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The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the beginning of the Triodion period, which leads us to Great Lent and Pascha.
The name for this Sunday is taken from the parable of our Lord found in Luke 18:10-14.
10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
-King James Version (KJV)
This is the story of two men in two very different spiritual states. The Pharisee, a member of a Jewish sect known for its diligent observance of the Law, at least superficially, represents the arrogant and prideful man. The Publican, on the other hand, a government official charged with the responsibility of collecting taxes, faces the reality about his way of life.
They both enter the Temple, but with two very different dispositions. The Pharisee comes and openly boasts about his good deeds, thanking the Lord for not being like other men and especially like the Publican, that tax collector. Being good as he thinks and says he is, he has no reason or need to repent. In contrast to the pride of the Pharisee, the Publican places himself in a corner away from the people, where he can truly pray and repent for his sins ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’(v. 13)
The Lord then concludes telling us that “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14). Thus, it is the Publican who was forgiven and justified rather than the Pharisee, who had no desire to change his outlook and does not allow God to act within him.
Through this parable, Christ teaches us true repentance. To repent is to truly acknowledge that we are sinners; we can only find salvation in the mercy of God. Repentance is the path to selflessness.
The Publican acknowledges that he is a sinner, and he knows that salvation is only found in the mercy of God. Here we see an example of true humility, an essential aspect of repentance. A “change of mind” and the transformation of our lives can only happen when we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our willingness to turn from sin, and receive His grace into our lives. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia which means “change of mind.” To repent is to be renewed, to be transformed in our inward viewpoint, to attain a fresh way of looking at our relationship with God and with others.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, does not acknowledge that he is a sinner; he is pleased only with himself. He is prideful and arrogant. Having falsified the true meaning of true religion and faith, he measures his piety by the amount of money he gives and the days he fasts during the week.
Let us prepare ourselves with prayer and humility in order to find true repentance. By truly repenting we allow God to enter our lives and transform us, thus we will enter Great Lent and attain a deeper communion with God. Amen.