His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros
Homily at the Divine Liturgy
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee – the Beginning of Triodion
February 9, 2020
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
St. Augustine, Florida
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit to initiate our journey to Pascha, as we celebrate the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, the beginning of Triodion.
These next few Sundays each have a special commemoration that highlights something special for us to consider, as we make our way to Holy Week and the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, we hear the parable of humility, and how the lowest of the low is raised on high, as the Lord once said:
Πᾶς ὁ ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται, ὁ δὲ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸν ὑψωθήσεται.
Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.[*]
What, ultimately, is the difference between the Pharisee and the Publican, which is a lovely and older word for a tax collector?
The Pharisee compares himself to others, and every time he notes their sins. He looks on the Publican disdain, noting only his less than reputable profession, but nothing of his humanity. Here is the sin of the one who, as he said, gave one tenth of his income to the Temple, and fasted twice a week.[†] Most parish priest would be very happy to have parishioners who would give so generously and observe the fasts so rigorously.
But God see the the intentions and hears the whispers of the human heart. He knows what and how we really feel, and He loves us nevertheless! But if we are going to truly grow in “life, faith, and spiritual understanding,’ as we prayed in this Sacred Liturgy,[‡] then we must be honest in the presence of God and before our own conscience. This is the difference of the Publican.
In the Publican there is no pretense, no vainglory, no assumption about the state of his life. It is not that he has low self-esteem, or a negative view of himself. He is honest. He has a realistic assessment of his own conscience But above all else, he is humble.
He stands afar off, because he does not presume. He looks down, because he judges no one but himself. And he asks for mercy, for the undeserved love of God to transform his heart. This is why he leaves the Temple justified, purified, and sanctified.
It is a common practice that we often think more about how we look on the outside before we go to Church, than how we appear to the Lord on the inside when we leave. This is the secret of the Publican, a secret our Lord shares with us freely in this short but profoundly wise parable.
It is said that the most beautiful Angel of the Lord fell from Heaven and from grace to become the Devil we know as Lucifer by one and only one failing: pride.[§]
But it has also been said that by only just one virtue, humility, we may ascend into Heaven itself.[**]
The Publican points the way to Heaven today for all of us. Let us follow his example, judging ourselves with honesty and not judging each other with cheap comparisons.
There is nothing more precious, more valuable, more vital than the love of God. And the way to know it is to follow the One Who humbled himself, as the Apostle Paul recommends:
“Truly, let this mindset be in you, which was in Christ
Jesus, who, existing in the form of God,
did not regard being equal to God as something to be
grasped, rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave
born in the likeness of humankind.
Being found in human configuration,
he humbled himself,
became obedient unto death,
even death by the cross.
Therefore, God has exalted him
and granted him a name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow – of those in heaven,
on the earth and under the earth,
and every tongue shall confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”[††]