St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, February 5, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

For me this is one of the most wonderful Sundays of the year.  The book of Great Lent is opened today for the first time, the Triodion, and we begin to think about the fasting and repentance. And hopefully, we will have grown spiritually some over the past year so that we have a deeper of understanding of what a wondrous thing repentance is.  And it really is.  It is a joyous, exciting, awe-inspiring process of healing and transformation of mind and soul. 

For many the idea is frightening.  And here is why.  We know things aren’t right with us. We know that something is wrong. If we know what it is, we are ashamed and worried to admit it thinking that God will not accept us if we do.  We call this shame.

“The water said to the dirty one, ‘Come here.’  The dirty one said, ‘I am too ashamed.’ The water replied, ‘How will your shame be washed away without me?’” Rumi

When we scraped our knees as children and ran to our mothers for help, first she would gently take a wet cloth and clean the wound before treating it.  Usually, a cloth with only water, not soap, because soap might sting too much at first. And then when the wound was clean and visible she would be able to choose the right treatment – some ointment if not too deep, or a visit to a doctor for stiches if it was.  Shame is the dirt that covers the wound.  As long as the wound is dirty no treatment can be applied.  So someone needs to say to us, “Don’t worry.  It’s alright. I am here for you. I will take care of you,” and then we will feel safe in allowing the dirt to be removed.

There is something about wounds you may not know.  Wounds are the place where the light shines through. The Pharisee had wounds that were left dirty and untreated so that they became infected. We know they were infected because he was so arrogant, defensive and judgmental.  He used his arrogance and his social position to hide his infected wounds. But if he had only been able to acknowledge his wounds and present them to God they would not have become infected and he would have learned a wonderful thing: that wounds are the places where the light shines through. These wounds of life are the cracks in the wall of ego. Were it not for our wounds the light of God could not break through our defenses. As such, we need to make friends with our wounds. Our wounds are our hope.

So we must get to know them. For most of us, the first awareness we have of the presence of a wound is our inappropriate behavior and the second is that we begin to feel uneasy about it. The source of this unease is the growing knowledge that there is a gap between who we want to be and who we are.  This gap is what frightens us most.  It means that we have failed to make it on our own, that we need help. We know that the gap must be bridged and since what we have done thus far has actually created the gap, we suspect that a radical change of some kind must occur in order to bridge it. And since we seem only to be able to created gaps and not fill them, we must turn to someone else to help us. When the unease grows and the desire for change becomes strong enough something wonderful begins to happen. We discover Compassion.

When we come to God we will hear him say these wonderful words, “I accept you. Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. I will take care of you,” but, first someone else has to say them. We do. We have to look at ourselves, see our wounds, accept that they are there and then show ourselves the very thing we need most of all, love and compassion. For only those who show compassion to themselves will risk opening themselves to the compassion of the Heavenly Physician. When we are able to say to our wounded selves, “Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. I will take care of you,” a great burden is lifted and healing begins.

Marsha Linehan, the founder of one of the most effective methods of psychological therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, recently told her story. She was diagnosed as bi-polar and borderline personality. She was completely out of control. She cut and burned herself relentlessly. She was suicidal. No one knew how to help her. Thorazine, Librium and successive electroshock treatments did not work. She ended up in a seclusion room banging her head on the floor in an attempt to kill herself. During a time when she was discharged she went to pray in the Catholic chapel at Loyola University in Chicago. As she prayed something happened. As she knelt there she looked up at the Cross and the whole chapel became golden. She felt something coming towards her. She called it “a shimmering experience”. After that she ran back to her room and said these words, “I love myself,” and her healing began. This was the moment when she discovered one of the keys to the healing of mind and soul, “Radical Acceptance.” The ability to say to yourself, “Don’t be afraid. It’s alright. I am here for you. I will take care of you.”

If we need any reminder at all that God’s attitude towards us is “Radical Acceptance”, then look at the Cross. As we begin to think about Lent, remember that the Lord’s death is the ultimate sign that God is saying to each of us, “I accept you. Don’t be afraid. I am here for you. I will take care of you.” What kind of loving God would he be who wouldn’t accept us as we are?