Now that I have been enticed to join Facebook (by my own dear daughters--go figure!), I no doubt spend far too much time staring at an electronic screen. Among other things, I've been sucked into taking those quizzes that can reveal so many things I never knew about myself just by answering six or seven questions. For example, I now know that I am a Canadian at heart and that I was probably an inventor in a past life (never mind the fact that I do not believe in reincarnation). In any case, like most people, I do enjoy these little quizzes and various surveys, and so I was thinking last night of printing out a survey of my own for my parishioners, but instead I checked into Facebook one last time before going to bed.
So I decided that as part of my sermon, I would present my parishioners with a VIRTUAL survey that can be easily answered in one's head. It is a simple survey, really, with only three options: "I consider myself to be A) a good person, B) a bad person, C) undecided. (In less than fifty words, explain your response--optional). So I ask you: which box did you mentally check--and why? This was supposed to be one of those interactive sermons in which I would pick on one of our parishioners who happens to be female, with three young children. Unfortunately, she never showed up, along with a number of others, due to the first real snowfall of the winter.
Well then: as faithful Orthodox Christians, most (or perhaps all) of you probably did the "politically correct" thing and checked "bad," explaining that you are indeed the worst of sinners. And given that the Church considers humility to be the queen of the virtues, there is no better way of demonstrating our high level of spirituality than by proclaiming the depths of our own sinfulness.
On the other hand, maybe we do not really believe we are such utter wretches, and that it would be hypocritical to pretend otherwise. Fair enough: after all, you do fast twice in the week, confess and receive Holy Communion on a regular basis, and otherwise you strive (with God's help, of course) to live the best you can as a faithful Orthodox Christian (unlike some people we know, but of course we will not name names...).
But whether you confess yourself to be a miserable sinner or an essentially "good person," the problem is that all too often our focus is not on God, but on our own self-centered egos. After all, even the most hardened criminal strives to make himself look good in his own eyes, while those who proclaim themselves to be the worst of sinners can bathe in the glow of their own vaunted humility.
The Publican in today's parable does neither--he is real and he is authentic (in today's jargon). He simply prostrates himself before God, saying in effect, "Lord, this is who I am and I make no excuses--have mercy on me!" And thus he returns home justified, while the Pharisee--who prays not to God but to his own inflated ego--is condemned.
This is, by the way, the first time I have posted for awhile, because I have gotten the impression that no one out there in cyber space is really reading what I write. So think of me as Tinkerbell--if you want me to keep blogging, clap your hands! And be assured I will hear you, wherever you are in this vast green cathedral we call Planet Earth.