Sunday, February 21, 2016

The beginning of the Triodion

Icon of the Publican and Pharisee. He who humbles himself
will be exalted.  He who exalts himself will be humbled.
For the next ten weeks to varying degrees, the Orthodox Church will use principally the service book of the Triodion, a collection of hymns for the services throughout the pre-Lenten, Lenten and Holy Week periods.  It is a magnificent collection of great hymns, the vast majority of which few Orthodox Christians will actually use and pray unless they are monastics.  That is a great loss.  I believe that every Orthdox Christian should own a copy of the Triodion and make use of it in his devotional life as much as he can.

Today is the first Sunday of the Triodion where we take special notice of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.  The lessons contained in those four verses from St. Luke's Gospel are numerous, but the one thing that we should focus on is whether we, in our spiritual lives, are more like the publican or the pharisee?

Most of us, if we were honest, would answer that we are more like the pharisee.  Even more of us would answer that this parable, like so many other parables of the Lord and exhortations of the prophets, concern everyone BESIDES us.  Those were written down for other people, not for someone like me who is just trying to get through  life, make a living, love my wife and kids and not get into trouble.  But, even that train of thought puts one well into the pharisee camp.  Such an evaluation of life being rooted in just doing the right things is exactly where the pharisee stands when he is in the temple.  He does do all the right things and wants to be congratulated for it.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit we do not enter the Temple of the Lord with downcast face and with a cry of mercy to forgive us our sin, whatever that may be, however little it may be.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit that being pharisaical isn't really bad at all.

Most of us, if we were honest, would admit that humbling ourselves runs counter to our culture of self-satisfaction, self-validation, self-importance, ego-driven world we find ourselves and maybe seek to change that.

Most of us, if we were honest, would prefer material gifts over spiritual ones.

Most of us, simply, do not want to be the publican.

But that is the spiritual life.  Does God accept us as we are?  Sure.  But he also says that if we love Him to keep his commandments.  That requires humility which almost every single Church Father and Desert Father says is the beginning to becoming like God.  But we want God to do the work for us and yet we still demand credit. God does the work, but so must we.  God did not create a race of automatons to function only according to a certain program.  He created a race in His image and likeness to grow into mature human beings in communion with him.  But that can only happen if we first humble ourselves to the point that we are not equal with God and that we have sinned against our Creator.  That's not a bad thing.  Humility takes  a lot more courage and effort than exalting ourselves for managing to dress ourselves every morning.

The Lenten period is about fasting, prayer and repentance. In short, it's about work.  The work to drag ourselves out of the pit of our sins.  Yes, Christ did do that on the Cross and then in  Hades, made glorious in His Resurrection.  But He did that so that we could also work out our on salvation with fear and trembling.  St. Paul may as well have said humility.

So, let us embrace humility now for the Lenten season that will be upon us in a few very short weeks.  Happy Triodion, everyone!