The Gospel Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee is found in Luke 18:10-14.
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
St. Nikolai Velimirovic comments on the Parable reminding us that the Pharisee fasted perfectly, yet it did him no good, for his heart remained hardened. This is a good lesson to all of us Orthodox as we prepare to enter Great Lent: the goal is to change our hearts not our stomachs.
“Ah, what an easy way of salvation has this Pharisee chosen for himself, easier than the easiest way to destruction! Of all the commandments that God gave people through Moses, he chose only the two easiest. But he did not really fulfil these two, for these two commandments were not given by God because it was necessary to Him that men fast and give a tithe of their possessions. This is not in the least necessary to God. Neither did God give these commandments to men to be some end in themselves but – as with all His other commandments – to bring forth the fruit of humility before God, obedience to God and love for God and man; in brief: to arouse, soften and illumine men’s hearts. However, the Pharisee aimlessly fulfilled these two commandments. He fasted and gave a tithe of his possessions, but he hated and scorned others, and was arrogant before God. And so he remained an unfruitful tree. The fruit is not in fasting, but in the heart; the fruit is not in a commandment, but in the heart. All commandments and all laws are of service to the heart: they warm the heart, enlighten the heart, water the heart, fence the heart round, weed it and plant it – only that the fruit in the field of the heart should set, grow and ripen. All good works are a means and not an end, the method and not the fruit. The end is in the heart, where the fruit is.” (Homilies, pp 98-99)