Pure Christian Humility

Fr Athanasios Preaching

Being honest about who we are and how we live is a crucial part of every Christian journey. We are fooling ourselves with sinful pride if we think we are any better than other person in the Church, or anywhere else we may encounter them. Being honest with ourselves, which is pure Christian humility, is the center of the first Sunday of the Triodion and Great Lenten Journey. Rather than calling out, “Thank you God!” that we are not like the other sinners out there, it would be infinitely better for us to cry, “Have mercy on me a sinner!”

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Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Be Transfigured, where we invite you to live a new life in Christ. We pray that this episode is a blessing to you, and will inspire you to rededicate your life to Jesus Christ. We invite you to join us for worship or study at the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida, where visitors are always welcome. We'll be back in a few moments to share some more information about our ministry.

Thank you, God. Thank you so much I'm not like all of those sinners behind me, especially the ones in the very back row, who are too embarrassed to come up to the front. Thank you, God. I follow all the rules of the church. I never do anything wrong. I'm so wonderful. Thank you, God.

It sounds funny, but that's exactly how it must have gone down in this parable. And we can laugh, you can laugh, because you know everything I said about myself is not true. I am no different than any one of you. Every one of us is a sinner. This morning's Gospel, my brothers and sisters, is one of those grounding elements within our life, if we choose to accept it. The Pharisee wasn't wrong because he fasted. The Pharisee wasn't wrong because he gave 10% to the church. The Pharisee wasn't wrong, following all the rules of the church. Let's get that part straight. That was not his mistake.

Sometimes we are tempted to hear this Gospel as if it gives license to us to make not necessarily the best decisions in our life. "Well, the Pharisee was big into fasting, so therefore I'm not going to fast." That is not what the Gospel is about today. The Gospel is about what I like to call pure Christian humility. Not the kind of humility that the world thinks, where we have to always put ourselves down. It's not about smacking ourselves in the back of the head, and beating ourselves with chains. That's not humidity ... Humility. Humidity. Although humidity feels that way sometimes.

It's not humility, but that pride of the Pharisee is something that we have to struggle to avoid. Because although we laugh, the way I portrayed it, if we are honest with ourselves, we spend most of our days in that same mentality. We open up the TV. We open up the newspapers. We turn on the Internet, and we see all of these stories about all of these so-called famous people, who are falling to temptation. And we read, sometimes with too much graphic detail, all of the mistakes of humanity. And we are tempted to say, like the Pharisee, "Oh, thank God I'm not like those people."

If we are honest with ourselves, my brothers and sisters, that's exactly what we do, when we are faced with the sinful reality of the other people around us. And then Christ tells us about the Publican, the one who was admittedly and knowingly and publicly a sinner. And according to the parable, the Publican walks in and he says ... He beats his breast, not even able to look his eyes up into heaven, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." Not even able to stand up straight. Not even able, as if we were in our cathedral, to look up into the beautiful dome and to see the icon of God. Imagine being filled with such shame, that all we can do is walk in and bow our heads to God.

That is the sense of humility that Christ asks for us in this morning's Gospel. It's okay and good to follow the rules. But pure Christian humility is understanding, and admitting that we, also, are sinners. And sin, as I wrote in the bulletin, is the equalizer among all of us. There is not one human being in the face of the Earth today, that is without sin. And if we take Christ up on His offer of this morning's Gospel, and we acknowledge our sinfulness, and we acknowledge just how far away we are from where God wants us to be, then we would not be spending so much energy looking at the sins of others, because we would be too busy bowing our heads, and asking God for mercy.

And this other joyful understanding in this morning's Gospel ... Because we are all sinners, that means there's hope for all of us. Think of this morning, we have the Prodigal ... I mean, the Publican. He stole. He was mean to people. We've heard of other sinners. We know about the Prodigal. We know so many of our saints lived sinful lives. But this morning's Gospel reminds us that in our willingness to accept our sin, the reality of our sin, there's hope for all of us.

The only thing that will keep us out of the Kingdom, my brothers and sisters, is pride. And not because God doesn't want us in the Kingdom, but because if we struggle with the pride of the Pharisee, then we are not even going to attempt to repent from the sins that we have. If we already think we're good to go, we've lived the life God wants us to live, and we are ready for Heaven, we are the ones that are going to be sadly mistaken. Because if all of us are sinners, as Saint Paul tells us, we all deserve death. And yet, there's hope for all of us.

It says here that the Publican was the one who went home justified. We, my brothers and sisters, you and me, we will be able to go home today justified, simply because we acknowledge our sinfulness in front of God. If we can take this prayer of the Publican and make it our own, then we are the ones who are going to go home justified today. This is why in the divine liturgy, we sing the Kyrie eleison, the Lord have mercy, over and over and over again, because as long as we live, we are in need of God's loving mercy. We cannot exhaust the need for God's mercy.

And so, what a beautiful message of hope God brings to us today. Yes, we're sinners. But in acknowledging our sin, and asking God for His mercy, we are justified with the hope of the resurrection. We are justified with eternal life, in communion with God in His Kingdom. The alternative is pride. The alternative is to think that we're better than anybody else. Because as life has proven to us over and over again, none of us is any better than anybody else. We are all in need of God's loving mercy. Glory to God for all things.

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