The first forty days after a new baby is born are sacred days. At times they seem long, but in retrospect, the entire first year of a new baby’s life just seem to fly right by. The first forty days are no exception. In fact, they are so much like a wedding. There is so much anticipation for the wedding itself but once it arrives it seems to be over just as quick as it all started, and the bride and groom are considered lucky if they get a chance to eat some food. The first six weeks of motherhood are so similar.
This time around, I am missing the beginning of Lent. This is arguably my favorite liturgical season of the year, so missing any services is a little tough, especially because I know I’ll be waiting another year before I can experience them again.
Today was the Sunday of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Instead of sharing a bunch of my own thoughts on this beautiful parable of repentance, I want to share some excerpts by Church Fathers.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son can be found in Luke 15:11-32.
“This parable is like those which precede it. For it also presents a man, Who is in fact God, the Lover of man. The two sons represent the two kinds of men, righteous and sinners. The younger son said, Give me the portion of the property that falleth to me. Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son (born at the beginning) does not become estranged from the father. But sin is an evil thing which was born later. This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time. The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father’s will.Theophylact of Ochrid – 1107 AD
Father, give me the portion of the property (ousia) that falleth to me. The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will (autexousia), for all that is rational is inherently self-governing. The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property. He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing.3 But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift. Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets. But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God’s law, and did evil to the prophets. On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God. Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and self-determination, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling. If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will. But the younger son completely spent this inheritance. Why? Because he had gone into a far country. When a man rebels against God and places himself far away from the fear of God, then he squanders all the divine gifts. But when we are near to God, we do not do such deeds that merit our destruction. As it is written, I beheld the Lord ever before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken (Ps. 15:8). But when we are far from God and become rebellious, we both do, and suffer, the worst things, as it is written, Behold, they that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:25).
The younger son indeed squandered and scattered his property. For every virtue is a simple and single entity, while its opposing vice is a many-branched complexity, creating numerous deceptions and errors. For example, the definition of bravery is simple, that is, when, how, and against whom, one ought to make use of one’s capacity to be stirred to action. But the vice of not being brave takes two forms, cowardice and recklessness. Do you see how logos can be scattered in every direction and the unity of virtue destroyed? When this essential property has been spent, and a man no longer walks in accordance with logos, by which I mean the natural law, nor proceeds according to the written law, nor listens to the prophets, then there arises a mighty famine—not a famine of bread, but a famine of hearing the word (logos) of the Lord (Amos 8:11). And he begins to be in want, because by not fearing the Lord he has departed far from Him. But there is no want to them that fear the Lord (Ps. 33:9). How is there no want to them that fear Him? Because blessed is the man that feareth the Lord; in His commandments shall he greatly delight. Therefore glory and riches shall be in his house, and far from being himself in want, he hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor (see Ps. 111). Therefore the man who makes a journey far from God, not keeping God’s dread face ever before his eyes, indeed is in want, having no divine logos at work in him.
And he went, that is, he proceeded and advanced in wickedness, and joined himself to a citizen of that country. He who is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with Him. But he who is joined to a harlot, that is, to the nature of the demons, becomes one body with her (I Cor. 6:16) and he makes himself all flesh, having no room in himself for the Spirit, as it was for those men at the time of the flood (Gen. 6:4). The citizens of that country far from God are none other than the demons. The man who joins himself to these citizens, having advanced and become powerful in wickedness, feeds the swine, that is, he teaches others evil and filthy deeds. For all those who take pleasure in the muck of shameful deeds and carnal passions are like swine. Pigs are never able to look upward because of the peculiar shape of their eyes. This is why, when a farmer grabs hold of a pig, he is not able to make it stop squealing until he turns it upside down on its back. This quiets the pig, as if, by looking upward, the pig can see things it had never seen before, and it is startled into silence. Such are they whose eyes are ever turned to filthy things, who never look upward. Therefore, a man who exceeds many others in wickedness can be said to feed swine. Such are the keepers of brothels, the captains of brigands, and the chief among publicans. All these may be said to feed swine. This wretched man desires to satisfy his sin and no one can give him this satisfaction. For he who is habitual in sinful passions receives no satisfaction from them. The pleasure does not endure, but is there one moment and gone the next, and the wretched man is again left empty. Sin is likened to the pods which the swine eat, because, like them, sin is sweet in taste yet rough and harsh in texture, giving momentary pleasure but causing ceaseless torments. Therefore, there is no man to provide satisfaction for him who takes pleasure in these wicked passions. Who can both satisfy him and quiet him? Cannot God? But God is not present, for the man who eats these things has traveled a far distance from God. Can the demons? They cannot, for they strive to accomplish just the opposite, namely, that wickedness never end or be satisfied.”
“Whoever we are, whatever we are, wherever we have come to be, even at the very edge of the abyss, we must never let go of the moving image of the prodigal son’s reception into the embrace of the father, who hugs him tightly and showers him with kisses. Let our final fall be into the arms of our Most-Compassionate Heavenly Father…”Monk Moses of Mt. Athos.
May we be like the prodigal son, repentant and eager to return to the arms of our loving Father. Let us also be like the forgiving father, ready to restore any who come in humility.