Mother Churches?

“You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.”   (St. Cyprian of Carthage, d. 278, On the Unity of the Catholic Church)

“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  (Nicene Creed)

The Episcopal Assemblies, the new effort to establish hierarchical unity for the Orthodox in America, accepts the assumption that there is a division within the universal Church between “mother” churches and then some form of immature/infant churches.   The immature churches in this thinking apparently do not hold the fullness of the Faith, and are somehow less full or less catholic than the mother churches and so must keep a dependency on the mother churches.

It would seem pretty hard to defend this idea based in the Scriptures or in the idea of the church professed in the Nicene Creed in which there is only one Church – holy, catholic and apostolic – not different kinds of churches – mother, daughter and infant.

Indeed should not Jerusalem rather than Constantinople be considered the mother church of Orthodoxy?

When in the Acts of the Apostles, the Jerusalem Church learns of new Christian communities being formed (especially since they didn’t found these new communities, but only learned about them after they existed), the “mother of all churches” does send apostles to investigate the new communities, but then they are given the full hand of fellowship and not treated as somehow lesser, daughter or infant churches  (see Acts 8:14ff, 11:19ff, 15:22ff).  The Holy Spirit gives each local church the fullness of the faith, not the mother church whose role is to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit and to welcome into the Communion of believers the new congregations.

The Church is our mother, not the Russian Church or the Greek Church, but the Orthodox Church.   The notion of “mother churches” creates an artificial division between churches, as if there is more than one church or more than one kind of church!   We claim to believe in ONE church, not an extended family of churches with mothers and daughters of unequal rank (Ephesians 4:4-5).   If anything, the OCA is a sister church to the Russian Church.  Either the Russian mission brought the fullness of the faith to America or it did not.    For the OCA to accept the idea of the Russian Church being our mother, rather than the Orthodox Church as our mother is to deny what we profess in the Creed about the Church, to deny the Eucharist fullness of each and every local church, to deny that there is any real ecclesial unity among all local churches, and to deny the Catholicity of each local Eucharistic assembly.  When any Orthodox “jurisdiction” acts as if it is a dependency on a “mother” church rather than the fullness of faith incarnate in its locality in North America, then it is denying Orthodox ecclesiology.   Parishes and dioceses and bishops which are in communion with the rest of Orthodoxy are fully Orthodox.

Saints of North America

The working ASSUMPTIONS being made by those who want to emphasize that only the so called mother churches are fully Orthodox and Catholic are not ones that we should readily accept.  Why betray the Creed’s clear belief in ONE church?  The fullness of the faith is found wherever an Orthodox bishop is, and wherever an Orthodox Eucharistic assembly exists.

Questioning the autocephaly given to the Orthodox Church in America by the Russian Church, questions whether any Orthodox bishop or Church in fact is fully or truly Catholic and/or Orthodox; for such questions really are doubting the Orthodoxy and Catholicity not only of the Orthodox Church in America but of the Russian Orthodox Church as well.

In America, we Orthodox must wrestle with what it means that autocephaly has been give to the Church in America (not just to the OCA, but to the Orthodox in America).     Let us wrestle with what the creedal proclamation of ONE church really means for that is the key to understanding autocephaly.

The unity of THE ONE Church lies in mutual love, in the oneness of the Eucharist, in the common mind of the one true faith, not in who was founded by whom, nor in who lords it over whom (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45, Luke 22:25-27).

See also my blog Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly

9 thoughts on “Mother Churches?

  1. Pingback: Autocephaly, the OCA, and the Episcopal Assembly | Fr. Ted’s Blog

  2. The Episcopal Assemblies, the new effort to establish hierarchical unity for the Orthodox in America, accepts the assumption that there is a division within the universal Church between “mother” churches and then some form of immature/infant churches.


  3. Gregory

    Those who equate the New World churches with “youth and immaturity” and the Old World churches with “age and maturity” — with the conclusion that the New World churches are therefore something lesser, and thus in need of control by the Old World churches — forget one important thing: age is no guarantor of maturity; it can also be marked by debility and senility.

    Some of the oldest churches in the world — Antioch, Constantinople and Jerusalem — are shrinking, not growing; becoming feebler, not stronger, with extinction a constant worry and distinct possibility. What’s more, “age and maturity” have not prevented the churches of Greece, Romania, Russia, Serbia and others from falling into some pretty serious internal scandals and moral compromises, contrary to the letter and the spirit of Jesus Christ’s gospel, that made for embarrassing headlines over the past decade. Humility and repentance are in order just as much for elders as they are for youngsters.

    After a lifetime of being told that the fullness of the Church is present anywhere a bishop gathers with his presbyters, deacons, subdeacons, readers and laypeople at the eucharistic table, I am now being told something different: even if that eucharistic assembly exists here, a church outside the Old World is only really “church” if it is subordinate to another older church elsewhere, overseas, in the Old World. This, of course, is the reduction of churchliness and canonicity to “subordinationism,” which Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann soundly decried as unorthodox — an ecclesiology that has far more in common with Roman Catholic thinking than genuine Orthodox Christian tradition.

    One yearns to hear from the “Chambesy process” a word about the Church’s identity as the body of Christ and how embodying his presence on territories old and new, to perpetuate his saving work in a broken, sinful and hurting world, is to be accomplished. Alas and alack, the conversation thus far has focused on who comes first and who remains in control, despite what Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-28. Some bishops have even refused to talk to or sit with other bishops — while the Christ they profess to serve had no problem sharing his table with tax collectors, harlots and sinners! And a great many Orthodox Christians have not even been included in the conversation from the start, suggesting there is “first-class citizenship” and “second-class citizenship” in the Church — another unorthodox and uncharitable notion. What’s the harm in hearing the voices of all?

    All this hubris and hubbub, while Orthodox Christian tradition offers a simple solution: “Let the order of things ecclesiastical follow the civil and public models” (Canon 38 of the Quinisext Council). In other words, simply organize the Church according to the boundaries of the world as it exists now, not as it existed 500 or 1,000 years ago. Let the Church in each country in existence today, wherever there are enough Orthodox Christian bishops to perpetuate apostolic succession, organize itself, regulate its own life, elect its own head and direct its own mission, in an autocephaly within the family of local churches worldwide, regardless of their youth or age.

  4. bob

    Very good statement, thank you father. Might I nominate the term “pan-orthodox” for shredding along with “mother church”? It’s a creation of maybe the last 25 years and was a bad idea then. “pan” isn’t needed to modify “Orthodox” at all. Adds nothing, means nothing. It might be useful to describe a means of preparing an Orthodox, as in “chicken fried Orthodox” or “baked Orthodox”, but other than that, retire it.

    1. Fr. Ted

      I at least would agree. Really the term means “pan ethnic” not Orthodox. There is nothing wrong with anyone embracing their own ethnic heritage, or even entire parishes acknowledging their historical and cultural roots and identity. But what unites us in the parish is Christ and out common faith, not our various ethnic identities.

  5. Pingback: The Episcopal Assembly’s Odd Man Out: The OCA? | Fr. Ted’s Blog

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