Autocephaly (from the Greek αύτός [self] and κεφαλή [head]). One of the basic principles of the Orthodox church, ensuring the organizational and ritual independence (self-government) of local (state, national) church entities. Autocephaly is derived from the holy canons (see Canon law) adopted at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which require that the management of church affairs conform to the accepted political and civil forms (rule 17).

Autocephalous churches have their own internal structure (see Structure of the Churches of Ukraine), a hierarchy independent of other local churches (see Church hierarchy), their own local customs and religious rites (see Church rite), and their own legislation and church judiciary. There are no special canons for the introduction of autocephaly, only some principles based on precedent: the presence of at least three ruling bishops in a separate political-administrative entity, the consent of the other autocephalous churches to the independence of the new church, and the establishment of canonic communion between the new church and existing churches. The autocephalous movement grew as the patriarchate of Constantinople declined.

The Ukrainian people constantly desired autocephaly for their church. During the Princely era and in the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state the church in Ukraine enjoyed a broad autonomy, de facto if not de jure. Self-government came to an end in the Ukrainian Orthodox church with the decline of the Hetman state. In 1686 the Ukrainian church was subordinated to the patriarchate of Moscow. The Ukrainian Orthodox church established itself as an autocephalous church only during the period of Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) and strived to gain formal, canonical recognition of its autocephaly. The government of the Ukrainian National Republic declared on 12 November 1918 that ‘the Ukrainian church should be autocephalous under the direction of the metropolitan of Kyiv and in canonical communion with the other independent churches,’ and on 1 January 1919 issued a decree proclaiming ‘the Ukrainian Autocephalous church with its council and spiritual hierarchy’ to be independent of the patriarch of Moscow. The resolutions of church conferences and associations (All-Ukrainian Orthodox Church Council) at the time aimed at autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox church, and on 14 October 1921, under Soviet rule, the All-Ukrainian Orthodox Sobor in Kyiv, which represented the patriotic church movement, approved in a ‘revolutionary’ manner the canons of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church. The Soviet government suppressed this church in 1930.

In Polish-ruled Western Ukraine the Orthodox Church of Poland was recognized by the patriarch of Constantinople as an autocephalous church on 13 November 1924. The Polish Autocephalous Orthodox church initiated the restoration of the autocephalous church of Ukraine during the Second World War. The Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church was banned in the Soviet Union, and autocephalous Ukrainian churches survived only in the West. On 5–6 June 1990, the sobor in Kyiv under the direction of Patriarch Mstyslav Skrypnyk re-established the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine.

Lotots'kyi, O. Tserkovno-pravni osnovy Avtokefaliï (Warsaw 1931)
———, Avtokefaliia, 2 vols (Warsaw 1938)
Polons'ka-Vasylenko, N. Istorychni pidvalyny UAPTs (Rome 1964)

Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article was updated in 2005.]

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