In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today the Church reads the history of Zacchaeus. We are now entering the threshold of the preparatory weeks before Lent. Indeed we are now only eleven weeks from Easter itself. Who then was Zacchaeus?
Zacchaeus was a tax-collector. I suppose none of us particularly likes being taxed, but at least if the tax is collected honestly and is spent on useful public services, then we can agree to paying our taxes with goodwill. Zacchaeus, however, was dishonest. At least some of the tax that he collected went straight into his own pocket. We know this from his confession in today’s Gospel where he promises to return fourfold that which he had taken dishonestly. But perhaps even worse than this, Zacchaeus was collecting tax not for a legitimate State, but for the occupying power of the Roman Empire. He was therefore not only a fraudster and a thief, but he was also a traitor to his own people.
As he collected tax, so he collected sins. In that way we too are like him, for just as children collect stamps of all colours and sizes and from all countries and stick them in albums, so we all collect sins and albums of sins of all colours and sizes and varieties. We, like Zacchaeus, are sin-collectors, and every sin is a theft of God’s grace, fraudulent and a betrayal of God.
How then was Zacchaeus saved? It is important for us to know if we too seek salvation. And we know that he was saved not only because of Our Lord’s words to him in today’s Gospel, but also because of the halo around Zacchaeus’ head in the icon that lies before us, for in the Life of St Zacchaeus we can read how he was later made a bishop by the Apostles and became a holy man.
Zacchaeus was saved because he knew he was small, and so had to climb up into the sycamore tree to see the Son of God Whom he desired to see.
Our problem, on the other hand, is that we do not know that we are small. We imagine that we are big, that we are great in stature, clever, good, righteous and, ridiculous though it may sound, we even imagine that we are important, whereas in fact we are nobodies.
Like Zacchaeus, we will not be saved until we too are small and understand that in order to see Salvation, we must first climb up into the tree of repentance, up onto the cross of humility, bringing the fourfold fruit of repentance. Only then will we hear Christ’s voice calling to us and saying: ‘Come down’, because He is calling us to eat with Him in His Eucharist.
Today we also commemorate all the New Martyrs and Confessors of the twentieth century, spread over one sixth of the Earth’s service, who were brought to salvation and holiness after the tragic events of the Russian Revolution. There is a link between them and the salvation of Zacchaus which we remember today.
Before the Revolution the Church in Russia was rich and powerful, but after the Revolution, the Church became poor and small – like Zacchaeus. Before the Revolution few are the saints of the Russian Church who have been revealed to us, but after the Revolution, God revealed to us hundreds of thousands of His saints. Here there is a lesson for us.
Perhaps, for example, we sometimes imagine a time when in England too there will be a powerful and influential Orthodox Church. In London there will be a large Orthodox Cathedral, in Ipswich too, and in Felixstowe, not one tiny church, but two or three parishes. Perhaps there will be Orthodox Bishops sitting in the House of Lords, being consulted by the government of the day on all manner of questions. Perhaps there will be a demonstration through the streets of London of a million Orthodox protesting against the evil of abortion or other spiritual ills in our society. But if such a thing ever happened in the far distant future, we would have to be on guard, learning our lesson from the history of the Church in Russia and from Zacchaeus, and asking ourselves the question:
Do we find salvation when the Church is rich and powerful? Do we find salvation when we are big? Zacchaeus found salvation in being small, and countless Orthodox in the twentieth century found salvation in being persecuted in the Name of the Lord, Who makes us strong through our weakness. Let us be on our guard, remaining ‘small of stature’.
Holy Father Zacchaeus and all the New Martyrs and Confessors, pray to God for us!