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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