Sunday, 12 February 2006

Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee

We would like to weave three themes into our thoughts today: a passage from Elder Porphyrios’ Wounded by Love, which work we cited here, the Gospel of the Sunday of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, and the Gospel of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs, which falls today for those of us who follow the old calendar. The passage from Wounded by Love is this:

Let us Love the Church Greatly

So that we preserve our unity, we will have to be obedient to the Church, to its bishops. Being obedient to the Church, we are obedient to Christ himself. Christ wants us to become one flock with one shepherd.

Let us feel pain for the Church. Let us love it greatly. Let us not accept that others condemn its representatives. On Mt Athos the spirit which I learned was Orthodox, deep, holy, silent, without disputes, without quarrels and without expressions of condemnation. Let us not believe those who condemn the clergy. Even if with our own eyes we see something being done by some cleric, let us not believe it, neither let us think about it, neither let us pass it on to others. The same applies to lay members of the Church and to every man. We are all the Church. Those who accuse the Church on account of the errors of its representatives, supposedly with the goal of helping to correct the Church, are making a big mistake. These people do not love the Church. Neither, surely, Christ. We love the Church then, when we embrace with our prayer each of its members and do whatever Christ does. We sacrifice ourselves; we keep vigil; we do our all—just as He did, who, ‘reviled, did not revile in return; suffering, did not threaten’ (1 Pet. 2, 23).

(Our translation from the original Greek version, Bios kai Logoi, p. 206.
Compare pp. 91–2 in Wounded by Love.)

To put Elder Porphyrios’ remarks into context, let us look at the Gospel for today.

The Lord spoke this parable: Two men went up to the Temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a Tax Collector. Turned unto himself, the Pharisee prayed these things: ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men—plunderers, unjust, adulterers—or even like this Tax Collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tithing of everything I acquire.’

And having stood from afar, the Tax Collector did not even want to raise his eyes to Heaven but was striking his breast, saying: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’

I say to you that this one went down to his house having been justified rather than that one. For every one who raises himself up will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be raised up.

(Luke 18, 10–14.)

Do we here not see the error of those who condemn the clergy? Are they not Pharisees? Are they not raising themselves up as holier than clergy? And—most serious of all—in their arrogance are they not ignoring that it is human to sin and divine to forgive? The sinner can change in Orthodoxy; can become a vessel of election. Moreover, are these people not running the risk of enraging God? For it was the Tax Collector who was justified, not the Pharisee who condemned. If the sinful clergyman repents, will he not be justified? Moreover, if those who condemn the clergy even go so far as to be selective in the evidence they produce of the sins of the clergyman, ignoring mitigating circumstances or changes in the clergyman’s subsequent behaviour, are they not running the risk of bringing the wrath of God down upon themselves? For the clergyman belongs to God. God is not mocked.

Of course, the parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee is a key text for an understanding of the Jesus Prayer, of Hesychasm; for an understanding of how it is that we should proceed in Hesychasm. The importance of the parable for Hesychasm is its emphasis on the disposition of the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer: he is to pray the Prayer humbly, really meaning it from the depths of his soul.

The third Gospel text is for the Feast of the Three Hierarchs.

It goes like this:

The Lord said to his disciples: You are the light of the world. It is not possible to hide a city set on a mountain. Men do not light a lamp and set it under a basket, but upon the lamp-stand; and it shines on all those in the house. Let your light thus shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the Heavens. Do not think that I came to dissolve the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to dissolve but to fulfil. Amen, I say to you, amen, until Heaven and earth pass, one iota or one tittle shall not pass from the Law until all things take place. Whoever therefore looses one of these commandments and teaches men thus will be called least in the Kingdom of the Heavens. But whoever does and teaches, this one will be called great in the Kingdom of the Heavens.

(Matthew 5, 14–19.)
All the you’s and your’s in the Gospel passage are in the plural.)

May the three Hierarchs, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom, pray for us.

A good Lent to all.

Orthodox Monk

No comments:

Post a Comment