Orthodox Thought for the Day


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Homily for Forgiveness Sunday

Wishing all who read here a most blessed Great and Holy Lenten season. 

Forgive me, a sinner, any offenses I may have caused you in the past.

God’s peace,
Presbytera Candace

Sermon on Forgiveness Sunday

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise 

My beloved in the Lord, the great and saving time of the Fast is upon us! We have completed the time of preparation, beginning with the Sunday of Zacchaeus, and continuing with the Sundays of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and now finally with today - the Sunday which commemorates the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. Of course much can be, and indeed has been said about each preparatory Sundayfrom the desire of Zacchaeus to the humble prayer of the publican to the repentance of the prodigal son, and finally with the clear teaching of the Lord as to what we need to do to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. Today's theme, however is more frighteningthe expulsion of Adam from Paradise.
The stichera sung at last night's Vigil service were certainly a spiritual wake-up call for all of us. We heard of Adam weeping outside the gates of Paradise saying, "Woe is me…I transgressed one commandment of the Master, and now I am deprived of every blessing!" Also, during the matins canon we heard the words, "O miserable soul, thou hast departed far from God through thy carelessness; thou hast been deprived of the delight of Paradise and parted from the angels; thou hast been led down into corruption. How art thou fallen!" Not only are these words frightening for us, but also more importantly, they are true. Nevertheless, the Holy Church, in Her mercy and love for us gives us comfort, even in the simple fact that this Sunday, although frightfully serious in it's theme of Adam's fall and in turn, our own sinfulness, has another, more consoling theme as well, and that is the theme of FORGIVENESS.
On this Sunday, we are powerfully reminded that no one is so patient and so merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. And therefore, my beloved, we must constantly repent of our sins, both individually as well as communally. The Holy Church gives us a unique and marvelous opportunity to do this for the next 40 days, for again, I say to you, that the time of the Fast is here!

Great Lent is indeed a holy time for us Christians and should be met with respect, love, and also very importantly with joy. Tonight at the vespers service we will pray the stichera on "Lord, I call", "Let us begin the fast with joy!" This is crucial. Joy must be the mark of us as Christians. Today we heard in the Gospel reading, that if we forgive our brother his trespasses, our Heavenly Father would forgive us. Truly this phrase should bring joy to all of us, because if we think about it seriously we see that is indeed easy for us to be forgiven. All we need to do is to forgive our brother!

Tonight the Holy Church makes this even easier, with the rite of forgiveness. We as a community of believers will bow before each other, and in so doing we bow before all humanity, and we ask for forgiveness of one another. We know that when we sin, we sin not only against God Himself, but also before all mankind. We also know that forgiving our brother is also an act of repentance, and therefore an act that leads to our salvation. There are those who sadly enough do not take advantage of this wonderful and indeed humbling experience, and I must say that they suffer because of it. We must clearly understand that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. As one bishop of our Church said in a commentary on the Lenten Triodion, "A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons" and also, "Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from our fellow men but link us to them with ever stronger bonds. The Lenten ascetic is called to be a man for others."

The first step in becoming "a man for others" is to forgive the "other". In today's Epistle reading, the Holy Apostle Paul instructs, "Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand (Rom.14: 4). Later, in the same Epistle to the Romans, he says, "Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. (14:13)" and also, "we who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves"(15:1), and again, "welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God"(15:7).

This is what tonight's service of reconciliation is all about, my beloved, and indeed it is what all of Great Lent is about, and actually, I must say, it is what our entire life as Christians is about - being reconciled to one another, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. And by so doing, we become united to Christ Himself.

Obviously, as fallen people, living in a fallen world we sin against one another, however, we must realize that we must immediately forgive our brother when he sins against us, and we must also immediately ask forgiveness of him when we sin against him.

Our Father among the Saints, the righteous John of Krondstadt is quoted as saying, "Imagine, picture the multitude of your sins and imagine how tolerant of them is the Master of your life, while you are unwilling to forgive your neighbor even the smallest offense. Moan and bewail your foolishness, and that obstruction within you will vanish like smoke, you will think more clearly, your heart will grow calm, and through this you will learn goodness, as if not you yourself had heard the reproaches and indignities, but some other person entirely, or a shadow of yourself." (Lessons on a Life of Grace)  Following these instructions of the great Pastor of Russia, Saint John, will indeed bring us joy, the joy that comes from above. The joy that comes from knowing that our sins will be forgiven, if we forgive the sins of our neighbor, as was promised us in today's Gospel reading.

It will be this very joy that gives us the strength to continue our efforts throughout the time of the Fast. We know that with the season of the Fast comes many and great temptations. We must joyfully persevere in the face of these temptations, knowing that if we pray sincerely, and give them back to God, they will pass, and with His help, we will become victorious. It is precisely in the face of temptation that we can and must cry out to God the words of tonight's prokeimenon, "turn not away Thy face from Thy child for I am afflicted; hear me speedily, draw near unto my soul and deliver it!" And He will do this for us, my beloved; He will do this indeed.

We know the fasting rules of the Church, (if we don't, then let us ask the priests to instruct us), we know that the Lenten services will be longer and more intense, we know that there will be prostrations to do, tears to shed, and prayers to offer during this time. We know that the whole Church will be immersed in repentance in a uniquely clear and vivid way. Our vestments will be darker than usual, our melodies will take on a repentant tone, and indeed we will feel that the time is different. We will be immersed in some kind of darkness and sadness. However, as one priest stated, it is a "bright sadness" that we will have during the Lenten period, for we know what awaits us when the 40 days are finished. Nevertheless, that comes later, for now we must concentrate on what is before us, namely forgiving our neighbor, intensifying our prayers and our fasting in order to purify ourselves for the coming Feast of Feasts, the Pascha of our Lord.

In closing, let me again share with you the words of one of tonight's stichera, "Let us begin the fast with joy! Let us prepare ourselves for spiritual efforts! Let us cleanse our soul and cleanse our flesh! Let us abstain from every passion as we abstain from food! Let us rejoice in virtues of the spirit and fulfill them in love! That we all may see the passion of Christ our God, and rejoice in spirit at the holy Pascha!"


Igumen Zacchaeus (Wood)

25 / 02 / 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On the Prodigal Son

He came to himself – what does this mean?
The two things we must know to be saved.

Homily on the Prodigal Son 


In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. [1]

The Church gives us another example today, about repentance. It tells us another part of the story. This is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and is yet another Sunday that prepares us for the Great Fast. We are coming quickly upon it. Next week will be the Sunday of the Last Judgment, after which we stop eating meat, and after that is the Sunday of Forgiveness, and we then begin the fast, the following day.

The church has had something very important to say about repentance the past few Sundays, if you have been listening carefully. There have been three aspects of repentance that have been shown to us. One aspect is humility. We saw the publican [2] whom, in our mind’s eye, we may consider to be Zacchaeus [3], and we saw how his humility saved him. This was humility with knowledge, because with humility comes knowledge of God. Although he was humble and would not look up to heaven, he was still bold in his prayer to ask God for mercy, because he knew God would give him mercy.

The Sunday before, we saw Zacchaeus. We saw that he was a very bad man, but he changed. Repentance involves changing the way you live, the way you think. It also involves making restitution. It is not that restitution will save us. There is nothing that we can do to earn our salvation. Restitution is something that should come from deep within us. We should desire to make ourselves better in those things in which we have been lax. Whether our sin be depriving a man of his goods, as Zacchaeus did, or unclean thoughts, or any other sin, whether our sin be an internal sin, or an external one, or whether it has affected other people or affected no one except ourselves, we must desire and struggle to be better.

Now we see another aspect of repentance that is so important today, especially in light of what we are going to read and contemplate next week. That is, God receives a man’s repentance. This may seem to be an obvious statement, hardly worth making, but in actuality, many people do not really believe God will receive their repentance, or that they can truly change. We can see how marvelous God’s mercy is in this parable we have before us.

The father who has the two sons is God the Father. The younger of the two sons is humanity. The younger son is you and me. We should see ourselves in this younger son. What did he do? The father was getting old, and the son did not want to wait for him to die. He wanted his inheritance NOW. So he said, "Give me my inheritance now." His father, who loved him, must have grieved over such a request, because he knew it would most probably be harmful to his son, and also he wished to have his son with him, but he gave in to him because of love.

God does the same thing with you and me. He gives us things that are good and precious, and we misuse and abuse them, but He gives them nonetheless. He causes the rains to fall on the evil and the good, and He even does much good to the evil, hoping that they will turn and repent. That’s what he did with the younger son, knowing what the son was going to do.

The Prodigal Son. Vasily Polenov, 1874


The son goes into a FAR country. There is sometimes much meaning in a single word. He went into a FAR country; it was far away, a land full of debauchery and uncleanness, FAR away from God, FAR away from salvation. And, indeed, if the man had died in such a state, he would have perished. He would have died far from God. But when he was in this far country, did he give any thought to God? No. He wasted his living with harlots, as his older son is so careful to point out later, and in debauchery and uncleanness of every kind. He had not thought whatsoever for his father, and how he had caused his father pain. He had no understanding how far away he was from salvation.

And that is how we are, too. Maybe not all of the time, but so much of the time what we do is so foolish, so stupid, and yet we do not see this or understand. We might live many, many years and not understand how evil the things we do are.

This son was the same as we are. He had no understanding of the evil he was doing and of the uncleanness and of how far away he was from God. And then the inevitable happened to him. He had wasted all of his living, and now began to be in want. He had no money, and was hungry and cold. He had to join himself to a citizen of the country who really did not care about him at all, and he was told to feed pigs. And this unclean food, which the pigs were eating, looked appetizing, because he was so hungry.

He began to be in want – what does this really mean?

It describes much more that the younger son’s penury. Humanity is in want. Remember that this younger son represents humanity – he represents you and me. Both the good and the evil that are in humanity are represented in this man, the debauchery, and also, the dignity of soul, later, when he repents.

When the son begins to be in want, he recognizes what his needs are. The unclean food, given him by the devil (for that is who the citizen of that far country is), cannot satisfy him, even though he is hungry for it. He looks back in his mind’s eye and he says: "I once lived with my father who loved me, and I had food and clothing and friends. And I was in an atmosphere of love and acceptance and affection. How could I have been so foolish to have left that all behind?" And he grieves and weeps bitterly over his misfortune.

But notice that he did not blame anyone for his situation. He did not blame his father for allowing him the inheritance, which, by the way, is something that a lot of people do with God. They blame Him for their sins. They do not understand how much God loves them and gives them all good things for their salvation. Instead, they blame Him if there is something wrong. "Why hasn’t God taken this sin away from me? I have been struggling with it for two months, two years. Why is this happening to me? Why don’t these people like me? Why do I have troubles here, troubles there?" Always blaming God.

By the way, as an aside, every single evening at Vespers, we pray that we not make "excuse with excuses in sins" [4]. This shows how prevalent this sin is, and how important the church thinks it is to fight it. This son did not make excuses. He recognized his want, and what was wrong with him.

Then he "came to himself". This is a very hard thing to understand. A man cannot be saved unless he comes to himself. What does this mean?

We have spoken of it many times. In saving our souls, what two things must we know? One is to know God, and other is to know ourselves. The two are learned in parallel. If you learn only of God, you will be filled with pride, and your soul will be paralyzed. If you know only about your sins and your unworthiness and know little about God, you will be filled with despondency and fear, or escapism, and your soul will also be paralyzed, unable to do good. This latter sin is the more common one for Christians, I think.

Despondency is also very common and happens in each one of us to a greater or lesser degree. And if it happens in too great a degree, I tell you, you won’t be saved, because you won’t be able to do the things you need to do to learn of God. But if you learn of yourself and God at the same time, God will reveal Himself and self-knowledge also, within you. Then you will believe in the depths of your soul that you are a great sinner, but you will nonetheless say to yourself with confidence, "God will receive my repentance!’ and you will see the situation you are in, and you will want to be better, and you will know that you CAN become better!

I see this again and again, where people do not ACCEPT that they CAN change.

Sometimes, to be perfectly honest, people don’t want to change. They have an inkling, a desire, a little bit, to change. "I want to stop this sin. But I like this sin." And they don’t have the gumption to make the effort. God even understands this!

This is why we have a "baseline" of things we must do as Christians – keeping the fasts, saying our prayers, coming to church – because without those things we would truly fall far away. But that is not enough, mind you, because a man must make an inner change. He must know of God and he must come to himself. And he must say exactly what the younger son said. He said, "I will arise and I will go to my father. I will make an effort. I will not only talk about my sins and lament about them and do nothing. I will arise and make a great effort."

And then the son realized how far away he was. He was in a far country. And he still had to travel a long way, even until his father would see him, from a long way off. So that was a great struggle. That is what we must do. We pile sin upon sin in our soul. Everything that we pile onto our soul we must painstakingly take off, one brick at a time. So the more we pile on ourselves, the more difficult it is, and the further away we are, and the further we must travel back. But this younger son was great of soul, because he struggled back.

What was his attitude? It was not absolutely correct, but his misunderstanding was corrected by his father later. He went and said " I will go to my father and say I have sinned against heaven and earth, and I am not worthy to be called your son". So far, he is absolutely correct. But then he said, "Make me as one of thy hired servants," and God will not do that! That’s not our God! He will make us friends! [5] This son, as he was walking back to his father, did not understand this. But we can understand, because we have the perspective of history and the Holy Scriptures to tell us: God will not make us as hired servants! Jesus Christ said He would make us friends. "I will call you friends, and there are many mansions in my father’s house." [6] So we will not be hired servants. We will have everything that our Father has available for us!

And this is the meaning when the father saw his son and ran out to him. Can you imagine this meeting? The son is bedraggled and poor, starving, faint both of heart and of body, and the father comes to him and embraces him and kisses him. He puts the ring on his finger, a token of the father’s love and his authority; He kills the fatted calf, and makes merry because his son has come home. The son was only expecting to stay in the shack with the hired hands, and maybe to have a little bit of meat once in a while and his father gave him back EVERYTHNG that he had lost, and more than he had lost. That is what our Father will do for us.

The Church tells us about it right now, because we are now about to enter into a period of time when we had better think about our sins quite a bit. Next week we will talk about the Last Judgement, and it is terrifying what will happen in the Last Judgement for those who do not repent. But, if you only read that, and do not understand from today that the Father will accept your repentance, then you have lost the most important part of the story. This part is that God will accept you, if you arise, and go.

I will speak honestly here, that the major problem is that most people don’t want to "arise and go". And therefore when they don’t arise and go, they cook up in their minds all kinds of ideas, about why they cannot stop a certain sin, or do better. And yet, they are not doing the things that God has laid out for them to do to bring them back to Him. If this fits any one of you, then may it be that you would understand the things that you must do, and that you would have a firmer resolve to arise and go.

A man cannot do something with full effort unless he believes it with full conviction. Our life is difficult. It is painful. And we have trouble fighting our sins, and some are so pleasurable that we have trouble wanting to fight them. The question is, "Why bother?" If we do not know what God will do for us, then we do not have the resolve to really, really attack our sins, and enter into the kingdom of heaven.

So the Church tells us what God will do. He shows us, as a loving Father, He will take us in His arms, and will put the ring upon our finger, which is His authority, you know, and His dignity, and His image. The ring has an image on it, doesn’t it? That is the image of God, which is within man. And He will kill the fatted calf, and we will feast sumptuously for all eternity.

But we’re not at that point yet because we’re still wearing flesh, and we’re still having difficulty with our sins. So, most of us are somewhere in that journey from the far country. And we must continue that journey. It is described with only a few words here in the Scriptures. He starts to journey, and then his Father comes upon him. Well … that’s not the way it really happened! He had to journey for quite some way before his Father saw him. He was quite a ways away, and he still had to travel a long way. Rectifying our life is like that. It takes a long time, and a lot of effort, but the Church tells us clearly what the effect of it will be, what the outcome will be. Keep this in your mind. It’s very important to remember these kinds of readings in the Scriptures because when you start to think of your sins, they will overwhelm you if you don’t realize the love of God. And next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, and all the Sundays of Great Lent and all of the services of Great Lent, are full of recounting and remembering our sins and our unrighteousness and our wickedness.

It’s good to know those things; and remember them, because it keeps us from pride. But if you only learn those things, and you don’t know of God’s mercy, then you will fall away. Vast amounts of people that call themselves Christian have fallen away already, because they cannot understand the greatness of God in parallel with their wickedness. They either cast one away, or the other. They dumb down God, or they have exalted pride in themselves — one or the other. And you can see that many modern day heresies are because of these two things.

So, arise! Today, decide to arise. And when you fall down tomorrow, get up out of the dust and continue to walk. And if you cannot walk, then crawl, but keep going towards God. And if you have fixed in your mind what God has promised, then God will help you. And you will have the strength. No matter how weak you feel, you will have the strength to be saved. Amen.

Luke 15:11-32

And he said, A certain man had two sons: {12}And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. {13} And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. {14}And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. {15} And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. {16} And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. {17} And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! {18} I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, {19} And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. {20} And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. {21} And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. {22} But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: {23} And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: {24} For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. {25} Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. {26} And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. {27} And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. {28} And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. {29} And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: {30} But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. {31} And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. {32} It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

15 / 02 / 2014

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meditation: The Publican and the Pharisee

The Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee

by Archpriest Victor Potapov



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 ivine 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 self-satisfaction. 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 well-read; 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 self-satisfaction 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. Self-satisfaction, not limited by anything, had seized him to such an extent, that he completely forgot that all his so-called 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 self-satisfied 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. Self-satisfaction 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 Antony 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 Great-Lenten 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).

04 / 02 / 2017
Source:  http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/100727.htm