Beloved faithful, Kalo Triodio – best wishes to you all as we get our boarding passes and make preparation for Great Lent!
The Church shows us in many places the blessed act of preparation. In many of the hymns we hear: “Make thou ready”. And so the Holy Spirit has guided the Holy Fathers to institute the three precursory Sundays to Great Lent as a time of preparation.
In the first selection from the Triodion, we hear a Gospel lesson that has become so familiar to us, the lesson concerning the prayers of the Publican and the Pharisee. Our Saviour spoke quite clearly of this event as if it really happened, as if He beheld it in person. Indeed, our Saviour was present and further, He heard the utterances from deep within the hearts of these two men for it was to our Saviour – Christ our God- that these men prayed!
Though this event occurred once in time, it has played-out countless times throughout the centuries and continues to occur today, in our own lives. How many times have we played the role of the Pharisee? And how many times have we prayed from the depths of our soul, as did the Publican, when he spoke those most profound and repentant words, “God be gracious to me the sinner”.
Great and plentiful are the teachings in this Gospel! First we must consider why this Gospel is placed here, why would the Fathers ask us to consider these words at this time? The Gospel teaches us the right attitude for prayer and further shows us a wonderful example of repentance and humility. Repentance is a return, a turning away from a path of lawlessness and lasciviousness to the path of righteousness. We will see the great example of this in a few short days in the Gospel of the Prodigal Son.
Beloved, if we are honest with ourselves, we will clearly see that we are at time the Pharisee and that at times we are also the prodigal. Great Lent is the training ground to bring us back on track. These lessons remind us of the power of heartfelt and humble prayer. Consider for a moment the prayer of the Pharisee. He was likely speaking the truth of the zealousness of his religious practice of prayer, tithing, fasting, etc. But his prayer was sullied by his vaunting and foolish boasts, mocking and condemning those around him, including the Publican. How often have we done this? Yes we have the TRUE FAITH but have we acted as TRUE CHRISTIANS?
A word about the Publican and what this means to us today. By now, we are aware of the social standing of the Publican. We know from the story of Zaccheus that they were despised among the people. One could even say their title became a curse. Consider who are the Publicans that surround us today. They are likely the homeless, the less fortunate, those struggling with passions, sins, and addictions. What hope they have is the knowledge of their plight. Hope in God is the only thing that they have, it is their only glimpse of light. Have we tried to extinguish that light? Have we condemned them by placing ourselves into the role of the Pharisee? Do we say in our hearts, “I have the true faith, woe be to all others?” Do we condemn others? Have we exalted ourselves from our so-called pietism? Or, have we followed the praxis in prayer of the Publican, unable to lift our eyes to heaven or to even see those around us, crying from our heart “God, be gracious to me the wretch, more lowly than all those around me”; and yes, confessing that we are sinners.
Why doesn’t the Gospel reveal the after-story for the Publican? In a manner it has, look to the Gospel of Zaccheus. I am not stating that the two men are one in the same but I am reminding you that Zaccheus experienced a great event when he recognized his sin and repented – changing his very way of thinking. Truly he left justified after beholding our Lord face-to-face, confessing his sin and repenting! So great was his repentance that he restored any unlawful gain through a four-fold repayment! It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Publican in today’s Gospel followed the same path Zaccheus, for he likely knew of his awakening.
Christians, seize the day, grasp the opportunity and start now, at this very minute, and return to your Fathers house, walking on the path of repentance!