This timely study of autocephaly by Father Jivko Panev serves to remind us of days in which ‘autocephaly’ (the right of a group of dioceses to choose their senior hierarch without reference to external authority) was a much more widespread phenomenon than it is today. Within the Roman Empire, until the fourth century, each local province – and there were many of them – was an autocephalous metropolitanate. By the 6th century, with establishment of the pentarchy, autocephalous entities had been severely reduced in number. Nevertheless, autocephaly, with the attendant requirement of recognition by ‘sister’ autocephalous churches, remains a fundamental aspect of Orthodox ecclesiology. There is no limit, in theory, to the possible number of autocephalous units, though each must include a minimum of four dioceses. The boundaries of autocephalous ecclesial entities have normal/y -but not always- followed those of the secular world, but the growth of the modern nation state and attendent ethnic rivalries has seriously disturbed Church consciousness in the modern period, as, for example, in Estonia. The article first appeared in French in Contacts No. 70 (1995), pp. 125-134. Clic here to download the study!
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