Thoughts on cathedrals

Father David Epps's picture

Like most people growing up in America, when I thought of a cathedral, that which came to mind were those magnificent structures scattered around Europe that were constructed somewhere in the Middle Ages. If the building is huge and ornate, I reasoned, it must be a cathedral.
Later, however, I became aware of other buildings that featured the word ”cathedral” in their name. The Cathedral of Tomorrow, featured on Rex Humbard’s television program, was one such example. The church was large but rather plain and didn’t seem at all like those European cathedrals whose photos I had seen.
Then the name started cropping up on smaller buildings — sometimes tiny buildings — sporting names like “The Cathedral of Joy,” or “Greater Tuscaloosa Worship Cathedral.” It was only much later that I discovered that the word “cathedral” has a definite meaning and often the word was used incorrectly.
Simply put, the cathedral is the church where the bishop has his chair. In those churches collectively designated historically as, “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” there are bishops in apostolic succession (a discussion for another time). Those bishops who govern a diocese have a throne or a chair, called a “See.”
An “episcopal see” is, then, in the original sense, the official seat (in Latin, sedes) of a bishop. This seat, which is also referred to as the bishop’s “cathedra,” is placed in the bishop’s principal church, which is therefore called the bishop’s cathedral. The seat is also called the bishop’s throne, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
When I visited Ireland, I saw several ruins of ancient cathedrals, some of which were smaller than my living room. A number of these cathedrals would have held less than 50 people — but size wasn’t the point. Wherever the bishop has his “sedes,” there was the cathedral.
Which is how, this past June, my modest church became designated as “The Cathedral of Christ the King.” Back in November 2007, I was consecrated as a bishop and was assigned as an auxiliary bishop to serve at the will and pleasure of the archbishop of the Southeast province. But, auxiliary bishops have no “seat.” Then, in June of 2009, I was installed as the bishop ordinary (or the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South) and, along with that designation, came a chair (or a seat, a throne, a “sedes,” a cathedra, if you prefer).
In my communion, a diocesan bishop must be a pastor of a local congregation, unlike many other communions where the bishop no longer serves a church. We believe that there is a significant danger in bishops losing touch with the people they serve when they are no longer pastors of congregations. Serving as a pastor is believed to help keep the bishop grounded in reality and walking in humility. It also keeps the bishop serving primarily as a pastor rather than as a bureaucrat. Thus, I am still the pastor of the church I helped to found 13 years ago this month. But now, my church is a “cathedral.”
It’s not that we are changing the name to make us seem bigger or more grandiose than we are — we just have a new chair. And I am the bishop of a diocese now. If you’ve never seen a cathedral — especially a small one — drive on by and take a look. If you stop in, we’ll show you around. We’ll even show you our new chair!
[David Epps is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church (Oops! The Cathedral of Christ the King), 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop to the Mid-South Diocese (ICCEC) and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at A website is available at]

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