In hierarchical Christian churches, especially Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, autocephaly is the status of a hierarchical church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. When an ecumenical council or a high-ranking bishop, such as a patriarch or other primate, releases an ecclesiastical province from the authority of that bishop while the newly independent church remains in full communion with the hierarchy to which it then ceases to belong, the council or primate is granting autocephaly. For example, the Cypriot Orthodox Church is autocephalous because it was granted autocephaly by the Council of Ephesus and is ruled by the Archbishop of Cyprus, who is not subject to any higher ecclesiastical authority, although his church remains in full communion with the other Eastern Orthodox churches. Similarly, the Tewahedo Church of Ethiopia was granted autocephaly by the Coptic pope in 1950, and the Orthodox Church in America was granted autocephaly by the Patriarch of Moscow in 1970. (The Greek Orthodox Church in North America is not autocephalous, but is subject to the Patriarch of Constantinople.)
One step short of autocephaly is autonomy. A church that is autonomous has its highest-ranking bishop, such as a patriarch or metropolitan, appointed by the patriarch of the parent church, but is self-governing in all other respects. For instance, the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America became autonomous in 2002.
See Also: Episcopalian