Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

“O Giver of life, open to me the doors of repentance” – is the first liturgical song which reminds us of the approach of Great Lent.
Christ told the parable of the publican and the Pharisee to “some who were convinced that they were righteous and despised others” (Lk. 18:9).
This parable does not only speak of humility, that is to say, of the first commandment of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt. 5: 3). This is also about prayer – exterior and interior. It is written: “The Pharisee, standing, prayed thus within himself: “My God, I thank you that I am not like the others… The tax collector, standing at a distance, did not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, but he beat his chest, saying: “My God, have pity on the sinner that I am! » (Lk. 18:11, 13).
Unfortunately, our outward prayer (what we say) does not always match our inner prayer. We can praise God with our lips (this was, most likely, the case of the Pharisee, who, as we would say in our time, looked over the number of daily prayers), while inside we have the Our minds are scattered and we “wander” from topic to topic, from memories of everyday affairs to rumours – to everything we would never speak out loud about.
Saint Andrew of Crete says in his Great Canon: “Repent, O my soul, the door of the Kingdom is already open, and the first to pass through it are the Pharisees, the publicans and the repentant adulterers” (Mt. 21: 31 ) .
The prayer of “our” Pharisee (unlike that of the publican) seems far from repentance. What is reproached to the Pharisee is not his scrupulous attitude towards the external side of the Law, but his rooting in the passion of pride. The Church teaches that pride is a beginning of all sins, alluding to Denitsa’s detachment from the angelic host. Satan was so proud of his primacy that he wanted to take God’s place. All other faults come from pride, and if we look more closely, every sin, in one way or another, has its origin in pride.
Pride is also expressed in condemnation, that is to say, in the conviction that I will never do the same thing as the others: “I thank you that I am not like the rest of the people. men, rapacious, unjust, adulterers, or even like this publican” (Luke 18:11). Being sure of his spiritual perfection, the Pharisee violates more than one commandment: he does not love God, because he condemns his neighbour (Jn. 4:20); he takes the name of the Lord in vain, that is, he prays with his lips only, but his heart is far from the Creator (Mt. 15:8). The Pharisee creates an idol and worships it – admiring his own virtues; he bears false witness against his neighbour, because, not seeing the sincere and repentant heart of his neighbour, he condemns him only for the fact that he is a tax collector.
Last week we saw the Pharisees – people who accused Christ for staying in the house of the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus (Lk. 19:7). Puritanism, non-communication with sinners: how relevant all of this is in the Orthodox environment! In doing the same, we forget that Christ did not come for the healthy, but for the sick (Mk. 2:14-17), that is, not for those who consider themselves in good health. health (the example of “our” Pharisee), but for everyone, because each of us, on one side or the other, is sick.
Christ calls Zacchaeus to repentance who, because of his small size, was not visible among the great Pharisees (of course, this does not mean physical size!) – just like our tax collector who, “standing at distance,” was not visible (Lk. 18:13).
Many people think that Christ condemns the Pharisee. The Gospel says otherwise: “I tell you, this one went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (Luke 18:14). In other words, the Pharisee was equally justified, but less so than the publican. What does that mean ? The Pharisee, who fulfilled all the requirements of the Law and therefore appeared impeccably pure, was justified outwardly – according to the Law. However, the apostle Paul speaks of this “justification”: “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
To summarize his words, Christ teaches: “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14). In other places in the Gospel, humiliation (Η Ταπείνωση) is also translated as humility. This Greek word implies a person’s ability and desire to look at their life clearly, that is, not with their eyes but with the eyes of God. The erroneous interpretation of this word consists of self-reproach, self flogging, imagining oneself worse than the person really is.
Also in these words Christ speaks of prayer which “must be humble, that is, accompanied by consideration of one’s complete spiritual poverty and hope only in the mercy of God, and not in one’s own merits.”

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