Well, these days, it’s tough to tell the real thing from an imitation. Did you hear the recent report that after several studies, it was found that most sushi bars substitute imitations for their sushi? You believe you are getting salmon, but it’s something else. Everything today is plastic or veneered or plated or substituted.
I think most of us have become so accustomed to imitations that we don’t remember what the real looked like or tasted like.
Why is the market flooded with so many imitations? Simply, imitations are easier to manufacture and the profit margin is much greater. We still maintain that real is better than imitation, but I want to convince you that imitation Orthodoxy is the best.
Certainly, there is fake Orthodoxy, an imitation of the real thing, but that is not what I am talking about. I could spend a lot of time talking about the ways in which we fake our faith, but I’ll leave that for another blog. The kind of imitation Orthodoxy that I am talking about is summed up in these words from St. Paul, found In 1 Corinthians 4:16 “I urge you then, be imitators (followers) of me.”
St. Paul said and did many things, and we could talk for hours about him. To imitate Paul, does this mean that we are up for a lot of travelling? No, the picture that St. Paul draws in 1 Corinthians 4 is interesting, and honestly, it is a slap in my face (which I need). He talks about being seen as foolish, about being weak, hungry, thirsty, being defamed, having no certain place to dwell, laboring with his own hands, and so on. Is this what I am supposed to imitate? I’m not too likely to imitate that.
I don’t need to imitate that because life is already filled with all kinds of suffering, so the Apostle is not telling me anything new. Yet it is not what he suffers that is the issue, but it is how he responds to suffering that is important. St. John Chrysostom says “What is unique about the apostles is that they are suffering without despair or anger. On the contrary, they are full of rejoicing, and they prove it by returning good for the evil they receive.”
Like I said, it’s a real slap in the face because I like to believe that I am a real Orthodox believer, yet all I do is complain, complain, and complain. I’m even complaining about complaining. I am angry and filled with despair. How in the world can you rejoice in the midst of suffering?
I think that part of the answer is understanding that there is a difference between suffering for my sin and suffering for Christ. Most of the time, my suffering is due to my stupidity and willfulness, yet there are times when my suffering is serving Christ. Sometimes, I have the sense to not speak my mind and thereby, I spare the feelings of others. Sometimes, i know it is better to give than to receive, even though I really want to receive. Sometimes, I find the grace to meet the needs of others, rather than seek to have others meet my needs, sometimes.
Now if only I could do those things without complaining, without despair or anger. God help me, so often my sufferings only cause me anger because I think that if God really, really loved me, He wouldn’t let me suffer. Therefore, since I suffer, He must not love me. This thought drives me to despair.
Hear again, the words of the Fathers: “Paul is saying to the Corinthians: ‘Be humble as I am humble, suffer as I suffer. It is by your sufferings, not by your gifts, that you will be rated.” St. Paul was imitating Christ, and he was highly rated.
I don’t think my rating is very high.
I hear this all the time in the stories of the Saints and in the writings of the Fathers who endured so much suffering with joy, faith, and endurance. I hope I can begin to do the same. Maybe then, I will experience “imitation” Orthodoxy.