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The Publican and the Pharisee

Religion in the so-called “Bible Belt,” where Evangelical churches are about as common as gas stations, is often mysterious mixture of faith, piety, contradictions, and self-righteous pride.

There is the strange doctrine of Eternal Security as witnessed in the common saying “Once saved, always saved.” I remember the man who accosted me (yes, I was dressed as a priest) with the challenge: “Have you been saved?!?” Wow, that took a lot of gall. I responded: “I hope to be saved.” He countered with: “Well, I know if I died right now I would go immediately to Heaven!” How sad! This is the sin of pride – the very sin into which the Pharisee fell when he proclaimed he was better than other men – especially this Publican.

Then there is the common belief that beer, liquor, wine and every kind of drinking alcohol is, itself, evil. I once had neighbors who were members of just such a church, and they emptied their beer bottles, late at night, in my trash bin! My dear grandmother Leona, looked with great suspicion on the consumption of alcohol; and yet she had no such problem with taking Miles Nervine (ca. 1890) in abundance with its very generous dose of alcohol. And since I was, in her opinion, a “nervous child” she was always pushing this cure-all on me. Again, the Pharisee exerts himself: Since any problem is not “I” but the alcohol itself (certainly not my lack of self-control and gluttony) then everything may be attributed to “demon rum.”

And let us not forget the so-called “Rapture” (my Cousin Susan’s favorite argument with me). It is common to see bumper stickers proclaiming “In case of the Rapture this vehicle will be unmanned.” This, really terrible and soul-threatening doctrine was invented by John Darby in 1830 and was never heard of before that time. There are many versions of the Rapture doctrine, but in general God will suddenly lift all God-fearing Christians (sorry, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists – and Orthodox?) and take them to His Bosom, leaving the rest of us sinner to suffer the Great Tribulation of the Antichrist. Those who subscribe to such a pernicious doctrine will not be looking for, nor will they recognize, an Antichrist; and they will be the first to fall for his blandishments. And the cause: Pride! It is a pride that “I am better than all those sinners and my salvation is secure.” And so we see, again, that the Pharisee is alive and well – even after two thousand years.

So, how do we answer the question “Have you been saved?!?” Perhaps a good answer is “I have been saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved.” I was saved by Christ’s suffering and Resurrection; I am being saved by the operation of the Holy Spirit; and I shall be saved when Christ comes again in Glory as my Judge. As for me personally, I have done nothing deserving of salvation and can only beat my breast and plead with the Publican: “Have mercy on me the sinner.”

May God grant us all a blessed Great Lent and a glorious Pascha.

Archimandrite Raphael
St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church
Jones, OK

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