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Homeward to the Heavenly Father

Homily for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son

This month, dear brethren, we celebrate the great feast of the Meeting of our Lord, as well as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, in which the Church teaches us the second step of preparation for the Great Lent repentance. These two events, seemingly so different from one another, are yet symbolically joined in a wondrous manner.

Central to the feast of the Meeting of our Lord is the righteous Simeon, who was one of the seventy learned Jewish elders, knowledgeable in the Holy Scriptures, who were called upon to translate the Old Testament for the Egyptian king Ptolemy. This took place some hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The righteous Simeon had to translate the book of the prophet Isaiah, which contains the following words: Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and He shall be given the name Immanuel, which means God is with us. When Simeon came to these words, he wanted to replace the word virgin with the words a young married woman, since She was due to give birth. But an angel stayed his hand and said to him: Believe in what is written and you shall see it happen. Simeon then translated as was written and, having received the promise, he waited.

270 years passed. And finally, moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon goes to the temple, where he sees a young Mother with a 40-day-old Infant in Her arms. And here the Lord revealed to Simeon that this Infant, Who had been brought to the temple in accordance with the Jewish law that all the first-born must be consecrated to God, is the One Whom Simeon has long awaited with such strong and ardent faith. The righteous old man took the Infant in his arms and proclaimed that in Him lies the salvation of all men.

Simeon uttered his prophecy in moving words which are now repeated at every evening service: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace (into the next world), according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.

The Prodigal son
The Prodigal son

But the prodigal son at first ran away from salvation. As long as he lived with his father, he had all that was needful. The only thing he lacked was faith, faith in that the life he had would lead him to salvation. He turned away from true life and went far away into the realm of sin and despair. And it was only after experiencing grief, hardship and suffering that he finally came to his senses, came to an awareness of what he had lost. And then, through humility and through repentance he set out on the long and arduous journey of return to his father, a return to bliss, to salvation, to true life. And what do we see? His return journey was not all that long, because the father himself hurried out to meet him, hurried out to shorten and alleviate the way back, hurried out to embrace his lost son.

We, too, dear brethren, are like the prodigal son, we lack faith in Gods providence, we distance ourselves from God through our sins. Let us look at the two wondrous examples which the Church now offers us. Here is the prodigal son poor, ragged, starving, hurrying back to his kind father. And here is the righteous Simeon firm in his faith and hope, hurrying to the temple to see the promised salvation the God Who has become man.

Let us, too, dear brethren, hurry back to God, to our merciful Father. Like the father who came out halfway to meet his lost son, so the Lord came out to us lost men, came down to earth and became a man, in order to save us all.

Let us hurry to church, in order to receive salvation through the Holy Mysteries, through union with God Himself. Let us repent wholeheartedly and let us say to the Lord in the words of the righteous Simeon: Lord, now Thou absolvest the sins of Thy servants in peace, according to Thy word, for we have repented and our eyes have seen the salvation which Thou hast prepared for all people. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

The preparatory weeks for the Great Lent have now arrived, dear brethren. Each one of them offers us some touching instruction. Today we are presented with the prodigal son. The Gospel tells us of how a certain son demanded his inheritance from his father. The father was kind: he did not argue, nor did he object, but gave his son that part of the estate to which he was entitled.

The son took the paternal inheritance, and very soon he departed for distant lands in order to squander this inheritance. Far away from the father, the son lived quite willfully, did not work, did not labor. In this manner his inheritance was soon spent, and he became poor, he went hungry, he became totally unwanted. All his former friends, who had so assiduously helped him fritter away his inheritance, now turned away from him, and he was barely able to find the demeaning work of a swineherd.

And at this point, dear brethren, this prodigal son beggared, hungry, tattered, unwanted underwent a complete transformation. He came to his senses, experienced an enlightenment of the soul. He recognized his mistake, he realized how lost he was, he remembered his former pleasant and bright life in the care of his affectionate father, and he felt a strong desire to return to this kind and merciful father.

The prodigal son underwent such a strong transformation that not only did he recognize his mistake, but he recognized it precisely as being a sin, and this realization brought him to the same remorseful state of humility that we saw in the publican the previous week. The publican humbly asks God the Father to forgive him his sins; the prodigal sons humbly asks his father to take him back no longer as a son, but as a lowliest servant.

Thus, as we see from these two parables, humility and repentance are the royal way directly to God. The publican left the temple justified and spiritually-uplifted, while the returning prodigal son was met halfway by the father, who lovingly embraced him and restored him to his former dignity to an even greater degree.

Well, my dear brethren, as every parable recounted to us by the Lord, this parable of the prodigal son moves us and penetrates to the depth of our souls. But it also bears a very direct relation to us: the prodigal son is each one of us, each person who distances himself from the Lord God. Each time we sin we abandon God; like the prodigal son we take our inheritance, i.e. all that we have in our lives, and we go away to squander our earthly lives, since we do not live in accordance with our calling as Orthodox Christians. We, humans, are the sons of God. We do not have anything of our own except sin. All that we have has been given to us by God. But we forget that. We live very willfully, we do not pray, we do not keep the fast, we give ourselves over to our passions. Like the prodigal son we fritter away our inheritance when we distance ourselves from the Orthodox Church, when we pray together with heretics, when we disdain the wealth of church sacraments, especially the sacraments of confession and communion.

At the same time, as we ourselves try to return to the heavenly Father, we should not condemn other lost people, but should pray for them daily. There is a very simple and potent prayer: Remember, o Lord, those who have broken away from the Orthodox faith and have been blinded by destructive heresy; enlighten them with the light of knowing Thee and add them to Thy holy church.

As in the parable, our Heavenly Father does not impede our going away, because we have been given free will. He only sorrows over us and waits for our return. The prodigal son came to a realization of his sin before his father. Thus we, too, should constantly do the same: recognize our sins before God the Father; for this reason we are now given the special season of repentance known as the Great Lent.

However, we must recognize our sins and repent of them sincerely. How many times the priest hears the following words during confession: Well, I really have not done anything terrible No, dear brethren, that is precisely what is terrible not to recognize ones sinfulness. This comes from extreme pride. And at this precise point we must learn humility from the publican and the prodigal son. We must say together with the publican: Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner. We must say together with the prodigal son: I have sinned, Father, before heaven and Thee.

The Lord allows us to go away and sin as we wish, but He waits for us to return to Him. And when we come back to Him, He goes out to meet us halfway, showers us with spiritual gifts, gives a spiritual feast for us. Let us hurry, dear brethren, to our most precious Heavenly Father, Who is so generous and merciful and long-suffering. Let us recognize the entire sinfulness of our lives, let us lave ourselves in the tears of repentance, let us unite with God in the sacrament of communion. The Lord Himself has said that there is great joy in heaven among the angels over even a single repentant sinner. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff
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