The Lenten Triodion
Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee
On the previous Sunday before the Lenten Triodion period, the Orthodox Church remembers the Sunday of Zacchaeus with the Gospel reading from Luke 19:1-10. We learn from this Gospel reading that Zacchaeus was eager to see the Lord so he climbed the fruitful sycamore fig tree to get a better look. As the fruitful sycamore fig tree that he climbed, the Publican bore sweet prolific fruit in humility and through his deeds of providing for the poor and restoring his debts fourfold to those he had sinned against. The reading reminds us that this is how we should greet the upcoming Great Lenten Fast, with humility, good works and reflection on our own sinful natures with the intent to correct our ways with God’s help and His Divine Mercy.
The Sunday following the Sunday of Zacchaeus marks the beginning of the period the Orthodox Christian Church calls the Lenten Triodion. Having been called to reflect upon our own sinful natures and take measures to correct our actions the previous week, the church now enters into a period of repentance for the next three weeks. The first of these three Sundays (which in 2015 starts on February 1) begins with the reading of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18:10-14. This is more than just becoming aware of our shortcomings with regret and self-pity. It is actually a period when one can become renewed and develop a transformed viewpoint of his/her relationship with God and each other. The Holy Fathers call this Metanoia (μετάνοια) meaning that after one has recognized their own sinfulness, they have a complete change of mind and heart and become open to God. In the Gospel reading of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Pharisee’s sin was in that he trusted in himself and thought he was perfect and had no need to change where the Publican realized his short comings. The Publican became what the Holy Fathers call “poor in spirit”, and when there is self-dissatisfaction with one’s self, there is room for God to enter our lives.
This Gospel reading is also a lesson on how to pray. The wrong way to pray is to trust in oneself with the belief that one is perfect and without error (righteous) while retaining disdain for others (exalted pride) like the Pharisee. The right way to pray is to approach God with humility by recognizing our own weaknesses (sinfulness), having a change of heart (metanoia) and coming to the realization that one’s only hope for salvation rests with God’s help and His Divine Mercy like the Publican. The prayer of the Publican, “God, be merciful to me a sinner“, is the foundation for the Jesus Prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner“, as is the Orthodox refrain chanted during liturgical worship and personal prayer, “Lord have mercy“.
References: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol III, Luke, InterVarsity Press; Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Conciliar Press; NKJV