In 1970, the ROC MP offered autocephaly to the American Orthodox Church, Larionov points out, but “not one” of the other Orthodox churches recognized this action. Moscow’s effort to offer autocephaly to Orthodoxy in Japan also failed, and the Japanese Orthodox Church has remained autonomous but within the Moscow Patriarchate.
The case of the Czech Orthodox Church is particularly interesting and instructive, the Kazan-born, Greek-trained canon law specialist says. In 1948, the ROC MP gave it autocephaly but “not one” of the other Orthodox Churches recognized that action. The Czech church became autocephalous only in 1998 when Constantinople acted. Then, all other churches followed.
In 2011, the Czech Church planned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its autocephaly, but Constantinople explained to Prague that there could not be any such anniversary because only the ROC MP had offered it in 1951. And the Czechs backed down, recognizing that the ROC MP offer was in fact “a fiction.”
One can add, Larionov continues, that “the overwhelming part of all autocephalies (besides the four ancient patriarchates and exceptions like the Georgian and Cypriot churches) – specially, the Russian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Albanian, Polish and Czech – were granted by the Constantinople Patriarchate” and then recognized by everyone.
“The Cypriot and Greek Churches have a separate meaning because they were given in the era of the Universal Assemblies: [they] were along with the Jerusalem Patriarchate divided out from the Antioch Patriarchate to which they had belonged.” Antioch could not make that decision, and so the assembly did.
The Orthodox world consists of four ancient Patriarchates, “confirmed by the Universal Assemblies, and three autocephalies which were confirmed in the same way … then we have eight autocephalies which were offered by the Constantinople Patriarchate which the entire Orthodox world recognizes.”
“We also have one autocephaly which the Moscow Patriarchate recognizes but that the rest of the Orthodox World – except for three churches at one time under the influence of the Moscow Patriarchate (Georgian, Czech and Polish) – does not,” Larionov says.
Thus, in the absence of any possibility of convening a universal assembly today, only Constantinople has the power to gran autocephaly to any church. There is simply “no other way.” The reasons for this go back to the original assemblies which recognized first Rome and Constantinople and – after the split of 1054 – only Constantinople as having that right.
This history has two important consequences in current circumstances. On the one hand, it means that Constantinople has the right to grant autocephaly to Ukraine and there is every reason to believe that all Orthodox Churches except the Russian will accept it as entirely legitimate.
And on the other hand, it means that Russian claims about its right to have a voice in this matter “have no relationship to Orthodox canon law” and can be rejected out of hand, just as Patriarch Bartholemew has done.