‘…GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME SINNER!…’ (St. Luke 18:10-14) – The beginning of the Triodion

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.

As we embark on our pre-Lenten Season, known as the Triodion, on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, our attention turns to self-abasement, to the Day of Judgment, to our sinful nature and acts, to pride, and to repentance. At Orthros (Matins) we hear the hymns of the Triodion proclaim: "Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life." "Guide me in the paths of salvation, O Theotokos." And, "When I ponder in my wretchedness on the many terrible things that I have done, I tremble for the fearful day; the Day of Judgment. But trusting in the mercy of Your compassion, like David, I cry to You, ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy" (Idiomelon, Mode pl. 2).

We are asked to ponder why humility leads up to the heights of righteousness, while self-conceit and arrogance lead down to the depths of sin? Because anybody who thinks he is something great or special, even before God, is certainly abandoned by God. In the Gospel of Saint Luke 14:11, our Lord Himself warns us that "Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Another clear message comes from the Book of Proverbs 3:34, which states, "The Lord resisteth the proud: but be He giveth grace unto the lowly (humble)".

Our Lord and God Jesus Christ Himself is giving this parable of the publican and Pharisee, wanting to teach us the "gain (benefit) that comes from HUMILITY and the loss (damage) from PRIDE". His listeners, the Pharisees, who were self-righteous and thought themselves above and better than everyone else. The Lord says, "Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus WITH HIMSELF, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I FAST TWICE A WEEK, I GIVEN TITHES OF ALL THAT I GET.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, WOULD NOT EVEN LIFT UP HIS EYES TO HEAVEN, BUT BEAT 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 EVERYONE WHO EXALTS HIMSELF WILL BE HUMBLED, BUT HE WHO HUMBLES HIMSELF WILL BE EXALTED."

If the Pharisee is condemned by his attitude and words, it is because, as a Pharisee, he thinks of himself as someone important and righteous. Instead, he reveals that he is self-centered and enamored. It is this attitude that provokes God’s condemnation. The Greek word, KENODOXIA describes his attitude perfectly. ‘Kenodoxia’ is translated as VAINGLORY OR EMPTY GLORY, in other words, worthless and devoid of any substance or value.

Our Holy Church purposely and wisely brings this specific Parable of our Lord, ‘The Publican and Pharisee,’ to our attention as we commence this solemn season of the Triodion, which will prepare us spiritually for the Holy and Great Lent which is to follow. We must not lose sight that the theme is REPENTANCE. The act of repentance, or Gk. "metanoia," is the door through which we enter the holy season of Lent; the starting-point of our long journey to the All-Holy Pascha. The holy Desert Fathers of the Church point out clearly the essence of the meaning of the day: "Better a man who has sinned, if he knows that he has sinned and repents, than a man who has not sinned and thinks of himself as righteous."

Saint Gregory Palamas, one of the great holy Fathers of the Church, in his homily says that "the two were different not only in their manner and way of praying, but also in their type of prayer, for there are two kinds. Prayer is not simply a matter of entreaty, but also of thanksgiving. Of those who pray, one goes up to the Temple of God praising and thanking God for what he has received from Him. Another asks for what he has not yet received, including, in the case of those of us who sin all the time, remission of sins… The Pharisee’s behavior and words prove he was afflicted with these diseases. He went up to the Temple to give thanks, NOT TO MAKE SUPPLICATION and, like a wretched fool, mingled conceit and condemnation of others with his thanksgiving. For he stood and prayed thus with himself: "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers" (St. Luke 18:11)."

The difference between the two men is stark. The arrogant Pharisee reveals shameless self-exaltation and the other man, the Publican, such humility that he wouldn’r dare to lift up his eyes to heaven. "The publican, standing far off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven" (St. Luke 18:11). He stood before God, not with arrogance, but bowed down as an unworthy servant (‘δούλος = lit. slave). He saw himself as totally unworthy either of heaven or of the earthly Temple. He is beating his breast out of self-condemnation and to show that he is deserving of punishment.

The Saints of our Holy Church constantly condemned themselves and considered themselves as ‘the sinner of sinners.’ They never declared themselves as either saints or superior spiritually to anyone else. They constantly shed abundant tears of repentance and grief. We too must join them and see ourselves not as righteous, but as the worst sinners on earth. Truly repent of your sins and with a contrite and sincere heart seek forgiveness from our Creator and Savior. We deserve nothing at all, not even the crumbs that fall from our Master’s table. It is only out of God’s love and mercy that there is hope for salvation. You and I must see ourselves as rescued publicans.

When we come to our senses, we must add to our penitential prayers words and the renunciation of evil. One of the most meaningful and inspiring Psalms, Psalm 50[51] we use in our Holy Orthodox Church, it is the psalm of repentance that reflects this spirit says: "…Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight… (vv.1-4). However, we must be very careful to avoid falling into TYPOLATREIA meaning an empty or superficial form of worship.

Again the Greek metanoia (repentance) and epistrophy (return) are the two Greek words used to express the TOTAL INTERIOR CONVERSION AND RADICAL TURNING AROUND that was demanded by Jesus’ call to repentance. For our Lord Christ, the disposition of genuine repentance was only possible when one took on the attitude of a child (St. Matthew 18:3) and turned away from the dispositions of SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PRESUMPTION (St. Luke 18:10-14). The repentance that our Merciful God and Savior Jesus Christ preached was good news to be received with joy.

After His Resurrection, Jesus sent His disciples TO PREACH REPENTANCE and to baptize ALL NATIONS for the remission of sins. The early Church developed for its membeers penitential paractices to meditate publically the call to repentance. In the first three centuries the procedure for penance comprised a confession of sin to the bishop or priest, a public exomologesis and/or a reconciliation or absolution, usually public. So, you see the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Repentance/Confession is not a recent practice as some regretfully believe that our Monasteries have invented and introduced for the first time here in the U.S. Some even, unfortunately, believe that the Mysterion of Reptentance/Confession is optional or elective.

All Orthodox Christian believers who are tuly committed to the Faith ought to take time to first understand our Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition and then to implement it in their lives. The purpose of faithfully observing our Holy Tradition is one, SALVATION. Everything that we do leads to the Kingdom of God, to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When we miss ‘the Target’, it is called AMARTIA. Our ONLY TARGET IS JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF. We must always keep Him in our sights!



"Glory Be To GOD
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostom

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry(,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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