1 Timothy 4.9 – 15

Luke 19.1 – 10

We have come to the Sunday of Zaccheus. Zaccheus is always the Sunday before the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. On that Sunday, we open the Lenten Triodion. We remain in the Lenten Triodion all the way to Pascha. Great Lent itself begins on the fourth Sunday of the opening of the Lenten Triodion. This year, Great Lent, the Great Fast begins on Sunday, Feb 26, after the Vespers of Mutual Forgiveness, which will follow Coffee Hour after the Divine Liturgy.

With Zaccheus Sunday, the attentive soul feels a change in the air. She senses an unseen door opening within her. A fragrance fills her ‘house,’ like the first scent of Spring that kisses the nose in late February when snow still covers the ground. It comes through that hidden door as a gentle breeze and caresses her cheeks. It is an indescribably sweet fragrance; it’s the fragrance of Great and Holy Week, it comes from the LORD’s Most Holy Pascha. It comes from His Bridal Chamber, His Tomb. It catches her breath, and she is seized by a longing to hide herself away that she may weep … with the harlot, and with St Peter.

In our outer man, we are still enjoying our usual foods, still observing our usual routines in the world; but the hidden man of the attentive heart is already turned to the East. The eyes of the soul are ‘looking up,’ fastened intently on the horizon. They were blind before, remember? But the Savior came to us last Sunday as He came to Jericho on His way up to Jerusalem. He touched our eyes, and we were able to look up to see the heavens now opened, the destination of the ascending Path that is the LORD Jesus Himself. That sweet fragrance coming from the LORD’s Bridal Chamber is calling us to follow the Bridegroom to His Holy Mountain opposite Jerusalem [cf. Eze 40] – it's the Mountain of Golgotha – into the Mystery of His Tomb, and out onto the Path that ascends into those opened heavens; for, in truth, they are our true home.

This fragrance of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, kissing our souls already as we are still far off, sets the strings of the heart to vibrating. She doesn’t have to be told. She can feel that the hour is at hand. For those opened ‘heavens are telling the glory of God; the firmament is proclaiming his handiwork.’ His handiwork is the world He began to create in the Beginning, and which He is now setting out to finish, to create anew. It is not only the visible world that He is creating anew; it is also the invisible world of the human heart, it is you He is preparing to create anew, body and soul. The soul caught in this vision of Great Lent begins to hear the inner meaning of the Bible’s hymnal, the Psalms, that before she couldn’t: ‘The days are sending forth a hymn, and the nights are revealing gnosis [knowledge of the unseen]. Their song goes out through all the earth, their hymn to the far ends of the world. For the Heavenly Bridegroom has left His Heavenly Chamber. He has come forth into the world like a strong man running His course with joy. His rising is from the one end of the heavens,’ from the womb of the Virgin, from the River Jordan. ‘His circuit is all the way to the other end,’ all the way to the outlet of the sea [Eze 47.8] – this is the Mystery of His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb where He has finished the Handiwork of His creation He began in the Beginning [Gen 2.3 LXX]. ‘And there is no one,’ the Psalm says, ‘who is hidden from His warmth!’ [Ps 19.1-6]

Last Sunday, the LORD opened eyes that were blind, and they were able to ‘look up’. This Sunday, our eyes look down from a sycamore tree, and we see the Savior standing before us below. He is standing at the door of our heart and knocking (Rev 3.20). Last Sunday, we heard His voice: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. This Sunday, He hears the voice of Zaccheus’ heart. From all the trouble Zaccheus went to that he may see Jesus, it’s obvious what his heart was crying out: ‘LORD, the door of my heart is open, hoping against hope you will enter!’ Call on the LORD while He is near, says Isaiah. Seek Him while He may be found! (Isa 55.6). Our Gospel this morning is telling us that the LORD is near. He is answering the secret cry of the heart, and the attentive soul will hear Him commanding us: ‘You! Hurry up and come down, for today I must stay at your house!’ For, dear ones, as the Psalm sings out: ‘No one is hidden from His warmth.

In the Church, we see the meaning of this exchange between the LORD and Zaccheus: ‘You! Start praying in the way of the Church, in the way of the Body of Christ! Descend with your mind into your heart and into the LORD’s presence that He may come and abide in your house together with His Father and the Holy Spirit!’ [1 John 2.24]

In our Gospel reading for Tuesday last, the LORD entered His House, the Temple in Jerusalem, and He cleansed it (Mk 11.15). Yesterday, He says to His disciples: ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.’ [Luk 17.6] These are the passions that have taken root in our soul – carnal lust, love of money, love for the sweetness of anger, self-righteous presumption, self-justification; these are the riches that have polluted our soul.

The Psalmist says, ‘The fear of the LORD is clean and endures forever.’ If, then, we receive the LORD into our house and begin to pray in the fear of God with faith and love, the LORD will open our eyes, and we will see the mulberry tree, and the riches of the world that fill our house, and the hymn of Great and Holy Week will begin to take root in our soul: ‘Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O My Savior; and I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me!’ When this prayer becomes the fiber of the hidden man of our heart, we will have truly entered the sacred path of Great Lent!

And the Church assures us in the prayer she gives us to sing at the conclusion of Forgiveness Vespers, as we set out on the path of Great Lent to the LORD’s Bridal Chamber: Let us purify our senses, and we shall see Christ invisibly smashing the iron bars and brass gates of hell that hold us prisoners that we may follow Him into the opened Heavens and into His Heavenly Kingdom [cf. Eze 37.12-14]. If we receive the LORD into our house and begin to pray in the way of the Church, we will be cleansed, the mulberry tree will be rooted out, and we will be made pure and fragrant in the Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

Dear ones, if our soul already, this morning, four weeks before the Great Fast, eleven weeks before Pascha, is granted to receive the LORD into her house as Zaccheus received him into his house, so that we can begin today to live in the hope of becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ how on earth would I feel any attraction to any kind of Mardi Gras! The path of Mardi Gras descends to the west away from Christ. My soul longs for the East, to ascend with Christ into the opened heavens! My preparation for stepping onto the Path of Great Lent, then, is ‘feasting’ my mind and soul on prayer, on the vision of the Church revealed to me in Her Holy Scriptures and Her liturgical worship. For Great Lent is the healing of my soul. It is the Church guiding me into the tomb, the house, of my soul, where I may become one with the Bridegroom in the Bridal Chamber of His Tomb and follow Him in His Resurrection into Galilee and up to the top of the Mountain of His Ascension and into the Kingdom of Heaven!

The Sunday of Zaccheus is not a warning that the good times are about to end, so eat, drink and be merry while you can, for tomorrow you start the misery of the Fast! Rather, it is saying: start packing! You are about to go on a ‘mystical adventure’ with the LORD Jesus, the Heavenly Bridegroom! Begin preparing now, today, this hour, for this ‘inner Exodus’ of the Gospel that is about to start! Your eyes have been opened. You are able to look up and see the Savior. You can see Him in the icon drawn in your mind by all the words of the Church’s prayers, the fragrance of Her incense, the beauty of Her singing. Begin to prepare for the Great Fast, this Mystical Adventure, through prayer that is even more attentive, more watchful, through observance of the LORD’s commandments and precepts that is even more vigilant. Begin now to lay aside every excuse and, in the light of Christ shining in you from His presence in your house, begin to look into your soul honestly in the fear of God, with faith and love, to see all the earthly passions that are separating you from God; and prepare to come into the LORD’s presence, and of His Holy Mother in the sacrament of confession. This is what opens the door of our hearts onto the Path of Great Lent that will lead us to the bowels of the earth, into the very root of our being, and then up into the opened heavens in the joy of Christ’s Most Holy Pascha. Amen!