Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and I am no longer worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
-from Luke 15:11-32 , the Parable of the Prodigal Son
During this month, we will begin the Sundays preparatory for Great Lent, in order to arouse in us the spirit of repentance as we anticipate the Lenten struggles to come. One of these Sundays now approaching, on February 12 ns, is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, on which we will hear the Lord's great parable found in the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 15.
What are the "riches" which the "younger son" squandered in the parable? The younger son represents sinful humanity, which had received very great gifts from God but wasted them through sin. More specifically, as St. Theophylact teaches in his explanation of the Gospel, the riches of man are his logos (mind, reason, understanding) and his autexousia (self-mastery, free will), which are the faculties of the soul which make man personal, like God. They are the image of God in man, that which makes man capable of personal communion with God, intimacy with God. These mighty faculties of the soul are brought to life, made capable of their true function, by Baptism, when a man dies and rises with Christ in the font and then receives the Holy Spirit in Chrismation and the ultimate personal intimacy with Christ in Holy Communion, and through Christ filial intimacy with the Father.
When the baptized Christian misuses his reason and will by going "far from the Father's house," that is, by going astray through sin, he becomes the slave of the inhabitants of the horrible "far country" into which he has strayed, that is, the demons, who torture him by tempting him to greater and greater sins but never giving him the satisfaction their temptations promise, so that despairingly he "longs to fill his belly with the husks the swine feed on," that is, to satisfy his passions, but they shall never be satisfied. If he remains in this state until death, this ever-increasing downward spiral of unsatisfied passion continues for eternity and becomes torture without end.
When the sinner "comes to himself," however, and realizes into what a disastrous state he has brought himself, he resolves to "arise and go to my father," that is, to repent and return to God. If this is true repentance, he is humble enough to return as a "hired servant," that is, as a catechumen who has not received the adoption of sonship through baptism but is, rather, eagerly studying the Word of God and conforming his life to God's commandments in preparation for baptism. As soon as the sinner acquires this level of self-knowledge and humility, and makes his good resolve, however, the Father runs to him and "falls on his neck, and kisses him," and his baptismal grace is restored immediately. The "best robe," that is, the grace of Baptism symbolized by the baptismal robe, is restored to him, and the "ring" of authority, that is the true logos and autoexousia imparted by the Holy Spirit at Chrismation, is "placed on his finger," and he partakes of the "fatted calf," that is, the Lamb of God, Christ, Whose sacrificed Flesh is received in Holy Communion.
Let us, then, never despair over our sins, but arise today and run to our Heavenly Father, Who gave His Only-Begotten Son for our salvation!
Our Portion of the Inheritance
Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son [man as he was born at the beginning] does not become estranged from the father. But sin is an evil thing which was born later. This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time. The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father's will. Father, give me the portion of the property that falleth to me. The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will [autexousia], for all that is rational is inherently self-governing. The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property. He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing. But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift. Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets. But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God's law, and did evil to the prophets. On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God. Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and autexousia, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling. If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will.
- from The Explanation, by Blessed Theophylact, of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke
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