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February 13, 2022

Homily Two on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 18, 1951)

"The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan, for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Is. 2:11–17).

Oh, how contrary to God is everything that is arrogant, everything that is proud!

In the amazingly powerful speech of the Prophet Isaiah, even the mountains are high, even the cedars of Lebanon and the oaks of Bashan, high, exalted, lofty, although they have no soul and cannot be exalted, nevertheless they are hated by God, as a symbol of everything high and exalted.

“For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite'" (Is. 57:15).

Oh Lord, Lord! You live at the height of heaven and at the same time in the hearts of the humble and contrite. They are dear to You, You love them, You consider them Your children. You send Your grace to them in immeasurable abundance, for thus You say: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Is. 66:2).

He looks only at them, but God opposes the proud, and only gives grace to the humble. He opposes those, says the Prophet, who have not humbled themselves before His immeasurable greatness, who reject His protection, His Providence, who say: we are not children, we ourselves will find the ways of life. Let us not bow before anyone, for we are not slaves.

Not slaves? Oh no! These are slaves, miserable slaves: slaves of pride and vanity, slaves of the lusts of the flesh, slaves of the passions.

There is no God with them, for He lives only with the contrite and humble, and only to them gives His grace.

But the proud, arrogant, the Lord never hears, never, no matter how much they pray to Him; He does not hear, just as He did not hear the proud Pharisee, whose whole prayer consisted only in listing his virtues and merits before God. Do you yourself boast before God, are you proud of your merits, your righteousness? O you are unfortunate!

Learn from the great apostle Paul, who says about himself: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

All his labors, all his immeasurable and greatest merits, he attributes not to himself, but only to God's grace.

O ye unfortunate ones who boast of themselves before God, don’t you remember the words of our Savior Himself: “Even so, when you have done everything commanded to you, say: 'We are worthless servants, because we have done what was our duty” (Lk. 17:10).

How many people say this? How many are so humble? Oh no, there are more proud people than humble ones.

What are they proud of? They are proud of their mind, strength and power, forgetting about their sins, considering them as nothing. Let them remember the words of the righteous Job: "No one is righteous and no one is clean for one day of his life."

All are impure, all are guilty, all must be humble in the consciousness of their impurity.

Let them also remember other words of the righteous Job: “Behold, He does not trust His servants, and He sees shortcomings in His angels.”

In angels, in angels He sees shortcomings, but what about us, accursed ones, who are full of sinful impurity, full of arrogance and pride.

After all, all the saints, the great saints, considered themselves sinners and unworthy before God - they sincerely, truly considered themselves to be such. For they constantly examined their hearts and saw in it with their keen eyes every, even the smallest impurity, and were horrified if they found such impurity. They searched and humbled themselves before God sincerely and considered themselves sinners and unworthy.

Who was more holy, more exalted by God, who was the greatest saint, if not our blessed father John Chrysostom? And every evening we read in his amazing prayer these words: “Remember me, Thy sinful servant, cold and unclean, in Thy Kingdom.”

He called himself cold and unclean, who for us is a model of all holiness, a model for the fulfillment of the entire law of Christ - he calls himself cold and unclean.

Why does the Lord require humility above all from us?

Why did he command humility: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”?

Why is this holy commandment placed first in a series of nine beatitudes? Because without the fulfillment of this commandment, the fulfillment of the rest of the law is worth nothing. All our good deeds are little pleasing to God if they are not imbued with holy humility.

Why is it necessary to be humble, why does our great God require this in the first place? Because He requires us to tremble with contrite and humble hearts at His word.

We must be imbued with such immeasurable respect and admiration for the majesty of God that we must think of Him with trembling—with trembling, and not with pride, with humility, with a contrite heart.

And only then will He hear our prayers, as He heard the humble prayer of the unfortunate, despised publican, who stood at the entrance to the temple, beat his chest and kept repeating the words: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

He was sinful, he was hated by all the people because he collected taxes wrongly, for the sake of his own benefit he collected too much.

But even this sinner, who with trembling, with the fear of God, beating his chest, repeated the same words: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” the Lord justified much more than the self-righteous Pharisee, who only exalted himself by his dignity, his virtues.

Therefore let us all be humble and tremble at the word of God. May there never be in our prayers a trace of any exaltation before God, any praise of our virtues.

May we always, always, at every prayer, in our hearts, in our thoughts, not only once, but always, remember our sins, of which everyone has countless, which are so vile before God.

If at every prayer we always remember our sins, and if, saying the great Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” we will immediately, right away remember and steadily keep in mind all our sins, and especially the most grave, the most vile sins, if we steadily remember our sins, then little by little tears of repentance will begin to drip from our eyes. And when the Lord gives these tears, then holy humility will come, the queen of all virtues.

If only we don’t forget, don’t leave thoughts about our sins, if only we don’t think that it’s enough to go to confession and reveal sins to the confessor, and then immediately forget them, as very many do. If only they would not forget, if only they would always remember, if only they would know the words of God proclaimed through the Prophet Isaiah and another great prophet, Jeremiah. Here is what the Prophet Isaiah says: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Is. 43:25).

He will not remember, He has forgiven, but you should remember, always remember, always ask for forgiveness. Remember this: "You remember."

Remember also the words of the great Jeremiah: “Turn to me, daughter of Israel... and I will not turn away my face forever, nor be aware of your iniquity either” (Jer. 3:12-13).

Know, always know your iniquities, remember your iniquities, even though the Lord does not turn away His face, even though He has mercy on you.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ, in the short and amazingly powerful Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, teaches us that our prayers should be prayers of humbleness and repentance. Never forget this holy parable. Do not forget those words of the Psalm of David that you hear every day at the Six Psalms: “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit. A contrite and humble heart God will not despise."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.