By Fr. Stavros Ballas
I can still see in my mind’s eye my mother chasing me down with her ‘koutala’ (wooden spoon) and saying in raised voice, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” In other words, since you are neither devoid of actual hearing nor incapable of mentally understanding, why are you not obeying me?
Submitting one’s will to a worthy authority figure is like wearing a brace to straighten out crooked teeth or a harness to maintain a straight path until one can walk it unbridled. Like wild horses, we buck authority.
“I thought this was a free country,” is the clarion complaint of every kid (at least in America) that equates obedience with slavery and longs for the perceived emancipation of adulthood.
Saint Paul writes about the Christians’ “freedom in Christ” because they are no longer under the Mosaic Law: “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be made righteous by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24-25) This freedom did not mean that the Christians could do whatever they wanted or that there was no hierarchal order.
The phrase “fellow workers” (συνεργοι) implies a freedom of equality that did not exist. “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9) sounds like God and his fellow workers are on the same level. The apostles are God’s “fellow workers” (his συνεργοι) but God is never termed a “fellow worker” (συνεργος) with them. God is their Lord. Saint Paul refers to Timothy as “our fellow worker” (1 Thessalonians 3:2), but is never himself called a fellow worker of his spiritual charges. Saint Paul is their spiritual father: “Though you have myriads of instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 4:15) For Paul, Timothy and Titus are his sons (1&2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). Though a bishop and his priests may concelebrate together, the bishop, as the icon of Christ, is never technically a concelebrant. As the icon of Christ, the bishop is the only celebrant and his priests are his concelebrants.
As a faithful son in the Lord himself, Paul is a most excellent example of a father to his spiritual children, teaching them by his life that equality and freedom only come through the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) and not through the rejection of it. In her wedding, Kate Middleton vowed to love, comfort, honor, and keep her husband Prince William but refused to promise to obey him because they “treat each other as equals.” It is only in the humbling of ourselves in loving service to one another that we are truly free and equal. As the title of a book says, to love is to obey. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15) or face the wooden spoon!