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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sermon for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

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By Archpriest Anthony Gavalas

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today the Holy Church opens that period in the ecclesiastical year called the Triodion. It is named after that book which includes all of the services from last night at vespers until Holy Saturday, just before the Resurrection of our Savior.

The name itself of Triodion comes from the unusual formation and composition of some of the canons of praise and of instruction that are in this book that have only three odes. It is a period that is set by the Holy Church in preparation for all of us for the Pascha of our Savior. It is the beginning of our path, of our journey towards Pascha.

It is as the Church has given to us the great gift a blessed passage from the ordinary time of the year to a very special time of the year, and that is Great Lent.

It includes these Sundays that come before Great Lent, which the Church has placed for our instruction, which the Church has placed for reminding us of those things which all of us already know, but because of one thing or another, because of our human frailty especially we tend to forget.

I don't know what it is about sacred things, but we tend to forget them much easier than secular things. St. John of Kronstadt has noted that in his instructions to us that somehow or another in order to learn something of worldly worth, once, twice is enough to imprint it into our minds. But things that are of spiritual value must be repeated again and again, and even then we tend to forget.

Therefore the Church has placed these preparatory Sundays of Great Lent to remind us of certain things, and today the Holy Church reminds us of that foundation of all virtue, of that virtue upon which all other virtues are built, that virtue which is the absolute necessity that we must have in order to progress in spiritual matters, and that virtue is humility.

In Greek, humility is called tapeinophrosyni; humble-mindedness, I guess, is the best way to translate it. It's a way of thinking that is humble and meek. It is a way of thinking that influences everything that a person does in his life. A person who is humble-minded brings this virtue to everything that he does, from every thought that he has, through his meditation on a thought, through the action that follows from thought. Humble-mindedness affects all of these things.

This is very different from another characteristic that some people have, which is humble appearance, humble wordedness, speaking about humility, acting humble. This false humility is something that is despicable and abominable before God, because it is the rankest, it is the most horrible of hypocrisies. For it takes this virtue, which is the ground and foundation of all of virtue, humble-mindedness, and turns it into a travesty of itself, turns it into a ridiculous thing. And since humility was the chief characteristic of our Savior Christ, acting humble without humility is blasphemous.

A humble-minded person has understood in his heart that he is a very sinful person, that because of his sins he is far from God's mercy. And knowing that he needs God's mercy, and that he needs the prayer and that he needs the toleration of his fellow man, he acts towards all as a great debtor. Just as if we owe something, some tremendous debt that we have borrowed from some person, we tend to treat that person with great respect; we tend to treat that person with great tolerance. And if he does something that grieves us, we act as if it is nothing, and we stifle within ourselves every thought of retribution, every thought of recrimination, knowing that we are indebted to this person.

And so it is that if we see ourselves in the humility that Christ has taught us, we see ourselves as indebted to every one, most chiefly to God, because without His mercy we, who have no virtue of our own, have no hope of salvation. And since we cannot show our dependence on God, we cannot acknowledge it in any way except to have it deep in our hearts, we show our tolerance and our forgiveness and our love and our meekness to our fellow man. And we never judge him, and we don't allow ourselves to become angry with him, and we maintain before everyone an understanding that we are indebted to him, and ask nothing of him but his prayers.

A person who moves in this way through life, moves noiselessly, moves without creating a boistrous wake in his path. A person who moves humbly in this world moves in such a way that if he can offer help he offers it; if he can give consolation he gives it; if he can give alms he offers them, but always with the understanding that he remains a debtor, he remains obliged to those, even those whom he forgives, and whom he has mercy on, and whom he gives alms to, and whom he benefits. For feeling as he does such obligation and such need for God's mercy, he never sees that anything that he does has any worth before the great gifts that he has received from God.

A person who has this virtue has already begun his upward climb to the heavens. A person who is humble-minded already understands and sees himself climbing with difficulty, with missteps, with mistakes climbing towards the heavenly abodes that have been offered to us by God our Savior.

My beloved brothers and sisters, we have opened the Triodion with the blessings of God, with the grace of the Holy Trinity, and with the blessings of our spiritual fathers, our Bishops. May it be a journey upward, may it be a journey in which we become better Christians, humbler workers of the Word of God, better prepared for the Pascha of our Lord, so that on that day, having not superficially, but with depth, journeyed the path of Great Lent we might be deemed worthy to participate in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Savior, for that is the destiny for which all of us were born.

To our Savior, and to His Father, and to the Holy Spirit, to the Holy Trinity Which has saved us be glory and honor unto the ages of ages. Amen.