Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Jesus said this parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 10-14
Good morning Prayer Team!
Today the church enters a liturgical season called the Triodion. The Triodion period, properly stated, begins today and ends on Holy Saturday evening. In modern use, however, the Triodion refers to the four Sunday period before Great Lent. The four Sundays are “The Publican and the Pharisee” (today), “The Prodigal Son”, “The Sunday of the Last Judgment/Meatfare Sunday” and “Forgiveness Sunday/Cheesefare Sunday.” For the Saturdays and Sundays from today through the end of Great Lent, the Prayer Team topics will be the Scriptures read on these Sundays.
The lesson with which we begin our 10 week journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ is about humility. The opposite of humility is arrogance. Arrogance is when one thinks he knows it all and has no room for improvement. Humility is when one recognizes that no matter who he is or what good he is done, that he has room to improve.
Today we meet two men, a Pharisee and a Publican. Each approached the Lord in a very different manner. The Pharisee, a member of the ruling class of Jewish clergy, came to the temple to pray. His prayer was one of self-congratulations. He was exalting himself in the good things that he had done. He was coming to the Lord and praying “with himself.” There is no doubt that some of the things he was doing were good things—he was ostensibly living a moral life. He was ostensibly supporting the temple. Where was there, however, room for the Lord in His life? It’s like when Christ said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, only those who are sick.” If there was no understanding or admitting of any shortcoming, of any spiritual sickness, then there would be no room for Christ to be at work in this man’s life. Saying to the Lord, “I am good the way I am, there is no room for You to be at work in me,” is exultant, arrogant and foolish.
The Publican on the other hand, was not living a virtuous life. He was a tax collector. He was rich in material means but poor in spirit. He was despised by the people of the town. And when he went to the temple to pray, he had an understanding that he was missing the mark. He had a genuine remorse. In fact, he was so ashamed of who he was and what he was doing that he didn’t approach the front of the temple and couldn’t even raise up his eyes to the Lord. Rather he bowed his head in shame and said “God be merciful to me a sinner, God take pity on me who it pitiful, God give to me the mercy I don’t deserve, the mercy that I can’t seem to give others, give it to me anyway.” The Publican recognized his sinfulness, his sickness, his need for mercies and healing that can only come from God. This is humility.
The purpose of our Lenten journey is a journey to Triumph of the Resurrection. The Resurrection was only possible because of the pain of the cross. The purpose of our Lenten journey each year is to us to examine how we are carrying the cross of Christ in our lives. And the first step in that journey is humility, a recognition that we need healing, an understanding that we have room for improvement, an understanding that we need the help and mercy that can only come from Christ.
The first step of faith is the cry of the Publican, “I need You Lord, I need Your mercy, I need Your healing, and I need these things so that I can be whole, so that I can find salvation.” Christ tells us that the one who showed humility was exalted in the eyes of the Lord and the one who exalted himself would be humbled by the Lord. Let us then begin our journey with the humility of the Publican, so that we can truly exalt in the Resurrection of Christ that lies at the end of our Lenten journey and so that we can be exalted by the Lord in the eternal Resurrection that lies at the end of the lives of those who have lived in humility.
Today’s prayer is the Jesus Prayer, which has at its foundation, the prayer of the Publican.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (offer this prayer repeatedly, and throughout the day)
In our Christian journey, it’s not about how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go. This is humility. May our journey this year be purposeful, rewarding and blessed!
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