“But the tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’”
– Luke 10:13
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
So often in our lives, it feels as though we can only progress in our station in life if we promote ourselves, show off, and try to get others to notice us. Perhaps we wonder if we will get recognition at work if we keep quiet. We might wonder if our spouse will notice extra work around the house. We wonder if our children notice the painstaking efforts we take to offer them the best life we can give. Truly, recognition is something which permeates our thoughts in everyday life, especially since it is so closely connected to the very important, very similar quality of affirmation.
And yet the Evangelist Luke relates to us this parable of Christ Jesus, which turns this attitude completely on its head. Both the Publican and Pharisee “went up to the temple to pray,” and thus speak with the Lord about their life. One wanted to be noticed by listing all his virtues, the other was ashamed to be noticed, thinking he had nothing worthy of being noticed. The paradox of this story, of course, is one which is part and parcel with our faith: it is through not seeking glory in which it is found. Acknowledging that we have done “nothing good on this earth” (Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom), and screaming “Lord have mercy!” in our prayer life is what the Lord notices, and not the singing of our own praises.
This beautiful lesson is encapsulated in the incredible verse above from the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is read three weeks before the beginning of Lent. It reminds us that, although many aspects of the Pharisee’s personality- fasting, almsgiving, praying- are worthy of emulation, what completes these virtues is the greatest of them: humility. Without it, the other virtues are “a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1)
It is for this reason that the Church gives us the beautiful season of Great Lent. Each year it is presumed that by the time we reach Great Lent, we are in need of repentance. We have an opportunity, each year, to emulate the Publican for forty days! The season begins with the penitential service of Forgiveness Vespers, and each service begins with a penitential prayer. This is because it is presumed that we are always in need of healing or, in other words, in need of a Savior. It is through humility and not self-aggrandizement, an acknowledgment that we are not where we need to be, in which the Physician of our souls can do His work.
May His blessing and healing be with us as we strive to increase spiritually by His Grace.
Blessed Lent! Καλη Τεσσαρακοστη!
With love in Christ,
Father Niko Bekris