“For I think that 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 offscouring 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.” (1 Cor 4: 9-16)
Church-authorities often get a bad rap, not only outside the Church but also within it. Regardless of the highly-publicized reasons for this in our time, the great St. Paul tells us how it felt, already in his time, to be a Church-leader, as one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ: “I think that God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all,” he writes, “…we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men…” It appears that, regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of a Church-leader, his apostolic ministry brings with it the kind of exposure that is more infamy than fame. Perhaps this is so because the “bar” is so high, in an occupation “modeled” after the example of Christ Himself. As St. Paul says elsewhere, in 1 Cor 11: 1: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
As those of us on the Older Calendar continue the Apostles’ Fast, I am thinking about this “cross” of our Church-leaders, who are indeed “exhibited” to everyone in ways that their flocks are not. Thus we pray for them “first,” as in the commemorations at the end of the Anaphora of Divine Liturgy: “Among the first remember, Lord…” (Ἐν πρώτοις μνήσθητι, Κύριε… / В первых помяни, Господи...) I’m also thinking about St. Paul’s appeal to all of us, humbly to share in the “scandal” of this Cross, whenever we are called to be “exposed” as followers of Jesus Christ. And that means, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate,” and so on. Holy Apostles, pray to God for us!