The Arabic original can be found here. Originally given at the Church of St. Marina.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Beloved, starting today we begin this Lenten journey and prepare for it during the next three weeks. Today you heard the beautiful chant, "Open to me the gates of repentance, O Giver of Life." This is one of the Church's most beautiful chants during the Lenten season, as the Church gradually prepares us for the fast. Likewise, as we pray in the divine liturgy, the Church prepares us to cast aside all earthly cares because we are about to receive the King of All.
For a Christian person, all of this life is a preparation. One works and toils and prays and marries and raises children. All of this is a preparation. If we are faithful, then we want to go to heaven and to see the face of God. This life is passing, but for the faithful life in heaven is eternal. This is why the Church arranged this period of time that is called the period of repentance. That is, a time of return to God, a time of being transported from earth to heaven.
A Christian person lives in this earth and toils on account of his weakness and on account of the weakness of this world. However, his heart longs for what is beyond, for something more beautiful and more perfect. This is why we hear the Gospel and read it. We believe in the Lord Jesus who came for our sake, as the Evangelist John says, "I came so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10)". He has prepared for us a better life than the miserable life that we live today. We are comforted when we go to church and hear the Gospel. What does today's Gospel say? It talks about two men, one of whom was called a Pharisee and the other a publican.
From what people could see, the Pharisee was a privileged and important person, respected by people. He had knowledge and wealth and an important position. However, his fault with regard to the Lord was not that he was learned, his fault was that he was proud of what he had. The other man was a publican, that is a tax-collector, he would collect tithes. Today among some protestant heresies they pay tithes. But this publican stole money, that is, he collected more than was required and people considered him to be a thief. Despite this, he came praying and kneeling in repentance and said, "O God forgive me a sinner!" This is why the Lord praised him and justified him. He preferred him over the Pharisee because he said "O God forgive me a sinner!" That is, he confessed his sin.
The noble person who has value before God is the one who when he sins, confesses his sin and does not hide it. This was the virtue of the publican, humility. This is why the Lord Jesus said, and says to us continually, these words from the Gospel that are the opposite of the spirit of the world: "He who humbles himself is raised."
May God grant us in the coming fast to be humble so that He may bless us and lift us up to the kingdom of heaven, amen.