Bulletin 215 - February 3/16, 2003
February 3/16, 2003
Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee
He (Nilus) also said, 'Prayer is the seed of gentleness and the absence of anger.'
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and said this prayer to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men---robbers, cheats, adulterers; or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on everything I get.' But the tax collector, standing at a distance would not even raise his eyes toward heaven, but struck his chest and said, 'God be merciful to me, the sinner.' I tell you, it was he who went home forgiven, rather than the other; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The Holy Orthodox Church places great importance on the present Gospel message. Each year this Gospel message is proclaimed in churches throughout the world. Orthodox believers preparing for the coming of Great Lent are asked to consider the two men, the Publican and the Pharisee.
The Pharisee considered himself to be good. He considered himself to be better than others. The Pharisee gave money to the temple. He fasted. The Gospel message does not speak about the Pharisee's heart. There is no evidence of the presence of love, of compassion, or of concern for the soul.
Humility is not found in the the description of the Pharisee. The Publican was sorry for his sins. The Publican made his desire for forgiveness known.
Centuries before the words of the present Gospel message, David said: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart---These, O God, You will not despise." (Ps. 50/51:17)
God looks at the heart. The heart is the battleground. In the heart, we battle sin to seek the Kingdom of God. We are all sinners. The Lord Jesus Christ came to call sinners to repentance (Mt.9:13). The present Gospel message is a direct reminder for us to come before God with a repentant heart.
If we look to the services of the Church, to the Holy Scriptures, and to the writings and lives of the saints, we become sensitive to sin in our lives. The battle against sin is a daily battle. The battle against sin is a life-long battle.
When an Orthodox Christian adopts the attitude of the Pharisee, he or she puts his or herself in peril. Jesus Christ taught humility when He washed the disciples feet (Jn.13:5). Jesus Christ taught humility when He was arrested and did not struggle or exert authority against His captors (Lk.22:51)
Trusting in God requires fundamental belief in God and God's teachings about humility. Trusting in God requires conviction. Trusting in God places the self before God, at the mercy of God.
God controls the world (Gen.1:1). Orthodox believers attending Vesper services hear the opening Psalm (103/104) each day and get a glimpse of the greatness of God.
The pride of the Pharisee should be compared with the words of Jesus Christ spoken in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said: "Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature." (Mt.6:27) We are dependent on God for our lives.
The Publican was forgiven. Orthodox Christians experience forgiveness when coming to God in Holy Confession. With forgiveness comes the responsibility to seriously live according to the way of God.
The battle against sin is a daily battle. It is necessary to put on the full armor of God. The holy Apostle Paul told the Ephesians: "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." (Ep.6:11)
The devil is ever present. It is necessary that we be on guard against the wiles of the devil. The Publican came to know of his sin. He wanted a different life, a better life, a life approved by God.
The arrival of the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee alerts Orthodox believers to the presence of sin in their lives and the need for a return to God. The arrival of the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee is a marking point in the movement of the Holy Orthodox Church through the liturgical year. The Holy Orthodox Church proceeds with certainty and order through the year.
Serious Orthodox believers attempt to live their lives in conformity with the liturgical year of the Church and honor the order, feasts and fasts of the Church.
The Publican in the present Gospel message is an example for Orthodox believers seeking forgiveness from God. The prayer for God's mercy has a place in the heart of every Orthodox Christian at all times.
Commonly known as the "Jesus Prayer", every Orthodox Christian should be familiar with these words and make them a part of daily life: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."
Orthodox believers are constantly faced with choices. We are responsible for our choices. We will reap the results of our choices.
The Holy Gospel provides a foundation and direction for decision-making. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ deserve our utmost attention. They need to be part of our daily lives. Our daily lives should be shaped by the words of Christ, the life of Christ, by the life in Christ.