Now that Great Lent is just about to begin, on the last Saturday before Great Lent the Church commemorates together all the holy fathers who shone forth in the ascetic life, that is, all our great ascetics and venerable God-bearing fathers throughout all of church history, as an example to us of how we should discipline ourselves with prayer and fasting. These were saints who fulfilled the Gospel words “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt. 11:29-30). They came to the Lord and learned from Him, became gentle and lowly in heart, and found rest for their souls because His yoke is easy and His burden light.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Because of my office as Metropolitan I visit many parishes and serve not only in this holy Temple, but also in other Churches, I must say that in other churches I find the people there to be more attentive listeners than here. There I never see people leaving before the sermon begins. The clergy and servers in the altar, the singers in the choir and all the praying people listen to the sermon. Unfortunately, in the Synod Cathedral Church we observe something different. Just now quite a few left the church, probably thinking they know everything anyway and need no instruction. And it is possible also that they did not hear today's Gospel and so they will not even learn what is awaiting them at the Last Judgment. The Church however offers us this discourse by Christ concerning this Judgment to make us note what will be expected of the human race at the threshold of eternity; at the end of mankind's history.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is not the first time we have spoken in this sacred church about the impossibility of grasping the unapproachable and incomprehensible nature of the Divinity, concerning which the Church says that “it is impossible for men to see God.” God’s infinite glory and holiness can not be contemplated even by the holy Angels and Archangels. But the MORAL essence of the Divinity is revealed to us, and thus we know from the Holy Scriptures that God is Love.
It is often said that man can not be an adequate object for divine Love, because there is an immeasurable abyss which lies between creation and the Creator. But there is a power which somehow eliminates this abyss and makes man closer to his Creator: it is love. This can be perceived through this im¬perfect analogy: Let us Imagine a grown-up and stable man who enjoys a respectable place in society, but who all of a sudden should start to play with soap-bubbles; everyone would laugh. But under different circumstances, this kind of activity would be perfectly understandable. This reliable and responsible worker comes home after a hard day’s work, tired and just want¬ing to rest. He sees his little child at play, and the father begins himself to play with him, forgetting his tiredness and heartily sharing the excitement of his baby son. Why? Because when man loves, then he experiences and loves the same as his friend. Parental love eliminated the difference between a grown¬up man and a little boy. Of course this is only an imperfect analogy.
God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are,
extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
To understand the meaning of this parable, we must first eliminate the erroneous interpretation of it. This erroneous interpretation dominates in our secular society, which is not averse to mentioning it in idle talk about the Pharisee in question; but in a totally wrong view of his personality. For our contemporaries, the very word “Pharisee”, before they are conscious or it, conjures an understanding of Pharisees in general as conscious hypocrites…. evil, envious, and dissolute.
1. Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.
2. But Christ came, setting human nature free and changing the common curse into a shared blessing. He took upon Himself our guilty nature from the most pure Virgin and united it, new and unmixed with the old seed, to His divine person. He rendered it guiltless and righteous, so that all His spiritual descendants would remain outside the ancestral curse and condemnation. How so? He shares His grace with each one of us as a person, and each receives forgiveness of his sins from Him. For He did not receive from us a human person, but assumed our human nature and renewed it by uniting it with His own person. His wish was to save us all completely and for our sake He bowed the heavens and came down. When by His deeds, words and sufferings He had pointed out all the ways of salvation, He went up to heaven again, drawing after Him those who trusted in Him. His aim was to grant perfect redemption not just to the nature which He had assumed from us in inseparable union, but to each one of those who believed in Him. This He has done and continues to do, reconciling each of us through Himself to the Father, bringing each one back to obedience and thoroughly healing our disobedience.