What is the process of deposing an Orthodox Patriarch as head of their particular Orthodox Church?

After posting this question (Does the Russian Orthodox Church actively support Putin and his war in Ukraine?), I was wandering if it is at all possible to depose an Orthodox Patriarch as head of their particular Orthodox Church?

The YouTube video, Ukrainian priests of Moscow Patriarchate call to ban Russian religious doctrine, suggests that there is some sort of religious tribunal that could possibly see the the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill deposed as head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"Russian World" - an ideology that laid the foundation of Russian hatred of Ukraine. Ukrainian priests of Moscow Patriarchate "filed a suit" to the highest church judicial authority calling to condemn the doctrine spread by the Russian Orthodox Church and its heretical leader - Patriarch Kirill.

If such a Orthodox tribunal is possible against the Patriarch of Moscow, what the requirements to be set out according to the rules within Orthodoxy to depose a patriarch, if it is even possible?

The Orthodox Churches are those churches with Apostolic Succession (bishops able to trace their ordaining bishops back to the Apostles) not recognizing the universal papal primacy. Instead, these churches recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (now Istanbul) as being the primus inter pares among Orthodox bishops. The Orthodox Churches consider themselves autocephalous.

Because of their adherence to autocephaly, the Orthodox Churches don't have a codified canon law. However, many of their important canons and decrees are found in a compilation known as the Pedalion (Greek; literally, "rudder") and are derived from decrees formulated at the Council in Trullo (692). The Council in Trullo was held in Constantinople for the purpose of drawing up disciplinary canons following the fifth and sixth general church councils (Constantinople II (553) and Constantinople III (680 - 681)). - Canon Law: Eastern Orthodox Churches

  • Have you considered a personal duel challenge a la Elon Musk's challenge to Putin? Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


Similarly to my answer on In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is it possible to laicize a bishop?, I believe it would take a Holy Synod–either of fellow bishops in their jurisdiction, or by other Patriarchs of the Church–to "depose" a Patriarch. This has actually happened. Patriarch Irenaios was the Patriarch of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and was deposed in 2005 (source).

Accused of dubious real estate transactions and conflicts with Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, and Greek authorities, Patriarch Irenaios was removed from office in 2005 when twelve of the eighteen bishops of the Holy Synod of the Jerusalem Patriarchate signed a demand of deposition. He took up residence in the patriarchate from February 16, 2008, leaving for the first time in November 2015. He claims he has been forcibly kept in the patriarchate, while the Church maintains that he has placed himself in voluntary seclusion.

More writings on this subject:

In the Orthodox Church no bishop—not even the Patriarch of Constantinople—is above the Holy Synod to which he belongs. The Synod collectively has authority over each of its member bishops, including its Primate, not vice versa. [...]

If [the person] refuses to comply, the Holy Synod has one more canonical step that it can take: it can depose (defrock) him from holy orders and reduce him to the status of a simple monk with no priestly or episcopal functions at all. In the most extreme case he can even be removed from the monastic order and made a simple layman.


[...] however, autocephalous churches are truly answerable to one another, and the tribunal which exercises this accountability, when invited by appeal, is the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Both positions have difficulty when worked out in practice, as there is always the possibility that a given patriarch or Ecumenical Patriarch may act in a tyrannical manner. Historically, though, tyrannical patriarchs have been deposed, typically led by either the Ecumenical Patriarch himself (in the case of other patriarchs) or by the clergy of that patriarchate (in the case of the deposition of their own patriarch), often in conjunction with a patriarch from a neighboring autocephalous church, such as Alexandria.



Autocephaly is the status of a hierarchical Christian church whose head bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. The term is primarily used in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches.

One question that needs to be answered is whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Eastern Orthodox Church has authority over the Moscow Patriarchate.

The following Wikipedia article suggests that the power to grant autocephaly is in dispute. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocephaly#Autocephaly_in_Eastern_Orthodoxy

In Eastern Orthodoxy, 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 one autocephalous jurisdiction has the right to grant independence to one of its components. Thus, the Orthodox Church in America was granted autocephaly in 1970 by the Moscow Patriarchate, 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; self-proclamation of autocephaly was normally followed by a long period of non-recognition and schism with the mother church.

This seems to be the situation with regard to the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Kyiv Patriarchate:

https://orthodoxwiki.org/List_of_autocephalous_and_autonomous_churches There are two ways to make a list of autocephalous and autonomous churches. The first way is to list only the jurisdictions that are universally recognized as self-governing. This may be called the "minimal list", and it is used in most inter-Orthodox gatherings. The second way is to list all those jurisdictions that are recognized as self-governing by at least one other jurisdiction.

The Patriarchate of Moscow is recognized as autocephalous or autonomous by all the others. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is autocephaly recognized by Constantinople, Alexandria, Cyprus and Greece. The Church of Ukraine (Kyiv Patriarchate) is in schism from the mainstream Orthodox Church. In other words, they are not in communion and not considered part of the Orthodox Church, although in most cases they maintain the same doctrine and the same practices.

This is how the Moscow Patriarchate views the independent Kyiv Patriarchate:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autocephaly#Modern-era_historical_precedents The Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR on 24 August 1991. The Act reestablished Ukraine's state independence. The independent Kyiv Patriarchate was proclaimed in 1992, shortly after the proclamation of independence of Ukraine and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The Moscow Patriarchate has condemned it as schismatic, as it claims jurisdiction over Ukraine. Some Orthodox churches have not yet recognized Ukraine as autocephalous. In 2018, the problem of autocephaly in Ukraine became a fiercely contested issue and a part of the overall geopolitical confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, as well as between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

In Eastern Orthodoxy, autonomy denotes a type of limited self-government of a church which still depends to some degrees on its mother church. 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 on some aspects; the aspects on which the autonomous church is self-governing depends on the decision of the mother church.

Is there any authority higher than the Moscow Patriarch? Or is he so powerful that he cannot be deposed? Would any group of men dare to stand up to him? I regret to say I simply don't know, but the heirarchical structure suggests that the Moscow Patriarch is fireproof.

  • I also fear that hierarchical structure suggests that the Moscow Patriarch is fireproof and that the Patriarch Kirill is untouchable. Do not know if it will help, but that other Orthodox Patriarchs must stand up against him as a united and unique body. Unfortunately this is an internal affair within the Moscow Patriarchate, but the other Orthodox leaders must establish that he has crossed a line. Not only is Orthodoxy is question but the the whole of Christendom!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 19, 2022 at 15:22

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