Blogit

Blogit

The Humbled shall be exalted, the Exalted humbled…

In current times it is rare to hear the word publican or Pharisee. This Sunday, as we commence the period of Triodion, we hear the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee read at the Divine Liturgy. Triodion is comprised of four Sundays that precede Great Lent. It is called Triodion because the canons in matins have only three odes. Also, there is a liturgical book called Triodion which is used in the Orthodox Church from the vespers of the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee until Holy Saturday. Triodion prepares us for the arduous journey of Great Lent with emphasis on prayer and repentance to acquire humility. 
 
The parable which is found in the Gospel of Luke is a contrast of pride and humility. Two men went to the Temple to pray, a publican and a Pharisee. At the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, roughly 30-33 AD, a publican was a Jewish tax collector who collaborated with the Romans who were Gentiles (pagans). They would collect taxes from the Jews and were known to be dishonest. Publicans were very much despised among the Jewish people. In today’s society, the closest example of a publican would be an auditor or city marshal who levies personal property and assets. With tax season upon us, a publican could be synonymous with an IRS agent. 
 
A Pharisee, on the other hand, was a Jewish priest known for strict observance of the Torah (Jewish Law). He fasted strictly twice a week and gave tithes (10% of yearly earnings) to charity or some other need. Today, an equivalent of a Pharisee would be a clergyman. The Pharisees were certainly regarded in a much more positive and respected manner in society than the publicans. 
 
So, both these men went up to the Temple to pray, however, with different perspectives. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the other men- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector’ (Lk 18: 11). He went to the Temple not to pray to God but to himself. He boasted to God how great he was instead of confessing how great his sins were. He was judging others, even the publican that was in his presence. He was thanking God that he was not like other sinners, particularly the publican. The Publican on the other hand, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Lk 18:13). 
 
Conversely, the Publican was only focused on his own sins and very much beseeching God for His mercy. He would not even attempt to lift his head toward God. My eyes are weighed down by my transgressions, and I cannot lift them up and see the height of heaven. But receive me, now repenting like the Publican, and have mercy on me, Savior (2nd Doxastikon of Great Vespers). 
 
Clearly, we see the antithesis of pride and humility, the former being the worst and root of all sins. This antithesis, however, is not limited to the Publican and Pharisee going up to the Temple. It could be two parishioners entering Church on Sunday for worship or on line for Holy Communion. Perhaps each of us have been Pharisaic at one point or another. 
 
Lucifer, a.k.a. Satan was an angel of God, however, he fell because he committed one great sin: pride. He wanted to be equal to God and coveted God’s glory and power which is why he fell and became a fallen angel. Although the publican was a somewhat devious individual and not a pious Jew, he exhibited a great virtue: humility. His prayer was very similar to the Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. 
 
There is an old saying when differentiating between a saint and a sinner: a saint knows he is a sinner and a sinner thinks he is a saint. Although the Pharisee was considered a pious and knowledgeable individual, he lacked humility and was judgmental towards others. We all struggle with comparing ourselves with peers and passing judgment. When others seem worse off than us, it might give us the false notion that we are better than them. However, we never know what is in the hearts of others and how God will judge. 
 
One of the most popular prayers we recite and hear in the services throughout Great Lent is the Prayer of St Ephraim: O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and idle talk to come into me. Instead, grant me, your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love. Yes, Lord and King, give me the power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother. For you are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen. 
 
In one of the prayers read before receiving Holy Communion, we say: O Lord, who loves mankind, as You did receive the sinful woman, the thief, the publican and the prodigal son... Although the Publican was not an historic person but part of a parable, we are still reminded to be like the Publican in our humility and to pray to God for His mercy. 
 
On Zacchaeus Sunday which precedes Triodion, we hear of another publican. Zacchaeus was a tax collector or publican who heard that Jesus was coming to his town. Since he was small in stature, he climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus in the midst of a large crowd. His effort was noticed by Jesus who told him to come down and that He would be his guest at his house. Zacchaeus confessed his sins to Jesus and vowed to give half his possessions to the poor and whatever he may have cheated others, he would restore fourfold. Zacchaeus is a prime example of a publican who was humble and repentful, just like the one from the Parable.
 
There are no better tears than that of repentance, for they cleanse us of our iniquities. Lord and Ruler over all, I know how effective tears can be. They raised Hezekiah from the gates of death. They delivered the sinful woman from her chronic sins. They justified the Publican over the Pharisee. I pray You, count me with them and have mercy on me (1st Doxastikon of Great Vespers).  King Hezekiah was told by the Prophet Isaiah to prepare for the next life, since he was to soon die. Yet, Hezekiah’s prayer was so great that God prolonged his life for another fifteen years. The sinful woman cleansed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair. Tears do not refer merely to the physical discharge of fluid from the eyes but to the emotional sorrow of repentance. 
 
When we pray to God, let us be sincere and humble and reflect from the depths of our heart. Let not our prayer be Pharisaic but rather Publican, seeking mercy and forgiveness from the Lord and not offering a litany of our accomplishments. The very first hymn that we hear chanted at Great Vespers from the book of the Triodion is: Brethren, let us not offer prayer as did the Pharisee, for he who exalts himself will be brought to humility. Let us humble ourselves in the presence of God, as did the Publican, and through fasting cry to Him, ‘God, be merciful to us sinners.’
 
A blessed and peaceful Triodion to all!
 
-John Athanasatos 
 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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