February 5, 2023

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

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1952)

The Holy Fathers commanded for us a very important and saving rule, which is unlikely to be fulfilled by all of you.

The rule is that every evening before going to bed, sit down for a short time and think over everything that happened that day: all your deeds, actions, thoughts, all your behavior, all your words, and delve into whether there was anything evil and bad done on that day.

And if you find evil and bad, then repent. This rule is very important for the reason that if we get used to remembering every evening what we did during the day, what we said and thought, if we find everything bad, then we will be displeased, ashamed; and we will gradually correct ourselves, get used to not doing what we did and what we noticed.

And if so, then we will soon leave behind our bad deeds and bad habits and learn not only to watch before going to sleep what we have done wrong, but throughout the day we will learn to watch ourselves, our every step, every word; but it is extremely necessary to watch oneself in order to beware of doing evil and to strive to do good.

That is why this rule is so important. But even those who constantly fulfill it often remain unjustified before God, because, remembering what they did on the past day, they often ignore it, do not notice the most primary, most important thing.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said to us: “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the beam in your eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

When we read or hear these words for the first time, it seems strange to us: how is it possible not to notice the beam in your own eye? After all, a beam causes anxiety, pain, suffering.

But it turns out that it is possible, and quite possible, for all the words of Christ are true, and this word of His is also true.

We often do not notice the beam in our own eyes: the most important, the worst thing that darkens our life, for which we will give a heavy answer before God.

What happens to us is what happened to the Pharisee, who in the temple of God prayed together with the publican, prayed with a prayer that was displeasing to God: his prayer consisted of listing all his virtues, all his merits before God and giving thanks for them. Boasting thus before God, he also condemned the sinful publican. He considered himself righteous, but did not notice the beam in his eye, did not notice what the Lord Jesus Christ so severely denounced the scribes and Pharisees with such words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, that you give tithes from mint, anise and cumin, and neglect the most important thing in the law: justice, mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23).

He did not notice this, did not consider that he had neglected justice, mercy and faith, rather he thought about his ritual righteousness, and his prayer was not accepted by God.

We are often like this proud Pharisee when we do not notice the most important thing that darkens our life, the biggest of all our sins, with which we anger God.

We often do not notice that the general direction of our life is not at all the same as it should be according to the commandments of Christ.

We think that if we observe church rites, if we often go to church and light candles, then everything is fine, and we do not notice that our life is not built according to the commandments of Christ, we do not notice that we are working not for the spirit, but for the flesh, we do not notice that that all our aspirations are directed towards the well-being and pleasantness of life, we do not notice that we are not spiritual, but natural.

We do not notice our main sins: the deeply deceitful, incessantly lying do not notice this about themselves; those accustomed to fornication consider this shameful sin unimportant, money-lovers continue to indulge in this passion; the vain and proud, who exalt themselves above their neighbors and condemn them, do not notice the mortal sins of condemnation and pride.

How is it possible, why do we not feel the beam in our own eyes, but notice only specks, and moreover, that there are more specks in the eyes of our neighbors than in our own eyes? How can you not notice your most serious sins? And this happens, it happens very often: when we often sin, we get used to this sin.

Now, if every evening we don’t catch ourselves doing something bad, we will gradually get used to not noticing our sins, our tendency to lie, to condemnation, to lust, and when we don’t notice this, then sin will turn into a habit, and we will stop noticing it, because we don’t notice it at all; we notice nothing ordinary, nothing familiar.

Our attention is stopped only by what is unusual, what is striking, and what we see, what we do every day, what becomes a habit, goes unnoticed.

This is how it happens that we do not notice the beam in our own eyes, and this happens very often. It happens to almost all of us. And this is very scary.

Even worse: it happens that we do not notice the most serious sin that separates us from God.

What am I talking about? From the books of the prophets, from the lives of the martyrs among the saints, we know, we read many times that God directly entered into communion with people, that He revealed His will to the prophets. It was as if He was talking to them, telling them about what they were supposed to proclaim to the world.

And to the holy martyrs, when, after unspeakable torments, they were thrown into prison, holy angels appeared, strengthening them. Often Christ Himself appeared to them, blessing them for the forthcoming difficult feat.

But not only with the prophets, with the martyrs, does God Himself speak directly.

His concern for the salvation of people, His love for people is so great, so boundless, that He does not hesitate to speak with individual people, if they are not completely spiritual, but at least somewhat spiritual, He speaks, commands both in a dream and in reality, He reveals His will.

Oh, how awesome and how great! God Himself speaks to an insignificant person about what He requires and expects from him. It would seem that they should tremble with an unspeakable shudder when they hear the voice of God, and, having come to their senses, they would immediately strive fervently to fulfill what God commanded.

But the devil stands before the heart and whispers: "This should not be done now, but can be done later; now the conditions are not favorable for doing what was commanded. Wait, wait, for the conditions to change, then you will fulfill the commandment of God."

If we accept this accursed advice of the devil in our hearts, then we will postpone not only from day to day, but from year to year the fulfillment of what God commanded.

And this is perhaps the gravest of all sins. Oh, of course, this is the worst sin. You know that it was once done by the holy prophet Jonah, whom God commanded to go to Nineveh and preach there about repentance. But Jonah did not obey, he decided to run away from God. He boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction to Nineveh and thought to get away from the wrath of the Lord.

God immediately punished him: He raised a terrible storm on the sea, so that the ship was close to destruction. And the sailors prayed to their gods, asking them for help. They thought: "Surely, there is someone among us who has angered God, and because of him we are suffering a grave disaster." They cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. He was questioned, and he admitted that he did not want to fulfill the command of God, and he himself asked to be thrown into the sea so that the storm would subside. It was a pity for the shipbuilders to abandon Jonah, but the ship was close to destruction, and Jonah insisted that they should not spare him; and they threw him into the sea, and at once the storm subsided.

See how terrible it is to disobey the Lord! You see how terribly the Lord punishes his disobedient ones: He commanded them to thrown him into the sea, He commanded that he be swallowed up by a huge fish, which threw him ashore. He did not condemn him to death, knowing that Jonah would come to repentance. This is an example for us. Let us remember that not only all the direct commands of God, but also our vows to God must be fulfilled immediately and exactly, for failure to fulfill vows is also a great sin.

You see how true, how profoundly important are the words of Christ about the beam, which we do not notice in our own eyes. Believe me, believe me, that we often do not notice the beam in our own eyes.

Believe me, be afraid of the example of the prophet Jonah, be afraid of God's punishment for not fulfilling His commands: be afraid not to notice your most important, most serious sin, like a Pharisee who considered himself a righteous man.

Know that the Lord does not leave us even when we are disobedient, we refuse to do His will. He admonishes us with grave, unexpected illnesses, great misfortunes.

Therefore, let us make it a rule: if any of us are beset by an unexpected illness, then let us think deeply and look for what and why God sent this illness, this misfortune.

If we are sincere, deeply examine our hearts, then we will understand for what and why.

May those trials, those illnesses that are sent from God, enlighten us. May we never forget the words of Christ about the beam in the eye. Let us not forget about the Pharisee, who considered himself a righteous man, but did not receive such justification from God as the sinful but humble publican deserved.

Make a rule for yourself never to remember your good deeds, completely forget about them. Always remember only about your sins, about your bad deeds. And then you will become humble, you will consider yourself more sinful than all people, and humility is the first and main virtue of a Christian.

May our Lord and God Jesus Christ save us all from self-righteousness, self-sanctification and high-mindedness, and grant us holy humility. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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