Oh God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity–greedy, dishonest, adulterous–or even like this tax collector.
These are the words which the Pharisee prayed to God in the temple. Jesus told this to his disciples in the parable about the Pharisee and the Publican, or tax-collector, which can be found in Luke 18:10-14
This past Sunday the (New Calendar) Orthodox Chruch celebrated the day reserved for this teaching from our God and this entire week is fast free, even from the normal Wednesday and Friday fasting. While most see this as being because we are about enter the Lenten period and the 40 day “Great Fast,” I heard another, more edifying explanation; we do not fast this week as a reminder that we should not think highly of ourselves just because we perform spiritual duties. Attempting to further justify himself before God, the Pharisee continues his prayer:
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.
It’s easy as an Orthodox Christian to get a high opinion of yourself. For instance, I can think about my life and see that I too fast twice a week, I attended Orthros and Divine Liturgy on Sundays, and I’m a chanter. I can look around me and easily see others who don’t do as much as me. But I cannot allow the idea that just because I do more means I’m more righteous stay in my head.
The tax-collector, a man who takes money from others, lies about fees, steals from those he’s collecting from; this man stood of at a distance, away from the crowd and those who might hear him. He beat his chest with compunction and lowered his eyes, not thinking himself worthy to raise his eyes to heaven and he prayed a simple prayer:
Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.
A simple prayer, but because of the compunction, because of the repentance, Christ tells his disciples that it was the Publican who left the temple justified before God that day, while the Pharisee left unforgiven.
So this week we do not fast. Partially to give us time to prepare ourselves for Lent, but also to remind us that fasting and other spiritual acts will not gain our God’s favour. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 50 (51):
For if you desired sacrifice, I would have given it: you will not take pleasure in whole burnt offerings. Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart God will not despise.
I pray that God will bless you all, and continually give us all opportunities to humble ourselves before Him and others.
IC | XC
NI | KA