Archive for the ‘Publican and Pharisee’ Category

The simple meaning of the parable of the Publican and Pharisee and the Jesus prayer.

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

Ikon of the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee

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Synopsis: This is really two homilies. The first is about the simple meaning of the parable of the Publican and Pharisee. It is that we will not be saved if we are proud and judge others. We discuss some of its nuances. We also discuss the prayer of the publican "God be mercy to be a sinner", and the Jesus prayer. There is a lot of practical detail. This is really important stuff.

More homilies on the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee are HERE

Luke 18:10-14 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.


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Teaching of Vespers on the Publican and Pharisee, exegesis of Timothy

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

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the Publican and the PhariseeSynopsis: The first 3 hymns of Vespers from the Triodion teach us the meaning of the Publican & Pharisee parable. We also examine the epistle for this day, and tremble regarding our example to others. We look at the expectation of persecution that a Christian must have and example from the current news of how "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" is being fulfilled in our day. Also the power of scripture and the necessity of reading it.

More homilies on the Publican and Pharisee are HERE

2 Timothy 3:10-15 But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11 Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.


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The Parable of the Publican and Pharisee. St. Nikolai Velimirovic Luke 18:10 – 14

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Imagine now that we are patients in this hospital of the world. The sickness that every one of us is suffering from has the same name – unrighteousness. The word includes all the passions, all lust, all sins – all the weakness and enervation of our souls, our heats and our minds.

 

The sick are one thing at the beginning of their illness, another at its peak and yet another in its healing. But such are the characteristics of these illnesses of the inner man that only those who are healed are aware of the terrible sickness from which they had been suffering.

 

The sickest are the least aware of their illness. In physical illness, a man with a high fever is unaware of himself or his illness. Neither does a madman say of himself that he is mad. Beginners in unrighteousness feel ashamed of their sickness for a while, but repeated sinning swiftly leads to the habit of sin, and this to the inebriation and delirium of unrighteousness in a state in which the soul has no longer any sense of itself or its sickness.

 

And just imagine a doctor going into a hospital and asking: "What is wrong with you?" Those whose illness is in the early stages are ashamed to admit they are sick, but will say: "Nothing!" Those whose illness has reached its peak will be angered by such a question, and will not only say: "Nothing's the matter with us!" but will begin to boast of their health.

 

Only those who are on the way to healing will sigh, and reply to the doctor: "Everything is wrong with us! Have mercy on us and help us!" Tertullian says, in a homily on repentance: "If you are afraid to confess your sins, look at the flames of hell that confession alone can extinguish."

 

Ponder, then, on all this; listen to Christ's parable and decide for yourself how apt it is. If you say in amazement: "This parable does not apple to me", then this means that you are sickened in the illness known as unrighteousness. If you protest: "I am righteous; this applies to the sinners around me", then this means your sickness has reached its peak. If, though, you beat your breast in repentance and reply: "It's true; I'm sick and need a doctor", then this means you are on the way to healing. Don't be afraid then; You'll get well.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-02-16-parable-of-the-publican-and-pharisee-by-st-nikolai-velimirovic-_luke18-10-14.html

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Sunday Of The Publican And Pharisee. Do not judge. 2011

Monday, February 14th, 2011

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Synopsis: The major thrust of Great Lent is given many times in the services for the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, such as "Vainglory brings to nothing the riches of righteousness, but humility scatters a multitude of passions. Grant then that we may seek humilty, O Savior, and do Thou bestow upon us the portion of the publican; (Matins canon, Ode 3). This time is for the pursuit of humility, because without humilty we will not be saved. What can we glean from the publican and pharisee? The worst sin of the pharisee was his judgment of the publican. Above all things, we must not judge others. Since this sin is so pervasive, how can we learn to not judge others? END:SUB:Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

More homilies on the Publican and Pharisee are HERE

Luke 18:10-14 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.


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Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. Themes of Great Lent. Text, audio

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee

Second Sunday before Great Lent

Themes of Great Lent

Luke 18:10-14
 

In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

We must become humble to be saved.

Today, brothers and sisters, in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, we have witnessed the one of the themes of Great Lent being proclaimed. We must become humble if we are to become justified. This is the whole reason why we go through all of our exercises, the fasting, increased prayer, increased almsgiving, more introspection, increased prayer at home and in the church. The reason for it is not so that we can feel good about ourselves. Christianity is not about feeling good about yourself; Christianity is about becoming good. The only way to become good is to become humble. If we are humble, we see the truth; we see ourselves; we see God; we see what we need and what God can give.

 

We know God can give us everything, but we are not humble enough to see everything that’s wrong with us and all the darkness in us. So basically, Great Lent is a time when we especially try to learn to become humble so that we can become, as the Publican was, justified.

 

Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand

Another theme of Great Lent was proclaimed in the Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany because the Lord said, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”[1]

Truly when we enter upon Great Lent, we should think the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand because if we can become humble, if we can know ourselves just a little bit more, then that means we will know God more, and we will become more holy, more purified. And only the holy are happy. Only the good know God. So the Kingdom of Heaven truly is at hand if we are becoming humble.
 

Now, there are many paths to humility. We can’t just sit in a corner and become humble. We can’t just act in a humble way and become humble. Truly, full humility is a gift of God, given by grace. But we must, with great effort, with our blood, pursue humility.

Now, one of the ways that one pursues humility is, of course, through the knowledge of what the Scripture teaches us so that we can learn by example, but example only goes so far.

An awful lot of people know the story of the Publican and the Pharisee, but they don’t see that they are the Pharisee. I hope you see that you are the Pharisee, and maybe a little bit the Publican. And the more we become like the Publican, not in his deeds, but in his humility, then we will become justified.

We are all like the Pharisee. How is the Pharisee? He had an inflated view of himself. He could tick off easily a laundry list of all the good things he had done, but he didn’t said anything about anything bad he had done because the good sort of obliterated his knowledge of the bad, sort of like when you look into a bright light and then you look into the darkness and you can’t see anything. So, yes, he did good things, and we do good things too. People who are unbelievers do good things. But he didn’t see also that there was darkness in his heart because he had an inflated view of himself. Does that sound familiar to you? It should because it is the human condition. So it applies to us.

 

Also, the Pharisee judged the Publican. And that goes hand in hand with pride and not knowing yourself. And so that judgment of the Publican obliterated his ability to see himself at all.

Truly, the path to salvation is to not judge because judgment is only for God. Those that are proud judge others. And judgment of others doesn’t just mean that we say, oh, you know, that person is a drinker or that person is lazy or that person has been through three marriages or something like that. No, judgment is also when we’re irritated with others because they don’t act up to our standards. So judgment is not just what we think; it’s how we act towards people too.

There is a story from the Fathers, Abba Moses, the Ethiopian, a beautiful story. The fathers would gather together if they had to judge a brother for something that he had done. And Moses was one of the senior monks, and he was called to this judgment, and he came; he was a big man, very large. And he was carrying this giant barrel. In some stories it’s sand; in other stories it’s water. But it had a hole in the back of it. And as he was carrying this barrel, the water was going out behind him. It doesn’t make much sense to carry water in the desert and be losing the water. People asked him, what are you doing. He says, well, I’m going to judge a man while my own sins are unnoticed behind me. He understood humility. He understood that he had sins that he didn’t even know about. So do we.

Brothers and sisters, this is the time now; it’s always the time. But because of our nature, we have to concentrate more on certain things at certain times of the year. It’s always good to repent. It’s always good to be humble. But this time especially, this time when you must have as a goal that you would just be more humble. Like I said, it’s not from acting humble. It’s not whispering and putting your head down when you talk to people. That’s not humility. That’s just contrivances.

What humility is, is to know that in your heart you’re a sinner, and at the same time, to know that God will save you and God will help you. The Kingdom of Heaven truly is near.

Now, there is a question that the world would ask us: Why would we think like this? Some people in the world think, “This is mental illness to think poorly of ourselves. We should have better self-esteem. We should think better of ourselves. We should recognize that we are unique individuals in the world, blah, blah, blah.” The world thinks that way. Even people who are Christians are affected with this idea. I’ll tell you why.

It’s quite obvious from our Services; it’s quite obvious from the Psalms and all the rest of the Scriptures: joy only comes from purity and holiness; happiness is only for the holy. Because otherwise, there’s stuff in you that’s always going to make you unhappy. There’s impurity and there’s darkness. We were not made for darkness. We were made for light, and yet there is darkness in us. The only way to get rid of the darkness is to recognize it’s there. You can’t fix what you don’t know about. Nobody goes to the doctor if they don’t know they’re sick.
 

So we must know we are sick, and the Publican did. It’s really the whole essence of Great Lent. We are sick. Let’s just go ahead and admit it, not just like in conversation, but deeply in our heart: We are sick; there is darkness; there is ugliness in us. But God said it could all get out, every bit of it. Because He called us to be perfect, and in the perfect there is no darkness; it’s all light.

 

But since we know that we have darkness in us, we need the grace of God to have that become light. And God does not come to those who are not humble. God gives grace to the humble but not to the proud. To the extent that you’re proud, is the extent to which you have darkness in you.

So Great Lent is a time of light. A time to become light. But the only way to become light is to know that you’re dark. And that’s what the Publican knew. The services make it very clear. The Publican was exalted because of his humility. We do not praise him for his acts of depravity. We do praise the Pharisee for his acts of goodness, but we censure him for his pride, for his blindness and for his stupidity.

So let’s be intelligent about the Publican. Let’s know that we have sins in our heart. Let’s know that we need God’s grace to be rid of all these sins. And let’s pursue God as if we were pursuing a stag through the wilderness, running after it, trying to get to God’s grace as much as we can, and knowing that only with His help can we attain it. That’s what the Publican knew.
 

I’ll tell you one more thing. Remember, this is a parable. Parables usually are life in microcosm. Just about all of them are really about our entire life. So this describes this one event which might have taken place in maybe 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes where they were in the temple. Is actually describing the entire life of a man, the life of a man that leads to death, which is pride, arrogance, judging others, not knowing ourselves, not knowing our sins and therefore not seeking the grace of God for those sins. Or the way of life, which is humility and knowing that we are sinful and begging God to help us.

 

The meaning of “Justified”

And this way of life makes us justified: One of the most misunderstood words in all of our language. Because to be justified means to become righteous. Many think to be justified means that God forgives us because of His Son. No, to be justified is God helps us to become righteous because of His Son. This is a process. It didn’t happen immediately when he left the temple. It happened over the course of his life, many times going to the temple and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” many times falling, many times getting up. But every time having in his heart, “God help me; I’m dark, and I want to be light.” This is how he and we become justified: By going to the temple many times and beating our breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
 

And as we go and things change in us and we don’t judge people so readily and we’re more patient with people and kind with people and there’s less turbulence in our soul and there is less mud and we see things more clearly and we are happier even though we see our sins more clearly. And maybe there will be times when we see our sins so clearly that we feel that we are further away from God than we ever were. That’s an illusion, that’s a mirage. We’re already far from God. We just don’t see it.

 

To the proud, God appears very close, very near, even as a friend, even right in the same room. To the saints, they know that God is far from them in terms of their righteousness vs. His. But they also know that He will forgive them because – we are going to talk about this in a week – the father will forgive His son even when His son is far away.

We have to keep these things uppermost in our minds. And when I say that, I don’t mean that you should be thinking, okay, how can I be humble in this moment or in whatever is happening in my life at the moment. No, it has to be in the heart. Not the mind, meaning the brain, but the heart meaning that the highest part of the soul that knows truths about ourselves and about God.

 

This parable describes our entire life. So let us be like the Publican. Let us take this period of Great Lent to try to become a little more humble so that God will help us and we will be justified. Amen.

 

Transcribed by the hand of Helen. May the Lord save her and her loved ones.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.    

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This homily is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2010-01-24+sunday-of-the-publican-and-pharisee+theme-of-great-lent.html

http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2010-01-24+sunday-of-the-publican-and-pharisee+theme-of-great-lent.doc

AUDIO: http://www.orthodox.net/sermons/great-lent-sunday-before-great-lent-02_2010-01-24+sunday-of-the-publican-and-pharisee+theme-of-great-lent.mp3

 

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[1] Sometimes, the Lenten Triodion begins very early, even just after Theophany, as in this year (2010). The Gospel for the Sunday after Theophany is: “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; 13 And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: 14 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 15 The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; 16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:12-17)

 

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On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee The meaning of “Two men went to the temple” St Gregory Palamas

Friday, February 11th, 2011

On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

The meaning of “Two men went to the temple”

St Gregory Palamas

 

The Publican and the Pharisee. http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/publican-and-pharisee.jpg

 

The Lord did not say, “Two men went to the temple”, but “went up” into the temple.

 

Even now there are some who come to the holy church without going up. Instead they bring down the church, the image of heaven. They come for the sake of meeting each other and talking, or to buy and sell goods, and they resemble each other, for the latter offer goods, the former words, and all receive a fair exchange.

 

As in those days the Lord drove them completely out of the temple saying, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13), so He also drove them away from their conversations as they did not really go up into the Temple at all, even if they came there every day.

(St Gregory Palamas, Homily TWO, On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee)

 

 

St Gregory packs an incredible amount of theology and insightful moral teaching into his homilies. Here he begins to show the difference in the demeanor of the publican and Pharisee, and, as is critical to any good homily, applies it to us, in the here and now. Of course, this parable is not about two real people, but about all of us, and St Gregory makes this very apparent.

 

We should continually evaluate why we do things. The Pharisee did not do this, because he was blinded by pride. Perhaps we are blinded by this same passion, or it may be indifference, worldliness, inattention, intemperance in the way we live, infrequent prayer, self-indulgence and many other things. All these things will cause us to merely “go” to the temple, without our hearts elevated, expectant, repentant, and attentive. We will then receive that which we have come for, which is nothing of value. On the other hand, if we “go up” to the temple, with a desire to be taught, and filled, and healed, we will surely receive what we have sought.

 

Can a person “go up” to the temple if they are habitually late to the service?

 

Can a person “go up” to the temple if they pray inattentively?

 

Can a person “go up” to the temple if they only want to come on Sunday, with no expectation or even desire to receive the holy mysteries?

 

Can a person “go up” to the temple if they are lazy, and rarely pray, and even more rarely read the scriptures?

 

Can a person “go up” to the temple if they are not trying to change their life, and follow the commandments?

 

I cannot answer these questions for any person, but they must be answered.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-02-11-st-gregory-palamas-two-men-went-to-the-temple.html

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-02-11-st-gregory-palamas-two-men-went-to-the-temple.doc

 

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On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee -Humility and Conceit. St Gregory Palamas

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

Humility and Conceit

St Gregory Palamas

 

Why does humility lead up to the heights of righteousness, whereas self-conceit leads down to the depths of sin? Because anybody who thinks he is something great, even before God, is rightly abandoned by God, as one who thinks that he does not need His help. Anybody who despises himself, on the other hand, and relies on mercy from above, wins God’s sympathy, help and grace. As it says, “The Lord resisteth the proud: but He giveth grace to unto the lowly” (Proverbs 3:34, LXX)

(St Gregory Palamas, Homily TWO, On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee)

 

 

Parable of the Publican and Pharisee http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/publican-and-pharisee.jpg The Parable of the Publican and Pharisee is a case study in how to and how not to think of oneself. St Gregory’s homily talks about this often.

 

In our day (and perhaps in any day, although the difference in our day is that technology and media bolster bad attitudes and try to squelch good ones) conceit clouds the minds of most people. It is a rare person who can honestly see themselves for what they are. This is only possible for the humble.

 

Another side of conceit is self-loathing. Our world is also inundated by this passion. To “despise oneself”, as St Gregory describes, is not the same as having “poor self-esteem”. The true Christian knows that he is a sinner, above all other men, and yet has confidence in God’s mercy, because God sees his humility and comforts him.

 

It takes a lifetime to learn this lesson.

 

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

This article is at:

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-02-08-st-gregory-palamas-humility-and-conceit.html

http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2011-02-08-st-gregory-palamas-humility-and-conceit.doc

 

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On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee – Various ways the Evil One attacks virtue. St Gregory Palamas

Monday, February 7th, 2011

On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

Various ways the Evil One attacks virtue.

St Gregory Palamas

 

The unseen patron of evil is full of evil ingenuity. Right at the beginning he can drag away, by means of hopelessness and lack of faith, the foundations of virtue already laid in the soul. Again, by means of indifference and laziness, he can make an attempt on the walls of virtue’s house just when they are being built up. Or he can bring down the roof of good works after its construction, by means of pride and madness.

 

But stand firm, do not be alarmed, for a diligent man is even more ingenious in good things, and virtue has superior forces to deploy against evil. It has at its disposal supplies and support in battle from Him who is all-powerful, Who in His goodness strengthens all lovers of virtue. So not only can virtue remain unshaken by the various wicked devices prepared by the enemy, but it can also lift up and restore those fallen into the depths of evil, and easily lead them to God by repentance and humility.

(St Gregory Palamas, Homily TWO, On the Lord’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee)

 

 

St Gregory, as one of the foremost neptic fathers, is a master psychologist, He introduces his homily on the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee with these words (above).

 

He will go on to explain that the publican was great in faith precisely because he did not wallow in despondency over his sins, and by his repentance negated the his former indifference and laziness regarding virtue and his salvation. The Pharisee, on the other hand, is the quintessential example of pride and madness.

 

The services of the Triodion touch on this “psychology of sin” many times, especially in matins. Let us listen for them.

 

St Gregory does not go into great detail here, but in other places the fathers explain that the second means of battle that St Gregory describes often precedes the first. We think little about a sin until we do it, then we are consumed with shame and despondency over it.

 

Summary of St Gregory’s explanation of how the Evil One fights against us:

 

  1. Hopelessness, despondency over a sin or our sinfulness
  2. Indifference regarding sin and laziness
  3. Pride and madness (shown in the Pharisee by his mad judging)

 

If you are careful, you will see all three of these temptations operating in your life. May God to us reveal the machinations of the enemy against us.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2011     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

 

The rest of the story, How was the publican justified?



 

Icon of the Publican and Pharisee<br />
http://www.orthodox.net/ikons/publican-and-pharisee.jpg In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. [1] Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. It is a formal beginning to our preparation for the Holy Fast, and is the first day we read anything from the Triodion this year. We are now in a period of time to prepare ourselves – 4 more weeks. Next week follows the Prodigal Son, then the Sunday of the Last Judgment, then the last Sunday before the Holy Fast begins – the Sunday of Forgiveness. There is not much more time, and this time is given for us to reflect upon what it is that we need to do to improve ourselves.

 

The church gives us some help here.  The Sunday before this day is always the Sunday of Zacchaeus, who was a publican. Today, we read about another publican, just a nameless person in a parable. This event never actually occurred; it is a parable our Lord used to teach us. However, it has extra meaning when we think of it in light of the story of Zacchaeus, and in our mind’s eye, equate the publican in this parable with Zacchaeus.

 

In this parable we see two kinds of humility – or rather, humility and its evil opposite, pride – and two kinds of knowledge. We see the pride of the Pharisee, and the church in its hymnology points out the differences between his pride and the humility of the publican. In order to fully understand the lesson we must see that the Pharisee was not completely wrong and the publican was not completely virtuous, and yet, one of them was justified and the other was not.

 

The Pharisee was not condemned for keeping the fasts. He was not condemned for doing righteous good works. The publican was not praised for the life of sin that he had led. Rather, the Pharisee was condemned for judging another man, for using a measure in measuring that he was not capable of truly fulfilling himself. He was condemned because he was either unaware or did not care about the hidden sins that he had in his life, and how he truly was impure before God. He should have been in his demeanor just as the publican.

 

And the publican – why was he justified? He was justified because of his humility, but there is a very interesting aspect to his humility that we must know. He certainly did not judge another man, but he was well aware of his sin. There is something I see over and over again in our society and even in those who are Orthodox in our world as well, since we breathe poisoned air and hear poisoned ideas and we have some of that poison accumulate in us. I see this problem constantly. That is, that people, because of their sins, even though they know that they are wrong, and they want to do better, and have an inner conviction that something is wrong and unholy – instead of struggling against them, because they fail so often – they find a way to avoid being continually pricked by their conscience and being made aware of their sin.

 

This happens among profligate people. Why do you thing that people drink, or find themselves lost in promiscuity or other debauchery? This is to lose themselves from the reality of who they are and how far they are away from virtue. Everyone knows internally what virtue is – it is built into our hearts; it is built into our character.  The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans, and it is very evident that all men know what is right. But when he falls so far short of virtue he is afraid to really tackle the problem, as it is a very difficult one. So, in extreme cases, he falls away through debauchery, disbelief, falling into extremely wrong doctrines and ideologies and ways of life. And if we get into this state (and it is easy to fall into it: beware!) we deny and deny and deny the reality of who we are, and Who God is. Because generally someone must be blamed, and you can bet that we do not like to blame ourselves very often.

 

Another thing that people do when they are aware of their sins and wish to do better and continually fail – they fall into despondency. This is not so much where they blame someone else, or fall into impure activities without any heedfulness at all, but their despondency eats them alive. Truly, despondency kills more than any other sin.

 

Let us imagine now that the publican of today’s parable IS Zacchaeus. One of the fathers I read quite often, the Blessed Archbishop Andrei, draws this parallel and it is a striking one. Imagine the life of Zacchaeus before he was enlightened by Christ. He was the chief among the publicans. He was the biggest sinner. This meant that he had been guilty of murder and of defrauding widows and orphans. Howso murder? He may not have killed a man with his own hands, but he caused people to starve, widows and orphans with no money, who had no means to live, and they starved or became sick and died. Their murder was on his head. And of course, he was a thief, and a man in his situation, with so much abundance, would fall into every kind of sin. Certainly he had his pick of any wealthy courtesan he wanted, who feigned affection towards him because of his money, and he certainly ate the finest of foods, and drank great quantities of the finest of wines. There was much that he did that was wicked and abased.

 

What happened to this bad man? He was enlightened by God in a way that was wondrous and miraculous and totally outside of what he expected. Therefore, he in his zeal said, "I will restore fourfold to anyone I have defrauded, and I will give half of my goods to the poor", and he had great warmth in his heart when he was in the presence of Christ, and he wanted to do better. 

 

And then came tomorrow, the next day. He fell back into his bad habits. He still had avarice, and he still had lust, and he still had a desire for wine. He still had a weakness for all the things that he wished to get away from, so likely he would have fallen, again and again and again, or at least felt within himself great uncleanness because he still had these desires.. Look at the life of St Mary of Egypt. Can any one of us say we were as bad as she was? I don’t think so. Look what happened to her. When she realized how evil she had been and she desired to change, she went into the desert and for 18 years (if you read her story, you can see this) – EIGHTEEN YEARS! – she spent these years struggling with lustful imaginations and hearing songs that she used to hear when she was in drunken orgies, again and again in her head, and desiring to have flesh meats and wine which she used to drink in abundance. Eighteen years! So many of us, if we had to spend only a year struggling against lust and being unsuccessful – we would just throw in the towel, and go back across our Jordan, back to the former life we had been living, because we were not “cuttin” it. She spent 18 years doing this, till finally God removed from her this lust and this depravity which she had so carefully cultivated from the time she was a maiden. It took 18 years. Very few of us in this room have been Orthodox 18 years, much less struggled 18 years against our passions.

 

Why did she do such a thing, and why did the publican Zacchaeus (shall we say), struggle so, and go into the temple and say, “God be merciful to me a sinner?” Why didn’t he just give up? That’s the most likely thing to happen in this world: most people give up. The reason they give up is because they do not have salvific knowledge of Who God is and what He has done, and what He will do. I said this so many times – our life is spent in learning TWO pieces of knowledge that are critical to our salvation. And they must be done in parallel and a little bit at a time. Too much of one or two much of the other will cause our death. The pieces of knowledge are of ourselves and of God. As a man grows in knowledge of God he learns how great God is and he develops confidence, and he develops this overwhelming desire to become holy. As he grows in knowledge of himself he sees those areas in his life that are not in keeping with Who God is, and he desires to change them.

 

But if a man learns of himself outside of learning about God, you can see in our society what happens. You can see the depravity of people. You can see their angst and anguish over their life’s situation for it is outside of God. Many very poetic things are said by people in music or literature that are TRUE, but they do not give the solution; they only know (and this just partially) the problem! If they do not know the solution, they cannot gain salvation. And the solution is the God-man Jesus Christ, Who has enlightened us and come to all of us, unworthy ones. He came not to the worthy, but the unworthy. Not to the pure, but to the impure! And as we grow in knowledge of that, then we will become pure.

 

The problem with sin in Christians is not so much that they just want to do it and don’t care. The problem is that they don’t understand really truly Who God is. The knowledge of God cannot be learned from a book or listening to preaching or teaching – it is learned from within. All these things help – the services of the church, preaching in the context of the services, keeping the fasts. They are all essential, absolutely. I have said this before, and I suppose I should learn to stop saying it, since it scares some people, but I believe that if a man does not fast, and if he does not value the services, it is very unlikely that he will be saved. Not because of the sin of not fasting or of missing the services because of frivolous reasons or laziness, but because you won’t know God if you eschew these things, because this is how God reveals Himself to us. And if you don’t know Him, then when there is a sin that you have trouble with – it will devour you. You will have no chance against it whatsoever, because you will not know how to fight it.

 

This publican UNDERSTOOD God. He also knew himself. This man was guilty of murder, of theft, of lying, of cheating, of every kind of debauchery and sin, but he wanted to change. So he went to the temple knowing that he was unworthy, but at the same time knowing Who God is, and since he knew who God is, there was hope in his breast, and he knew that God could change him. That is why he came into the temple and that is why he did not think about anything else except his own sin, and that is why he looked at the ground and did not care about the virtues or the vices of anyone else. He was too consumed with his own pressing problem. And he was justified, because of his faith. Because he had faith in God – in a true Being, not in some phantom or fantasy. Because he was living according to Who God is. Was he failing? Was he still falling into lust, and even debauchery.  Probably. Did he still have the lust of avarice in his heart? Oh yes! It takes a long time to divulge yourself of your passions. It is a hard lesson to learn. When I became Orthodox I thought some things I had difficulty with… well, I would not have trouble with them any more. And even now I struggle against them.

 

But I know that God can save and God will save. That was his purpose for becoming incarnate, to save sinners, like me, and like you. And the only way to know this in your heart is to live according to it. Christian knowledge is not static. It is not words on a page; it is life. Salvation is to be had in living, in living according to God is.

 

This is what the publican did. He knew who God is, and he knew himself, and the thought of who he was sickened him and made him sad, but he still went to the temple even though he could not look up to heaven because he could not behold the brightness of God because of his impurity. Even though he was in fear and trembling, he had confidence in God’s mercy, because of making even a small effort. That is where you gain knowledge of God, brothers and sisters. That is where you gain confidence that you can be saved. It is by making an effort. I did not say – being successful in your effort – because if that was the criteria, then we all indeed should fall into deep despondency because none of us would be saved.

 

It is not how good we are at change by which God judges, but is us how good we are at making an effort to repent. And it is a miraculous thing – we will change, but we not see ourselves change. Things happen so quickly. Consider our children. One moment they are just laying in the crib and making incomprehensible noises, and the next moment, they are young adults and saying things that touch our souls in ways that we never knew that they could be touched. It happens overnight. That is how it happens with our souls. We think we are muddy and filthy and unclean, and we struggle and we think that we are making no progress whatsoever, but unknown to us, although sometimes known to those who love us, we make changes, and we come closer and closer to God. And there will be a day when we have sweet release from those things that beset us.

 

If I did not believe that, then I would have no reason to live – none whatsoever. And that is why so many people blow their heads off – they have no reason – no hope at all. If all that life is, is this life, then it is a cruel joke, and a cruel comedy. But we know we are Christians. We know that God lives in us, and even if we sin, God will hear our repentance and receive us time and time again. And if you are not sure of that fact than you have not learned enough of Who God is. And you had best study this very important subject – it is called Theology – to study God, to learn of God, the science of sciences. And the laboratory in which you learn is your own life! Live life in Christ. That is what this publican was doing. The Pharisee, although he had great knowledge, (but knowledge without humility just puffeth up), he did not have the feelings that we should often have, of feeling incredibly unworthy. He lived in an externally righteous way and thought himself righteous, but he was even more depraved than a man who visits a brothel every night, because he had not real fear of God in his eyes.

 

Do you see the contrast? Do you see what made the Pharisee fall away and what made the publican cleave to Christ? And why are we considering them now? Why is this reading today? Well, we are going to be speaking of the last judgment soon, and we will also consider another repentance – that of the prodigal son. These are hard subjects. The church is trying to prepare us so we can look inside ourselves and learn of ourselves and learn of God during the great fast, by struggling as much as we are able, and even BEYOND what we are able. In fact, the Christian life is continually living beyond what we are capable of. God said unto us, "be ye perfect for I am perfect." And through the Apostle He says, "pray without ceasing," and He says, "turn the other cheek" when someone smites us, and, "if our enemy has us go with him one mile, to go with him two." He tells us impossible things – things that cannot be accomplished and yet they WILL be accomplished because He lives in us.

 

If you have any doubts whatsoever those doubts are because you are not living with enough effort, and if you make the effort – I tell you – that you will become absolutely sure that God lives in you and He will save even you, a sinner. You know your sins better than anyone else does, and if you have sensitivity, they hurt. They make us very sad, but despondency does not belong in a Christian’s character. And if is in your life, this just means that you have not learned enough of God. So you must study Him more. Study Him in keeping the fasts. Study Him in the services. Study him in pulling your mind back to prayer after it has wandered away into the ravine and onto the mountainsides. If you have one minute of prayer in a three-hour vigil service, then you have accomplished something great that day. It’s true.

 

God help us to be like this publican in his virtue. Yea, I say his virtue. It is a great virtue when a man knows himself and when he knows God. I tell you, when those two pieces of knowledge are in a man, he WILL be saved. Amen.

 

 



Luke 18:10-14

 

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. {11} The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. {12} I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. {13} And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. {14} I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

 

Priest Seraphim Holland 2009.     St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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[1]               This homily was transcribed from one given in 1997, on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. This Sunday is part of a five Sunday sequence that precedes Great Lent. There are some stylistic changes and minor corrections made and several footnotes have been added, but otherwise, it is essentially in a colloquial, “spoken” style.

 

                It is hoped that something in these words will help and edify the reader, but a sermon read from a page cannot enlighten a soul as much as attendance and reverent worship at the Vigil service, which prepares the soul for the Holy Liturgy, and the hearing of the scriptures and the preaching of them in the context of the Holy Divine Liturgy.  In such circumstances the soul is enlightened much more than when words are read on a page.

 

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St John Chrysostom on true fasting. WORTHY TO BE READ during a fast free week!

Friday, February 13th, 2009

This is a long quotation, but very profitable to read. It explains the purpose of fasting, the proper attitude towards it, its effects on our spiritual state, and how fasting not done in the right spirit is actually injurious to us.

 

We also see from St John’s words the reason we have a fast free week following the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee. He does not reference this custom, but his explanation is the reason it exists. The homily from which this quotation was taken has many other profitable things about fasting.

 

It is very fruitful to think about the true purpose of fasting during a fast-free week!

TO MY FLOCK:It would also be very fruitful to discuss this in church this weekend. Please read this carefully, so we can discuss it. 

St John Chrysostom, Letters; Homilies on the Statutes, Homily III, (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf109.xix.v.htm)

 Bold face and headings inserted.

 

 

Fasting is a help to us; we should approach fasts with expectation of spiritual improvement.

 

7. Let us not then despair of our safety, but let us pray; let us make invocation; let us supplicate; let us go on embassy to the King that is above with many tears! We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession.

 

Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveler boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest.

 

So too, when the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickle; and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travelers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and a sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveler.

 

Hence St. Paul saith, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole amour of God.” Eph. vi. 12.

 

Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behooves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed! How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly business, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual amour, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with the spiritual amour, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow.

 

Cultivate thy soul.

Cut away the thorns.

Sow the word of godliness.

Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of divine wisdom, and thou hast become a husbandman.

 

And Paul will say to thee, “The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.” 2 Tim. ii. 6. He too himself practiced this art. Therefore writing to the Corinthians, he said, “I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” 1 Cor. iii. 6.

 

Spiritual and physical effects of Fasting.


Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on.

 

And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance.

 

Keep down the waves of inordinate desires.

Repel the tempest of evil thoughts.

Preserve the boat; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot.

But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things.

 

Real Fasting: from meat and sins.

 

8. I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting ; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. “For the wrestler,” it is said, “is not crowned unless he strive lawfully.” 2 Tim. ii. 5.

 

Why do we fast after the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee?

 

To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted,  Luke xviii. 12. but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.

 

The Ninevites fasted, and won the favor of God. Jonah iii. 10. The Jews, fasted too, and profited nothing, nay, they departed with blame. Isa. lviii. 3, 7; 1 Cor. ix. 26.

 

Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not “run uncertainly,” nor “beat the air,” nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow.

 

Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskilfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named. Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.

 

 

Admonition – Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!.

 

11. I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.

 

Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!

 

Is it said by what kind of works?

If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!

If thou seest in enemy, be reconciled to him!

If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!

If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!

 

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.

Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.

Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.

Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.

 

Fasting for all the senses explained

 

For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.

 

Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says.

 

12. Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what doth it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eateth the flesh of his brother, and biteth the body of his neighbor.

 

Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. v. 15. Thou hast not fixed thy teeth in the flesh, but thou hast fixed the slander in the soul, and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; thou hast harmed, in a thousand ways, thyself and him, and many others, for in slandering a neighbor thou hast made him who listens to the slander worse…

 

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