Tag Archives: pre-Lent

All human conventions are destroyed.

Seeing posts of those who are at the beginning of Lent prompts mixed feelings in me. Orthodox Easter, or Pascha, does not come to us until May 2 this year, and our Great Lent begins March 15th, by which time western Christians will be halfway to their April 4th Easter.

Part of me is envious, and wishes we were already there, in that blessed season of “bright sadness.” But probably the greater part says, “Thank God we have a few more weeks!”

Yes… and I do want to take advantage of that time so that Lent itself won’t fly past without any effect on me. The Orthodox Church gives us five Sundays of preparation, and last Sunday was the first of those, Zacchaeus Sunday. Our rector emphasized to us that Zacchaeus climbed to a good vantage point because he wanted to see who Jesus was.

I appreciated Patriarch Kirill’s homily for the day in which he explained how Zacchaeus “…received his post from the hands of the Romans, the people who captured Israel, who enslaved the Jewish people. In modern terms, Zacchaeus worked in favor of the occupation power. And the freedom-loving Israelites, who painfully experienced everything that had happened to them – the fact that pagans seized power over the chosen people and over the holy places – treated those who voluntarily served the Roman authorities, collecting taxes from their own people, with contempt and indignation. That is why, in the minds of the Israelites of that time, the publicans were equal to the greatest sinners.

“But one of these tax collectors, Zacchaeus, was so eager to see the Savior that, being short, he climbed up a tree to see Him from there. The act itself is out of the ordinary, because Zacchaeus was one of those who had power, and adults who have power usually do not climb trees. If they need to see something, they have the opportunity to come closer: to push through the crowd, to make people part. But Zacchaeus climbed a tree, humiliating himself, only to see the Savior.”

And oh, my, wasn’t he rewarded! He did see Jesus, and apparently not just superficially. His humble act led eventually to true repentance and salvation; can you imagine how the whole town must have been astounded? As another has put it, “He lived in luxury from what he stole in the name of a hated foreign power.” It likely was not an easy process to make restitution to all the people through whom he had made himself rich, and to disentangle himself from the corruption of the political system, but however it happened, he went on to become one of the Seventy Apostles described in Luke Chapter 10.

Patriarch Kirill goes on to say, “Everything in this story is so simple and so unexpected. All human conventions are destroyed by the power of humility.” If we also can act in such a way that we begin to see Jesus more clearly, there is no telling what huge changes might begin in any of us, for the glory of God and our full salvation.

How to become fresh and youthful.

“The Paschal season of the Church is preceded by the season of Great Lent, which is also preceded by its own liturgical preparation. The first sign of the approach of Great Lent comes five Sundays before its beginning. On this Sunday the Gospel reading is about Zacchaeus the tax-collector. It tells how Christ brought salvation to the sinful man, and how his life was changed simply because he “sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). The desire and effort to see Jesus begins the entire movement through Lent towards Pascha. It is the first movement of salvation.”

This excerpt from our church bulletin explains why this date on the church calendar is a good one for someone to become a catechumen, as two people did on Sunday in my parish, and as I did seven years ago. It was not my first introduction to life in Christ, but it was definitely the time when I climbed up to the best vantage point to see Christ and His Church in all its fullness.

When I was a little child in Sunday School I learned some details of the story by way of a song:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree;
And He said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.'”

In his Gospel homily Sunday our rector pointed out that the Lord also said, “Make haste.” In other words, “Get down here, man! Don’t be dilly-dallying about, but begin right now to mean business with God.” And this week St. Nikolai explains how this man and his experience are meaningful to each of us:

“Today, salvation has come to this house.”
(St. Luke 19:9).

“Thus it was spoken by the One Whose word is life and joy and restoration of the righteous. Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, become fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.”
….
“Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation.”