of St Nicholas
Redeeming the Time Vol. 01.17 Sunday of the Prodigal Son Feb 2/15 1998
Redeeming the Time
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Dallas TX
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Feb 2/15 1998
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
The Meeting of the Lord
News and Announcements *
By The Waters of Babylon *
by Fr.Seraphim (Rose) *
The Sunday of the Prodigal Son *
Kontakion, Tone 3 *
A Sermon by Blessed Bishop Andrei *
A Sermon of St. John of Kronstadt *
Gleanings from the Fathers *
Persistence will save you *
The Kontakia of Romanos, Vol. II: On the Prodigal Son. *
Sergius (Sumeet) Bahadur will be traveling the entire month of February, in India and South Africa. Please pray for his safe return, and spiritual protection during his trip.
Catechuman Nicholas will be abroad for a month (in Copenhagen). Please pray for his safe return.
Please pray for the sick every day. Your prayer can be very simple: "Lord have mercy upon Thy (suffering) servantÖ"
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion".
In these words of the Lenten psalm, we Orthodox Christians, the New Israel, remember that we are in exile. For Orthodox Russians, banished from Holy Russia, the Psalm has a special meaning; but all Orthodox Christians, too, live in exile in this world, longing to return to our true home, Heaven. For us the Great Fast is a session of exile ordained for us by our Mother, the Church, to keep fresh in us the memory of Zion from which we have wandered so far. We have deserved our exile and we have great need of it because of our great sinfulness. Only through the chastisement of exile, which we remember in the fasting, prayer and repentance of this season, do we remain mindful of our Zion.
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem..."
Weak and forgetful, even in the midst of the Great Fast we live as though Jerusalem did not exist for us. We fall in love with the world, our Babylon; we are seduced by the frivolous pastimes of this "strange land" and neglect the services and discipline of the Church which remind us of our true home. Worse yet, we love our very captors - for our sins hold us captive more surely than any human master - and in their service we pass in idleness the precious days of Lent when we should be preparing to meet the Rising Sun of the New Jerusalem, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is still time; we must remember our true home and weep over the sins which have exiled us from it. Let us take to heart the words of St. John of the Ladder: "Exile is separation from everything in order to keep the mind inseparable from God. An exile loves and produces continual weeping." Exiled from Paradise, we must become exiled from the world if we hope to return.
This we may do by spending these days in fasting, prayer, separation from the world, attendance at the services of the Church, in tears of repentance, in preparation for the joyful Feast that is to end this time of exile; and by bearing witness to all in this "strange land" of our remembrance of that even greater Feast that shall be when our Lord returns to take His people to the New Jerusalem, from which there shall be no more exile, for it is eternal.
If anyone be a prodigal as I, take courage and turn back; For the gates of God's mercies are opened to all.
On this day we celebrate the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, dedicated as the second service of the Triodion by the divine Fathers for the following reason. There are some who recognize much in themselves that is unbecoming, who live a life of great dissipation from their youth, whose lives are full of drunkenness and immorality, who having fallen thus into the depths of evil, become despondent, giving birth to pride, from whence they have no desire to advance to any of the virtues, preferring their bondage to evil and falling ever deeper into evil. Having a fatherly love for even these individuals, and desiring to lead them out of their despair, the Holy Fathers prescribed this parable for the second preparatory Sunday in order to tear up the passion of despair by the roots, to lead them to acceptance of the virtues, and to demonstrate to sinners the abundance of God's compassion upon sinners and prodigals in His great goodness and love for mankind. For there is no sin which cannot be overcome by the knowledge of His love for mankind, and this is what is presented in this parable of Christ. Now the sons of man, that is of the Word, God and Man, are two: the righteous and the sinful. It is the eldest who abides ever in God's blessings, following His commandments and remaining always by Him. But the younger son, having become attached to sin and renouncing his closeness to God through shameful deeds, has wasted God's love for mankind and for him and has lived as a prodigal. For having completely rejected Him after whose image he was created, and having followed an evil demon, willingly enslaving himself to this demon's pleasure, he was unable to fulfill his desire. For sin is an unsatisfying thing that becomes an habitual source of temporary pleasure. It may be compared to the husks that are fed to swine. At first it seems that they might be something tasty, but they turn out to be very dry and are much like weeds, which is how sin takes possession. For the Prodigal Son had hardly come to his senses when, perishing from hunger for virtue, he comes to his father, saying, "Father, I have sinned before heaven and before thee, and I am not worthy to be called thy son." Yet the father receives him in repentance, not reproaching him, but embracing him and kissing him in a display of divine and fatherly love. And he clothes him, a symbol of baptism, putting a ring on his finger, a symbol of the grace of the all-Holy Spirit. He also puts sandals on his feet, not so much as a protection from some serpent or scorpion that might sting him on his path to God, but rather as a means of crushing the heads of those creatures. And then in an tremendous display of joy he slaughters the fatted calf for him, his only-begotten Son, and the Father grants him communion of his body and blood. Now the elder son expresses his amazement at his father's limitless mercy. But the lover of mankind exhorts him to silence with loving and kind words of humility, saying, "Thou art ever with me, and it was meet that we should make merry and be glad, for my son was formerly dead in his sin and is alive again, having repented of the foolish things he has done. He was lost, since he was far from me in his licentious habits, and he was found by me, suffering in my compassion and calling him back in my mercy."
This parable may be applied to us as well, which is why the holy Fathers have prescribed it for today. We who have sinned as the prodigal are encouraged to weed out despair and fear through repentance, confession and good deeds. For this is a great aid and a powerful weapon against the assaults of the adversary.
In Thine ineffable love for mankind, O Christ our God, have mercy upon us. Amen.
I have recklessly forgotten Thy glory, O Father;
and among sinners I have scattered the riches which Thou gavest me.
And now I cry to Thee as the Prodigal:
I have sinned against Thee, O merciful Father;
receive me a penitent
and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
"Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"
So the Holy Church called to us three weeks ago. But today the call is the same. The whole question is how do we relate to it. As to words alone? Or as to the great call of Christ's Church, our Mother, who knows what is awaiting us, and therefore appeals to us, ''Repent!"
In other words, look at yourself carefully, because a special time is coming. As in physical nature, the bright sun will soon shine and will reveal its warm rays. This will be the action of the Creator of the universe. In the same way, from the Creator of the universe spiritual rays will pour through our souls and will warm us with spiritual warmth. And this warmth and joy will abide with us, if we will be those slaves of the Lord who strive for His Heavenly Kingdom. And these are not just words. During the course of these three weeks, the Church has been convincing us that we must examine ourselves. And she even gives us patterns for examining ourselves.
If you will remember three weeks ago, on Sunday, the Holy Church gave us the Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, about his state of mind as a rich Jew, a tax collector, who had reached the age when everything he had accumulated through unjust ways, all this proved to be futile because by now his old age refused to use, to take pleasure from what had been amassed through unjust means. By now his old age did not need what he had piled up. There were riches, but the man could not use them anymore because he was physically weak. He no longer needed these riches, but needed the rest required by an old man who is shaking all over, who does not need the kind of life which the human race is living. And the Church gave us the image of this publican so that we would check ourselves - are we not attached to the circumstances in which we live, and are we awaiting that which each human being should await? If so, then we must somehow settle the question by the kind of life we lead. And so, the Holy Church gave us the image of Zacchaeus the Publican three weeks ago.
Then last Sunday, she even more strongly forced us to feel when she revealed to us the moment of prayer of the Pharisee and the publican who was beating his breast and saying: "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk. 18:13). This was as if a continuation of what was told about the publican Zacchaeus. Here helplessness was revealed. As the Gospel said, Zacchaeus repented. Christ had come to him, as it were healed him; but habit of will, a careless and sinful life, was already so enrooted in his consciousness that he did not know what to do, so that from this moment on his life would not be sinful. And he reached such a state of despair that he stood and said: "God, be merciful to me a sinner. I can do nothing. Thou art the Only One Who by Thy divine strength and Thy Grace can help me get out of this difficult situation of a suffering conscience".
And today the Holy Church reveals to us in still more detail the state of society in which we now live. This Sunday we call "The Sunday of the Prodigal Son" (Lk.15: 32). It is a brief history. We have heard it and know it. A father had two sons. And the younger son was so insolent in relation to his father that he demanded what he had no right to demand, because it belonged to the father. He came to his father and said, "Give me what belongs to me." What belonged to him? Nothing belonged to him. But his father was a father: "You want it . . . here, take it.'' In the same way, we are often given when we ask . . . "Here take it." And as Christ relates in the parable, he didn't stay very long in the place where his father lived. Because he was bored. The riches his father gave him - he needed them only for dissipating his life, for passions, so that he could lose himself in the whirlwind of life.
And he went away, he went far away. Here we must pay attention to each word. In Christ's sayings each word has its meaning: He went far away. And when he had spent everything that he had received on harlots and riotous living, further on its says, at this time a famine arose. It always happens this way. One thing after another. And here, when the famine arose, this unfortunate one, having used up everything he had received from his father, began to starve. And he went to those with whom he had spent his life. They received him, but only sent him into the field to tend a herd of pigs. And looking at the pigs, he himself wanted to eat what the pigs were eating-husks. But even this they didn't give him.
And here "He came to himself " (Lk. 15:17). Pay attention to these words. The Gospel says, "He came to himself. " And when he had come to himself, then he saw himself. He saw what kind of man he was, and he saw his Father, remembered his homeland. He remembered the conditions of life of his Father, and there arose in his heart a terrible sorrow. He understood that he had hurt his Parent. And in this anguish he was ready to go through anything, any unpleasantness, just to be close to Him Who had earlier kept him, had given him warmth, caresses. He wanted his Father. But how could he go to Him when he had insulted Him? Now he was ready to accept anything: to be not even a son, but to be like a stranger, just to be near his Father. And so he went.
The parable says that he went far away from his Father. This means that returning was not easy: without money, without provisions, to walk on the scorching sand of the desert. He lived through all this in the hope that his Father would accept him, at least as a kind of hireling, as a man under punishment. But what happened? He was still far from home, but his Father already went out to meet him, opened His arms to embrace him. And here took place that scene which even now stirs many people so much that tears involuntarily fall from their eyes. Here is revealed what a Father can be for His son.
The Holy Church gives us here a brief history of the fall and resurrection of a life. For what purpose? In order to tell us about this incident? No, brothers. But in order to speak to our conscience, to you and me, to each of us, to all our hearts, in whatever state we may find ourselves. In what state are we in relation to our Father, to the Father Who gave us life? Let us look at this dissolute son. Maybe we still haven't spent the riches which the Father gave us. Let us remember what happened to that son. Does our conscience still not speak to us in anguish? Are we still living it up with the inheritance from our Fatherís riches? Let us remember that we won't be in this state for long - a moment of hunger will come. The property from our Father's inheritance will be used up. Darkness will invade our heart. Our conscience will begin to torment us. Or have we already reached that state where we are ready to feed on "husks", where we are crying in anguish that life is spent, that our life is crippled? And what about our family life? Maybe we have already lost those who were close to us. Maybe even our children are in such a state that torments our conscience.
Here the Holy Church gives us today's parable: let us look at the prodigal son and examine our conscience. Let us look at all the states of this son who lived it up in riches, suffered in poverty, came to a state of despair, and finally reached the state where he came to himself. And he was not mistaken. Because our Father, the Creator, is a good Father. He will forgive everything, will accept us. The only thing we have to do is go to Him. This is it: Go to Him. It is here that we do not have enough strength, because we will have to go back. And we have gone-far, far away. We will have to go through the harsh wilderness, with the constant feeling of fear that we will not be accepted.
Through this parable the Holy Church gives us direction: the great days of Christian spring are coming - Great Lent - the days in which the Church makes it possible for us to open ourselves up, to recognize our sinful condition to cleanse ourselves with the help of the Sacrament which the Lord will give us in the Tree of Life in the Body and Blood of Christ, which is given to us in order to enliven us This Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the Holy Church once again gives us a lesson for our conscience in order to resurrect us so that we come closer to the Father, in order to heal our heart so that we might come to that moment when the Lord will call us, and we will be able to say in the last moment
"Into Thy hands I commend my spirit". (Lk23: 46). Amen.
Brethren! All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the Knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life. We will repeat it and discuss how necessary and easy it is for a sinner to return to God.
One man had two sons. When they came of age, the younger one said to the father; "Give me my rightful share of the estate." And the father divided the property. The elder son did not take his portion and remained with the father, a sign that he loved his father with a pure heart, and he found satisfaction in fulfilling his will (neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment), and to depart from him he considered madness. But the younger, in a few days, having gathered all his property, left his fatherís house for a distant country where he wasted all his substance, living dissolutely. From all this it is evident that he did not have a good and pure heart, that he was not sincerely disposed towards his good father, that he was burdened by his supervision and he dreamed it better to live according to the will of his own depraved heart. But let us hear what happened to him in exile from his fatherís house. When he had spent everything in the foreign country in a disorderly manner, a great famine came upon that country and he began to be in need. He went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have been happy to fill his stomach with the food (acorns and chaff) that the swine ate; but no one gave him any. Having come to his senses, he said, "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger? I will arise and go to my father and I will say unto him: "Father! I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. Receive me as one of thy hired servants." He arose and went to his father. When he was still afar off, his father saw him and had compassion on him and went to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him. He forgave him and led him to his house, dressed him in the finest clothes and made a feast in honor of his return. And so the lost son entered again into the love of his father.
Brethren! This is how the heavenly Father acts toward us. He does not bind us to Himself by force if we, having a depraved and ungrateful heart, and do not want to live according to His commandments, but He allows us to depart from Him, and to know by experience how dangerous it is to live according to the will of oneís heart, to know what an agonizing lack of peace and tranquillity tries the soul, devoted to passions, by what shameful food it is nourished. For what can be more shameful than the food of the passions? God forbid that anyone remain forever in this separation from God. To be far from God is true and eternal perdition. "They that remove themselves from Thee shall perish" (Ps. 72:27), says the holy king and prophet David. It is necessary without fail to turn from the pernicious way of sin towards God with the whole heart. Let everyone be assured that God will see his sincere conversion, will meet him with love, and will receive him, as before, as one of His children.
Have you sinned? Say in you heart with full determination, "I will arise and go to my Father", and in fact. go to Him. And just as you manage to say these words in your heart; just as you decide firmly to live according to His will, He will immediately see that you are returning to Him. He is always "not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27), and will immediately pour His peace into your heart. It will be suddenly so light and pleasant for you, as it is, for example, for a bankrupt debtor when they forgive his debts, or as pleasant as it is to a poor man whom they suddenly dress in fine clothes or offer a seat at a rich table.
At the same time take notice, brethren, that as many forms as there are of sins or passions, so also are there return paths to the heavenly Father. Every sin or passion is a path to a country far from God. Did you leave by the road of faithlessness? Turn back and, further, recognize all itís foolishness, feel with your whole heart its heaviness, emptiness, perdition, and stand with firm footing on the path of faith, calming, sweet, and life-giving for the heart of man, and hold on to it with your whole heart. Did you leave by the way of pride? Turn back and go by the way of humility. Hate pride, knowing that God resists the proud. Did you leave by the way of envy? Turn from this diabolic road and be content with what God has sent and remember whose offspring it is - the first envier was the devil and by the envy of the devil sin entered into the world (Wisdom 2:24). Be well-disposed towards everyone. Ifí you left by the way of enmity and hatred, turn back and go the way of meekness and love. Remember that whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer (1John 3:15). Or did you depart from God by gluttony and dissoluteness? Turn back and go the way of moderation and chastity, and remember as a rule in life the words of the Savior, - take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be overburdened with self indulgence and drunkenness, and cares of this life, (Luke 21:34), and use the words of the repentant prodigal son: We have sinned before Thee, and are no longer worthy to be called Thy sons. Receive us, even as hirelings.
And He surely He will receive us back as children.
It was said of Abba Moses the Ethiopian, that the demons attacked him, trying to draw him back into his old ways of intemperance and impurity. He was tempted to such an extent, that he nearly failed in his resolution. Then he went to the great Isidore, I mean the one in Scete, and related all the details of the contest to him. Isidore said, "Do not be discouraged. These were the beginnings, and for this reason they were the more severe as they attacked, since they were testing your character. A dog does not by nature stay away from a meat market, but only if the market is closed up and no one gives him anything does he stop coming by. So also in your case. If you stand firm, the demon will have to leave you in discouragement." Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 19.5-6
The Savior of all, seeing the filthy robe
In which His son was dressed, was moved to pity,
And at one He cried out to the slaves who served Him,
`Quickly give my son his first robe, Which the baptismal font weaves for all,
The one that the grace of my spirit prepares, and at once give it to him.
Remember how, when he was clothed in it,
The enemy took it from him and made a show of him
To all the demons, for he pursued with hatred
The King of the whole earth.
For whom I adorned the entire universe that I created,
I, the Lord and Master of the ages.'
All unsigned or unattributed portions Copyright 1997 Fr Seraphim Holland
Address: 2102 Summit, McKinney TX 75071
Phone: 972 529-2754
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