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532Homily for 2/24/13 - PP - preparation for Lent

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  • Fr David Moser
    Feb 24, 2013
      When a person undertakes a big project, he does not begin right away but
      spends some time in preparation, making a plan, gathering materials,
      organizing his resources and so on. This preparation allows him to begin
      his project with confidence and great energy and provides for the best
      chance of a successful outcome. In just a few short weeks we will all
      undertake to begin the “project” of Great Lent. For this purpose, today
      we begin with the first of 4 preparatory Sundays. For the next 4 Sundays
      we will be gathering our spiritual resources, setting everything in
      order, organizing the external structure of our lives so that when we
      begin the first week of Great Lent, we can do so without distraction or
      hesitation, putting our whole selves into the task of following our Lord
      Jesus Christ as He leads us through self denial, through the Cross and
      grave and into the life of His glorious Resurrection.

      The greatest obstacles that will face in our task are pride and
      arrogance. It was arrogance born of pride that caused the devil to rebel
      against God. He, in turn, tempted Adam and Eve through arrogance,
      telling them that they would become gods if they disobeyed the
      commandment not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He
      then instilled pride in them which prevented them from admitting their
      error (i.e. confessing their sin) to God and repenting. Through
      arrogance and pride, our first parents, Adam and Eve, fell and become
      subject to the ravages of sin and corruption.
      On the other hand, the greatest tools that we have to go through Great
      Lent profitably are repentance and humility. These are the opposite
      virtues to the passions of pride and arrogance. This is in close
      accordance with the instructions of the God-bearing fathers who tell us
      that the best way to resist the temptations of the passions is to
      practice the opposite virtue. Thus those who are tempted to greed should
      make a particular effort to practice generosity and almsgiving or those
      who are tempted to gluttony should make a particular effort to keep the
      fast strictly. And those who are afflicted by pride and arrogance should
      make a particular effort to practice humility and repentance.

      We begin our preparation for Great Lent by considering the parable of
      the publican and the Pharisee. In this parable we are given a picture of
      both the obstacles that we will face and the tools with which we can
      overcome them. The Pharisee exemplifies pride and arrogance while the
      publican shows us humility and repentance. By observing these two we can
      see how to avoid the pride and arrogance of the Pharisee and how to
      obtain the humility and repentance of the publican.

      The Pharisee was a member of a sect of Judaism that studied the laws
      that were given to the Hebrew people by God and which were summarized in
      the 10 commandments. Over the years the people of Israel expounded on
      the law, analyzed it and created an intricate system of rules that
      sought to apply the law to every possible situation in life. The
      Pharisees in the time of Christ were experts on the various aspects of
      the law. They knew every rule and imposed the keeping of those rules on
      the people who were observant Jews. Since the Pharisees were the
      dominant group among the religious authorities, especially those who
      controlled the worship at the temple in Jerusalem, they had a great deal
      of influence on the lives of the people. They taught that in order to
      please God everything must be done according to the letter of the law.
      There was no room for variation or personal situations. The rulers among
      the Pharisees imposed this strict way of life on their followers,
      however, since they were experts in all the details of the law, they
      were also experts in how to use to the law to their own advantage, using
      every little twist and exception to insure their own wealth and
      positions. Because they were experts in the law, the Pharisees often
      felt justified in judging and condemning others who did not fulfill the
      law with the same exactitude that they themselves maintained. This is
      the root of the pride of the Pharisee in the parable. He considered
      himself to be better than those around him because he perfectly kept the
      letter of the law. This pride is evident in his words, “I thank Thee
      that I am not like other men … I fast … I pray … I give alms …” He has
      fulfilled the letter of the law and yet he has missed the inner purpose
      of the law which is to love God and to love others. There is no love in
      his words, no compassion, no caring – only self aggrandizement and
      judgment of others. His pride gives birth to his arrogance in that he
      dares to stand before God and to tell God how perfect he himself is, as
      if God needed to be told anything. This prayer is not made in private,
      but in public and so not only does he proclaim his own “righteousness”
      to God but holds it up to display it before all men.

      This kind of pride and arrogance comes from following the law according
      to his own ideas of what it means. He approaches the law on his own
      terms and makes the law serve himself. In this way his self-will is
      justified by his own rationalization of the law and by his own
      interpretation of how it should be used. As we embark upon the fast, we
      face this same kind of temptation to pride and arrogance. The Church
      gives us a fasting rule to follow and yet there are many times when we
      are tempted to reinterpret that rule to our own liking. Maybe we are
      tempted to relax the fast a little, because of course our life is more
      complicated than that of those early Christians. Or maybe its just too
      much trouble and so we excuse ourselves a little. On the other hand
      maybe we don’t think that the fast is strict enough and so we decide to
      add a little here and a little there, making the fast more difficult.
      After all if a little strictness and self denial is good for the soul,
      it must be that more is better. Then having “adjusted” the fasting rule
      of the Church to our liking, we look at our neighbor and “evaluate” how
      well he is fasting. If he is not doing as well as I am, well then he’s
      just a hopeless sinner – but if he’s doing better than I, well then he’s
      an overzealous enthusiast who’s getting in over his head. And there you
      have it, the arrogance born of pride that results in judging others
      while excusing ourselves. When we “adjust” the fast according to our own
      liking, then we are no longer fasting out of obedience (which produces
      humility) but rather we are fasting now out of our own self will (which
      gives birth to pride). In order to teach us the futility of fasting
      without obedience, the Church gives us this week as a fast free week to
      remind us that it is not the rule itself that produces results, but
      rather the denial of our self will and obedience to the authority of the
      Church. Therefore if there is a desire or need to “adjust” the fast –
      either to relax it or to make it stricter – before you undertake to do
      this, ask for a blessing so that you are no longer acting out of self
      will, but you are acting out of obedience.

      The publican on the other hand demonstrates for us humility and
      repentance. When he comes to the temple to pray, rather than stand and
      proclaim his accomplishments loudly before God and man (especially man)
      the publican casts himself to the floor making a prostration not even
      daring to raise his eyes to heaven. He sees himself as the worst of all
      men, the greatest of all sinners. He is aware of his unworthiness before
      God and how he approaches the presence of God shows it. Then we hear the
      words of his prayer, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” The publican knows
      that there is nothing in himself that is good – rather all that he has
      is sin. As he has nothing to offer God from himself, he simply throws
      himself on the mercy of God putting all his hope on God and none on
      himself. This is the prayer of humility and repentance. To be aware of
      our own unworthiness before God, to be aware of the multitude of our own
      sins to such a degree that we cannot even conceive of the sins of anyone
      else – this is the practice of humility.

      As we go through Great Lent, one of the results of our fasting and self
      denial is that we begin to see our own sins more clearly. This makes
      Great Lent a good time to come and take confession more often. As we see
      our sins, then we can more easily repent of them – that is turn our
      backs on them – and when we confess our sins, the power and hold that
      they have on us is broken, making it possible to turn away from them and
      leave them behind, which is the essence of repentance.
      The greatest obstacles that we will face during Great Lent are our own
      pride and arrogance. In order to overcome these obstacles we have two
      powerful tools: humility and repentance. Humility comes most easily when
      we give up our self will and self reliance and instead conform our will
      to that of God (expressed through the life of the Church) and rely on
      Him to perfect us. Humility can be most effectively gained through
      obedience for in obedience we deny our own self will and rely instead
      upon the provision that God makes for us. By acquiring humility and
      putting all our hope in God; by confessing our sins and turning away
      from them in repentance, reordering our lives according to God’s
      direction rather than our own will, by these two actions we will
      overcome these great obstacles and make a good start on the journey
      through Great Lent.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org