The Power of Following An ExampleFr. Barnabas Powell
“Early is on time. On-time is late. Late is unacceptable!” These were my words, but they were coming out of my daughter’s mouth! She was giving a friend of her’s a hard time about being late to dance practice. We don’t “do” “Greek time” “Country time” or any other ethnic excuse for being late in our house. That’s not how we treat other people or ourselves.
Needless to say, I was so proud! But then I got concerned. What other words and ways is my daughter copying from me?
You cannot avoid passing on your deepest practices and habits to your children. You are the greatest influence on their lives and what you truly believe will be passed on to them. Yeah, I know. It bothers me too! But there is also all the good you pass on as well. Please don’t forget that. Besides, the scriptural principle of becoming “like” Christ is at the heart of a Faith that survives from one generation to the next!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10:
Brethren, you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
St. Paul is writing to the Church in Thessaloniki and this community is very devout. It is made up of mainly Gentile converts to the Christian Faith, pagans who have enthusiastically left their ancestral religion and embraced the Christian Faith.
But notice please how St. Paul phrases their faithfulness. It’s pretty striking.
He says these Thessalonians have become “imitators of us and of the Lord.” Wow, Paul makes it clear that part of the reason why these faithful are so devout is that they have imitated Paul And Jesus! Is this arrogance on Paul’s part? Is this some kind of hero worship or cult of personality? Not at all.
You see, the Lord has established His Church to be filled with authentic fathers in the Faith. And, just like our physical children, our spiritual children imitate their “daddy!” Of course, that puts a lot of pressure on our spiritual fathers to do the same thing: Imitate our spiritual fathers as well!
The truth is none of us are ever going to imitate Jesus well if we ignore the “icons” of Jesus all around us in the people who are called to lead us and father our communities. Normal Orthodox Christianity is designed to be a community filled with humble servant-leaders who pass on their devotion to the spiritual children God gives us to form and shape in the Orthodox Way!
The power and challenge of a purposeful practice of the Orthodox Faith lie in the reality that True Christianity is Faith lived out in everyday life, not just talked about or thought about.
So, our willingness to humbly be fathered is absolutely necessary for us to ever be “like” Christ. You see, God became flesh for us in Jesus so that we would keep the miracle going in our own flesh. As we imitate Jesus, we teach others, as they imitate us to imitate Jesus! The real power here is that this means that the Christian Faith was never designed to be lived in isolation but in the community!
And as that humble and honest character is formed within us, we find ourselves becoming examples of the Faith to others! We become the ones who are imitated so that others can imitate Christ. Do you see how this works? No one gets to claim that they, alone, are “the” example. This wonderful pattern of imitation and example feeds humility, community, and true spiritual freedom for us all!
But be careful, and attentive to the reality that a bad example is also something that will be imitated too. So, let those around you see you repenting, saying “I’m sorry” and truly struggling to be honest with yourself and others.
Around the turn of the 4th Century AD, a man named Hieron lived in the area of Cappadocia. At the time, the Roman Empire was governed by two Caesars, Maximillian and Diocletian. The two emperors were determined to snuff out the growing Christian faith and to conscript able-bodied men into the Roman army. The Roman general Lysias was sent to Cappadocia to gain new soldiers for the army and persecute Christians. Lysias came across Hieron and found this man to be, not just strong but of noble character and influence. When Lysias attempted to force Hieron to join the army, the great saint refused to join himself in the pagan army. Lysias tried to send several soldiers to force Hieron into the army and Hieron took a large stick and drove all the soldiers off! Hieron was arrested and joined 32 other Christians who were arrested for being Christian. Hieron encouraged the brethren and eventually, all were beheaded for their faith. Watching these heroes, we are invited to follow their faithful example!
So, Today, are you imitating someone who imitates someone who imitates someone who imitates Jesus? Is your life an example of this humble and honest sense of community in the Church to others? This powerful and dependable pattern of faithfulness is guaranteed to be strong enough to survive from generation to generation and makes being Orthodox on Purpose a “family” affair!
P.S. The choir of Martyrs, shining far and light-bearing, have dawned today and with the bright shafts of wonders have made the Church resplendent with noetic light; wherefore, as we celebrate their most solemn remembrance, O our Savior, we entreat that through their intercessions You rescue us from dangers of all kinds, as the most merciful God and the Friend of man.