of St Nicholas
Redeeming the Time Vol. 02.29 Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee Jan 18/31 1999
Redeeming the Time
Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
News and Announcements *
Annual Parish Meeting *
Proposed Date -- Sunday, Feb 7, 1999 1:30 PM *
Proposed Agenda *
This Week is Fast Free *
New Items in New Valaam Trading Company *
Upcoming Events: Many Years! *
Larry is made a catechuman *
Three Weddings *
Helpers needed to work around the church *
Name's Days *
A sermon by Blessed Archbishop Andrei *
An explanation by Priest Victor Patapov *
The Most Important Virtues *
Imitate the Publican *
Counting our sins instead of our good works *
If Repentance is too much… *
The following remaining
house blessings are scheduled for this week. If your house has not yet
been blessed and is not on the schedule, please contact Fr. Seraphim as
soon as possible.
This coming week is
the first week in preparation for Lent. The week is completely fast free.
Please pay attention to your calendar in order to know how to keep these
preparatory weeks properly, in order that we may be properly prepared to
keep the Holy Fast, and the glorious Feast of Pascha afterward.
Thanks to the hard work of our new bookstore keeper, Peter, there are many new items in the bookstore! Beautiful Russian style icons, 1999 wall calendars (with the fasts and readings included) and many new books are available. We will soon be stocking vigil lamps and floats as well. Please contact Peter if there is something in particular you would like to see in our bookstore. Please support your local Orthodox bookstore!
Larry and to his sponsor Michael Daum! Larry was made a catechuman today,
which also happens to be his birthday - his physical birthday and the
beginning of his spiritual birth! Many years!
St. Nicholas will have
the joy of celebrating 3 weddings this year! Anthony Headley and Anna will
be married here in April, Larry and Natasha probably in June, and David
and Elizabeth Ash will have their church wedding in September.
Plans are underway
to beautify our church and yard for Pascha and the weddings - please volunteer
your time and help. See Michael Daum or Keith Temple. You will receive
your reward here on earth and also in heaven!
Many years are also due to Tatiana Sanchez, who celebrated her name's day on Monday, and to Nina Constantinou who celebrated her name's day on Wednesday, and to Anthony Headley who celebrated his name's day yesterday. Tim Holland's name's day will be this Thursday. May God grant you many years!
The story of the publican and Pharisee is read at which time church's the liturgical cycle. Why is it read at this time? Why did Jesus tell the parable?
What was a Pharisee? What was a publican? Name 2 famous publicans who became Christians. Name a famous Pharisee who became a Christian.
The publican's prayer is a precursor to which much-used prayer? Describe other incidents recounted in the gospels which also remind us of this same prayer.
What is the worst passion? Name several of its corollary passions.
Describe the errors of the Pharisee. Name at least two.
Describe the posture of each and how it indicates the inner state of their souls
Why was the publican justified?
The Pharisee's arrogance blinded him to two important realities and he judged wrongly on both counts. Which?
By observing the Pharisee what can we deduce as being a major contributing factor towards our judging of others. Why is judging others a sin? What is the best cure for this?
Name at least 3 virtues
of the publican.
"The publican, standing afar off, would not lift so much his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." (Lk. 18:13)
And involuntarily one turns to last week’s Gospel. There is also told about a publican-Zacchaeus. We saw how the Lord overturned his whole soul. We saw how, after all his sinful life, he repented; and how he was ready to give half his possessions to the poor, and everyone he had defrauded, he would repay fourfold. And undoubtedly he did this. In- voluntarily, Zacchaeus the Publican and the publican in today’s Gospel blend into one image, into one person. After all, both of them were publicans, sinful men. And both repented. If we accept that today’s Gospel is the continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, that today’s publican, beating himself on the breast, is really Zacchaeus, at least psychologically, then a great science will be revealed to us, a great lesson in the life of one who repents. You see we must repent.
All the injustice which Zacchaeus did, he did for gain, to be dominant. And here, when this dominance came and he considered himself to be a man of power-at this very moment came the Truth of God. The Truth of God tells us that if a person is in his mother’s womb for nine months, then he abides in the womb of the earth if strong eighty years, and after this begin suffering and sickness. And finally, through death man passes into the womb of eternal life for ever.
Zacchaeus saw all this now: he understood all his foolishness, his wrong way of life. And then he began to search for a way out. He was in such a state of mind when he saw Christ walking by. For him this was a rabbi. He couldn’t just go up to Him, and he didn’t want to. First he wanted to find out what kind of rabbi He was. Here we see the fig tree, then we see him in the fig tree, this man who was virtually a dignitary of the Jewish people. And then the crowd. Imagine what this proud man was going through. But Christ approached and said: Today we will be together, I will be in your home. And when Christ was in his home, then He revealed to him that power which immediately filled his heart. And here Zacchaeus said: I will give away everything, and whomever I have cheated I will repay fourfold (Lk. 19: 1-10). And so he did all this.
But what is the matter now? Now he is standing and beating himself on the breast, saying: "God be merciful to me a sinner!" And here, right next to him stands someone else, maybe his peer in society - a Pharisee. He stands there and, on the contrary, in complete satisfaction says: I have done everything, I did this and this, I...I. Why didn’t the publican say: I did this also. I gave away half of my possessions. To that one I paid back fourfold. Why didn’t he say this? But on the contrary he said: "Merciful God, be merciful to me a sinner!"
The point is that the Lord endowed him with a gift- He expanded his heart. But as active life resumed, then a tragedy resulted: habit...habit. His inner man was the slave of habit; and this habit was a terrible force. Involuntarily, there appeared thoughts of avarice and the thirst for more and more gain. His looks were already in temptation which came through thought. The heart which had been liberated by Christ suddenly became dirty again. And he felt all this. "Lord God, be merciful to me a sinner." What to do?
Today the Holy Church brings us the full strength of this psychological moment, the full strength of this question: what are we to do? And with similar force, she gives us the answer to this question through the teachings of the Holy Fathers. In fact our Holy Fathers show us precisely what was going on in the soul of the publican. Because his conscience was now free, liberated by Christ, his heart was expansive, there was peace in his heart. His will was also free, and the freedom was in God. But the distance between the heart and God is sin. And here it happened to the publican that shadows started to appear in his heart, and he began to cry to the Lord for help.
How do these shadows come about? As Bishop Theophan the Recluse explains in one of his letters, they come about like this. Thought-it comes, and only if it does not captivate the feeling of the heart, then this is still not sin. It comes and, as today’s snow melts tomorrow, so it will not exist, and the heart remains clean. Even if the thought captures the heart, enters the heart-even this still not a misfortune; there is still a moment in which it is possible to cry, "Lord have mercy" and the heart will be clean. But when the thought has already entered the heart, and when you have already said, "I desire," this is when shadow appears. The mere fact that a shadow has entered, then here sympathy has already taken place, an action. Then, as the Bishop says, a fall has resulted. Sin has become action, and a fall has occurred. And as soon as one has fallen spiritually, sin has entered the heart, a deed has been accomplished, the person has departed from God and has begun to suffer, just as with a man who has fallen physically. We know what a tragedy spiritual sufferings represent. Pride, greed, ambition all kinds of lust gnaw at a man . . .and he is tormented. The heart of such a man becomes like stone.
As we see from the Gospel reading, this is what happened after Zacchaeus the Publican recognized his sin and repented. Christ absolved him of his sin. His conscience became free. But now he had to act; and when he started to act , then thoughts arose, and from thoughts came feelings. And what to do. Here he cried. "God be merciful to me a sinner; don’t let this happen..." And the Lord gives the Grace to prevent it from happening and saves the sinner. What must we do in order to receive this Grace? An active exertion of the will is needed. And next Sunday the Holy Church will teach us how this is acquired.
Continuing to denounce His adversaries, especially the Pharisees, Christ utters a parable that supplements the preceding two those of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. The following parable of the publican and the Pharisee is recorded in the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according the Luke:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 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. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 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. 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.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, thus does the Lord begin the parable. In their prayer, Christ discloses the state of both the one and the other. "Prayer is a mirror of one's spiritual disposition", say the holy Fathers of the Church, "Look into this mirror, look at how thou prayest and thou wilt be able to say unerringly what thy spiritual disposition is". In prayer, our good and dark sides, our spiritual abasement and spiritual growth are revealed most fully. It is not by chance that "The Lenten Triodion" (the Church book containing all the divine services, beginning with the Sundays preparatory to Great Lent and ending with Great Saturday) opens with the very significant sticheron: "Brethren, let us not pray as the Pharisee…"
In the parable itself, the Pharisee stands before us as the incarnation of absolute selfsatisfaction. The Pharisee the fulfiller of the law, who observes all the religious rules comes and prays in thanksgiving: God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess and here I am coming and thanking Thee.
It must be said that the Pharisee had some grounds for being satisfied with himself. After all, he was a representative of the intellectual stratum of society, he was in his own way religious, educated and wellread; to all appearance, he firmly preserved the religious beliefs and traditions, fulfilled the religious prescriptions, gave a tenth part of his possessions for the needs of his religion. Evidently, being a religious man in his own way, he did nothing obviously evil, and it is entirely possible that, in the worldly sense, he was not a bad man, whom many, perhaps, regarded with great respect.
But the selfsatisfaction of the Pharisee was, as it were, the dominate feature of his spiritual state; it was so dominant that it completely obscured from him the genuine picture of what was taking place in his soul. Selfsatisfaction, not limited by anything, had seized him to such an extent, that he completely forgot that all his socalled virtues lose all their value and meaning before God's judgment.
But now let us turn to the other the publican, the tax collector. In the ancient world, this profession was held in general contempt. To all appearance, the publican does not fulfill anything from the law; but, sensing his worthlessness, he only beats his breast and prays: God be merciful to me a sinner! The modest publican concentrated his spiritual powers on his sinfulness, on his imperfectness before the face of God. He understood all the futility of justification by outward works.
These, then, are the two different states on the one hand, there is the prayer beginning with thanksgiving: God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are. This is seemingly an invocation of God, but in actual fact it is a confirmation of his "ego", for the core of pride, according to Venerable John Climacus, is "the shameless parade of our labours". The Lord, after all, knows the heart of the Pharisee; but he says: I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and degrading his neighbor as well I am not …as this publican. The Pharisee seemingly both believes in the Lord and loves Him, seemingly seeks His help, but in actual fact degrades his neighbor and shamelessly exalts himself; he is already approaching the greatest degree of pride rejection of God.
What does he need God for, when he has fulfilled everything and only boasts of his virtues before God. John Climacus writes that the passion of pride "finds food in gratitude". For now, the Pharisee is still praying, but in a little while he will stop praying,
because prayer is striving toward God in order to receive help from Him.
"I have seen people", says Venerable John Climacus, "who thank God with their mouth, but mentally magnify themselves. And this is confirmed by that Pharisee who said ironically: O God, I thank Thee."
The selfsatisfied Pharisee seriously thinks that he has attained perfection, that he knows everything. He who thinks that there is nothing more for him to learn, will also never learn anything more. Moreover, he is sliding backwards. The Pharisee also slid backwards, and his greatest fall turned out to be that he began to condemn others. Then love inevitably dries up in him, and in its place condemnation of others and contempt for them appear. Selfsatisfaction blinds and forces one to be satisfied with little; it makes a man to be morally a minimalist, who is satisfied with his easy outward successes and thinks about the quantity, and not the quality, of his good works. And so the Pharisee also cites figures: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes…
God does not need these calculations. He needs our heart. To think about the quantity of good works leads to legalism, to formalism. All this was characteristic of those who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees. The Lord says, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). It is important to note here the Saviour's words except your righteousness shall exceed. With these words, the Lord points out the limitedness of the Pharisees and of their approach to spiritual life.
But there is also another approach. Abba Anthony once said to Abba Poemen: "A man's work consists of laying his sins on his own head before God". This is the approach to God of one who needs Him in order to cleanse his sins. Therefore, the publican also prays: God, be merciful to me a sinner. He needs God; he begs, understanding that he has not yet done anything; he also does not proclaim the virtues that he perhaps possesses; he does not lay them, but "his sins on his own head before God".
"Pride is the annihilation of virtue", says John Climacus. In ancient books and in old popular prints one may encounter a depiction of the publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee is depicted racing along in a chariot, and the publican, walking on foot they both are striving toward the Kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisee races along in the chariot and hopes to arrive at the Kingdom of Heaven in it. His chariot is furnished with everything necessary for attaining this end; but at the last moment it breaks down, and we see in the ancient pictures that the publican on foot overtakes him.
For real spiritual life one must train oneself to maintain a balance between the manifestations of inward and outward religiosity. It is essential to keep the law the commandments of God and the regulations of the Church. But this is not enough. If we began to work for the Lord in this way, then in this work we would be like a man, who, according to the words of Climacus, thinks to swim out of the deep using one hand. It is necessary to possess the humility of the publican as well.
It is necessary to hate the exaltation of the Pharisee and the fall of the publican. The publican went out from the temple more justified; but this does not yet mean that he is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Ephraim the Syrian, the teacher of repentance, the author of the GreatLenten prayer "O Lord and Master of my life", commands us in this prayer to see our own transgressions, and not to judge our brother.
Prayer and good works are in vain if they are performed not for God, but for the world, for our vainglory. Every good work done for show is vain.
According to the unanimous definition of the Fathers of the Church, vainglory is fundamentally "trust in one's own efforts", "a rejection of God", "a driving away of His help". For, in doing something for show, I do it not at all in order to render to God what is due, to return the talent to Him multiplied this is Thine but in order that men would praise me. By this, I only assert my own "ego", for I need men here only so that they might render me praise. This is a "visible" idol, according to the definition of the Holy Fathers. I am not serving God here, but men; but I am also serving them not for their sake, but for my own. The Pharisee already rejects God. He comes to the temple and says: I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. Therefore, I am good. Thou didst create me; I still thank Thee. Perhaps Thy help is still needed by the publican, but not by me. I still worship Thee, but Thou art no longer necessary for me. This is the attitude of a man who puts his "ego", his virtue at the head of his life.
The Pharisee fulfills the law, and the law is difficult, for it is not easy to follow all the prescriptions of the law, even if only that of the Old Testament; but this is in vain, for he has no humility.
The devil met a certain Holy Father and said to him: "I am like thee in all things, except one: thou dost not sleep, and I keep vigil; thou fastest, and I eat nothing; but thou vanquishest me with humility". The faithful followers of Christ are known, not by works, but by humility. I can feed someone in God's name, not ascribing anything to myself and in this instance I shall have done a truly Christian work. However, if I should do the same thing, but for any other reason, for any other aim whatever it might be this work will not be Christ's…
The parable of the publican and the Pharisee is Christ's call to think and to uproot the Pharisaism that lives in each of us. The Church hastens to our aid. On the first Sunday preparatory to Great Lent, the Church says to us in Her Divine services: Come, learn from both the Pharisee and from the publican. From the one learn his works, but by no means his pride; for the work by itself means nothing and does not save. But remember that the publican also is not yet saved, but is only more justified before
God than the Pharisee, who was adorned with virtues.
Let us firmly remember Christ's words: Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:14).
Priest V. Potapov (Parish Life, August 1994) Fr Victor is the dean of our diocese. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Large selection of
Homilies on the Parables is at: http://www.stjohndc.org/parables
An old man much given
to austerities questioned Abba Ammonas: "Three thoughts occupy me, either,
should I wander in the deserts, or should I go to a foreign land where
no one knows me, or should I shut myself up in a cell without opening the
door to anyone, eating only every second day?" Abba Ammonas replied, "It
is not right for you to do any of these three things. Rather, sit in your
cell and eat a little every day, keeping the word of the publican always
in your heart, and you may be saved."
Repentance and humility are more important and higher than all of the other virtues, continuing until the end of our life. Referring to the words of the Prophet David, St. John Climacus writes, `I did not fast, I did not keep vigil, I did not sleep on the bare earth, but I humbled myself and the Lord saved me.'
Elder Ambrose of Optina,
from a collection of letters, Orthodox Life, Vol. 47 #5, 1997.
Amma Syncletica said: "Imitate the Publican and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water."
When the foolish thought of counting up any of your good works enters into your head, immediately correct your fault and rather count up your sins, your continual and innumerable offences against the All-merciful and Righteous Master, and you will find that their number is as the sand of the sea, whilst your virtues in comparison with them are as nothing.
St. John of Kronstadt,
My Life in Christ.
If repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican; this is enough to ensure your salvation.
St. Peter of Damascus
"Redeeming the Time" is an almost weekly Journal of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Dallas Texas. Distribute this text if you wish, but only if attribution and all contact information are included. I would appreciate being contacted if any large-scale use of this text is desired. All unsigned or unattributed portions © 1998 Fr Seraphim Holland. All rights reserved
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