This past Sunday we found ourselves yet again focused upon Zacchaeus. We read from this Gospel each year on the week that precedes the Preparatory Sundays to the Great Fast. And as the Lord's plan would have it (for our sakes), we also commemorated the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Ignatius the God-bearer.
How do these two relate, you're asking?
Within the Prologue from Saint Nikolai Velimirovich, we find a "reflection" related to the life of Saint Ignatius. Saint Nikolai writes, "The more a man advances in spiritual knowledge and in purification of the heart, the more it appears to him that the depth in which he finds himself is even lower and that the height to which he strives is even higher."
The name Zacchaeus means "pure and innocent one." In his encounter with our Lord, Zacchaeus was granted the gift of returning to that purity and innocence which once belonged to each of us. What Saint Nikolai is saying to us is that when we finally approach repentance with purity of heart, when we see the depths to which we've fallen with purity and innocence, we recognize truly the depths to which we've sunk. It is as if our cleaning of the pit into which we've fallen empties it, and we find ourselves, having cleaned it, deeper than when we started. This perception is not a discouragement from the cleansing. Rather, it is a factual statement that the weightier of our sins "mask" the lesser ones from our view. We cannot see the totality of our failings because we are preoccupied with the greater issues.
This, too, is as it should be. We must first overcome those things which to the greatest extent separate us from our Lord, seeking Him prayerfully to grant us the grace to overcome those temptations which most often cause us to fall. When that prayer is answered, the next tier of our sinfulness can be approached, layer by layer. But in order for us to make any progress at all, we must first come to a point of recognizing our need to repent. This is the reason the Church gives to us the "gift" of returning to Zacchaeus on this day.
Saint Ignatius was called from Antioch to Rome, to appear before the Emperor Trajan, to account for his faith. In the journey from Antioch, several of the faithful journeyed with him because of their love for their arch-shepherd. Before Saint Ignatius was martyred for his faith, as he lay chained in a dungeon, he wrote to his beloved faithful in Ephesus. Listen carefully to the words of this great saint of the Church. "I do not command you as though I stand for something. Even though I am in chains for the Name of Jesus Christ, nevertheless, I still have not perfected myself in Him. Now I am beginning to be His disciple, and I speak to you as a group of my teachers."
The greatest of the Saints continue to see themselves by the sins they have committed, judging themselves continually, so that in that judgment, they may come to purify themselves. Their focus is not on any others - only on self, and self-failings. They follow implicitly the prayer we together offer before each and every Eucharist, "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came to save sinners, of whom I am the first."
Seeing ourselves as "first among sinners" is not a prideful thing. What pride is there in our sins? Rather, seeing ourselves in this way makes us unaware of anything else around us other than our own sins. It is only in this fashion that we can truly follow Christ and be a servant to all people. For how can a person serve another when that person believes himself to be greater than the one he is called to serve? If this happens, there is anger and resentment for one's station as a servant.
But if one sees oneself as less than any other, then it is possible, and even easy, to serve all others.
Zaccheaus was granted the grace to see his sins, and he freely confessed and repented. He came to understand what Saint Ignatius would later repeat in writing to those in Ephesus, that he was "beginning to be a disciple", and that his life as a publican had ended, his life as a disciple had begun.
Saint Zacchaeus became bishop of Caesarea, installed by the Apostle Peter. He shows us the way, through desire to find Christ, to change, to follow Him, to repent, and to live according to His commandments.
As we come to the threshold of the Great Fast, through the prayers of Saint Zaccheaus, may our Lord grant us the grace to do the same.
Welcome to Saint Herman's, Hudson, Ohio
This blog is a partial compilation of the messages, texts, readings, and prayers from our small mission community. We pray that it will be used by our own people, to their edification. And if you happen by and are inclined to read, give the glory to God!
The blog title, "Will He Find Faith on the Earth?" is from Luke 18:8, the "Parable of the Persistent Widow." It overlays the icon of the Last Judgment, an historical event detailed in Matthew Chapter 25, for which we wait as we pray in the Nicean Creed.
We serve the Holy Orthodox cycle of services in contemporary English. Under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph of the Bulgarian Patriarchal Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia, we worship at 5107 Darrow Road in Hudson, Ohio (44236). If you are in the area, please join us for worship!
Regular services include:
Sunday Divine Liturgy 10AM (Sept 1 - May 31)
930AM (June 1 - Aug 31)
Vespers each Saturday 6PM
We pray that you might join us for as many of these services as possible!