22 - Publican and Pharisee, Feb 5, 2012

II Timothy 3:10-15

Luke 18:10-14

Why is the publican, and not the Pharisee, justified before God by his prayer? Because he prays in humility, from a broken and contrite heart that God does not despise. Indeed, the prayer of the publican shows that he was praying from his heart. The prayer of the Pharisee shows that he was nowhere near his heart.

The prayers of the Church are all like the publican’s prayer. The Church is our Mother. Her goal for us, her children, is our salvation, to heal us in our mind, our soul and our body; and so, she teaches us to pray like the publican: “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” She teaches us to accept God’s judgment against us:  “O Lord, laying aside all excuse, we sinners offer to Thee as to our Master this supplication: have mercy on us.” For, God does not judge us to condemn but to save us. He judges us to show us our sin, our sickness, so that if we will but confess it and pray as did the publican, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” He can treat us and heal us as the Great Physician.

In humility, in the confession of our sins, we unite ourselves to Christ. When we unite ourselves to Christ, we unite ourselves to His death that He suffered on behalf of all and for all, and united to His death, we are united to His Holy Resurrection, and we are granted by His grace to become partakers of the divine nature. Then, we pray to God in thanksgiving, in the “eucharistia” of the Church. But even in thanksgiving, we do not pray in the conceit of the Pharisee but in the humility of the publican: “I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast not rejected me a sinner, but Thou hast made me who am unworthy, worthy to become a communicant of Thy life-creating mysteries.”

On Christmas, Christ, the Light of Heaven who is the Light of the world, was born of a Virgin in a cave in ways past nature, and the prophetic word of Immanuel, God with us! was fulfilled. On the feast of Theophany, the second feast of light, the heavens were opened at the baptism of Christ, and the path leading upward to God was revealed in the depths of the Jordan. On the feast of the Meeting of the Lord, the Theotokos, whom St Gregory Palamas identifies in one of his sermons as the tongs of Isaiah’s vision, who gave to Isaiah the burning coal from the altar, gives that burning coal, Christ her Son and our God, to the righteous Elder Simeon. He takes the Light of that burning coal into his arms and holds him to his heart and gives thanks to God: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel.”

The Light of Heaven, Christ God, is with us! The heavens have been opened. Our Joshua, Jesus Christ, will lead us there. His Holy Mother, the Theotokos, gives the Light to us in Holy Eucharist, as she gave the Light to the righteous Simeon in the temple. And, we, taking up the light of Christ as our Cross, make ready to follow Him to His Cross, the death of our ego and our spiritual pride, and the resurrection of our soul made alive in the Holy Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

With this Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee, we open the Lenten Triodion. With these pre-Lenten Gospels, the Church helps us to lay aside our pride and to clothe ourselves in the humility of the Publican and the Prodigal Son (next Sunday), that the eyes of our soul may open to see the path of salvation that descends into the Jordan and ascends to God in union with Christ Immanuel, God With Us! Through sincere, humble confession of our sins, in the mind of the publican and the prodigal, God leads us through the fast of Great Lent as on the path to Golgotha, and as we crucify our ego to His Cross, He raises us up in the victory of His Cross to the heavens that have been opened, that we may partake of the Tree of Life in the joy of His Holy Pascha. Amen.