The right to grant autocephaly is nowadays a contested issue, the main opponents in the dispute being the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which claims this right as its prerogative, and the Russian Orthodox Church (the Moscow Patriarchate), which insists that an already established autocephaly has the right to grant independence to a part thereof. Thus, the Orthodox Church in America was granted autocephaly by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1970, but this new status was not recognized by most patriarchates. In the modern era the issue of autocephaly has been closely linked to the issue of self-determination and political independence of a nation, or a country; self-proclamation of autocephaly was normally followed by a long period of non-recognition and schism with the mother church.
Modern-era historical precedents
Following the establishment of an independent Greece in 1832, the Greek government in 1833 unilaterally proclaimed the Orthodox church in the kingdom (until then within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate) to be autocephalous. It was not until June 1850 that the Mother Church, under the Patriarch Anthimus IV, recognized this status.
One step short of autocephaly is autonomy. A church that is autonomous has its highest-ranking bishop, such as an archbishop or metropolitan, approved (or ordained) by the primate of the mother church, but is self-governing in all other respects. The modern Russian Orthodox Church (the Moscow patriarchate) also has the so called "self-governing churches", such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), in addition to churches that it refers to as "autonomous" such as the Japanese Orthodox Church, which until 2011 were not regarded as constituent part of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Kephale (κεφαλή) means "head" in Greek, whereas nomos (νόμος) means "law"; hence, autocephalous(αὐτοκέφαλος) denotes self-headed, or a head unto itself, and autonomous denotes "self-legislated".
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