Independent Orthodox Churches or the Other Orthodox Family of Churches
The independent or other Orthodox churches are those communities that are not in communion with mainstream Orthodox Churches (Eastern and Oriental) and continue to operate independently. They are also called non-canonical Orthodox Churches. The list mentioned below is not comprehensive. The status and operational nature of Independent Orthodox Churches remain extremely complex. Some Churches are in communion with each other. Some have merged with others, whereas some Churches no more exist and many others maintain doubtful lineage.
A. Independent Churches – Eastern Orthodox Tradition
Independent Eastern Orthodox Churches can be categorised into several groups like old believers, national churches, western rite churches, new generation churches and so on, depending on the nature of their origin, development, and liturgical practices.
1. Old Believers or Old Ritualist
These churches separated from the Russian Orthodox Church, in protest to the reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon. Even though persecuted in the beginning, the Old Believers’ community survives to this day. The Russian Orthodox Church removed the Anathema on Old Believers as well. The Russian Government is presently helping to restore the rights of the Old Believers in the country. There are several families of Old Believers like Popovtsy, Bezpopovtsy, and several other related subgroups. Some of the Old Believers, like Edinovertsy, have come under the canonical jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, and others like the Russian Orthodox Old-Rite (Popovtsy) have begun a dialogue for recognition within the Church of Russia and the Russian government. Some examples of Old Churches are:
Popovstsy Old Believer / Old Rite Orthodox / Russian Orthodox Old Rite
• Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy / Belokrinitskoesoglasie – tracing its roots to St. Ambrose of Sarajevo in 1846, comprised of two churches in communion with each other:
• Russian Orthodox Old-Rite Church – based in Moscow
• Lipovan Orthodox Old-Rite Church– based in Romania
• Novozybkovskaya hierarchy / Russian Old Orthodox Church / Old Believer “Patriarchate of Moscow” (tracing its roots to Nikola of Saratov in 1923)
• Slavo-Georgian (Iberian) Old-Orthodox Church (break-away from the Russian Old-Orthodox Church)
• Old Orthodox Church of Russia (break-away from the Russian Old-Orthodox Church)
• “Clementine” Old Believers (of doubtful apostolicity and probably no longer in existence)
2. Unrecognized or Partially Recognized Patriarchates and National Churches
There are several churches that fall in this category. Most of them are separated from mainstream communion due to historical and national issues, or canonical and political reasons. Some of them are partially recognized. Some of them are in dialogue with Eastern Orthodox churches. Some examples are:
• Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate)
• Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Partially recognized)
• Macedonian Orthodox Church
• Montenegrin Orthodox Church
• Orthodox Church of Italy (under the late Metropolitan Antonio Rossi)
• Abkhazian Orthodox Church
• Association of Croatian Orthodox Believers
• Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church
• Turkish Orthodox Church
• Italo-Greek Orthodox Church
• Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church-Canonical
3. Old Calendarist and True Orthodox Churches (Churches in Resistance)
Old Calendarists and Traditionalists or True Orthodox are those churches that use the historic Julian calendar and who remain out of communion with the mainstream canonical Orthodox churches. There are several types of Old Calendarist churches. Some of them are Greek, whereas some are Serbian, Romanian and Bulgarian Old churches (who are in communion or not in communion). Some examples are:
Closed Communion Groups
All of these use the name “Genuine Orthodox Church of Greece” or “True Orthodox Church of Greece”
• Synod of Chrysostomos (Kiousis) / Chrysostomites / Kiousites – by far the largest Old Calendarist Synod, reputedly followed by 70% of all Old Calendarists.
• Synod of Makarios / Lamian Synod / Lamians – broke away from the Synod of Chrysostomos in the early 2000s
• Bishop Niphon and another bishop – broke away from Lamians in 2006
• Synod of Maximos of Athens / Auxentites – a tiny group, made up of the clergy and bishops who had remained loyal to the late Archbishop Auxentios of Athens after most of the Auxentite Synod ousted Auxentios and proclaimed Chrysostom Kiousis as Archbishop of Athens in 1986.
• Holy Orthodox Metropolis of Boston (HOMB) formerly known as HOCNA (Holy Orthodox Church of North America). Known also as “Bostonites” and is classified as “Greek Orthodox Old Calendarist” but has a large “Russian True Orthodox” following and is actually in its origins a ROCOR break-away group. Following this group’s schism from ROCOR in 1986 it went under Archbishop Auxentios’s Synod, later headed by Archbishop Maximos. A few years later, following Auxientios’ repose, the bishops of what became HOCNA broke away from the Synod of Maximos.
None of these five “Closed Communion” Old Calendarist groups are in communion with each other or with any other Church.
• Serbian True Orthodox Church
• Georgian True Orthodox Church (no hierarchy of its own, and is under HOMB)
• Old Calendar Bulgarian Orthodox Church
• Old Calendar Romanian Orthodox Church
Moderate or Open Communion Groups
• Synod of Cyprian/Cyprianites/Synod in Resistance (includes the Diocese of Alania, which religiously dominates South Ossetia) — is in communion with the Romanian and Bulgarian Old Calendarists (see below).
• Metropolia of Avalon (Angelos)/Synod of Angelos of Avalon – broke away from Lamians then went into communion with Milan. Note: All these three groups trace their origins to the Florinite Synod of Auxentios. Milan and Avalon are in communion with each other.
• Synod of Nicholas
• Synod of Gregory
• Synod of Kyrikos (in communion with a splinter Romanian Orthodox Old Calendar group that traces its orders to ROCOR)
• A faction of Chrysostomos of Salonika
(The Cypriot Old Calendarists are mostly Matthewites, splintered into supporters of Nicholas and mostly Kyrikos).
Other Old Calendarist Churches
• Old Calendar Church of Romania (in communion with Synod of Cyprian)
• Old Calendar Church of Bulgaria (in communion with Synod of Cyprian)
Russian “True Orthodox” Churches
• Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC) under Metropolitan Valentine of Suzdal (Breakaways from ROCOR )
• Russian True Orthodox Church (RTOC) under Metropolitan Tikhon / Russian Catacomb Church / Tikhonites / Lazarites (after the late Lazar Zhurbenko)
• ROCOR-PSCA – Agafangel (in communion with the Synod in Resistance and the Bulgarian and Romanian Old Calendarists)
• Synod of Archbishop Gregory of Denver (a breakaway group from ROAC)
The following four churches are the splinters of the ROCOR-V that formed in 2001 around the late Metropolitan Vitaly.
• ROCIE (former ROCOR-V) under Vladimir, Bartholomew, and Anastassy of Vladivostok
• ROCOR-A or ROCIE-A (Anthony Orlov and Victor Pivovarov)
Breakaway from ROCOR-A group of Damascene (Balabanov) and Ioann (Zinoviev) of “Russian Orthodox Church-Arc-hierarchical Synod”
• ROCIE – Anthony of Belstk and Moldova and single-handed consecration (allegedly with ROCOR-V Bartholomew’s consent
• Russian True Orthodox Church-Metropolia of Moscow (in communion with and originating from the UAO).
• Russian True Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Rafail
• Russian Catacomb Church under Bishop Ambrose von Sievers / “Andrewites”
• Russian True Orthodox Church – in western Ukraine (the small group of deposed MP Bishop Diomid of Chukotka)
There are many others as well. The Greek Old Calendarist Orthodox Synods of Chrysostomos, Makarios, Kyriakos, and the HOMB have “Russian True Orthodox” parishes in the Russian Diaspora. Makarios and Kyrikos retain their own Russian dioceses. The Synod of Milan and the Synod of Gregory of Denver, although generally classified as Greek Orthodox Old Calendarist, are actually Russian in origin. The Synod of Cyprian has a few Russian parishes and monasteries in the USA. There are also canonical mainstream Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches (like Russian, Serbian, Coptic and Ethiopian) that use the old calendar, but they are not Old Calendarists.
4. Western Rite Eastern Orthodox Churches
Western Rite Communities are part of Orthodox Christianity (Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches) but use Western or Latin Liturgies. These communities are found predominantly within Roman Catholic or Protestant hubs. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Russian and Antiochian Patriarchates have canonical Western Rite communities. However, several independent Western Rite churches and communions are not part of canonical Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches. Some examples are:
• L’ECOF (Catholic-Orthodox Church of France) – (originally canonical under the Russians then under Romania, became “vagante” in the 1990s)
• Lusitanian Catholic Orthodox Church
• Milanese Apostolic Catholic Church
5. Other Independent, Historic, and New Generation Eastern Orthodox Churches
Countless churches belong to this category. Many were founded in recent times but claim traditional apostolic lineage. Some of them practice a combination of Orthodox, Latin and Protestant worship patterns. Many such groups are frequently criticized for employing ‘Orthodox’ in their names while their faith or worship styles are not Orthodox in the real sense. Some examples are:
• Russian Orthodox Church in America
• Evangelical Orthodox Church
• Orthodox-Catholic Church of America
• Nordic Catholic Church in Italy
Many of the Old Calendar, Traditional, Unrecognized, Non-Canonical and New Generation Orthodox Churches (may or may not change) their communion circles, structure, and hierarchy time to time.
B. CROSS-JURISTRICTIONAL Churches (Oriental- Eastern Tradition)
This category of Churches originates from the Oriental Orthodox Tradition, but later they switch to the Eastern Orthodox Tradition for various reasons.
• Holy Synod of St Athanasius Congregation under Archbishop Maximus Hanna (autonomous within the Holy Synod of Apostolic Orthodox Church of Russia (APC Synod of Moscow).
• True Orthodox Metropolis of Germany and Europe under Metropolitan-Archbishop Moses (Avlona Synod).
C. CROSS-JURISTRICTIONAL Churches (Eastern and Oriental tradition)
These Churches adhere to Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox doctrines, teachings and faith.
D. Independent Churches – Oriental Orthodox Tradition
There are several unrecognized Oriental Orthodox Churches, even though their number is limited in comparison to independent Eastern Orthodox Churches.
1. Historical Churches
A few them are well-known historical Churches, while others remain inconspicuous. A classic example is the Malabar Independent Syrian Church (Thoziyoor Church) founded by Bishop Abraham Mar Koorilose. This church originates from the Syriac and Malankara Orthodox Churches. The hierarchy established communion and received ordinations from, reformed Marthoma Syrian Church of Malabar, which itself separated from the Malankara Church.
2. Historical Western Rite Orthodox Churches Practising Eastern Rite
These Churches were founded as Western Rite Orthodox communities but in due course of time, they adhered to oriental rites. Some examples are:
The British Orthodox Church
3. Independent Oriental Orthodox Churches
These Churches operate independently. Some examples are:
The Syro–Orthodox Francophone Church (an Oriental Orthodox Church based in France that adheres to Syriac and Malankara Traditions).
Independent Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Consists of breakaway groups from the defunct Antiochian Syriac Orthodox Church).
4. Reformed Oriental Churches
These Churches follow a mix of Anglican, Protestant and Oriental Orthodox doctrines and worship. Some examples are:
Marthoma Church of Malabar
St. Thomas Evangelical Church
5. Reformed Churches in East and Western Traditions
These Churches adhere to Eastern and Western doctrines and liturgical practice. Some examples are:
Believers Eastern Church
6. Unrecognized Churches
These Churches are not recognized by the communion of Oriental Orthodox Churches for various political, jurisdictional, and doctrinal reasons. Some examples are:
• The non-canonical Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church within Eritrea (the canonical Patriarch Abune Antonios was deposed by the Eritrean Government in 2007, and Abune Dioskoros was installed as the Patriarch. Abune Dioskoros passed away in 2017. Abune Antonios remains under house arrest).
• The Ethiopian Orthodox Coptic Church of North and South America (another unrecognized group that claims they were founded by the Ethiopian Prelate Abune Mikael. They are associated with several unrecognized Orthodox Churches and Western Orthodox Rites).
7. Western Rite Orthodox Churches
There are several historical Western Rite Orthodox Churches that relate themselves to the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Some of them draw their lineage from Syriac and Malankara Churches. Some examples are:
• Celtic Orthodox Church
• French Orthodox Church
• Orthodox Church of the Gauls