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. https://www.orthodox.net//ikons/publican-and-pharisee.jpgThe 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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