(June 29)

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-“fathers” often get a bad rap, not only outside the Church but also within it, – even “the good ones.” I’m thinking about this today, when in my church (the ROCOR) we celebrate St. John of Shanghai, and in NC-churches we celebrate Sts. Peter and Paul. St. John was considered difficult by most of his fellow-bishops in his time, and some people even filed a lawsuit against him, for the alleged mishandling of finances related to the construction of the cathedral in San Francisco.

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.” (Were St. Paul to be one of our bishops or priests in our hyper-critical day, I’ll note parenthetically, we would not neglect to criticize him for calling himself “father” in the above-quoted passage, even while Christ said in Mt 23:9, “Do not call anyone on earth your father…”)

This morning I’m grateful for 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, and St. John of Shanghai, pray to God for us!