“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…”
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.
Kontakion, Tone 3
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.
By The Waters of Babylon
by blessed Fr.Seraphim (Rose), March 1965
“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.