Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I write these things . . . to warn you as my beloved sons. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet ye have not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. Therefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
What St. Paul says here today may sound a bit odd, especially in light of what he has previously warned his beloved Corinthians about in the preceding chapters of this Epistle. He has learned of contentions and divisions among them formed around the personality of their favorite Apostle or preacher. They have developed “fan clubs” as it were to the exclusion of others and it is threatening the holy unity of the Church. He has decried such divisiveness and sloganeering as unworthy of us and unbecoming of the Faith. And, he has exhorted us to remember and to fix our attention and our lives on the only foundation laid which is our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Then, he says, “I beseech you, be ye followers [imitators] of me.”
Wait! Isn’t this contradictory of what the Apostle has just condemned? How is it that he can now turn around – do an about face – and invite the Corinthians – and us – to follow him, to be imitators of him? Isn’t there a certain sense of egotism at play here besides? I don’t know about you, but such an invitation is a scary prospect to invite others to follow me, to imitate me. And yet, it happens all the time, whether or not we propose it or want it. Kids do it all the time. They watch and do what their moms and dads do, what their friends do, what others do. They emulate. That’s how we learn. That’s how morals and faith get inculcated. We invite others to “’come and see,’” which is, in effect, saying, “Come, see how we do the Faith. Imitate us in making the sign of the Cross and in falling down before the Lord. Follow our words and our actions. Pray with us and in so doing the holy Faith of Orthodoxy will be ingrained in you, etched upon your soul.” “Like father, like son” is a saying we no doubt are familiar with. On a side note, this is why the current sexual agenda being foisted upon us is dangerous. What does it mean to be a mother when you’re watching a guy who claims to be your mother or a woman who claims to be your father? Imitation will occur, but it will be confusing and cause chaos both internally and externally in our society.
So, returning to the Apostle’s seemingly bold invitation, “Therefore I bessech you, be ye followers [imitators] of me.” What he acknowledges is what we have known all along: our Faith – our way, our truth, and our life – is deeply incarnational. God, Who is spirit, becomes Man. He takes on our flesh and our lot as human beings, just as we confess in the Creed and in the prayers of the Church:
O only pure and incorruptible Lord, because of the unspeakable mercy of Thy love for mankind, Thou didst take to Thyself our entire human composition from the pure and virginal blood of her who gave birth to Thee in a manner surpassing nature by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the good will of the everlasting Father (3rd Pre-Communion Prayer of St. Simeon Metaphrastes).
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and Truth. . . . No one has seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn. 1:14, 18). And, to both Thomas and Philip who prayed to know and see the Father, our Lord says, “’If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also, . . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father, . . . .’” (Jn. 14:5, 7, 8, 9).
The Faith of the Church is one of demonstration, that is to say, one of power in the Holy Spirit, alongside of words (1 Cr. 4:20; 1 Th. 1:5). Long before His Incarnation, our Lord’s Prophet, Moses, instructed parents of Hebrew children, as they prepared to enter into the Promised Land, to inculcate the faith of Israel in them – catechism by word and deed – thereby providing the best foundation for future faithfulness. Twice he tells them how to do this and he advises them that parents must first themselves be full of the Faith by virtue of study and practice (Dt. 6:4-9; 11:18-21). For they cannot hope to give to their children what they themselves do not have. Thus, the domestic church – the church in the home – becomes the incubator of the Faith just as the Church is the womb of all the faithful. The domestic church becomes a crucial, if not critical, conveyor of the Faith of the Church by, first, drawing its life from the Church, fleshing it out in the home, and then, returning once more to the Church to pray and to worship, repeating again and again and again this divine rhythm. In doing so, Sacred Scripture promises a blessing in this. We cannot nor should not under-value or under-estimate the extreme importance of enfleshing the Faith and through the flesh communicating God and His salvation. Paul reminds his spiritual son, Timothy, of this reality. “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of,” the Apostle writes, “knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tm. 3:14-15). Elsewhere, St. Paul speaks to this same Timothy, of how Paul imitates or follows his forefathers, doing what they did, and how Paul prays for Timothy night and day, and confirms the power of passing along the Faith. The Apostle is filled with joy at the remembrance, he says to Timothy, of “the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Tm. 1:3-5). The faithful and obedient home is the greenhouse of the Church.
Of course, it matters immensely who we imitate or follow. Later, in Corinthians, St. Paul reiterates his exhortation here and qualifies it, “Be ye followers [imitators] of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cr. 11:1). In doing so, we, too, become followers of Christ God. How do we come to know Christ God? By watching and doing what other believers in Jesus Christ say and do. In fact, he dares to say to the Ephesians after telling them what the Christ-life looks like, “Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children” (Ep. 54:25-5:1). We can hope and dare to imitate God by following after Him, hearing His words, letting them dwell in us richly, and doing them in our lives (co. 3:16)! This is possible precisely because we are created in the image of God to grow up into His likeness which is “true righteousness and holiness” (Gn. 1:26-27; WS 2:23; Ep. 4:11-16, 20, 24; Co. 3:10).
St. Paul speaks all of these things to his beloved, but wayward, children of Corinth because he has given them birth in the Gospel of the Kingdom. In truth, they may have many catechists, but they have only one father in the Faith. He uses his authority as their spiritual father to point them to Jesus Christ. As their spiritual father he protects them from the corrosion and corruption of others seeking to influence them wrongly by shifting their attention away from Christ, the only foundation laid (1 Cr. 3:11). He exercises his authority of love and humility as their father in the Faith. It is both his prerogative and his privileged duty as father.
Note, beloved, the language of family employed by the Lord’s Apostle and used in Sacred Scripture to speak even of God’s relationship with us (Our Father). Paul’s reminder to them of his fatherhood no more contradicts our Lord Who once said to call no man father than our referring to Father Abraham or even to our own biological fathers whom God Himself says we are to honor (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; Mt. 23:1-12). This carries over into how we look upon each other and call one another brothers and sisters in the Lord. We refer to our priests – and to deacons – as father and look upon them, not as hired hands or CEO’s, but as heads of a family and treat them as such, which is a totally different dynamic than a business model that so often is deferred to in our culture but which leads us astray. Likewise, the Church is a family and not a business or an employer. She is the holy and spotless Bride of the Bridegroom, and Their Marriage is indeed made in Heaven (Ep. 5:22-33; Rv. 21:1-27). She is divinely constituted and not the construct of a human vision. She is the Mother of the baptized faithful. And, like her sons and daughters, she is “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:12-13).
I write these things not to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved sons. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet ye have not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel. Therefore I beseech you, be ye followers [imitators] of me.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Cr. 4:9-16