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Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the New Martyrs of Russia

This year, dear brethren, the Church commemorates a wondrous union of two events: the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, when the Church instructs us in the second step of preparation for the Great Lent repentance, and the feast of the Holy Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.

From ancient times the Russian Church was renowned for its multitude of saints. These saints came from all wakes of life: there were princes and common folk, monks and laymen, men and women, old and young; and thus, being a slice of the entire population, they represented the Russian people before the throne of God. Only one facet was lacking to this glorious assembly: there were very few martyrs.

The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son

But then terrible times came upon the Russian people. For their sins of apostasy and regicide, the Lord allowed them to fall into the hands of the ungodly. And these servants of Satan initiated a persecution of the faith more terrible, more ferocious than in the first centuries of Christianity. It was then that the assembly of Russian saints became adorned with the shining crown of martyrdom. As it is said in the troparion to the new martyrs, they became the wondrous flowers in the Russian spiritual field, blooming in the cruel years of persecution. And once again they represented the entire people: from the Tsar the anointed of the Lord and his family to simple peasants, from archbishops and theologians to village priests and humble monastics. And all of them men, women and children were people just like us, dear brethren, close to us in time and even the progenitors of some of us. But their sacrifice and their suffering adorned the Russian Church, while their martyrdom, their steadfast faith, their ardent love for God even to the point of death, became a shining example of salvation for Christians all over the world, for all those who still want to and can be saved.

The prodigal son, however, at first ran away from salvation. As long as he lived with his Father, he had all that he needed. The only thing that he lacked was faith faith in that this life which he had would lead him to salvation. So he turned away from the 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 himself, came to an awareness of what he had lost,. And then, through humility and through repentance he set out on the long and hard journey of return to his Father, return to bliss, to salvation, to true life. And what happened? His return journey turned out not to be long at all, because the Father himself hurried out to meet him, hurried out to shorten and ease the way back, hurried out to embrace his lost son.

We, too, are like the prodigal son, dear brethren, we lack faith in Gods providence, we estrange ourselves from God through our sins. Let us look at the two wondrous examples which the Church offers us simultaneously. Here is the prodigal son, poor, ragged, starving, hurrying back to his kind Father. And here are the new martyrs and confessors, firm in their faith and in their suffering, hurrying to purify with their blood the garments of their souls, in order to enjoy eternal bliss in the celestial abode of the Heavenly Father.

Dear brethren, let us hurry back to God, 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 all of us.

Let us hurry to church, in order to receive salvation through the Holy Mysteries, through union with God Himself. Let us repent wholeheartedly and sigh to the Lord in the words of the prodigal son: Father, accept us as Thy hired servants.

Lord, have mercy upon us, sinners! Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff
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