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Sunday of Zaccheus

Threshold of the Great Lent


The church begins the preparatory period which constitutes the threshold of the Great Lent with the “Sunday of Zaccheus” — the Sunday on which we hear the Gospel reading about a publican named Zaccheus.

There is a certain characteristic which runs like a golden thread through the entire festive cycle from the Nativity to the Baptism of our Lord, and which connects it with the Gospel reading about Zaccheus and with the Great Lent. This characteristic is the virtue of humility.

Just consider, dear brethren, how the momentous event of God’s coming down to earth and becoming incarnate — occurred with the greatest modesty. There were no pomp and circumstance, no fanfare, only the angels sang the glory and the majesty of the One Who was born in a humble cave, and this singing was heard only by humble shepherds.

Afterwards, the early years of our Saviour’s life also passed in anonymity. And then came the moment when He appeared publicly to begin His service to mankind. This momentous event, too, took place without pomp or circumstance, without fanfare: the Lord quietly came to the river Jordan, in order to be baptized by John just like all the other repentant sinners. And it was only John the Baptist, and the others who were there, — who had repented and were cleansed, — who saw the majesty of this moment in the first open appearance on earth of the Holy Trinity: God the Father speaking from heaven, God the Son being baptized in Jordan, and God the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and bearing witness to God’s imminent reconciliation with mankind.

It is this virtue of humility, which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself teaches us by the example of His entire life on earth, which the Church offers to us — in the Gospel reading about Zaccheus — as the beginning and the foundation of our purification, our spiritual regeneration, our unification with Christ.

In terms of human judgment, Zaccheus was a great sinner. First of all, in his capacity as head of the publicans, i.e. tax collectors, he was a thief and extortionist. By keeping back part of the money which he collected, he robbed both the people and the government, became rich at the expense of his neighbors, and cast widows and orphans into poverty. Moreover, by working for the occupying Roman forces, he was a traitor to his own people and showed himself as being unscrupulous. However, from the description of his meeting with the Saviour we see that Zaccheus was not a hopeless sinner, because he was not filled with that certain pride which would have forever barred him from salvation.

The Gospel tells us of how the Lord passed through Jericho, where this Zaccheus lived. Zaccheus, who had obviously heard of this new and extraordinary Teacher, showed a lively interest in Him. Zaccheus did not haughtily remain at home, disdaining to run after the crowd, nor did he try to push his way forward or demand to be let through before everyone else. He humbly waited to see Christ along the way, and he showed his ardent desire to see the Lord by climbing up into a sycamore tree, because he was short in stature.

Consider this moment, dear brethren: Zaccheus ardently desires to see the Lord, humbly waits to see Him and then overcomes all barriers to his desire: by climbing up into a tree he overcomes the physical impediment of his stature, and also overcomes the psychological impediment of his important position, the possibility of being mocked and ridiculed by others, etc.

And what do we see? What does humility lead to, even of such a great sinner as Zaccheus? “Zaccheus!” — the Lord says to him, — “make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house.” With these words the Lord says to Zaccheus: I must abide with you, because you have opened up your heart to Me, you have come to meet Me; I must abide at your house, that is, in your heart, because your humility has merited My grace; I must abide with you, because you have now become totally transformed spiritually, and I must strengthen this within you; I must abide within your heart, because it is now ready to accept Me.

Thus we see how humility brought Zaccheus to his meeting with the Saviour; how humility attracted God’s grace to him; how humility transformed his entire being, made him cry out: “Lord! half of my goods I will give to the poor, and if I have taken anything from any man falsely, I will restore it fourfold.”

Such is the effect of humility, dear brethren! Let us follow the example of Zaccheus’ humility, let us burn with his ardor to see Christ, let us overcome all impediments to meeting with Christ, in order for the Lord to say to us: today I must abide at thy house, the house of thy heart. Amen.


Father Rostislav Sheniloff

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