THE Lord told this parable, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So the father divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in self-indulgent and immoral living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When the young man came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son, treat me like one of your hired servants.”’
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran and put his arms around his son and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Now his elder son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servants replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then the older brother became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found.’”
We are offered another parable for this upcoming Sunday. It is the famous parable about the Prodigal Son, or to be more exact - the return of the Prodigal Son. The point of the story is not that the younger son wasted his inheritance, but that he realized that he really messed up and instead of despairing, he humbled himself and asked for forgiveness.
There are three main characters in the story: the younger son - the Prodigal, the older son - the jealous one, and the father - the loving one. Jesus told this parable to show that our God is a loving, merciful, and forgiving Father. The image of the younger son is anyone who rebels against God, who decides that they can be just fine enough without Him.
God created us with a free will and He always respects our choice. After all, to follow Christ, to be His disciple, and live a life of faith is a choice. Nobody can force us to do it, nobody can threaten us into being a Christian, including God. He is not a tyrant, He grieves for every wrong decision we make, especially if these decisions pull us away from Him, but He never forces us to do something we don't want to.
Therefore, if we decide to abandon Him, just like the father in the parable, God will let us do it. He will always await our return. He will keep an eye on us, but sometimes we need to learn from experience - just like little babies who don't know how dangerous fire is unless they get burned.
The Prodigal Son asked for his legal inheritance, the inheritance that he would have eventually gotten after his father died, and ran away as soon as he had a chance. What legal inheritance do we have that we can ask from our heavenly Father? Well, our life! Life is a precious gift. We can accept this gift with gratitude and make sure that we don't waste it away. Or, we could take this gift, say that it is ours anyway, and waste it.
Who knows why the Prodigal Son ran away. Maybe he got bored of his life, maybe he felt he was "oppressed" and forced to do things against his will. It took him only a few years to waste away every penny he had. He was so broke that he agreed to do a really humiliating job, especially for a Jew - feed the pigs, he could not sink much lower. He was so broke that he couldn't afford to buy any food. He was so broke that even the food that nobody would give him the pigs' food!
Eventually he came to his senses and remembered that his father's hired servants have a pretty good life - they get a salary and are fed pretty well. He was a son before, maybe even a spoiled brat, but a son nonetheless. He could have anything his father had, but that was not enough for him. Now, he was ready to be a servant in the same house he grew up in, as long as he was fed.
As the Prodigal Son was walking back home, notice what his father did when he noticed his son. No doubt the father was working, but as soon as he sees his son, he drops everything and runs out to him. His son was lost, but now is found. The father orders a fattened calf to be slaughtered and prepared for the party. This calf was probably fed for some special occasion, but there is nothing more special than return of one's son.
The third main character is also very important to the story. The older son was not too happy to see the party his father through for the returning younger son. Perhaps he would have been happy to see his brother back, if the latter was scolded for running away and throwing the inheritance to the wind. He spent his life "working like a slave" for his father (don't children have this unbelievable knack to exaggerate everything?) and never disobeyed any command. To this the father says that since he is alway with him, everything that the father has the older son also has. There should be no reason for this jealousy.
The older son is an image of those Christians who do their best in following God's commandments, living and struggling in faith, yet are resentful about every convert and every person who fell away from Christ and then repented and returned. Sometimes it is rather easy to say, "I was born in Orthodox faith, I grew up in it. I lived it my whole life. How can someone just convert and be life me?" It is easy and very dangerous.
Have you ever heard people say that we are not the church of converts? Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody, not a single person is born Orthodox Christian. Everyone is a convert. If we were born Orthodox, we wouldn't have to be baptized.
So, if you find yourself like the younger son, feeling like you are squandering your life, please, do not despair. God forgives every sinner. The only sinner God does not forgive is the unrepentant one. This parable shows that God is eager to forgive us, He is eager to welcome us back, as long as we are ready to take the first step towards Him.
If you feel like you have never rebelled against God, glory to God! I really mean it, be thankful for people who taught you, who set an example for you, and be thankful to God for your strong faith. However, guard your heart from the jealousy of sharing your faith, sharing God's promises with someone else. It is not our job to be judges of who is worthy or unworthy of the high calling of being a Christian. It is not up to us (thankfully) to decide who is allowed in church and who isn't. Our job is to delight in everything our loving Father has given us and work as hard as we can with what we have.
Yours in Christ,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest