Our Common Task

Archpriest Stephen Kostoff | 05 February 2017

The kontakion for the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee reads as follows:

Let us flee from the pride of the Pharisee and learn humility from the Publican’s tears.  Let us cry to our Savior:  Have mercy on us, O only-merciful One!

Our common task, therefore, is to “flee from pride” and instead “learn humility.”  Life experience most probably teaches us that this is easier said than done!

Along this challenging path, we are accompanied by the great saints of the Church – the holy Fathers from the ancient Church and those who are much closer to us in time.  There is a consistent teaching among them on the themes of pride and humility, as struggling with pride and acquiring humility was a goal that they set for themselves, mindful of the words of Christ, as found in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.

With this in mind, I thought to simply share some of these  “maxims” of the saints in order to provide us with a good deal of profound and meaningful wisdom as we progress through the Week of the Publican and the Pharisee.  My pastoral hope is that we carry the Gospel with us through the week, struggling against forgetfulness and distractions that push the Lord’s teachings out of our minds and hearts. If the proud Pharisee went away from the temple “unjustified” – and thereby cutting himself off from experiencing the grace of God – this means that the consequences of his attitude were serious indeed.

The Fathers of the Church write with that same seriousness in mind. Some of these sayings will “grab” — or even grab hold  — of us more than others; perhaps those will be the ones that we will meditate on with some attention.

These assorted texts are from the book Wisdom of the Divine Philosophers, compiled by Tom and Georgia Mitrakos:

A humble person lives on earth as if in the Kingdom of heaven – always happy, peaceful, and satisfied with everything.  —St. Anthony of Optina (19th c.)

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Have patience, my child, in the trial which the goodness of God is sending you for the greater benefit of your soul … Many times, man’s pride becomes a cause for God to give us a fatherly “slap” so that we can walk more securely in humility.  This is the best sign of how greatly God is concerned for our souls.

Why do we clash over a trifle? Because we do not have humility. He who has humility wards off troubles. Without true humility, troubles remain intact and increase, such that all hope of correction is lost.  A humble person does not remember any past wrongs that his neighbor did to him, but with all his heart forgives and forgets everything for the love of God.  Beg our humble Jesus in your prayers to give you a spirit of humble-mindedness and meekness. Elder Ephraim of the Holy Mountain, (a contemporary elder)

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There are certain kinds of trees which never bear fruit as long as their branches stay up straight, but if stones are hung on the branches to bend them down they begin to bear fruit. So it is with the soul.  When it is humbled it begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears the lowlier it becomes. So also the saints: the nearer they get to God the more they see themselves as sinners.  St. Dorotheos of Gaza (5th c.)

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He who is humble in this thoughts, and engaged in spiritual work, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will apply everything to himself and not to his neighbor. —St. Mark the Ascetic (4th c.)

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For every humble person is gentle, and every gentle person is invariably humble.  A person is humble when he knows that his very being is on loan to him. —St. Maximus the Confessor (7th c.)

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Always consider yourself as needing instruction so that you may be found wise throughout your life. —St. Isaac the Syrian (7th c.)

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Before the Lord, it is better to be a sinner with repentance than a righteous person with pride. —St. Macarius of Optina (19th c.)

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