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February 18, 2022

The Righteousness of the Pharisee and the Sigh of the Publican

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee and the blessed period of the Triodion begins, in order to strive to reach Pascha with the health of body and soul.

It is a period of intense prayer and the atmosphere of prayer is more suitable for revealing the inner disposition of people. In prayer the spiritual condition of the people is presented, so it is no coincidence that Christ, in order to express the opposition between the Pharisee and the Publican, presented them at the time of prayer.

The Pharisee in the way he prayed showed that he was living a perverted religious situation, where he was considered unredeemed. With the prayer "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13) the Publican showed his deep regret and humility, which is why he "went away justified" (Lk. 18:14). The more one seeks to justify oneself, the more one is cut off from God, while the more one is humbled, deemed unworthy of divine mercy, the more one receives divine Grace.

Pharisaic righteousness is always outside the atmosphere of divine Grace.

First of all, it must be emphasized that piety is not an external presentation, but our union with Christ and through Him with the entire Holy Trinity. The Apostle Paul identifies the mystery of piety with the incarnation of Christ. He writes: "And without controversy great is the mystery of piety: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory" (1 Tim. 3:16).

Therefore, piety is not a human manifestation and energy but a connection with Christ, while hypocrisy is an abstract situation. The virtues of the hypocrite are not the fruit of a life in Christ, they are not made in the climate of repentance, but are human works that are done with ones effort to be projected. On the contrary, the works and virtues of the pious are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the result of their union with Christ. That is, virtues have a deep theological meaning, they are not a natural way of life, a habit, but gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, which are given to man who, through the work of the commandments of God submits his body to his soul and his soul to God.

It is understood that these deeds as such do not justify man, because "good deeds" can be done by all heretics and all human unredeemed systems, without, however, guaranteeing their salvation. Those "good deeds" that are not done in the climate of repentance, but in the spirit of self-justification, separate man more from God. Saint Gregory Palamas teaches: "Every type of virtue operates within us by God, and if God does not operate within us, there is every form of sin." One can do almsgiving, practice temperance, etc., but because he does not have the spirit of humility and is not sacramentally connected with the Church, he is separated from God even in his whole life, so that even if he is temperate it is sinful.

Therefore, good deeds do not justify or condemn man, but justification and condemnation are regulated by his relationship with the God-man Christ. As an example we have the two thieves at Golgotha. A thief was saved not for his good works, since he was considered a criminal, but because he confessed Christ. The other thief was condemned not for his criminal deeds, since he was not considered worse than the first, but because he cursed Christ. Therefore, our salvation is regulated by our relationship with Christ and His Holy Church, His Body.

It should be noted that he who is united with Christ and confesses Him does works, but these are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, for which he does not feel the need, like the Pharisee, to boast. In this way he shows that he lives in the spirit of salvation and is holy. For holiness is not a moral concept, but a union of man with Christ within the Church.

We learn from patristic wisdom and modern scientific analysis, that man, as sinful as he is, is aggressive. Usually those who have internal problems and internal insecurity are constantly attacking others. We see this in the Pharisee of the Parable. Because when he was a hypocrite and selfish, he did not limit himself to boasting about his "virtues", but he also attacked the Publican, saying: "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican" (Lk. 18:11).

On the contrary, those who are internally free do not insult others. They respect their freedom. Such are the saints of God. You approach a saint and feel his infinite philanthropy, or even better the philanthropy of God, since through the saints Christ Himself is revealed, who is the archetype of the creation of man. A saint will approach you when you want them to, as much as you are able to bear, but as soon as you don't want them, they withdraw with discernment. They understands us and we understand them.

The people of our time do not lack "freedom", but Christ, who is the real freedom, life and truth. This tangible freedom is revealed to us by the saints of God, who still exist today.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.