March 3, 2024

Homily One for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son (St. Luke of Simferopol)

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on March 4, 1945)

To you, young shoots, to you, spring sprouts, to you, buds sprinkled with God's dew, my word now is directed to you. For the deeply touching Parable of the Prodigal Son, illuminated by the divine light of Christ’s love, applies first of all and most of all to you. In this parable, the Lord Jesus Christ showed us how often young people go astray, how often they follow the path of destruction. For this youngest son followed the hard path of destruction, who became bored in his father’s house, who wanted freedom, who wanted to arrange his life according to his own desire.

And he asked his father to give him his due share of the inheritance, and left him for a distant country. And there, in pursuit of pleasure, in pursuit of fun, he soon took the path of destruction, soon squandered his property, living with dissolute women, began to starve and began to herd pigs. Severely starving, he would have been glad to eat what the pigs were fed, but they didn’t give him that either. He sank as low as possible, reaching a bestial state, living in the company of pigs.

It is natural for young people, given their ignorance of life and lack of understanding of its severity, to strive for pleasure, fun and joy. They don’t want to know anything difficult, they don’t want to know suffering, and they are drawn with all their strength to joy, pleasure, entertainment - just as butterflies and moths fly to the fire at night, and they burn their wings and fall.

I have seen many such young people, like butterflies and moths, who, in pursuit of pleasure, for a cheerful and contented life, burned their wings and fell, fell into despair. And this despair for many of them reached the point that they did not see any light in life, any joy and, being burdened by life, they committed suicide.

And others who did not commit suicide sank as low as the prodigal son sank. For if a person directs all his thoughts, all his aspirations only to entertainment and joy, if he forgets about his difficult duty to people, to his parents, to his country, and most of all to God, then God abandons him. In a whirlwind of fun, in a whirlwind of pleasure, he completely forgets about God, and whoever forgets about God falls into the power of passions, into the power of demons, and in this whirlwind of passions he sinks lower and lower in his moral dignity, getting closer and closer to a low, bestial state and finds himself in a society of people who can be compared with the herd of swine in which the prodigal son lived, in a society of people who do not know anything sacred; foolish, empty people, burdened with all vices, who do not stop at any crimes. And they themselves become like them.

There are many people who, having sunk to this low moral level, dragged out their lives with an empty heart, with empty thoughts, not stopping at any baseness, and lived a deeply vicious, deeply unworthy life.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ shows such young people, who have fallen so low morally and are falling into despair, the path by which they must be saved. He says that the prodigal son, having reached such a pitiful state, living in the company of pigs, woke up, came to his senses and said to himself: “What am I, the fool, doing; after all, I am dying of hunger, while my father has bread for every servant. I’ll go and return to my father, repent, tell him that I am not worthy to be called his son, for I am a prodigal son; to accept me as one of his hired servants." This prodigal son entered the path of repentance. And look how his father accepted him.

But you need to know that in this parable the father of the prodigal son portrays God Himself. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ revealed to us about His Father. He told us in this parable with what great joy, with what great love the father accepted the prodigal son. Seeing him from afar, he ran to meet him, ordered the servants to bring his best clothes and shoes and a ring for his hand. And he ordered a feast to be arranged for him; and they drank, and ate, and were merry with great joy.

The Lord Jesus Christ said that in the Kingdom of Heaven there is great joy over one repentant sinner, such joy with God as was with the father of this prodigal son.

Thus, with open arms, the Lord accepts every repentant sinner who has left the path of destruction, from the wide, beaten path about which the Lord Jesus Christ speaks: “Broad is the way and wide is the gate that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13); many people strive along this broad road in pursuit of the blessings of life, the pleasures and joys of the world. And for those who do not want to follow this path, the Lord showed another path. He said: “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to the kingdom of God” (Matthew 7:14). Only those who go through this thorny path, strewn with stones, the path of suffering and persecution, will have access to the Kingdom of God.

The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples, and through them to all of us Christians: “In the world you will be sorrowful, but take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

If the Lord Himself says that life in the world is a life of sorrow, then what do those who refuse sorrow and seek joy do? They walk along the thorny, wide path that leads to destruction, and they perish. And many, infinitely many young people die who, like butterflies and moths, strive only for fire and get burned.

There are, however, among young people those who, from a very young age, are imbued with completely different aspirations, who become pious from a very early age, who love the temple of God and know the Holy Scriptures. Such were all the saints, all the venerables, confessors and martyrs.

And you, fathers and mothers, who have preserved the faith and carried it immaculately through the difficult years of apostasy from Christ, you must delve into what the Lord Jesus Christ said in His parable about the eldest son, and in no way be like him. For look how heartless and proud this eldest son has shown himself. He was not at home when his younger brother returned, and when he arrived home he heard singing and rejoicing. He asked the servant what this meant. The servant replied that his brother had returned, and that his father received him with great joy and was now making merry with him. Then the eldest son became embittered and said to his father with heavy reproach: “I have served you for so many years and never violated your commands, but you did not give me even a young goat to feast with my friends, but you threw a feast when my sinful brother came.”

What did his father answer? "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (Luke 15:31).

Let none of us be harsh and merciless towards a repentant sinner. Let each of you remember that there is great joy in heaven over every repentant sinner.

This is the great meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, read in the second of the preparatory weeks for Great Lent. It reminds us that no matter how lost we are, no matter how we stray from the path of truth, the path of repentance always remains, the arms of our Heavenly Father are always open, if only we would repent, if only we would turn to Him. And our Heavenly Father will receive us with great joy, and will create a feast for the sake of those who were dead and come to life, who were lost and are found.

This is what I wanted to tell you about the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

And now I still need to explain to you that Psalm 136, which you listened to yesterday at the all-night vigil - “By the rivers of Babylon...”. Many of you are confused by the last words of this Psalm: “O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the stone!” Let us delve into this Psalm, and then you will know what significance it has for us and why it is sung in these weeks preceding Great Lent.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion.”

Several centuries before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar devastated the entire Jewish country, destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, and took the entire Jewish people into captivity. This was God's punishment for the Jews' apostasy from the true God and the worship of idols. And there, on the rivers of Babylon, the Jews sat and cried, remembering Zion. Zion is the mountain on which the Temple of Jerusalem was built.

“We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, and those who plundered us requested mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion! How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth — if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, 'Raze it, raze it its very foundation!' O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the stone!"

This is the direct meaning of this Psalm. This is the deep sorrow of a people abandoned by God, a people who dreamed of vengeance, who said: “Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the stone” (Ps. 136).

But in addition to the direct meaning, Holy Scripture often has another, mysterious, hidden meaning. And you need to understand what other meaning this 136th Psalm has for us Christians. And why is it sung in the days leading up to Great Lent?

The Jewish people fell into pagan captivity, into captivity to wicked and cruel people. And we, who forget God, are all in captivity, in even more severe captivity - in captivity of the enemy of the human race, who seeks to destroy us. We are all in grave dependence on him, we are subjected to severe trials from him. Passions stirred up by the enemy of Christ rage in our minds; we are all in captivity by the enemy of Christ. We are all in the same difficult situation as the Jewish people were in captivity in Babylon. And we should all, with bowed heads, cry and groan about our lost fatherland and remember it, for our fatherland is with God, and we have left Him, like the prodigal son left his father.

We need to remember the words of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Cast not your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6) and not sing holy songs in front of people who are like the prodigal son and are completely subject to the power of the enemy. We need to think with sadness that our Christian life has been destroyed, that we ourselves are moving away from God, from the commandments of Christ.

We need to take up arms against our enemy. The Jews called for cruel revenge on those who made them captive; they were pleased to smash their babies against stones.

Which babies should we remember?

Hell has its own fiends, its own children, its own babies. There are many demons that destroy us and torment us. And these fiends of hell, these children of Satan, are those babies whom we need to smash against stones, crush their heads, so that they are not among us. This is our fight against demons, evil, wickedness, untruth. With all our strength we must take up arms against them. And blessed are those of us who smash these fiends of hell against the stones.

This is another reminder to us who are embarking on the path of Great Lent, a reminder that we must always be in the fight against the fiends of hell, to destroy everything that interferes with our salvation: our passions, our uncleanness.

We must remember what we heard today in the Apostolic reading, we must remember that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we do not dare to desecrate these temples with coarse passions, starting with the most shameful, fornicating passion.

This reminds us of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Apostolic reading, and the Psalm “By the rivers of Babylon...”.

Remember this always, never forget. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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