Synaxarion of the The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.
On this day we commemorate the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, which occurs in the Holy Gospel according to the Apostle Luke.
With God’s blessing, we enter this day into the period of the Triodion, in which many of our holy and godly Fathers who were hymnographers inspired by the Holy Spirit composed hymns and odes. St. Cosmas, Bishop of Maiuma (comm. Oct. 14), a famous ecclesiastical poet and hymnographer, was the first to devise the pattern of the three-ode canon (tri-ode = Triodion), in the image of the life-originating Holy Trinity. He first used this model in his canons for the Great and Holy Week of the Passion of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, composing the hymns and using acrostics containing the names of the days of that week. Then the rest of the Fathers, and particularly Saints Theodore (comm. Nov. 11 and Jan. 26) and Joseph (comm. April 3) the Studites, in zealous imitation of St. Cosmas, composed canons for the other weeks of Holy and Great Lent. When they had further arranged and ordered the odes and collected and compiled the book’s other material from the different Fathers, they first used it in their own Monastery of the Studion in Constantinople.
The name of this book, Triodion, is really a misnomer, for the text consists of not only three-ode canons, but also full canons complete with eight odes. It is believed that the book received its name from the fact that the majority are three-ode or because the three-ode canons of Holy Week were composed first.
Since the first day of the week is completely dominated by Sunday, which is resurrectional – the first, eighth, and last day – the Fathers most excellently passed through the rest of the week and assigned the first ode to be chanted on Monday, the second on Tuesday, the third on Wednesday, the fourth on Thursday, the fifth on Friday. On the seventh day of the week, Saturday, both the sixth and seventh odes are chanted, together with the predominant eighth and ninth odes, which are chanted every day.
St. Cosmas had composed a four-ode canon for Great and Holy Saturday, forming a tetra-ode canon. Later, the most wise Emperor Leo ordered it to be made into a complete canon by the Bishop of Idroun, the monk Mark.
The purpose of our Holy Fathers throughout the book of the Triodion is concisely to recollect the entire work of God’s benevolence toward us from the beginning of creation and to be a reminder to all how after we were created by Him we transgressed the commandment He had given us for the sake of obedience and were subsequently evicted from the delight of Paradise through the envy of the arch-evil serpent and foe who himself had been cast down because of his pride; and how we were deprived of the blessings and led about by the devil; and how the Son and Word of God inclined the heavens and came down because of His compassion and dwelt within the Virgin and became man for our sakes to show us how to ascend again to our prior delight through humility, fasting, and abstinence from wicked acts; and how, after His teaching, the Son of God suffered the Passion in the flesh and died, but He arose, ascended to heaven, and sent down the Holy Spirit to His Disciples; and how He was proclaimed by them to be the Son of God and perfect God Himself in the whole world and how what the divine Apostles accomplished thereafter was through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit; and how through their preaching they gathered together all the saints from the ends of the earth and thus filled up the world on high, which was, in fact, the Creator’s aim from the beginning.
The three festal Sundays, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Prodigal Son, and the Second Coming, were intended by the Holy Fathers to be a period of preparatory training and exhortation so that we might equip ourselves for the spiritual contests of the Fast by forsaking our habitual foul practices.
First of all, they present to us the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, calling the following week the “Week of Proclamation” because it heralds the approach of the Fast. It is like those who are going off to war: they learn from their generals when the war will occur so that they can clean and polish their swords, taking care of everything and thus removing every obstacle to defeating the enemy. They strip enthusiastically for the contests, procuring for themselves whatever they need. Often, before the battle, the officers deliver speeches and relate stories and examples of past heroes, stimulating zeal in their souls, averting from them any hesitation, cowardice, and laziness or whatever else is dangerous. Likewise, the divine Fathers also sound the bugle in advance, calling us to the coming Lenten battle against the demons so that we might purge our souls of any passion or ailment that has possessed us over the past year.
Furthermore, so that we may be earnest in acquiring whatever good we may lack, we must properly arm ourselves, thus standing in readiness for the contests of Great Lent. The principal weapons for the maintenance of virtue are repentance and humility, and the greatest obstacles are arrogance and pride. The Holy Fathers have set forth the present trustworthy parable from the divine Gospel, exhorting us through the Pharisee to banish the passions of arrogance and presumption and through the Publican to strive to acquire the opposites of these passions, humility and repentance.
The foremost and worst passions are arrogance and presumption, for through these the devil fell from heaven. He was formerly known as Lucifer, the Morning Star, but because of these passions he became Darkness and is so named. Our first father, Adam, was expelled from Paradise because of these very same passions. Hence, through these examples, the saints advise that no one should be elated concerning his own accomplishments and exalt himself over his fellow man, but one should always be humble. For “God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). It is better to sin and repent than to succeed and become prideful. “I tell you, the Publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.” (See Luke 18:14.)
Therefore, this parable demonstrates that no one should become prideful, even if he commits acts of kindness and righteousness, but one should always be humble and beg God’s favor with all his soul. Even if he has fallen into the worst evils, he should never lose hope or courage, as he is never far from salvation.
The Publicans were agents of the Roman state. They collected taxes for the government, charging higher rates than were necessary, thus realizing a personal profit. They were hated by the Jews, who saw them as greedy oppressors, traitors, and sinners.
At the time of Christ, there were three Jewish sects: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees, being hypocrites according to Christ, thought themselves very righteous because of their “superior” religious knowledge and observance of the Jewish law. They kept themselves separated from the people, exhibiting a great outward show of holiness and piety in their daily lives. The Sadducees were named after the archpriest Sadok, who had aided King David in his struggle with his son Absalom. They did not believe in the existence of angels and spirits and the resurrection of the dead, all of which the Pharisees upheld. The Essenes were a zealous group of religious Jews who led a very strict ascetic life in the desert.
So that we can learn to avoid the pride of the Pharisee by following our own self-imposed and self-directed fasting practices – instead of the moderate and time-tested fasting traditions of the Church – the following week is fast-free.
Through Your unspeakable compassion,
О Christ our God, grant that we may be
counted worthy to regain our former delight in Paradise,
and have mercy on us and save us.
The Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion, ed. Fr David (Kidd) and Mother Gabriella (Ursache), Rives Junction, MI: HDM, 1999, pp. 11-15.