Friday, June 27, 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury on Mother Churches

Dr. Rowan Williams said in a letter to the Dean and conference hosted by St Valdimir's Orthodox Seminary: “At the most basic level, every local church has a 'mother church' except for Jerusalem, where the Risen Jesus first directly establishes the company of witnesses to his resurrection and pours out upon them the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. From this point on, the church's mission moves outwards, and, as we see in St Paul's epistles, local congregations are equipped by the apostles with the essentials of belief and practice that allow them in turn to become in their own context communities of witness to the Risen Christ.

And one consequence of this is something to which St Paul more than once makes appeal: the life of the local congregation is founded on something received – not discovered or invented. The assembly of Christ's people, Christ's Body, in this place is the result of the active communication of tradition, in its widest and fullest sense (I Cor. 15). For a local church to come into being is for a community to arise that is part of a continuous stream of life being shared...

Roman Catholics are still labouring to discover how to disentangle the missionary apostolic charism of the See of Peter from juridical anomalies and bureaucratic distortion. Orthodox have often 'frozen' the concept of primacy in an antiquarian defence of the 'pentarchy' as the structure of the church, thus allowing non-theological power struggles rooted in nationalism and ethnocentrism to flourish with damaging effect. Anglicans have failed to think through primacy with any theological seriousness and so have become habituated to a not very coherent or effective international structure that lacks canonical seriousness and produces insupportable pluralism in more than one area of the church's practice. All need to rethink the meaning of primacy in relation to mission and in relation to what episcopal fellowship really means. In this connection, the discussion in the recent Anglican-Orthodox Agreed Statement, The Church of the Triune God (2006), especially paragraphs 19 to 23 of the chapter 'Episcope, episcopos, and primacy', is a helpful orientation in tracing the complementary connections between primacy and conciliarity and reception, and merits development in the light of the 34th of the Apostolic Canons, a text increasingly significant in ecumenical dialogue.

Read the entire letter here.

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