The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Lent is coming! In preparation for it, the Orthodox Church gradually enters into the season (we don’t dive directly into the deep end!). We prepare with three Sundays whose themes ready our hearts and minds for Lent. The Church’s first pre-Lenten Sunday examines Jesus’ parable about the Publican (or tax collector) and the Pharisee. The gospel text comes from St. Luke 18: 9 – 14:

Now he spoke this parable towards those who consider themselves to be righteous and despise others. “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or like this tax collector. I fast two times a week, and I tithe from all that I acquire.’ But the tax collector stood afar. He did not wish to lift his eyes up to heaven, but he beat his chest saying, ‘Have mercy on me a sinner!’ I say to you, this man went down to his home having been justified rather than the other one, because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted!”

With this teaching from our Lord, we learn again that we are to enter into Lent (and every day!) with an attitude of humility. We are to see ourselves as sinners; we are to be seeking God’s mercy on our lives first and foremost. It is from this pericope from St. Luke’s gospel that we derive the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” This is to be the prayer of our heart, mind, and soul as we move through each and every day. Not only this, but we are to pray this prayer for all we see and encounter each and every day. In fact, we are to see ourselves as “the first among sinners” as did St. Paul.

Such honesty and humility sets our minds to receive God’s mercy into our being. Also, with such a prayer and attitude, we enable ourselves to pray for God’s mercy and blessing to be extended to family, friends, and strangers alike: we’re all desperately in need of God’s mercy to be with us and upon us. Thus, we can walk through Lent (and every day!) with true thanksgiving and in solidarity with all humanity, and all creation.

There is another prayer that accompanies the Orthodox Christian through the days of Lent (and every day!). It is the wonderful Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:

O Lord and Master of my life, give me not the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But, rather give to me the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love. Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for you are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Let us all move through the upcoming days of Great Lent (and all days!) with thanksgiving, humility, patience, and joy as we seek God’s mercy for ourselves, and extend his mercy to all and all things we are blessed to encounter, living out Christ’s parable and these two prayers.

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus


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