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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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[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)


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.


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


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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 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


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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 Zacchaeus. He Sought To See Jesus Who He Was.

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Icon of Zacchaeus and Christ


Synopsis: Jesus will show Himself to every man, without exception. Why is it that some, such as Zacchaeus see Him as He really is, and others such as the crowd who judged Zacchaeus, do not see Him even though He is in their midst? The whole point to life is to "see Jesus", that is, to know Him. Zacchaeus gives us import instructions as to how to accomplish this. Every day, we must be like Zacchaeus, recognizing who we are, and how little we are and how much our sins present an obstacle to knowing God, and run ahead of them to await the Lord coming to us. HE will always come – are we always in the proper state of mind to receive Him?

More text and audio homilies on the the Sunday of Zacchaeus are HERE

Luke 19:1-10 1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

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Zacchaeus Sunday A before and beginning story, to be continued… Text and audio.

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Zacchaeus Sunday
A “before” and “beginning” story, to be continued…

Hope is very precious. Hope must be kindled. It must be taken care of. Take care of your hope.

Luke 19:1-10

Icons of the Lord Jesus Christ, with Zacchaeus the publican, in the sycamore tree. I

n the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, brothers and sisters, we have a “before” story and a “beginning” story. It is appropriate on this Sunday – only four Sundays remain now after this Sunday before Great Lent. On this day we talk about Zacchaeus, how he was before, at the beginning of the salvation. And it is appropriate because during Great Lent should be, for all of us, a struggle to become more spiritual, to know more about ourselves and about God, to do good works, to pray, to fast.

It’s a struggle that is difficult. We will see next Sunday the prayer of the Publican. In our mind’s eye, we think of Zacchaeus when we think of the Publican and the Pharisee, when he was crying: “Oh, God, be merciful to me a sinner”, because he felt the weight of his sins. This is after Zacchaeus had been received by Christ, and he had entered into the struggle against his passions.  

In the Christian life salvation comes to us by degrees, because salvation is us being changed. We change by degrees. Nobody changes all at once. You might make a decision at a critical moment in your life as Zacchaeus did, but you don’t change all at once. You change with struggle.

Now, what happened to Zacchaeus was one of those moments that happen rarely in a man’s life when he saw himself and when he felt deeply in his soul the desire for God.

When you read the Scriptures, you must read them so that they relate to you. You’re the one reading them. What is it saying to you? What is God trying to tell you?

Of course, to read the Scriptures and understand them, you must understand the content of what they say, the factual dogmatic content, the circumstances in which the things were said, instructions that are given and all the rest. All this is very important. But also, another thing that is so important when you read the Scriptures: There must be some emotional impact in your soul, like Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was changed in a day or rather, I should say, he had the resolve to change. He made a decision and spent the rest of his life living it.

Zacchaeus had many things that were in the way of him finding Christ. The Scripture mentions three: He was a Publican, there was a big crowd, and he was very little.

As a Publican he had done many sinful things. He was ashamed because he had defrauded people, he hurt people. Are we like publicans? You had better think so because there’s not a human being that shouldn’t feel ashamed for the things he’s done or not done, is willing to do, not willing to do, the way he thinks, the way he doesn’t think. And often these feelings can keep one away from God.

I am convinced that the majority of the entertainments and all the things in life that are so frivolous and fruitless are really a way for people to escape from knowing who they really are. You cannot hear God if you’re not quiet; and if you hear God and you’re quiet, you’re going to find out what kind of a person you are, and that’s not a pretty picture.

Zacchaeus had all of that going on in his life. He was a very bad man. He was the chief of the publicans. He had done a lot of bad and terrible things, and he had that on his conscience, but he had heard of Christ. After all, he was a Jew even if he was a bad one. He knew of Christ, and wanted to see Him because there was this thing in his heart that was wondering: “How can I get out of this morass that I am in? I want to change, I don’t know how.”

So what was he going to do? He wanted to be better. He didn’t know how. Any of you ever feel like that? I feel like that every day. Now, I know in principle how: Through the blood of Christ, through God’s mercy, through my struggle. As far as how to get from A to B in exact detail, I don’t understand that because my sins are too big for me. They’re too big for you too.

So Zacchaeus wants to see Christ but the press is in the way, the crowd. So many things get in our way, so many busy things, so many concerns that we have that we really shouldn’t be very concerned about. Most of the press is ourselves. Most of the crowd is our own lifestyle getting in the way of being good.

But he had the crowd to deal with, he was short, and could not see. So what did he do? He went up high. He went up in a tree. Now, imagine the scene: A publican hated by everybody, making a spectacle of himself in a tree. Certainly there must have been many comments about him. This is a man accustomed to at least people flattering him in public; they wouldn’t say anything about him to his face. But in a crowd probably there was a lot of snickering and laughter.

And then Christ came and what happened? He looked up, and He saw Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus was changed because Christ loves transforming. And He said something very interesting. “Make haste. Come down because today I must abide in your house.”

This would have been unheard of and quite a scandal: a holy man going to the house of a sinner. It was not just his house the Lord was talking about: it was his soul. The Lord will abide in our soul. What an amazing thing!

When I read this Scripture, I’m filled with possibilities for me and, since I’m a pastor, always about you too. God can change us if we are willing, but we have to be able to overcome all that inertia of sin, all those chains that are holding onto us or sometimes that we hold onto ourselves. And we have to do something. We have to press past the crowd, and we have to get up in the tree, and we have to wait for Christ.

And the thing is, every single time that He comes to the tree, He will look up and tell us to make haste and come down because He will abide within us. Every time. Sometimes this is hard for us to believe. I know this, having been a pastor for many years, I know that we really don’t completely believe it, because we’re pretty bad, and it’s hard for us to really believe that we can really be changed. When you read Scriptures like this it’s important to hold onto that emotion, that fervor, that feeling of being changed that Zacchaeus must have had.

There are many Scriptures like this. I have dozens of favorite Scriptures that touch me in a very intimate way and that I hold onto (and you should too). Most of life, (as I said in a post [1] just recently that I hope you all read carefully), seems to be great spaces filled with short moments. That’s not what it should be for a Christian. It should be one moment of being in Christ. Nothing in our life is mundane. Nothing in our life cannot be changed. Everything can be changed.

But I think we need to feel this fervor and remind ourselves of it. It is very difficult when you are down, when you’re tired, when you’re lazy, when you’re feeling bad thoughts or whatever else is going on — it’s really hard to remember that feeling you had before such as Zacchaeus had when the Lord looked up to him and there was hope for Zacchaeus.

What did he do in his fervor? He made promises to the Lord. He was full of joy, and he made promises that he hadn’t thought of before. And surely he fulfilled them. Absolutely he fulfilled them, but they would be difficult to fulfill., and he would have a lot of habits that he’d have to overcome.

Just getting out of that tree didn’t make him good. Getting out of that tree gave him the ability to become good, gave him hope to become good, gave him a way out. But he was still a person with passions, proclivities towards sin, commitments to people that he couldn’t ignore. He still had a long road to go.

And that’s why I believe that this is right before Great Lent, because Great Lent is a long road. Great Lent should be hard. It should be when you learn something of yourself and you struggle and you do more than you usually do. We have more services during Great Lent. We fast more strictly during Great Lent. And, to be perfectly frank with you, if you do those things — I guess if you don’t do these things, probably this doesn’t happen — but if you do those things you will come to periods of time in Great Lent when you feel a great sense of despair, and you’re not getting much better; you’re pretty much the same person you were two weeks ago, two years ago, twenty years ago, still full of sin, full of bad habits.

Remember when Jairus’ daughter was dying and his servant came up to Him as Christ was going, and he said, don’t trouble the Master; she’s dead? I think we feel that; I know we feel that; I’m positive. I think very few people who struggle do not have those moments.

The way you get through those moments is with struggle and with holding things close to your breast from the Scriptures and the services. It’s not so much that we must have particular things memorized, although that’s a very good thing to do; I recommend it highly. But the feeling of reading the Scriptures, the feeling of hopefulness that Zacchaeus must have had, that decision: “I am going to be better and now I have a way to be better”; that’s the good news, and this is what you must hold onto. There’s going to be a lot of times when it’s very hard. But if you will hold onto that, then there is still joy in you even in the midst of sadness.

Try it. See if I’m right. During this Lent, fast more strictly than you did before. Go to more services. We have plenty of opportunities. Pray. Read the Scripture more, or even start reading the Scripture. Attempt to give alms and do good works.

And you’ll find, even before the third week, you’re kind of tired, and there will be those voices inside you, those voices of the person that’s the Publican inside you: “You’re not really going to get much better. You really do have a lot of bad habits. What are you doing all this for? You’re just hungry and you’re more irritable than usual.” Don’t listen to those voices.

Listen to that voice inside you that was the person in the tree and you heard the Lord say to you, “Come down because I’ll abide in your house.”

It’s not just a nursery tale. This is the truth. This is absolutely what happens to the Christian soul. God visits it, fills it with hope. You can’t do anything without hope, nothing. Hope is very precious. Hope must be kindled. It must be taken care of. Take care of your hope.

Struggle. But remember that God will receive you just as He received Zacchaeus. Don’t let anything or anybody make you forget this. And He will abide in your house, and you will be saved. Amen.

Transcribed by the hand of Helen


Priest Seraphim Holland 2009


This and other Orthodox materials are available in from:

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[1] The article begin referred to is:

“Everything MUST have meaning! Sickness.  Drug Addiction. Priorities”, writtenSept 26/ Oct 8 2009.


The conclusion of this article was: There are as many more examples as there are situations in our lives. So much of our life is great, meaningless spaces surrounded by little moments full of meaning. The task of the Christian is to have less space. Our Lord Jesus Christ had absolutely none of this “space” Everything He did, thought or said had meaning. This is our goal.  Let’s improve a little, but by bit, until we have reached it.”


Sunday of Zacchaeus Homilies

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Sunday Of The Last Judgment. Audio Homily 2010.

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Why is this scripture read today, two Sundays before Great Lent begins? What is its meaning? What are the two critical characteristics of those who will be saved? How are we to understand the things the righteous did and the unrighteous did not do, and their identical answers to the Lord? What must we do?


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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 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.


Homily:Sunday of Zacchaeus. Push past the press!

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Zacchaeus the publican. zaccchaeus-the-publican.jpg In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. [1]

Brothers and sisters, today is Zacchaeus Sunday; it one of the five Sundays that precedes Great Lent and helps us prepare for the Great Fast. 


Zacchaeus was a publican and very rich.  This meant that he was very corrupt because the way publicans became rich was by extorting more money than the Romans actually taxed.  They were Jews, but they extorted their own people for their own personal gain. 


Zacchaeus had heard about Christ; everybody had heard about Christ.  He was the “happening” thing at that time and He was an event wherever He went.  People came out of curiosity, as well because they believed or wanted to be healed. 


As Christ is coming into town, passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus hears about His arrival.  And something in Zacchaeus’ soul, although he probably didn’t even understand it at that time, desired to see Christ.  Perhaps he had some hope he could change and amend his life, even though he had been so far away from God for so long because he had been so corrupt; hurt so many; lied, stolen.  Probably he contributed to people’s death by extorting money from poor widows and such.  But he wanted to see Christ, but he was small, short, and the crowd was large and he wouldn’t be able to see Christ.  So, being a clever man, he ran ahead and climbed into a tree so he could see Christ. 


Now what do we understand from this?  The Scripture is a historical record, but it is also a mystical teaching.  This historical event teaches spiritual truths, and teaches us how to live.  Now, I have also told you that you should read the Scriptures to see how they apply to you, both the good and the bad.  When you see a sinner in the Scriptures, beg the Lord to forgive you of your sins.  When you see someone righteous, confessing in the Scriptures, beg the Lord that you would have the strength to do the same.  When you see Zacchaeus, beg the Lord that you would be freed of any avarice, any grabbing on to money, any greed, any dishonesty, any lack of compassion … all these things that Zacchaeus had in abundance, like shall we say, a legion of sins [2]


Also, when you see Zacchaeus, notice how he climbed up into a tree.  Even though he was hindered from seeing Christ, he didn’t give up.  The press is the crowd of people who were keeping him from seeing because he was short.  I ask you look at the spiritual meaning of what the press is — it is our sins, our passions, our worldly concerns, our false priorities.  And also the press is our shame.  It is important to understand this.  Many of us understand about our sins and desire not to sin anymore, but this press of shame often keeps us from seeing God because what God wants you to do when you sin is to run to Him, and the “press” is a formidable obstacle between us and the arms of our Father.


Our Lord uses the image of a child to teach us what our disposition should be after we sin.  A child who has been in a normal family with parents that love him when he sins and his parents scold him or spank him, what does he do?  He cries big tears and then he hugs his parent and says, “I’m sorry” immediately.  This is how we should be when we sin so we can see Christ again because sin makes our eyes grow dim.  We are not able to see Christ when we sin. 


We should be like Zacchaeus; when we sin we should push pass the press.  And the press indeed is often our own shame; our own incredulity about our sins.  Why are you surprised when you sin?  I have said this to some of you in confession, probably almost everybody.  Why be surprised when you sin?  Why be offended when you sin?  Your sinning shouldn’t offend you.  Your sinning offends God.  When you sin, push past that pride that the devil puts in your way and struggle to repent of that sin so that you will restore full communion with God in your soul. 


Brothers and sisters, the press is just not entanglements in the world.  We create our own press.  The press could be depression; this press could be despondency; this press could be our shame.  Or it could be other sins: laziness, wrong priorities, anything that keeps us from Christ …all these things are the press. 


You must find a way around the press.  If you do not have the strength to push past it, then find a way to be over it like Zacchaeus was.  And how did he find his way to be able to see Christ?  By rising up, by going into the tree.  Always, the only way that we can accomplish anything is by having our eyes on Christ, by thinking of things above and not earthly.  So if there is something that you cannot conquer, something that grieves you, something that saddens you, then you must climb the tree, you must make the effort to pray and as part of your praying to be struggling to follow the Commandments. 


Now Zacchaeus didn’t know these things.  All he wanted to do was see Christ.  Now Christ saw that there was a good heart buried under all that corruption in Zacchaeus.  So when He passed by him, He said, “Zacchaeus make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thine house.” 


Now this occurs with us, too, brothers and sisters.  When our Lord sees that we have pushed past the press, even if it is only a small amount, even if we are still in the middle of the crowd, but struggling to get out, even if we haven’t made it to the tree, much less been able to climb it with exalted thoughts and prayer, the Lord sees this and says, “Make haste, make haste.  I will abide with you.”  Make haste means: “consider My living inside you, My Grace that I give you to be the most critical and important thing in your entire life.  Run to it!  Order your life according to it!”  Make haste today.  Today salvation comes to our house, and every day because the Kingdom of God is within us. 


God is very close, very near brothers and sisters.  And He is constantly telling us, “Make haste!  Come down!  Be with Me.  Learn of Me.  I am meek and lowly.  My yoke is easy.  Learn of Me.  I am sweet; a sweetness that you cannot experience in anything else.  I am joy, a joy which you cannot obtain from anything earthly.  I am incorruptible and I will make you who are corrupted perfect.”  The Lord says this often, brothers and sisters. 


Do you hear Him say, “Make haste”?  Do you hear Him say, “Today I will abide in your house”, that is, your soul?  Do you hear this?  A Christian should hear this.  Everyday you should be trying to prepare your house; make it a little bit cleaner.  A little bit more straightened up, so that the Lord would abide in it as an honored guest. 


Now Zacchaeus had not repented of any of his sins before the Lord said, “Come down.”, but the Lord knew he would.  The Lord accepts us because of our potential brothers and sisters.   We can become perfected; He knows how to accomplish it.  The only thing He asks of us is that we make haste; the only thing He asks of us is that we make an effort.  That we struggle, that we try, that when obstacles are in our lives, we find ways around them by His grace and with His help and with our effort. 


They go and have dinner at Zacchaeus’ house.  Zacchaeus is full of joy because here was a Rabbi, a great teacher, who accepted him.  No one else accepted him because he had defrauded so many people.  And he felt joy.  There must have been such a feeling in his heart at the time of joy and expectation and that maybe he could change now.  Maybe he could put off this burden that had been dragging his conscience down for so many years. 


But there are people in the crowd, at the dinner, that are saying that he is a sinner and they are murmuring about it.  The Lord hears this and so does Zacchaeus.  So he pledges to the Lord, “Behold, the half of my goods I give to poor, and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold.”  If you work out the math, basically Zacchaeus has just impoverished himself.  A person who has been accustomed to silk pillows and the finest of foods and an abundance of wine and probably to wealthy courtesans to give him his every whim and wish, suddenly is going to make himself poor for the sake of Christ.  This is repentance, brothers and sisters, this is contrition. 


The Lord requires this of us; requires that we give up what we were so that we can become what we should be.  Jesus waits for Zacchaeus to say this (of course He knew he was going to say it), and when He hears it says, “This day is salvation come to this house.”  Now what is salvation, brothers and sisters?  In the West, salvation is thought of in such a miniscule fashion.  There is such poverty in the minds of people when they consider what salvation is!  Most people think that salvation is that when you die, you go to heaven.  Salvation is, “Well, you have sins and Jesus Christ pays the penalty of your sins and you go to heaven.” 


May it never be that we have such a small view! Salvation is restoration, brothers and sisters.  Salvation is completion.  Salvation is being made perfect.  Salvation is being able to cast off everything that hurts, everything that is heavy, and to be able to see Christ as He is, to be able to know the true nature of things.  Salvation is when a soul changes.  And Zacchaeus was changing. 


Brothers and sisters, do you hear the Lord telling you to make haste?  Do you hear the Lord saying salvation has come to your house?  Do you hear the Lord telling you about His sweetness?  About his perfection? About His love for you?  Do you hear these things?  Perhaps you don’t hear these things.  You should hear them everyday.  If you don’t hear, this is because you have sins that are holding you down. 


Push past the press, brothers and sisters.  The whole world is going to go away.  It is going to be recreated.  Everything will be made new.  Will you be new?  If you have not become new, if you have not changed, then you will be like that old piece of cloth…it can’t be put on a new wineskin [3].  Brothers and sisters, be like Zacchaeus.  Press past the crowd; find a way to see Christ.  And when Christ speaks to you, make haste and come down and do everything in your power so that He may abide in your house and never leave.  May God help you in all things.  Amen.

[1] This homily was preached at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas, on Zacchaeus Sunday, 2002

[2] Cf. Mark 5:9, Luke 8:30

[3] [Mat 9:17]  Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.