St Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
161 N. Murphy Ave. Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

The Publican and the Pharisee - sermon by Fr Andrew Gliga

Dear beloved in Christ, today we begin our first step into the journey towards Pascha.
The Lenten Triodion is opened and used for the first time this year. This book is the one that will
provide the hymns and readings that we hear in Church until Pascha. One of the first lessons
we are presented with from the Triodion is the Gospel reading which we hear today that of the
Publican and the Pharisee. This reading always takes place three weeks before the beginning
of Great Lent and is a preparatory scripture for us to enter into Great Lent.

In order to understand what this Gospel reading is about, we first have to understand the
setting and what was taking place at that time. In the time of Christ, Pharisees were not viewed
as how we view them today as hypocrites of bigots, but rather they were the spiritual elite. They
were the ones who would keep the law, follow the commandments of God; they were basically
model citizens of that time. They were viewed as holy men, but also as people who were the
closest to God. On the other hand, the Publicans were viewed as the exact opposite. During
that time the Roman empire had occupied the land of Israel. In order to collect taxes for the
Empire, they would appoint Jews to do so from their own people. These publicans not only were
viewed by their fellow Jews as people who betrayed their nation, but also as people who had
betrayed God. Remember, the Jews according to the Law of Moses were not allowed to
associate themselves with Gentiles. A lot of these publicans were also corrupt and would take
more money than what the people owed, so a lot of them were very wealthy. So in a sense,
these were the most wicked of all citizens.

What we see happening in this parabe, is that both of these men go up to the Temple of
God to pray. The Pharisee who was supposed to be a righteous man, begins to boast about his
accomplishments to God. On the other hand, the publican, knowing his unworthiness bows low
and asks God to be merciful. Even though the Pharisee was part of the elite group his heart was
not towards God. At the same time, the pharisee commits a sin of judging his fellow man, where
the publican was in fact asking forgiveness for his transgressions.

I will also add a story which came to mind when I thought about the publican, which is
related to the feast of the new Martyrs under the Communist yoke which we commemorate
today. In Romania, there was a prison known as Pitesti. This was a place where people who
were considered to be enemies of the state (namely Christians), were placed under extreme
tourture. It was known as a "re-education". Prisoners were beaten until they could not stand.
Other times, the prisoners were asked a question like: do you believe in Christ? When they
would affirm it, they were hit and the question would keep repeating this tourture until the person
would deny Christ. At the same time, the people in charge had a sadistic way of offering relief to
those who were being tortured. They would comel those who were tortured, to beat their fellow
prisoners in order for their own pain to stop. This reminds me of how the Publicans betrayed
their own people in order to have a better life at the hands of the enemy. In communist Romania
there were many who had stated that they had succumbed to this temptation and caused pain
and suffering to their fellow inmates. However, as the Publican did, they greatly repented of their
sin, and eventually they became great spiritual leaders who led Orthodoxy outside of the
communist yoke. Through their hardship and tourture they endured and came out spiritually
strong, even though they had succumbed to their weakness initially.

This should be one of the messages for us, as we enter great lent, we have many
struggles set before us, that of fasting and that of long services. Pride is the annihilation of
virtue", says John Climacus. We should enter all of these with humility and repentance in our
hearts and take the example of the publican. We should also take our struggles and rejoice in
them, as did the new Martyrs did. The new martyrs only wanted one thing, that is to be close to
God. They even gave up their lives in order to not give up their faith in God. And yet, when it
comes to fasting and prayer, the reaction always seems to be the same: Oh I'm not looking
forward to it, it's so hard, it's so long. It's so hard not to eat meat for 9 weeks. If that is our
attitude towards Lent, we are looking at it completely wrong. God does not require us to fast or
come to prayer services because he demands it of us. Not at all, these are gifts given to us by
him. Fasting is a gift of being able to resist good foods, to live on less, to be able not to be
dominated by those things around us. It is much harder to come close to God on a full stomach,
than on an empty stomach one. Prayer is what unites us to God, brings our hearts closer to him
and to his teachings. These should be done in order to grant us love of one another, and not
because we have a duty to do so. The Pharisee did his duty, he did fast twice a week, he gave
to the poor. However, heart was not in his actions. He was more interested in the outward
appearances which totally defeats the point. We should never fast or pray only out of duty, but
we should do it to come closer to God, to be able to come to an act of repentance, just like the

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