The Moment When the Prodigal
Archpastoral Homily for the Lenten Season of 2010
season of the Great Fast, it is the duty of all Christians to enter into the
Holy Mystery of Confession. It is not the only thing
that we must do in Lent to prepare for the Feast of Pascha: but it is surely a necessary preparation
for that Great and Holy Feast of Feasts. There is no way for us to feel the joy
and peace of the Resurrection Festival without first going through preparation
of Confession: one must climb the mountain path before
he can enjoy the view from the mountain top.
must be done the right way, in the right manner. It cannot be easy. Confession
that is done as routine is
simply not Confession. By its very nature, Confession is difficult. If it were
not so hard, then Confession would never have been required. It would never
have been recognized as "Lenten" and "penitential" or
I both know that Confession must hurt before
it makes us feel better. We both know that it is not enough to say that we ate
meat on Fridays … that we did not fulfill our church obligations or missed
Liturgy. We both know that it is the easiest thing to do, during Confession, to
talk about other people and how they made us so angry or so depressed, or how
other people keep us from prayer or going to church.
I both know that when we make Confession "easy," we are not confessing at
all. When we talk about other people, we are trying to confess their sins,
and not our own. When we take the easy path of confessing the sins of other
people, we turn a blind eye to our own. We become judgmental,
instead of penitential.
The two attitudes cannot co-exist … not in the same heart.
is a hard, hard thing, and it is about one person, and one
person alone who is opening his eyes and waking up … and looking
around and finding out that he is in the wrong place in life … and that he
desperately needs to go home … and to go home, that one person needs to come to
his senses, to return back to his soul, to change his mind.
that person is you. And that person is me.
single Holy Mystery of the Orthodox Church is deeply rooted in Holy Scripture,
and Confession is no exception to this rule. There are many Biblical moments of
this sort of recognition of wrong, and this point of decision to turning
around. There is King David, who came to grief over his adultery with
Bathsheba. There is King Manasseh, who wept bitter tears over his immorality
and pagan idolatry. There is the Apostle Peter, of course, who groveled for
three days in the darkness after the Crucifixion, because he denied his Lord
singular, ultimate icon of the Holy Mystery of Confession and Reconciliation is
the Prodigal Son.
know the story well, and so do I. We have heard it every year in the Orthodox
Church for decades. We know all the facts by heart. We have grown almost too
familiar with the story. It has become part of the surroundings, and, I wonder,
just another phase of the yearly routine.
this story is hard and dangerous, just like Confession. If you enter into it,
with eyes wide open and a heart that is exposed to the heat of the sun, like
ice melting on a Spring day, then you cannot help being changed.
You will look up and around, and your mind willturn.
and God knows, as we all know, that repentance is the thing that our sinful
selves fear the
most. At the same time, repentance is the thing that our sinful minds needthe
to look especially at the very moment when the Prodigal Son shook his head and
woke up from his drunken hangover. I want to look at that instant when he
opened the eyes of his mind and realized where he was, and what he had become.
remember the story. You remember the young boy who prematurely demanded his
full inheritance from his father. You remember how he took all the money and
traveled as far as he could get away from his father and his home. You remember
how he spent all his money in pleasure and comfort.
no passion untouched. He left no sin unexplored. He experimented with every
form of depravity and decadence. He threw his money around and became popular
among the drinkers, the dancers, the drug-takers and the adulterers, the
fornicators and the celebrities, the actors and actresses, the rich and the
famous. It seemed that the party would never end, and they could dance all
night, and the wine flowed freely and the laughter and the lust went on and on
until the morning sun rose up and revealed the polluted infestation of sin.
on such a morning that the famine came, and the young boy's funds dried up in
the drought. A recession hit and the banks failed. The blue chip stocks took a
nose dive, and the stock brokers and the accountants and all the good-time
drinking buddies of the Prodigal Son took their money and ran.
was there to lend him a dime. No one, in the far country, gave him even a slice
of bread, and the once laughing Prodigal Son now began to weep and despair.
squandered away the inheritance of his human nature. Once he was able to think
clearly. Once, he was able to control his emotions and make good decisions.
Once he was able to love and accept being loved. Once upon a time, long ago, he
was friend to the animals and to the trees and fields, and he was able to look
up at the sky and give thanks to the God of all. Once, he was able to speak in
truth and in love. Once, he was able to pray without ceasing and to pray and
were the riches, the Fathers say, that the Prodigal Son squandered away, far
off in the country, far from the Father and his home.
Fathers also say that the home that was left by the Prodigal Son was nothing
other than Paradise, and the far country he
ran to was this world of lamentation, sorrow, earthquakes, snowstorms, untimely
death, cancer and pain. This world of sin and darkness is the far country where
the riches of the created human nature are squandered and wasted.
when the Prodigal Son hired himself out to a citizen of that far country to
feed the pigs, our Lord said that the boy was so hungry, so desperate and poor,
that he looked upon the slop that was given to the swine and wanted to take and
this Prodigal Son has descended! How is it possible for a boy, fashioned in the
Image of God, who belonged once to the House of the Father, who had eaten bread
at the High Table – how is it possible for this boy who had been so noble, so
beautiful – how is it possible that any of us Prodigal sons and
ever want to eat the food of pigs?
secret is out: you and I play the part of the Prodigal Son, whether we'd like
to admit it or not. We were once made to be noble, and to share in the glories
of Paradise, but in sin and passion we
descended to the place of the swine.
life, there are moments of possibility that the Lord mercifully arranges for
each one of us. They usually come when we hit the bottom, and find ourselves
friendless, homeless, hopeless and rootless. These are the moments when we
understand the truth of ourselves – that our hearts are desperately sick and
deeply wounded … that our minds are darkened by the passions of pride and
despondency, of lust and gluttony, of greed and self-esteem.
are the moments of deep Confession, when we "come to ourselves" like
the Prodigal Son. These are the moments when we recognize that the entire far
country, from the very moment when we stepped foot outside the gates of our
Father's House – that that was the moment when
we first stepped foot into the place of the pigs. Confession is the moment when
we recognize that
all the drinking, all the carousing, all the parties and fornication and
riotous living were nothing other than languishing in the pig pen of life.
is also the moment when we speak the words of the Prodigal Son: "In my
Father's house there was bread enough and to spare." We remember the
sweetness and light of Paradise. We remember
the taste of the Eucharist, which is the "daily bread" of the Lord's
prayer, the "super-substantial bread" that is truly "bread and
enough to spare."
remember that God is Love, and that the Trinity, One in Essence, is the divine
outpouring of love from the Father to the Son to the Holy Spirit, and this
outpouring is so over-abundant that it spills out into the entire universe as
remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and Good Samaritan. We remember that
this world is not our home. We remember that we were made for better things,
that our souls were meant to be filled with light, and not the darkness of
passion and sin. We remember that there was a time in which we knew the names
of animals and we tended our gardens, and there was Springtime and sunlight,
and green fields and flowers that sprung up in the abundance of our homes, our
families and our life in the Church.
with the Prodigal Son, we make up our mind to say, "Father, I have sinned
against heaven and before you." And like the Prodigal Son, we rise up and
begin our journey home.
home to Paradise these forty days of the Great
Fast. We fast every day, even Sundays, with the diet of Adam and Eve who ate no
meat. We give generously of our money to the poor, rejecting our once sinful
prodigal lifestyle. We turn off our entertainments. We switch off our
televisions. We turn down our party invitations.
we pray and pray, and with ever "Lord have mercy," we take another
step along the way.
be, on a Bright and Glorious Day, at the end of this journey, that we will find
Him waiting, our Good and Heavenly Father, Who is always looking for the return
of every Prodigal Son.
+ METROPOLITAN NICHOLAS