On February 14, 2021, the 36th Sunday after Pentecost, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia officiated a Divine Liturgy at St. Alexander Nevsky Hermitage, reports patriarchia.ru. At the end of the service, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church delivered a sermon:
“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!
Today the path of preparation for Lent opens before us. This Sunday we hear the Gospel story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10), who was a publican, that is, a tax collector who belonged to the category of despised people. Zacchaeus received his post from the hands of the Romans, the people who captured Israel, who enslaved the Jewish people. In modern terms, Zacchaeus worked in favor of the occupation power. And the freedom-loving Israelites, who painfully experienced everything that had happened to them – the fact that pagans seized power over the chosen people and over the holy places – treated those who voluntarily served the Roman authorities, collecting taxes from their own people, with contempt and indignation. That is why, in the minds of the Israelites of that time, the publicans were equal to the greatest sinners.
But one of these tax collectors, Zacchaeus, was so eager to see the Savior that, being short, he climbed up a tree to see Him from there. The act itself is out of the ordinary, because Zacchaeus was one of those who had power, and adults who have power usually do not climb trees. If they need to see something, they have the opportunity to come closer: to push through the crowd, to make people part. But Zacchaeus climbed a tree, humiliating himself, only to see the Savior. And the Lord, seeing this real spiritual feat of Zacchaeus – a feat of self-humiliation and humility, – said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”
This gospel story teaches us a lot ahead of the Holy Lent. It teaches us that, in spite of people’s sins and even crimes, genuine striving for God, sealed by humility and a certain rejection of oneself, opens the path to repentance and salvation.
The example of Zacchaeus is an amazing example. Everything in this story is so simple and so unexpected. All human conventions are destroyed by the power of humility. The readiness to see what the Lord brought to the world in His personality prompts Zacchaeus to this amazing act, with which the Gospel introduces us precisely ahead of the Great Lent. We should spend Holy Lent in a way so that we acquire humility and strengthen our faith, and strengthen our will to salvation through the feat of abstinence.
Through the prayers of the saints of God, including those whom we have commemorate today, may the Lord bless our path in life and may He help us renounce ourselves and bear the fruits of repentance.”