Read Fr Steven's Meditations:
Warming Up for Great Lent III:
Returning to the House of the Father
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!"
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'.
Doxastikon in Tone Six
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
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 Matthew/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 . . .
For a longer version of the same scene, with some of the background story as to how scandalized the town is by Jesus going to eat at Matthew's/Levi's home, and how strongly Peter hates Matthew, see this 11 minute YouTube video.
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.
If thou art prodigal, as I am, come with confidence.
For the door of God’s mercy hath been opened.
By Thine ineffable love for mankind, O Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
We Should Not Despair, Even If We Sin Many Times
by St Peter of Damascus
The Brother of the Prodigal Son
by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna CA
This outstanding reflection surveys the Orthodox patristic teachings on the Elder Brother...
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.