“Father is not a title!” By now my parishioners and catechumens are sick of hearing me say this. But I say it so much because there is real healing truth in this reality. The Church isn’t some collection of “club members” or a “society for the preservation of baklava.” No, the Church is a Family. The Church is the New Society. The Church has fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. The Church is meant to be more than just some club or “meeting house.” The Church is meant to transform us into a new oneness with Christ and each other!
In a society that is increasingly gripped in the sickness of loneliness, that’s really Good News!
But being in a family is hard! And it’s doubly difficult if you take your responsibilities as seriously as you take the benefits of being in a family. By the way, these two realities – benefits AND responsibilities are mutually necessary for the existence of each!
As a father and a “father” of both a family and a parish, I can tell you, this isn’t for the faint of heart!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Corinthians 4:9-16:
Brethren, God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the off-scouring of all things. I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
Let’s face it, when you’re in front, you get shot first! That’s exactly what St. Paul is telling these Corinthians. As a leader, he is the “face” of the Christian Way and that means he is identified and targeted by those who would oppose the Faith. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened to St. Paul. He was beheaded BECAUSE he was a leader of the Church.
And he’s willing to bear this burden BECAUSE this will allow those who follow to be protected and have space where they can grow in their faith.
Paul paints a pretty glum picture of being the Apostle for these Corinthians, but he’s doing it on purpose to wake them up to gratitude and responsibility. Gratitude because they had become a bit “entitled” in their attitude towards him. They were taking advantage of his absence from them to get into all kinds of spiritual and moral trouble. They needed to be reminded that their spiritual father was on the front lines fighting SO THAT they could be matured in their faith. And Responsible, because there is nothing like an ungrateful child to dishearten any parent. St. Paul needed to remind them that, while there were all kinds of folks who wanted to influence them, teach them, and lead them, these Corinthians only had one “father.”
Then he put the icing on the cake for these wayward children. He told them “Father Knows Best.” The best way they could show true gratitude towards the fatherly love of St. Paul for them was to imitate him. The truth is most children do imitate their parents, but all too often that’s not a good thing. Paul is telling them his suffering for them as their spiritual father has actually made him someone good to imitate!
Today, your spiritual leaders are on the front lines. They are taking the brunt of the “fire” from the “other side.” Help them by determining to be grateful for their labor and love for you by practicing a Normal Orthodox life every day. Oh, and if you see something in your spiritual father worth imitating, do it! That will help you to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, please help me remember that my leaders are vulnerable and in need of support and prayers. They serve me by their leadership and they need me to serve them in my prayers, support, and teachable spirit! Please help me not to take them for granted or to be quick to criticize and complain. Amen.