January 28, 2018

A Poem on the Publican and the Pharisee (St. Gregory the Theologian)

By St. Gregory the Theologian

Two men, I am taught, went up to the temple, an overweening Pharisee who considered himself before all with God, and a publican whose heart within him was heavy because of unholy gains. The Pharisee recounted in detail his fast, his tithings according to the law, comparing himself with the men of old, and making light of the publican in his words. The publican, however, wept, beat his breast with his hands, and, afraid to raise his eyes to the broad heaven, throne of almighty God, he turned his humble gaze to the pavement. Standing afar off, he prayed thus: "Be merciful, be merciful to thy servant who is weighed down with evil. Not the law, not tithing, nor good works will save me, nor is my assailant mistaken. I am ashamed to touch the temple with my unholy feet. Let thy grace and thy pity flow on my unworthiness, for this is the one hope, O King, thou hast provided for miserable sinners."

So they spoke. God heard both, and had pity on the one he saw afflicted, whereas the haughty one he rejected. My God, I draw courage from the fact that thus you saw and straightway judge. I am that publican in your sight, all deep in sin. The help I hope for is measured by the depth of my groans. If ever my father and my dear mother did honor thee with tears, and groans, and prayers, or devote to thee even a tiny portion of their possessions, or made thee a gift of pleasing and holy sacrifices, remember them, and help. I myself have never accomplished anything worthy of thee. Drive off evil anxieties. Let me not be strangled by the thicket of thorns, or impeded, as I hasten on the heavenly road. O my strength, escort me without mishap. I am thy worshiper and thy portion.

From the poem Concerning His Own Affairs (De rebus suis).