In some churches today there is an attempt to make God more acceptable to modern society. One of these attempts reflects the feminist drive to create a more prominent role for women. Advocates have not hesitated to intrude into the sanctuary of Christianity. There, some of the more radical results of this movement have been the ordination of female priests (priestesses?) and, recently, the nomination of a woman (in one of the Western liturgical denominations) as a candidate for episcopal office. Another innovation has been the rewriting of the Holy Scriptures in "inclusive language," that is, replacing masculine pronouns denoting God-such as "He" or "His"--with "non-sexist" terms. Proponents of these singular departures from the Christian tradition justify them by the fact that God is pure spirit, "neither male nor female ," and therefore, they conclude, God can be considered not only as our Father but also as our Mother.
These "reforms" are all consequences of the human desire to affirm femininity as well as masculinity in the church, and from a worldly standpoint they seem reasonable enough. But from the perspective of true Christian theology, they only reflect that dismal spiritual ignorance which has disfigured today's world. In the tradition of our Orthodox Church the feminine element has been present from the beginning in its proper and God-given place. According to the ancient Orthodox teaching God is indeed our Father, He Who is the source of our life, but God is not our Mother. The Church is our mother. It is the Church which nurtures and feeds us, it is the Church which teaches us, it is the Church which shelters and protects us. In the words of St. Cyprian of Carthage:
Of her womb we arc born, generation after generation.
Unfortunately, it is not only feminists and their sympathizers who overlook this important relationship. The wise Solomon tells us that "a foolish man despiseth his mother" (Prov. 15:20). Just so, many people seek Christ but abandon or ignore her who can lead them to Him, and in so doing they arc unable to reap God's promises. Hear again the words of St. Cyprian:
He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ.... You cannot have God for your Father if You have not the Church for your Mother.
We might say to ourselves that St. Cyprian, writing in the third century, was addressing the problem of heretics and schismatics, and that his admonition doesn't concern us as Orthodox Christians. But we should stop to consider just what a proper relationship between mother and child involves. We cannot claim to have the Church as our mother simply by virtue of baptism, of being born of her. A child naturally feels a great attachment to his mother. He shows his love in being obedient and respectful, in having a caring and teachable spirit, is our relationship to the Church characterized by these and other traits proper to a child?
As an infant clings to its mother so ought we to cling to the Church. A popular theme in modern psychology is "bonding". This is the idea that if a child is separated from its mother at birth, or for some other reason does not form a bond with her (or a substitute), then that child's entire life will be affected by the fact that it does not know how to truly love another person. This example from the natural world holds true also in the spiritual world. It is from the Church, our Mother, that we learn to love--to love God and to love one another. Through the Church we are made members of one family. We should sense this affinity and act upon it, fulfilling the words of the Lord: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another”. This is the very life-blood of the Christian faith. Indeed, St. John of Kronstadt said that the Church is love.
Love is only the first of many lessons that we Christians learn from the Church. Even as conscientious parents seek to "train up a child in the way he should go [that] when he is older he will not depart from it" (Prov, 22:6), so also the Church teaches us, her children, if we cling to her and learn from her, if we immerse ourselves in her while still in this life, she will help us to withstand doubts and temptations, end she will continue her care for us even when we pass into the next world. With her guidance we shall be able to persevere in "the way we should go," that is, the narrow way leading to salvation. It is through the instruction of our Mother the Church that we find our way to God our Father.
Not only do we come to God through the Church, but it is also through the Church that God comes to us. All of the Mysteries-Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, and all the rest--come to us within the Church. This is the place where God most readily and effectually works, This is where He has chosen to manifest Himself to us. It is through the Church that we are fed the life-giving food; here it is that we receive our life from God.
Some may ask: Why this emphasis on the Church? Isn't Christ alone, through His word, able to bring us to eternal salvation? Here one must realize the inseparable union that exists between Christ and His Church. St. John of Kronstadt writes in his dairy: "as the Lord is the way, the truth and the life (John l4:6), so also is the Church, because the Church is one and the same with the Lord, His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30) .... Never represent the Church apart from the Lord Jesus Christ; from the Father and the Holy Spirit."
How comforting, how reassuring is a mother's love for her child. She does all in her power to protect him from harm, she is patient with his faults, she nurses him when he is sick, grieves over his pain and sorrows and rejoices in his happiness which she herself tries to promote. All this is but a weak reflection of the love that Christ's Church has for her children. May we grow conscious of its presence, its power, and through our obedience, respect and reciprocal love, cement that bond unto all eternity.
Fr. Deacon David Moser
All Saints of Russia Church, Denver, CO