There are two Books that we need if we are to live.
The first Book is called The Book of Rules, also called The Book of Truth. This book contains the rules, laws, canons and customs of the Church. Everything that should guide us and tells us what is right and what is wrong is there. If we follow this Book, we will learn very much and we will not be Orthodox Christians until we follow it. However, if we follow this Book alone, our view of the world will be very dark, very strict, very legalistic and very negative. We will sit shaking our heads the whole time, all dried up and loveless. We will never learn to have love for anyone else or for ourselves, but will spend our time condemning and judging everyone. So this Book of Life will become for us the Book of Death, the Book of the Pharisees.
The second Book is called The Book of Exceptions, also called the Book of Mercy. This is the Book that life teaches us, which is why it has never been written down or printed, it is only talked and heard about. If it were written down, it would contain all the exceptions to The Book of Rules. However, no-one can know it, understand it or apply it properly until they know the Book of Rules. If we follow this Book, we will learn very much and we will not be Orthodox Christians until we follow it. This Book of Exceptions is the Book that we must follow when we follow the Book of Rules. If we do not follow them both together, we will finish very far from the Church, in a very sad and lonely place, where God did not want us to be.
If we follow only the Book of Rules, we may know everything, but understand nothing. If we follow only the Book of Exceptions, we may know nothing and understand nothing. It is only when we put these two books together that they form The Big Book, The Book of Love, also known as The Book of Wisdom. The Book of Love is the only Book we will ever need to know. It is this Book which St Nicholas lived by, which is why he is called ‘the rule of faith AND the model of gentleness’. And it is this Book which the Prophet and King David described in his song: ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Ps 84, 11). Until we know this Book of Love, we will not be real Orthodox Christians.
Fr Andrew Phillips
Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee 2020