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April 20, 2015

Saint Zacchaeus the Apostle as a Model for our Lives

Holy Apostle Zacchaeus (Feast Day - April 20)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

Saint Zacchaeus, as is known from the Gospel reading that is read every year in the sacred churches before the Triodion, is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke (19:1-10), that he was a chief publican and wealthy man who sought to see Christ. When he heard that the Lord was to pass through Jericho he climbed a sycamore tree, because he was of a small body stature, in order to see Him. Christ saw him and said: "Come down quickly, for I must stay at your house tonight." Indeed, He even called him out by name, even though he had never met Him nor seen Him before. Zacchaeus immediately came down and welcomed him with joy, while those present began to grumble and complain because the Lord went to stay in the house of a sinner, as if they were sinless. But Christ went to the house of Zacchaeus first because He visits, without discrimination, all those who want Him and desire to seek Him with faith, and secondly because He saw the heart of the chief publican inflamed with true repentance and the desire for correction. Indeed, Zacchaeus actively showed his repentance, when he publicly proclaimed that he would give half of his property to the poor and those he wronged he would give a return fourfold. For this reason he was made worthy to hear from the mouth of Christ those most sweet words: "Today salvation has come to this house."

According to tradition, Zacchaeus, after the Ascension of Christ, followed the Apostle Peter, by whom he was ordained Bishop of Caesarea. His last days are unknown, but certainly his life was venerable, just as his life was venerable after his salvific meeting with Christ. Saint Gregory Palamas says that Zacchaeus "distributed his possessions among the poor, and he who was formerly a miser became charitable, even willingly poor, since some he gave away and others he repaid."

If someone sincerely desires to meet Christ, then they will find a way to fulfill their desire without much thought or logical processes. It is enough to have taken the courageous decision to deny one's sinful past and make a new start. When there is true repentance, then the desire for the meeting is like a raging river that drifts away everything before it. They will climb and descend and will not hesitate before any obstacle. Such a person has no problem being humbled, to give up his dignity, and does not care what others think. Zacchaeus did not think that perhaps others would make fun of him for climbing a tree like a small child, and he was not interested in it. When someone really wants to change their way of life and live the rest of their life "in peace and repentance", free from the burden of sin, they are not occupied with what others want and what they are saying, but with what God wants and says.

Therefore, there is no other way to meet and get to know Christ other than through humility and active repentance. This meeting takes place within the heart, the spiritual heart, "which is the center of the spiritual work of man and the space in which God reveals Himself" (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos). Purity of heart, which is the necessary condition for the knowledge of God, is achieve by humility, active repentance, the sacramental life and asceticism, namely the implementation of all the commandments of Christ.

Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus full of joy. And this is quite natural, for when the heart is humbled it softens, then the presence of God softens it even more and fills it with joy. On the other hand, pride hardens the heart with the result that it can't repent, which is why it can't endure the presence of God, causing it unbearable pain and grief and even more hardening. That is, the same thing takes place as with the sun, how with heat some objects harden and others soften, depending on the material which they are composed from. For example, when sunlight "falls" onto clay it hardens, whereas it softens and melts wax.

Zacchaeus tasted the sweetness of true liberty, since he was liberated from the passion of avarice, which is most tyrannical and does not allow allow a person a moment of respite. For "the love of money is the cause of all evil, with profiteering, misering, unkindness, misanthropy, abduction, injustice, greed, fraudulency, deception, lies, perjury, and all things like this" (Saint Gregory Palamas).

Material wealth has the habit of distancing people from God and stabilizes them in their wickedness. "That it (the Evangelist) testified to Zacchaeus not being just a publican, but the chief publican and wealthy, shows that he was distinguished for his wickedness" (Saint Gregory Palamas).

When one holds an important position in society or is wealthy in material goods, or even has a lust for wealth (because there are poor people who are also avaricious and try by any means to gather wealth), they need to have great spiritual courage in order to be humbled and have active repentance.

The Apostle Zacchaeus indicates the way by which communion with God is acquired, and therefore joy and freedom in its authentic form. Let us imitate him.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ἅγιος Ἀπόστολος Ζακχαῖος", April 2006. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.