February 17, 2023

Homily on the Repentance of the Prodigal Son (Fr. Nikolaos Loudovikos)

 By Fr. Nikolaos Loudovikos

I think that from today's Gospel (of the Prodigal Son) we can understand, by studying carefully, how the only joy of man, the great joy, from which all joys spring, the only joy of man, is God. That is why our Church is overwhelmed by this joy.

This joy is not a common joy, at Easter, it also has Great Friday prior to it. It is not a common euphoria, it is the joy of repentance.

We must be careful not to understand repentance only psychologically and individually. Repentance is not just a change in self-awareness, as the Western Theologians, first of all Augustine, taught us. It is not just a change in our knowledge of ourselves. It is something that concerns my very existence, my ontology. We would say it is something that concerns the event, the being, the existence - it is communion.

I, too, have fallen out of communion and have no being. I don't have life, even though it looks like I do. It is the feeling through which man really seems to crucify himself to the world, he seems to deny the common euphoria of the world, but feeling that being, life, acts much deeper, much more fully, than the world can usually understand and feel.

In this way, the person truly through repentance belongs to everyone and understands true life by belonging to everyone and being able to offer himself to everyone. To learn the art of offering oneself to all, to learn the simplicity of God, and, to put it in other words, to learn how God openly communicated simplicity to all, while we have become so complicated, each one of us, as we are closed - precisely because of this - in our selfishness.

Repentance is a great and lifelong study, it is a great and lifelong joy. The mystery of the Cross is a mystery of resurrection. The Cross is repentance. This is what our Fathers experienced and said, that is to say, the whole world is the work of God and only through God is it true.

In repentance we find again the traces of God in the world. We learn the way of this simplicity of being. We learn how being acts and exists in communion. We learn that we are all one. And we learn that this life of unity is the life of God Himself and we learn that the Church is the sensing of God through the mysteries.

That is why the Church, you see, put these readings before Lent, because Lent is precisely a dedication, a dedication of each of us to God.

In this sweet and gentle way, repentance is personal. Repentance is not legalistic, it is not legalism. It is the way in which we truly understand God's love and open ourselves to this love.

Repentance is an erotic event.

That is precisely why we see in the Gospel today that this repentant sinner who scattered nothing less than his essence - this word "essence" has many meanings - scattered himself without essence, we could say. However, with repentance, this man has the "fattened calf", he has a piece of joy, as Saint Symeon the New Theologian says, which no one can take away from him.

And the other brother, the elder, having the cruelty of the law, does not have a "fatted calf"! Never, he says, did I receive a goat! I haven't received anything. I'm not happy!!!

Believe me, the greatest accusation ever addressed to Christians is the one addressed by Nietzsche: that Christians have no joy! And I don't mean the joy of the world, the songs, etc., I mean the joy that the prodigal had with the "fattened calf"! I mean the joy that he took part in the Divine Life! The surprise, the astonishment, the erotic surprise of the person who found himself in front of the ocean of Divine love, with repentance.

While the other, full of commandments and observances, was unable to understand divine love.

Father Paisios says somewhere: This fact is very strange; how worldly people, when you tell them about divine love, understand it, and Christian people do not understand divine love. Something has not broken in them, the ego has not found its way out to love. They may be full of virtues, but they also use these virtues to shield their ego. They do not use them as roads, they do not use them as passages to the mystery of God's love.

Saint Maximus the Confessor says somewhere that "virtue is for truth". Virtues are within, they are not self-serving, as they are self-serving in philosophical virtue. It is not selfish to be merciful, kind, philanthropic. They are attributes of God, which for me are "uncreated energies", "uncreated logoi" that satisfy me to live in God.

The truth is the goal, God's love is the goal. It is not simply being virtuous; virtue can mean great poverty when it is accompanied by this deadly closure. This closure is precisely broken by repentance and leads to being in communion with God and with all creation. This is exactly why the Fathers always talk about the virtues, always connecting them with repentance and humility!

Repentance is the vision of God!

The state of eternal life is a state that is made possible through repentance, but repentance not with the legal sense, but with this erotic and joyful feeling, that God loves me and I am unworthy of His love.

And so comes "the fattened calf and the ring and the new clothes", and all these eschatological things, the clothes that God reserves for those who repent. And surprisingly the others, those who have the virtues and nothing else, do not have this possibility.

This logic is strange, I would say that it is an erotic logic. There's no other explanation. I don't think we can understand it any other way.

An unknown person, full of virtues, does not have God. And a sinful man full of repentance is the "prodigal son".

This is joyful for all of us, because we may not have virtues, but we have sins, we have shortcomings, but we can have this spiritual, crucified-resurrected joy of repentance. This gives us courage in the spiritual life. This is a big thing. It vividly expresses the love of God and our falling from this love.

This is what I wish you to gain: To really accept to fight to extinguish selfishness and to look at our whole self, to "offer it as a sacrifice of praise", like the prodigal who returns praising. While the other, the lawful "blameless" brother, "the great", the "virtuous" simply cannot reach the vision of God, he does not have the Spirit of God.

"Virtue, therefore, is for truth"!

Virtues are the divine human life, which when we acquire it, approach it, leads us, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov says, to the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. And through the virtues we truly hope for these eternal gifts, which are not far from us. Not even the vision of God is something that is very far from us.

From the first moment when one says "I repent", inwardly, one has the first degree of the vision of God. He has a first glimpse of God's love!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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