appointed bishops outside Egypt from before Constantinople was founded, and since a century ago, when Pope Photios forbade the Phanar’s delegate to set foot in Egypt. My prayer book from Egypt says:

    my prayer book from Egypt has this on its title page:

    Lamp of the Believer
    containing the service of the Liturgy
    and the most necessary prayers and explanations

    primarily entrusted with its compilation, arrangement and attention to its publication

    Archmandirite Meletios Suwayti

    Pormerly primate of the Church of the Archangels
    Presently Metropolitan of Argentina and Chile


    Published by special permission of his Beatitude
    Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All
    Africa Lord Christopher II
    All Blessed and All Honorable

    then reprinted
    in the reign of his Beatitude
    Nicholas VI
    Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria
    And All Africa


    • Isa,

      You and I (and anyone else who cares to read history) know that these characters are making this up as they go….and hoping the rest of us will just nod our heads in approval.

      Merry Christmas!!!


  2. Is it canonical (Canon 28??) or is there historical precedent of Constantinople revoking autocephaly of another Orthodox Church and placing it under the ‘protection’ of a different jurisdiction?

  3. Geo Michalopulos :

    You know, I would have liked to ask: under who’s omorphor is the autonomous Church of Japan under? Which mother church granted it autonomy?

  4. Wasn’t the former Abkhazian/Imeretian/Ossetian Orthodox Church (the Pitsunda Catholicosate) also granted autocephaly by Antioch and not Constantinople?

  5. You know, if you think about all the debate that we engaged in the previous two years about Chambesy, canon 28, universal jurisdiction (and I was a prime offender), maybe it was all for naught. It looks like the EA for North America is turning out to be much ado about nothing. When it comes to the Phanar, they just make things up as they go along.

  6. George,

    Fr. Ted Bobosh raises a great question on his blog today (

    In his post today, he says, “The OCA was given a status – autocephaly – in a manner that was consistent with how it was granted by Orthodox Mother Churches at that time (1970). So if 40 years later in 2010 a new process for granting and accepting autocephaly is adopted is called into existence by Orthodox churches, does this mean these new rules are grandfathered to cover past decisions of Orthodox Patriarchs? Just how far back are we to go with this? Can now all past decisions granting autocephaly be revisited? So each time one Orthodox autocephalous church doesn’t like what another is doing can it withdraw its recognition of its self-rule and ask that the whole issue of autocephaly be revisited? Maybe Constantinople would like to revisit the autocephalous status of all the various national churches of Europe? Is this OK with all of these autocephalous churches? I don’t imagine it would be. “

    I think his point is exactly correct. We can start by rescinding the autocephaly of the Czech Church (also granted by Moscow); then move on to the Russian Church itself. I think Fr. Ted has hit the nail on the head…and according to this logic, the Moscow patriarchate itself is nothing but a renegade diocese of the EP.

    Best Regards,

    • Scott Pennington :

      “The OCA was given a status – autocephaly – in a manner that was consistent with how it was granted by Orthodox Mother Churches at that time (1970).”

      There are really two questions here: Can another see besides Constantinople grant autocephaly? To that I would answer, “Yes, but given the chaos in North America and the duty for us to do all things in seemly order, it would be good to have some process for universal recognition in place to avoid the problem of overlapping jurisdictions we have in the US and elsewhere.

      The second question regards the regularity of the OCA’s reception of autocephaly. That question is easier: There was nothing regular about it. Though writers for the OCA have repeatedly tried to whitewash and misrepresent how the Russian Church in this country developed, there are just too many records of what actually occured. I actually heard an OCA priest claim that the Karlovtsy bishops in exile were merely retired bishops, being exiled by Communists having the effect of negating their authority. Patriarch Ignatios of “Antioch” would be interested to hear that opinion.

      The Metropolia was united after the Revolution with the Karlovtsy Synod and was part of the Church abroad. This lasted from about 1920-1926, the last couple of years of this union being shaky because of the antics, forgery, megalomania, etc. of a certain Metropolitan Platon. From 1927-1935 the two formed separate entities. Thereafter they were once again united until after World War II. From 1946-1970, the Metropolia answered to no one. They were neither autonomous nor autocephalous. They had been out of communion with their Mother Church for 35 years prior to its granting them autocephaly. Moreover, their Mother Church at the time was controlled by and collaborating with the KGB, lying vociferously about the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union, informing on its own faithful, etc. Not only that, but the MP was routinely – – i.e., not as a matter of oikonomia – – communing Roman Catholics at the time.

      Thankfully, none of this really matters anymore. ROCOR and the MP are reunited. The MP, free of atheistic domination, has reaffirmed repeatedly its grant of autocephaly to the OCA. Now, it is a strange autocephaly (one might call it quasi-preliminary autocephaly). The MP maintains a considerable presence on what it otherwise acknowledges to be the canonical territory of the OCA. Nonetheless, the skies are not as cloudy as they once were.

  7. Geo Michalopulos :

    Scott, my main quibble with your first point is that you assume that for “good order” to be maintained, a new “process for universal recognition” be enacted. In theory, I quite agree. But we are now at the point where it is obvious that the Old World patriarchates (and the Phanar in particular) don’t want this to happen. Therefore we are dealing with agents acting in bad faith. For proof that the Episcopal Assembly was just a ruse for Phanariote hegemony over North America, go to its (admittedly sparse) website. The most recent posting is from back in July, when +Jonah was speaking extemporaneously to the Canadian archdiocesan assembly and was talking about perhaps “revisiting” the OCA’s autocephaly in return for greater trans-jurisdictional unity.

    The intent of the EA’s webmaster was to run with this and waive the OCA’s scalp like an Apache in full war-whoop. Since then both the Holy Synod of the OCA and the ecclesiarchs of ROC have stated in no uncertain terms that Moscow is not in the habit of rescinding autocephalies.

    As to your broader point: I would like to see the specific canon which explicitly states that ONLY Istanbul can grant autocephalies. And if it exists, then why hasn’t the Czech and Slovak church, and Georgia had their autocephalies rescinded?

    • Scott Pennington :


      Well, if the heads of the universally recognized autocephalous churches would act like adults, I agree that no new process would be needed. Nonetheless, we are confronted with the fact of a number of overlapping jurisdictions. The process that seems to be in the works which would allow each patriarch or head of an autocephalous church to have a veto of any new candidate for autocephaly is probably a recipe for disaster. It’s designed to milk the new church for graft, essentially.

      I never for a second thought that the EA was a serious endeavor and said so, on this sight, repeatedly. I was criticized as a pessimist for doing so. Long before Met. Phillip started talking about the EA being “Scoba II” I was making this point, based on the Chambesy documents, right here.

      So, if the bishops of North America want autocephaly, they will have to either take it or be extremely patient, cause it ain’t on the horizon for it to be granted by the “old world” patriarchates.

      To your second point, there is no canon that limits the granting of autocephaly to Istanbul/Constantinople. I agree that any mother church, at least theoretically, can grant autocephaly to its daughter. However, not everything that can be done should be done. The situation with the OCA is a fait accompli, I don’t think Moscow has any intention of revisiting the question and I doubt that, even if he wanted to and under the most promising circumstances, Met. Jonah could get the synod of the OCA to renounce its own autocephaly.

      Looking into my crystal ball, I see nothing much of any consequence happening during the lifetimes of Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Phillip. I don’t think any critical mass of bishops in the non-OCA jurisdictions will decide to jump ship either. It is possible, but I wouldn’t seriously expect it for another generation, that ROCOR (in the US, anyway) might consent to become an autonomous non-geographic jurisdiction of the OCA.

      I don’t think this state of affairs is bad though. As you know, I think orthopraxis is more important than jurisdictional unity. We thus have the time to separate out the wheat from the chaffe, jurisdictionally speaking. It will be interesting to see what the size of each jurisdiction is in 25-50 years. My guess is that those jurisdictions that, relatively speaking, have a greater respect for orthopraxis will end up growing and those that have less respect for it will dwindle. I think this is the case because orthopraxis reflects a greater commitment to traditional lifestyle. Thus, for example, churches that emphasize large families and mission planting will grow and those that emphasize ethnocentricity and liberal politics will dwindle (much like the contrast between the Episcopal Church and its more conservative offshoots). The mainline churches are dying rapidly and I expect that those jurisdictions who follow their lead (although from a more conservative starting point) will obtain similar results.

      So, I’m sure everything is working according to God’s plan, frustrating though it may be for some.

  8. Does anyone in this forum not understand a simple truth? The ethnopylitist bishops of all of the jurisdictions in America (save the OCA and possibly the AOC) simply do not want autocephaly in America. I’m not talking about the Old World bishops. I’m talking about the guys here. To the Serbian bishops, autocephaly means they are no longer Serbian. To the Greek bishops, autocephaly means they are no longer Greek. So on and so forth. The Church thence becomes a mere and useful instrument to promote their national interest here and in the Old World. They have interpolated the Great Commission to now read: “Go forth and teach your nation…” I’m surprised they haven’t also altered the written text”.

    • Scott Pennington :


      Here in America it’s a mixed bag. Some bishops want their ethnic group to be the big fish in their little pond rather than a smaller fish in a bigger pond (and I do not exempt the AOC from this). Some do not feel this way. You do have a serious point though and it is a major reason why things will not progress quickly. With the “old world” patriarchates, besides Russia, part of the problem is money. Actually, most of the problem is probably money. Their American jurisdictions are like ATM machines and that loss of largesse would hurt their bottom line. I would not dismiss this concern lightly though. Without its “overseas possessions”, the Patriarchate of Constantinople (for example) consists of perhaps 2000 Greeks, three goats and a mule. It would be much harder for it to survive without its colonies, perhaps impossible. Other patriarchates have similar concerns. Met. Phillip has gone so far as to say that America is a kind of mother church and, due to their weakness, many of the old world patriarchates are a kind of “diaspora”. Nonetheless, we should have some sympathy for this position they find themselves in.

      I’m not sure that unity is necessary for vigorous evangelism either. However, your point is well taken that ethnocentrism and evangelism are natural enemies. If, to use GOARCH as an example, it were to commit itself to aggressive pursuit of church growth, it follows as night follows day that the percentage of Greeks would diminish since most Americans are not Greek and that’s the pool from which converts are drawn. This does scare many people. In my parish, you sometimes hear people fuss about how little Greek is used in the services (not being Greek, I assume the Greeks are much more outspoken among themselves). Think of how people would react if the percentage of Greeks in their parish began to reflect the percentage of Greeks in America. “We are losing our church!”

      I don’t want to be harsh though. I understand why people feel this way and sympathize. It does underscore the need for thoughtful, flexible, but firm, leadership.

      • Scott,

        I agree with much of what you write.

        However, there is a process working in the background which will mean extinction for any ethnic church that does not “get with the program.”

        Let me explain it through a true story.

        A few years back, I had some time on my hands, and wanted to learn Russian. Being Greek, with our Greek schools, I assumed the same would be true at the Russian churches, so I called one, a local patriarchal church.

        “You want to do WHAT?!” said the laughing voice on the other end of the phone, “where in the world did you get the idea that we would have Russian classes here?”

        “Well, I’m Greek, and…” I began to explain.

        “Oh…that explains it,” said the person, now laughing hysterically again, “You Greeks, you are all 2nd and 3rd generation…you still don’t get it. We Russians, we’re all 4th and 5th generation…NO ONE speaks Russian here…but if you find someone, give us a call, we’d love to learn it.”

        True story. I got off the phone believing I had just been given a peak into the future.

        My firm belief is that every single ethnic group is on the same trajectory…one which leads to assimilation by the 4th generation…and extinction if the church has not assimilated as well.

        Just a theory..but I’m willing to bet a LOT of money on it.

        Best Regards,

        • Scott Pennington :


          We’ve had different experiences. In my parish, most of the Greeks do not speak Greek. They are mostly not from the old country but at least second or third generation. They have recently restarted offering Greek school because they once again have a couple of people qualified to teach it.

          Now, about 90 miles north there is a ROCOR parish I visit from time to time. The mother language of perhaps half of the parishiioners is Russian (first generation). Maybe 15 percent do not speak English well enough to understand either an English sermon or announcements in English. They specifially requested a priest who was fluent in both languages. Their services are done in about half and half English and Church Slavonic. In my parish, the choir does about 1/3 Greek and the priest, most of the time, does maybe only 10-15 percent in Greek.

          Now, my parish is rarely crowded. At Paskha it is standing room only; however, at most, the rest of the time it is only perhaps 85-90% full and very often considerably less than that.

          The Russian parish is admittedly smaller, but they are usually crowded without enough room for people to do prostrations at certain feasts because there’s no room in front or behind them. Both churches are seeking larger accomodations.

          Oh, and the Russian church does have notices for kids and adults who want to learn Russian. I don’t believe it is an official church program but is handled as a private activity off of church property (After all, what does it have to do with religion?).

          Recently the Kursk Root Icon visited the Russian parish. Communion that Sunday took about an hour instead of the normal 15 minutes. When I got there, I did not know the words to “Come receive the Body of Christ” by heart in Slavonic. I could have easily sung it from memory by the time the last person communed.

          • Scott,

            First, I only offered the story only to illustrate that there is an inexorable movement toward assimilation, which the ethnic churches ignore to their own peril. They are ALL on the same trajectory (the ROCOR parish included) if you synchronize the data from the date of maximum immigration.

            In other words, the Greek parishes were much like that ROCOR parish back in the 70’s, when immigration from Greece was peaking. I remember Holy Friday at our GO parish, which was one of the largest in the country. The walls vibrated during the singing of the Lamentations…everyone singing in Greek. It was an incredible sight. Now, 40 years later…good luck…they have to hand out the english phonetics.

            Second, I want to make sure no one gets the idea I’m against any of the ethnic languages…I’m not. I’ve often said that the liturgy should be conducted in the same % of ethnic language that the sermon is. Your own comment makes my point. (Maybe 15 percent do not speak English well enough to understand either an English sermon or announcements in English). If you need to speak Arabic in the sermon, then of course the liturgy should be in the same language. What i have a big problem with, and have seen in more parishes (particularly Greek ones) than I’d like to admit, is the liturgy in 50% or more Greek…but when it comes to asking for money in the sermon…it’s 100% English. Aside from making no sense, that contravenes Orthodox practice.

            But again, I think the real point is that there are forces in motion that will move each parish/jurisdiction away from the Mother Tongue over time.

            Nick is right about many parishes…they go there to remind themselves they are Serbian/Greek/Romanian. But this will lessen over time…(Serbs included).

            Since we know that will happen…doesn’t it make sense to “get ahead of the curve?”

            Best Regards,

          • Scott Pennington :


            It depends on what curve you seek to get ahead of. Personally, I think that unless there is a sizeable percentage of Greek/Russian/Arabic, etc. speaking parishioners that everything in the services should be done at least once in English. What I mean is that, for example, “Save us, O Son of God, . . .” should be sung at least once in English. It could be English Greek English or vice versa, so long as those who don’t understand Greek have a reference as to what the Greek means. That may be too tall an order for some parishes to implement immediately and easy for others since hymns like Axion Estin and the Cherubic Hymn are only sung once. However, it’s a good goal.

            Beyond that, I really don’t care what the percentage of languages used is.

            If your point is that over time the congregations will assimilate to English usage, I completely agree. So much so that I don’t believe in pressing the matter too hard. If you mean that the congregations will inevitably become more Westernized and less Orthodox in their practices, then I think that you are right about some churches and wrong about others. However, the ones you’re right about won’t remain Orthodox indefinitely.

      • Scot:

        Everything you say is true. But, there are other factors at play here. Take for example my Serbs.

        They have always linked the fact that if you are a “Serb” who is Orthodox, then you are Serbian. If a Serb became a Roman Catholic, a Serb would now say that the convert was now a Croation. Serbs also think they are some better grade of Orthodox. If you ask many of them their religion you would hear more often, “Ja sam Svetosavac” (translated, “I am of the way of St. Sava”) rather than “Ja sam Pravoslavac” (translated, “I am Orthodox”). In fact, St. Nikolaj Velimirovic wrote a book roughly translated “The Chosen People” or “God’s People”, which, if read very carefully, could suggest to one that the Serbs are the successors to Old Israel, perhaps to the exclusion of other Orthodox, although that may be to harsh since somehow they may fall within the penumbra of us Serbs. There is even a saying that we will go to “Nebeska Serbia” when we repose (literally translated “Heavenly Serbia”) because St. Lazarus of Kosovo made a pact with the Angel before the great battle to chose for his people a heavenly rather than an earthly kingdom. Heavenly Serbia is a place that I am priviledged to go but, Scott, you or George or Fr. Hans are not. You guys will go to one of the Heavenly suburbs.

        Kosovo has become almost idolatrous in the imagination of the Serbs. As a result, the Serbian Church was totally behind the preservation of Kosovo as part of the Serbian State and is still instrumental in keeping it in the forefront of our consciousness. They will never let go. Interestingly, in a recent press release on the Patriarchal website, there was a bold statement made that now defrocked Bishop Artemije can not start a schism becuase that would take three things: (i) support of the Serbian state, (ii) money and (iii) buildings!

        About 15 years ago, I had dinner with my Metropolitan and several visiting Bishops from the Old Country. Over dinner, I turned to one of the senior Bishops raising my concern that the populace, after communism, was still not turning to the Church in earnest and that the Seventh Day Adventists were making great inroads in Serbia. I wanted to know what the Church’s plan was to missionize the Serbs, the vast majority of which were not or were only nominally Orthodox. His reply was that they would get the state to outlaw the SDAs!

        That mentality pervades the Church in Serbia. However, that mentality also pervades the Serbian consciousness here. Trust me, if a poll were taken, the overwhelming majority of Serbs in America would vote against unity here. Why? They are Serbs, they are special and they need to maintain their separateness to help the Old Country Church be strong and fight for Kosovo.

        The same thing can be said of the Greeks. The only difference is that although the Serbs are idolatrous vis-a-vis some piece of ground called Kosovo, the Greeks are idolatrous toward the ephemeral concept of the greatness of ancient Hellenism. Its the same thing, except that one worships the tangible and the other worships the intangible or at least the historically ephemeral.

        Any way you cut it, idolatry leads to fascism as much as atheism leads to nihilism. It is inevitable.

        We can’t blame the Old World Patriarchates. True they need the money and are against unification. But, the local populations here of many jurisdictions are equally against unification because they idolize whatever they perceive is their bond with the Old Country. Notwithstanding the Bishops, if the people wanted unity, they would have had it by now.

        The sad state of affairs is not the attitude of the Old World Patriarchates or their Bishops here. The sad state of affairs is the result of our Orthodox brethern here who place a higher value on phyletism than they do on the word of the Lord. We here who are different in our attitude within each jurisdiction are a minority except for the OCA and the some significant portion of the AOC.

        We need to forget the polemics against the Old Country Patriarchates and against their phyletistic Bishops here. They could never withstand the sunnami. But that sunnami will never come until we turn the hearts of our lay brethern here.

        • Scott Pennington :


          I agree with most of what you write above. I have seen insufferably nationalistic sites run by lay Russian Orthodox as well. I don’t get too upset about that type of thing though so long as they can manage to put a sock in it when dealing with other Orthodox. It is simply a fact that Orthodoxy and ethnicity are inevitably intertwined in Slavic Europe and that nationalism and even ethnocentrism are resurgent after the demise of the Communist powers there.

          You may recall that the leadership of the Romanian Orthodox Church called on all its children in the diaspora to reunite with the Romanian Patriarchate in the interests of Romanian unity. So it’s not just the Greeks and Slavs either.

          As to Kosovo, while I’m sure that some Serbs go overboard regarding their sentiments and attachment to Kosovo, it would have been better if Kosovo did not become a terrorist Muslim state in the heart of Europe. I have never been convinced that the Serbs in that area behaved dramatically more badly than the other ethnic groups. What I really think is that many Western Europeans felt a visceral sympathy for the Catholics, that the United States, in order to curry favor with the Islamic world (see how well that turned out) defended the Muslims, and that the Serbs were simply odd man out without a sufficiently prolific propaganda machine.

          As a side note, I’m not really too concerned about jurisdictional unity in the Church in America. I have said here many, many times that I consider orthopraxis to be an infinitely more significant issue. In that vein, I admire Serbian piety and practices and would not want any mergers to affect their traditionalism.

          Actually, some of the ethnic quirks you mention I find touching and pious in a way. For example, calling onesself a follower of the way of St. Sava seems quite poetic.

          As to religious freedom and competing with Western Protestants and cultists, I must confess that I sympathize with the cleric you mentioned. In Russia, after the collapse of Communism, what the legislature essentially did was outlaw any religion which had not been recognized by the previous Soviet State for ten years. This left Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism as legal. Everyone else needed special permission from the state to build churches or conduct public services. This gave Orthodoxy a jump start at reclaiming its former position. I do not believe all religions are created equal or that they are equally true, therefore I simply reject American egalitarianism in this regard. I know that, for example, Catholics or Muslims might also reject the call to be equal in their treatment of all religions, but I believe we sacrifice our claim to truth if we succumb to such calls. Religion is a kind of zero sum game. We should not put ourselves at a disadvantage even if others are willing to do so. Recall the humorous (but accurate) definition of a liberal: “Someone who is not willing to take his own side in a fight.”

        • Nick,

          I agree with everything (and can confirm that it is equally true of the Greeks) except for the last couple of paragraphs.

          In the words of Margaret Thatcher…”Leadership is not followership.”

          In plain English, you don’t go down to the plant floor and yell at the poor guy making bumpers to solve your quality problems…you go to the corner office…the executive suite is where 90% of the problems are.

          The same is true here. while I’m convinced many of the attitudes you describe are operative, I’m also convinced that the leaders have done nothing to explain that they border on the heretical (your idolatry).

          Much of this goes back to another comment that I’ve made often, which is that we continue to live with the bath-tub ring or hangover of the Turkish occupation. That is where all of this ethnic infatuation came from. For the first 1500 years of the Church, ethnicity was a non issue…

          That’s our patrimony…That’s what our bishops ought to be teaching…That’s what will save us.

          Just my two cents..

          best regards,

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