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Those who have come to the temple
The Pharisee and the publican.
The Pharisee and the publican.

In the church services for the month of February, my dear friends, we see three people coming to the temple. We see the haughty Pharisee, who has come to the temple in accordance with custom: he proudly stands up front in a prominent place and boasts to God about what he believes are his virtues.

We see the humble publican, who has been led to the temple by his conscience, which had reproached him for his sins: the publican believes himself unworthy of even being in the temple; he modestly stands in the back with lowered head and tearfully asks God for forgiveness. And, finally, we see the righteous Simeon, who comes to the temple inspired by the Holy Spirit: in the temple Simeon meets the Messiah - the Saviour of the world, and is released from his long life on earth, in order to peacefully proceed into eternal life.

These three people the Church offers us as an instructive example, my dear friends. The Pharisee is all of us who come to church. We, too, have apparent virtues: we make an effort every Sunday to get up early, leave our earthly concerns and come to church; we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, and during the four lents; we give money to the church and alms to the poor. But it turns out that that is not enough for true spiritual life, that that is only the smallest of beginnings, only the lowest step, because those are only external actions, external manifestations. It turns out that ones inner disposition, the inner state of ones soul is much more important than external merit.

The Lord accepts our external efforts, does not reject them just as He did not completely reject the Pharisee. But in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican the Lord clearly demonstrates to us that in the spiritual world the law-abiding Pharisee stands much lower than the publican, a sinner; that all the Pharisees efforts did not bring him any merit in the eyes of God, because they were mixed with pride, mixed with a feeling of his own worthiness, his own merit. But we do not have any merit of our own before God. We do not have anything of our own except our sins. We are able to earn merit only through the Lords mercy, only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And it is the publican who teaches us how to attract this mercy and grace of God.

Presentation at the temple.
Presentation at the temple.

The publican was a sinner, and we all are sinners, despite our coming to church, keeping the fasts and being charitable. But the publican did something which justified him, elevated him, attracted Gods grace to him - the publican repented, the publican recognized his sins, recognized the destructiveness of these sins, the publican asked God for forgiveness. And all of this the publican was able to achieve through humility, through deep and complete humility. The feeling of humility enlightened his soul, gave him the opportunity to see himself in a true light, and showed him the right course of action. Humility led to repentance, and repentance led to forgiveness and purification. The example of the publican and the Pharisee demonstrates to us the actuality of Gods words that the Lord opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.

And in his amazing humility the publican received the same joy that was granted to the righteous Simeon: he saw the Lord and was given absolution. Led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon came to the temple and with his physical eyes saw the Infant Christ, saw the salvation of the world, and was released from the burden of his long life on earth. The publican, led by his conscience, which is the voice of God within us, also came to the temple, and through humility and repentance was transformed by the grace of God, saw God with the eyes of his soul, saw his own salvation, and was released from the burden of his many sins.

And the righteous Simeon, who was promised that he would see with his own eyes the Lord, our Saviour, saw Him nowhere else but in the temple. It was to the temple that the Holy Spirit led him to meet the Messiah. Thus we, too, my dear friends, can meet the Lord only in the temple, in the church. In church we not only see Him in His icons, we not only hear Him in the reading of the Holy Gospel, but we have something far greater than had the publican, far greater than had the righteous Simeon: in church we are united with the Lord Himself through the sacrament of communion. And we can attain this supreme joy only by coming to church, only by placing our soul into a state of complete humility, only by sincerely repenting our sins and being absolved of them in the sacrament of confession.

Let us flee the haughty utterances of the Pharisee, and let us learn the sublimity of the publicans humble words - urges us the Church in the kontakion for the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Beginning on that day the preparatory period for the Great Lent, my dear friends, let us heed the voice of the Church, which admonishes us to avoid the Pharisees complacency and boasting, and instead to ascend the height of spiritual life which is contained in the words of the publican: God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Then we, too, when we reach the end of our earthly life, will be peacefully released by the Lord God into life eternal. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff.
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