Christ the Savior-Holy Spirit Orthodox Church
Archpriest Steven C. Kostoff
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Sunday of the Prodigal Son




"This, my son was dead, and is alive again!"
"This, my son was dead, and is alive again!"

Warming Up for Great Lent III:

Returning to the House of the Father

The Sunday after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This parable of God's forgiveness calls us to "come to ourselves" as did the prodigal son, to see ourselves as being "in a far country" far from the Father's house, and to make the journey of return to God. We are given every assurance by the Master that our heavenly Father will receive us with joy and gladness. We must only "arise and go," confessing our self-inflicted and sinful separation from that "home" where we truly belong (Luke 15:11-24).

 

After the Polyeleion at Matins, we first hear the lenten hymn "By the Waters of Babylon." It will be sung for the next two Sundays before Lent begins, and it serves to reinforce the theme of exile in today's Gospel.

 

Kontakion in Tone Three

Having foolishly abandoned Thy paternal glory,
I squandered on vices the wealth which Thou gavest me,
Wherefore with the voice of the Prodigal I cry unto Thee:
'I have sinned before Thee, O Compassionate Father,
Receive me as one repentant,
and make me as one of Thy hired servants!"


Doxastikon in Tone Six

Loving Father, I have gone far from you, but do not forsake me, nor declare me unfitted for your Kingdom. The all-evil enemy has stripped me naked and taken all my wealth. I have squandered like the Profligate the graces given to my soul. But now I have arisen and returned, and I cry aloud to you, ‘Make me as one of your hired servants, You who for my sake stretched out Your spotless hands on the Cross, to snatch me from the fearsome beast and to clothe me once again in the first robe, for You alone art full of mercy'.

Return from Exile ~ The Lesson of the Prodigal Son

 

RETURN FROM EXILE

The Lesson of the Prodigal Son

by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983)

On the third Sunday of preparation for Lent, we hear the parable of the Prodigal Son (LK 15:11-32). Together with the hymns on this day, the parable reveals to us the time of repentance as man’s return from exile. The prodigal son, we are told, went to a far country and there spent all that he had.

 

A far country! It is this unique definition of our human condition that we must assume and make ours as we begin our approach to God. A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly “at home” in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.

 

Repentance is often simply identified as a cool and “objective” enumeration of sins and transgressions, as the act of “pleading guilty” to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of a juridical nature. But something very essential is overlooked – without which neither confession nor absolution have any real meaning or power. This “something” is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, from the real life as created and given by God. It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers, or become angry. It is quite a different thing, however, to realize suddenly that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am far away from my real home, my real life, and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence. Yet this, and only this, is repentance, and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, to recover that lost home….

 

One liturgical peculiarity of this “Sunday of the Prodigal Son” must be especially mentioned here. At Sunday Matins, following the solemn and joyful Psalms of the Polyeleion, we sing the sad and nostalgic Psalm 137:

 

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and we wept when we remembered Zion…

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy…

 

It is the Psalm of exile. It was sung by the Jews in their Babylonian captivity as they thought of their holy city of Jerusalem. It has become forever the song of man as he realizes his exile from God, and realizing it, becomes man again: the one who can never be fully satisfied by anything in this fallen world, for by nature and vocation he is a pilgrim of the Absolute. It reveals Lent itself as pilgrimage and repentance – as return.        ~ Amen

 

Parable of the Prodigal Son, from the film, \'Jesus of Nazareth\'

Rarely does cinema do justice to the Scriptures. However, this scene — from Franco Zeffirelli's 'Jesus of Nazareth' — is masterfully done, from Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus telling the parable, to Zeffirelli's staging and direction, which casts the parable in the midst of flamboyant revelry at Levi's home (obviously the 'Prodigal Son' in this context), and concludes with the dramatic reconciliation of former enemies (and soon to be co-disciples) Levi and Peter (equally obvious as the 'Elder Brother').  The essence of the parable comes across in an intimate, real, and heartfelt manner . . .


 

 

Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

"...he was lost, and is found!"
"...he was lost, and is found!"


Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

by Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthapoulos

On this Sunday, we commemorate the Parable of the Prodigal Son, from the Holy Gospel, which our most Divine Fathers appointed to be read after the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee.

Verses

If thou art prodigal, as I am, come with confidence.
For the door of God’s mercy hath been opened.


Synaxarion

 

Since there are some who are conscious of having lived prodigally from a very early age, giving themselves over to drunkenness and licentiousness and falling thereby into a depth of evils, and have reached despair, which is the offspring of vaunting; and since, for this reason, they have no desire to devote themselves to the pursuit of virtue, putting forward the swarm of their evils as an excuse, and since they are forever falling into the same evils and worse than these, the Holy Fathers, wishing, in their paternal loving-kindness towards such people, to lead them away from despair, placed this parable here after the first one, pulling out the passion of despair root and branch and arousing them to acquire virtue, and, through the story of the Prodigal Son, showing God’s loving and exceedingly good mercies towards those who have sinned very greatly, proving from this parable of Christ’s that there is no sin which can overcome His love for mankind.

 

The man, that is, the Theanthropic Word, had two sons, the righteous and the sinners. The older of the two always abode by the commandments of God and adhered to what was good, and did not become estranged from Him in any way; but the younger one, who craved sin and rejected fellowship with God through his shameful deeds, frittered away God’s loving-kindness towards him and lived a prodigal way of life, since he did not preserve intact the image of God in himself, but followed after an evil demon, enslaved through pleasures to his evil volitions and unable to fulfill his own desire. For sin is something insatiable, habitually beguiling us through that which affords temporary pleasure; the parable likens this to the husks, the food of pigs, for husks initially taste sweet, but later feel rough and chaffy, which is always the case with sin. As soon as the Prodigal Son came to himself, perishing as he was from a deficit of virtue, he went to his Father, saying: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” The Father received him in repentance, not chiding him, but embracing him, showing His Divine and paternal compassion; and He gave him a robe, that is, Holy Baptism, and a ring, that is, a seal and a pledge, the Grace of the All-Holy Spirit; in addition to this, He gave him shoes, so that his godly footsteps might no longer be wounded by serpents and scorpions, but rather, that he might be able to crush their heads. Thereafter, in His exceeding joy, the Father sacrificed the fatted calf for him, His Only-Begotten Son, granting him to partake of His Flesh and Blood. And yet, the elder son, marvelling at His boundless compassion, said all that he said in the parable. But the loving Father calmly restrained him with kind and gentle words: “Son, thou art ever with me, and it was meet for thee to make merry with thy Father, and be glad: for this my son was formerly dead in sin, and is alive again, after repenting of his wicked deeds; having been lost and become estranged from me by his life of pleasure, he was found again through me, for I felt compassion and called him back by my sympathetic disposition.” This parable can also be interpreted in terms of the Hebrew people and ourselves.

 

This is why this parable was placed here by the Holy Fathers: it uproots despair, as we have said, and faintheartedness in performing good deeds, and exhorts one who has sinned as the Prodigal Son to repentance and remorse. This is our greatest weapon for warding off the darts of the Enemy, and a strong defense.


By Thine ineffable love for mankind, O Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

We Should Not Despair...

 

We Should Not Despair, Even If We Sin Many Times

by St Peter of Damascus

Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless?
 
Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7:37-50).
 
But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (cf. Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God's compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so receive many other blessings as well.
 
Even if he is subject to the devil in that he sins, yet from fear of God he disobeys the enemy when the latter tries to make him despair. Because of this he has his portion with God; for he is grateful, gives thanks, is patient, fears God, does not judge so that he may not be judged. All these are crucial qualities.
 
It is as St. John Chrysostom says about Gehenna: it is almost of greater benefit to us than the kingdom of heaven, since because of it many enter into the kingdom of heaven, while few enter for the sake of the kingdom itself; and if they do not enter it, it is by virtue of God's compassion. Gehenna pursues us with fear, the kingdom embraces us with love, and through them both we are saved by God's grace (Homily On 1 Timothy 15:3). 
 

 

The Elder Brother...

The Brother of the Prodigal Son

by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna CA

This outstanding reflection surveys the Orthodox patristic teachings on the Elder Brother...

One of the more beautiful parables of the New Testament is that of the Prodigal Son, which incorporates into what is a story in miniature of the fall and redemption of man—his alienation from the Heavenly Father and his return to the Father’s “house,” after a life of dissolution and the squandering of his spiritual inheritance—an image of love that cannot be read without bringing spiritual tears to the innermost recesses of the soul. There is no Christian who does not feel the munificence of God in the simple retelling of the story of the son who returns to his Father in disgrace, yet is received with honor, affection, and extravagant love and is recompensed for betrayal and perfidy with all of the signs of honor that his father can bestow upon him.
 
This enduring parable is fragrant with the Christian message of redemption, redolent with the aroma of love, and spiced by the pungence of forgiveness and Grace: the Father restoring “to the Prodigal the tokens of his proper glory..., mystically...[rendering him]...glad on high” (from the stichera of Saturday Vespers to “Lord I have cried,” Sunday of the Prodigal Son). As St. Augustine, in his Confessions, movingly ex- presses it, we behold in this story the forgiveness of “a kind God,” Who gave much to the Prodigal Son before his fall, yet Who “was kinder still when he returned destitute” (Book I, §18). A kind father— as the Divine Chrysostomos summarizes the tale—gives a wayward son “greater honors” than those shown to an older brother, who had remained with the father and “who had not fallen,” thereby underscoring the “greatness of repentance” (“Letter to Theodore,” I, §7)...

 

Like Scripture itself, which the presumptuous man interprets to his destruction (II St. Peter 3:16), the Parable of the Prodigal Son contains lessons which lie in the sagacity of God and yield only to humble study. If we examine the parable carefully, we find that it contains, aside from the exhortative lesson of the repentant and restored Prodigal Son, a caveat against the anger and jealousy of the elder brother, who, seeing lavish fatherly mercy bestowed on his repentant sibling, imagines his virtue to be slighted...

 

Let us, as the Great Lent and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son approach this year, look anew at this parable and draw hope from the wayward son. At the same time, let us examine ourselves carefully in the light of the weaknesses of the elder son, lest we succumb to the wily temptations of self-righteousness, which can lead to passions and to spiritual waywardness produced by pride, if not by envy and undiscovered hidden darkness.


Read the full article — Highly Recommended.


More insights into the Prodigal Son...



Further Reading on the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

The Prodigal Son Interpreted Hesychastically - by Met. Hierotheos Vlachos

On The Prodigal Son - by St Cyril of Alexandria

The Holy Prodigal and the Compassionate Father - by Monk Moses the Athonite

Special thanks to John Sanidopoulos of MYSTAGOGY Blog for compiling these several resources.