When I was child - before TV and internet had completely taken over the known world - my grandmother and I used to play a simple little game in which she would hide something very small in the room, perhaps a thimble, and then I would look for it. When I was close she would, “You’re getting warm!”, or even, “You’re hot! Burning up!” If, on the other hand, I was a long way off, looking in the cupboard when the thimble was tucked behind some little knickknack on the shelf, I would hear, “You’re getting cold.”
I thought about this game from my childhood the other day when I read these words from Archimandrite Zacharias, one of our modern spiritual elders, about this Sunday’s Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee. He writes, “The publican lowered his head and his mind and went downwards, and in ‘going down’, he found his heart, and in his heart he found God.”
Every human being ever born, unless they have - tragically - given up the search, is looking for their heart, for, as the saints tell us, the door to our heart is the door to the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, though, most of us are “getting cold”. We have a nagging sense that we are looking for something - a doorway, a key - to some lost Paradise but we are looking in all the wrong places, in money, pleasure, comfort, or simply another human being.
In the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, however, our Lord tells us that if we want to find the door to Paradise in our heart then we must “go down”. It is as if He is saying, “Look down! I’m down here! Lower your head; lower your thoughts; lower your mind into your heart and find Me here.”
Of course, this is more than simply a physical lowering of the head, although sometimes that is precisely where we start. It is a lowering - a humbling - of our thoughts, our minds, and our estimation of ourselves. It is shaking off the illusion of our own goodness and righteousness and the sense that we are better than others and in humility confessing our unrighteousness and praying with the Publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
It should be no real surprise to us that the door to the Kingdom of God is discovered via the downward path of humility, for that is the very path that our Lord Himself, the Philanthropos (the “Friend of man”), has taken to save us. The Fathers and the hymns of the Church never tire of speaking and marveling at Christ’s voluntary lowering of Himself. And thus it is that He speaks to us from our hearts, calling to us from below, saying, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
With love in Christ,
O greatly-merciful Master, grant us a humble spirit,
that our souls would find repose in Thee.
O most holy Mother of the Lord, obtain for us,
O Merciful One, a humble spirit.
O all ye Saints, ye live in the heavens
and ye see the glory of the Lord,
and your spirit rejoices,
pray that we also would be with you.
My soul also yearns to see the Lord,
and it longs for him in humility,
as unworthy of this good.
O humility of Christ! I know thee, but I cannot attain thee.
Thy fruits are sweet, because they are not earthly.
O merciful Lord, by the Holy Spirit teach us Thy humility.
+St Silouan the Athonite