8th Sunday of Luke
2 Corinthians 5:1–10
At the Last Supper, Christ had washed the feet of his disciples, saying to them: “For I gave you an example, that ye be doing even as I did to you [for] a slave is not greater than his lord, nor a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:15–16).
The Lord here gives us a radically different understanding of authority. In the Gospel, in the Christian faith, in the Church, authority is identified with service.
The worldly order of things can be described as a pyramid, with a small number of powerful people at the top ruling over the majority at the bottom. Christ, however, as St Sophrony of Essex says, turns this pyramid on its head, and places himself at the peak of the pyramid — in other words, at the bottom, below everyone else — and says, “Ye know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whosoever doth wish to become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever doth wish to be first among you shall be your slave — even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26–28). The first is no longer the one who is above the others, but the one who puts himself below all others in order to support them.
And today’s epistle reading shows us how the apostles — the first bishops and leaders of the Church — put this authority of service into practice. St Paul says today that, “God showed forth the apostles as last, as condemned to death…We are fools…but ye are wise…We are weak, but ye are strong. Ye are held in honour, but we are dishonoured…we both hunger and thirst, and are naked, and are being buffeted, and never at rest…we became as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all” (1 Cor. 4:9–13).
As the filth of the world! That is what it means to have authority in the Church. This is why our clergy are dressed in black, “as condemned to death” — not only at formal church events and functions, but (at least traditionally) at every moment. It should be a sign of how the priest as died to himself in order to live exclusively in order to serve and minister to his neighbour and his spiritual children. This is how “I begot you through the Gospel”, as St Paul says. Even in the Divine Liturgy, the bright vestments do not serve to put the clergy on display, but rather make them disappear into the iconography of the Liturgy, without any form of individual expression.
Of course, this spirit of service also has to be put into practice in the lives of all Christians. In the same way that St Paul says that the clergy become the spiritual fathers of the faithful through service, people more generally become the neighbours of their fellow man.
When the doctor of the Law in today’s Gospel asks the Lord, “who is my neighbour?”, the Lord replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, a man who put his own life at risk, and who sacrificed his time, effort and wealth to help a man with whom he had no connection — neither familial, ethnic, or religious — a man who most probably considered him inferior because of his background, given that Jews at that time had no dealing with Samaritans.
Looking at today’s readings, then, let us reconsider our relationship with others and with society in general. What is it I am trying to achieve in life? What is it I am seeking to gain? Am I here to serve or to be served? And at every moment, let us judge our actions against the two exhortations which conclude today’s reading: the exhortation of St Paul — “I beseech you, keep on becoming imitators of me” — and the exhortation of the Lord — “Go on thy way, and be doing in like manner”. Amen.
Fr Kristian Akselberg