I love the service of the Sixth Hour, especially during the Great and Holy 40 Day Fast. It’s because of this that I had originally scheduled the 6th Hour to be served here at St. Nicholas on many days during Great Lent. (Sigh.) I love hearing or the reading of the Kathismata from the Psalter. I love the lenten prayer of the 6th Hour with its prostrations: “O Thou Who on the sixth day and in the sixth hour didst nail upon the Cross Adam's daring sin in paradise, do thou also tear asunder the handwriting of our sins, O Christ God, and save us!” I love the reading from “The Ladder.” Of course who can forget the wonderful readings from the Prophet Isaiah? Today’s reading begins with this verse:
“The Lord has said, This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and they honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me: but in vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men” (Isaiah 29:13 LXX).
These words should sound very familiar to us because the Lord Jesus repeated them in reference to the Scribes and Pharisees: “Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’” (Matthew 15: 7-9).
What does this mean to honor with lips but not with hearts? Well, have you ever heard of “lip service?” Lip service means to say what we think people want to hear, but internally we think, or believe, the opposite. Jesus is accusing the Scribes and Pharisees of being “pretenders.” He calls them “hypocrites” which is the Greek word for “actors.” Actors are pretenders, right? The Scribes and Pharisees pretended that they alone were the only true practitioners of Judaism, whereas in reality, they were totally focused on the religious minutiae invented by themselves. They made up their own “law,” rather than practice the actual God-given Law. This is why Jesus is constantly pointing out to them where they deviate from the divine teaching in favor of their own newly invented “religion.”
The lesson for us, really, is to realize that people who are focused on themselves all the time, are not focused on God. Those whose hearts are filled with “self” don’t leave any room for God. Their hearts are far from Him. To acquire hearts that are close to God, we have to love Him with all of our heart, not just a microscopic corner of it (cf. Matthew 22:37). To avoid hypocrisy, we must speak only that which is truly true, not what WE think is true or what we want to be true. We avoid hypocrisy by being Christians, not just with our lips, but in our lives. We avoid hypocrisy by manifesting Christ in the world.