Holy Ascension of Christ
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Sermon from Fr. Nicholas
Sermon for February 5th, 2023
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee
Holy New Martyrs of Russia
Gospel: Luke 18:10-14 (§89); Luke 21:12-19 (§106)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today the Church begins to prepare us for the most spiritually-focused time of the year: the season of Great Lent. We hear in today’s Gospel reading a parable about two men who have gone to the Temple to pray, one a publican and the other a Pharisee. This Gospel many of us know quite well. We hear it every year to the point where we may almost have it memorized. However, as St. John of Kronstadt would warn his spiritual children, memorization of the Gospels has its own hazard, for by this we may begin to think that we know and have a good understanding of them.
We hear our Lord tell us in the parable, “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. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
Can we, my brothers and sisters in Christ, now take a close look at who the Pharisee is? Are his words evil? Is his heart evil? Is he actively engaged in a battle against God?
Here is the dilemma: as St. Ephraim the Syrian points out, the words of the Pharisee are actually true. There is nothing that he says that we can take issue with as far as accuracy. However, as the Lord shows us, these same words betray an evil which lurks behind them.
The frightening thing is that we cannot say that the Pharisee is warring against God. In fact, it would seem that he believes the opposite to be true: he is endeavoring to serve God. Yet, what dwells in his heart proves to be such evil.
St. John Cassian writes, “And so the miserable soul is affected by such vanity— as if it were deluded by a profound slumber— that it is often led away by the pleasure of such thoughts, and filled with such imaginations, so that it cannot even look at things present, or the brethren, while it enjoys dwelling upon these things, of which with its wandering thoughts it has waking dreams, as if they were true.”
Of course, brothers and sisters, we just determined that the words of the Pharisee were, in fact, true. However, it was the thing he did not say, which was a lie. He did not say, “by this I am close to God” or “as anyone can see, I am among the righteous” but he didn’t need to. This was his assumption since he thinks that everything about him points to it but, of course, he is dead wrong.
So, we see that though Pharisee is not engaged in open warfare with God, he is in reality just as far removed from Him as if he were. The truth is, the Pharisee thinks that he is righteous. He is deluded and blind. The fathers often use the word intoxication when discussing this arrogance because it is sweeter to drink in our own self righteousness than it is to take a long hard look at where we fall short.
The Gospel continues, “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. 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.”
St. Ephraim the Syrian writes, “It is more difficult to confess one’s sins than one’s righteousness. God looks on the one who carries a heavy burden. The tax collector therefore appeared to him to have more to bear than the Pharisee had.”
If the Pharisee thought that he was on the side of God, the publican was, in a sense, involved in a true battle against God. To be a tax collector for the occupying Romans meant that not only were you torturing and trying to squeeze every penny out of the poor people but you were also a traitor – someone who turned his back on the Chosen People of God, Israel.
The difference between the Pharisee and the publican was that the publican saw himself for who he really was. The Fathers tell us that there can be no doubt that he had spent far less time in prayer and at the Temple than did the Pharisee. But now, when the publican was praying, he did not wallow in a stupor of self love – he was not filled with arrogance and criticism – but he did the difficult thing – he repented.
Brothers and sisters, let us meditate on the words of St. Basil the Great, “The one guilty of insolent behavior suffered the loss of his justice and forfeited his reward by his bold self-reliance. He was judged inferior to a humble man and a sinner because in his self-exaltation he did not await the judgment of God but pronounced it himself. Never place yourself above anyone, not even great sinners. Humility often saves a sinner who has committed many terrible transgressions.”
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Pictures from the Feast of Nativity
March for Life
From the Parish Council
Here is an summary from our latest Parish Council Meeting:
- Save the Date: General Parish Meeting will be April 30th - Sunday of the Myrrh Bearers
- We are currently investigating internet service for the church building to support low phone service costs, streaming services, remote smoke alarm notification, remote Parish Council meeting access, and to support presentations at church.
- We will be working with the elevator company to improve functionality and make resetting the elevator easier.
- Next Parish Council Meeting will be on Sunday, April 23rd
We need your continued prayers and support. Please consider donating and keep an eye out for special project appeals.
If you are interested in helping with projects and chores (large or small), please reach out to our church warden, Sasha Soubotin (email@example.com), or our head sisters, Christina Roller (firstname.lastname@example.org), Vicky Selznick (email@example.com), and Stephanie Rindell (firstname.lastname@example.org).
FOR A DETAILED CALENDAR, visit our website: https://www.holyascensionofchrist.org/calendar
February 3 - Vespers at 6:30pm, Catechetical Class to follow (All are welcome!)
February 5 - Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee / New Martyrs of Russia
February 5-11 - Fast free (reminder that fasting is a spiritual tool, not a guarantee of salvation)
February 10 - Vespers at 6:30pm, Catechetical Class to follow (All are welcome!)
February 12 - Sunday of the Prodigal Son / Three Holy Hierarchs
February 15 - Meeting of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Liturgy at 6:00am)
February 17 - Vespers at 6:30pm, Catechetical Class to follow (All are welcome!)
February 18 - Commemoration of the Departed (Pannikhida at 5:00pm)
February 19 - Sunday of the Last Judgement (Blini)
February 20 - Begin fasting from meat.
- We say the prayer of St. Ephraim on Wednesday and Friday this week.
February 24 - Vespers at 6:30pm, Catechetical Class to follow (All are welcome!)
February 26 - Forgiveness Sunday (Forgiveness Vespers following Liturgy)
February 27 - March 3 - Clean Week - the Great Fast Begins
- Morning Reader Services (Matins & Hours) 8:00am
- Compline with the Great Canon 6:30pm
Please note the following service schedule:
- Vigil is served at 6:30pm each Saturday and before each Feast.
- Hours and Divine Liturgy are served at 9:00am unless otherwise noted.