23 - Prodigal Son, Feb 12, 2012

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Luke 15:11-32

The far country and the pig-sty in this morning’s parable of the Prodigal Son represent sin and the false world that sin creates. This is not the world that God created. That world is good, verdant, overflowing with life, beauty and joy, a world in communion with God, partaking in love and joy of the divine nature through Adam and Eve, the king and queen of creation, clothed in the royal garments of God’s own uncreated light. The false world of sin is created from human disobedience that proceeds from a heart that has turned at its personal center away from God and into the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

The false world of sin is dark and full of suffering because its center is not love for God and for one’s neighbor as oneself, but love for oneself as one’s own god, love for one’s own body, love for the wisdom of one’s own opinions, love for one’s own glory. In the false world of sin, then, there are many centers; as many centers as there are individuals. The neighbor is one’s enemy, one’s competition, the object of envy and jealousy. And so, the false world of sin, the “far country”, is a fragmented, lonely world. Everyone is separated deep in their heart, because each one is living not for God but for oneself. In the false world of sin, nations rise up at war with other nations; tribes hate other tribes; families feud with other families; husbands grow to despise their wives, wives their husbands; children grow to hate their parents, parents their children. And so, in the false world of sin, everyone is in pain of soul and spirit, for everyone exists at odds with everyone else. In the false world of sin everyone is profoundly schizophrenic, in conflict with themselves. For, we were made in the Image of God. We were made for the love of God. We were made to exist in God. We were made to be the temples of God, in whom God wants to dwell.

This false world of sin is the world that grows from the seed of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree, because it is opposite the Tree of Life, is clearly the tree of death and corruption. When we in our disobedience turn away from God and eat from that tree – i.e., when we live its “life” – the eyes of our heart “open” like those of a corpse, because, separating ourselves from God and eating from that tree, our spirits die. The eyes of our heart become blind, unable to see God. The ears of our soul become deaf, unable to hear God. We become dumb as in stupid and foolish. Our mouths are unable to sing the praises of God, because we no longer know God. In our spiritual death, we have forgotten God; we have grown indifferent to God we have become ignorant of God.

And so, we engage the world that God made according to the false light of our own wisdom, and we create, as it were, a parallel world, the false world of sin. The fruit we were eating from the tree of death becomes like the husks of a pig-sty, filled like the pig-sty with the stench of death and corruption. No one gives us anything. All we have is taken away from us. Whatever great achievement we accomplish, whatever laurels, honors and awards we accumulate in this far country to pad our resumes that may hang on the fence post of the pig-sty where we have taken up our abode, are no more substantive, no more impressive than the vapors of memories that sooner or later dissolve into the dust of the past that no longer exists.

Understand, this morning’s parable is addressed to us who are Orthodox Christians. It is not directing our attention to them who are outside the Church. It is directing our attention to no one else but to ourselves, not even to the person next to us, but to each one of us; and it is showing that each one of us is the prodigal son, wallowing in the pig-sty of this false world that sin has created. It’s showing us where we live, not outwardly but inwardly, in our soul. The pig-sty has become the home of our soul. A pig-sty stinks. Death stinks. And, our life in the false world we have created is centered in death. “Let us go forth and gaze into the tombs,” the Church calls out to us in her funeral service. “Then we will learn the truth about riches and beauty and strength. Man is naked bones, food for the worms and stench.” This is where the glittering lights of the false world lead us to. This is what lies at the end of all the rainbows we go chasing after in the vanity of this false world that is passing away and all the lusts of it. Do we see that in our souls we are living in a pig-sty?

So, the Church calls out to us with this morning’s pre-Lenten parable in the hope that we will see what spiritual pride and self-satisfaction blind us to: we are prodigal sons and daughters of God. We have sinned. Through heedlessness, we have lost possession of ourselves. In other words, we are separated not only from God; we are separated even from ourselves, from our true selves that were made in the Image of God. For, we have not become like God. Inwardly, in our soul, beneath the social refinements and sophisticated masks we wear, we have become more like pigs in a pig-sty. We have sinned against heaven and earth. We have coveted, we have envied, we have hated, we have lusted. Even we who call ourselves Christians, do we not still in our secret heart love the false god of our ego and live for the empty world of the flesh? Even as we “piously” approach the chalice, where are we in our heart? Have we not become casual toward the holy things of God? Not just when we turn in our heart toward the seductive sirens of the false world’s superficial beauty, but whenever we listen to the sound of our own voice, believing the speculations of our own ignorance as though they were from God, trusting our own judgment or the foolish wisdom of self-appointed gurus – whether monastic, clergy or yogin – whenever we begin following our own religious rule, whenever we stop reading the Scriptures with attention, or praying with attention, whenever we become casual about our participation in the services of the Church, lazy in her ascetic disciplines and in the confession of our sins, we are straying away into a far country. We are turning away from God in our secret heart and entrusting ourselves to the vanity of the human ego. We are walking on the broad and convenient path that leads straight to the pig-sty.

The Church preaches this parable to us this morning in the hope that she will wake us up and we will “come to ourselves”, come to our senses and realize, again with the joy of our first love when we first received the faith of the Church and took up our cross, that our home is not in the sensual vanity of the flesh, not in the ephemeral comforts of this world, not in “ourselves”, but in the Spirit of God, in the uncreated Light of God’s Heavenly Kingdom, in the love of God the Father, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Yet, you have found your way to the Church this morning. You have come to the light of Christ that is shining in the darkness of the pig-sty. Coming to the Church, you have taken the first steps of the Prodigal Son with your feet. Our Holy Mother the Church, who loves us dearly, is calling us to take those first steps of the Prodigal Son with our souls. The path that leads to the Father is before us. It is the path of Great Lent. It is the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent. It is the Cross. It is Christ Himself.

Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life who leads to the Father because He is from the Father. The ascetic disciplines of Great Lent are described in the Lenten Triodion as flowers that blossom forth from the Cross. So, when we take up the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent, we are taking up our Cross. We are uniting ourselves to Christ. We are walking in the light as He is in the light. We are crucifying the spirit of disobedience and self-will that is in us. We are climbing down from the boughs of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of death, and making our way to the Tree of Life, and to the Fruit of Immortality that grows from it. We are making our way to our true home, the Kingdom of our heavenly Father.

But this is only the beginning of the mystery. We come to ourselves and see the horror of our sin, how it has stripped us of the splendid robe of light with which God clothed us in the beginning. We see how it has made us dark, beastly, and repugnant with the stench of death. But in the Church we see all of this in the light of Christ’s Cross and His Glorious Holy Resurrection. We see it in the light of God’s inexpressible love. We see that He does not deal with us as we have sinned. When we turn to Him in the humility of a broken and contrite heart, He not only receives us back into His heavenly Kingdom. He raises us up as children of God, born of His Spirit from above. He clothes us again in the splendid robe of light, the light of His own divine glory. He makes us again partakers of His own divine nature.

This is why Great Lent is filled with such a radiance of joy and love, even in its penitential character. For, the path of Great Lent that leads from the pig-sty to the Father is Christ Himself, the greatly compassionate One, the Only Lover of mankind. We take up the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent as our cross, and make sincere confession of our sins immersed in this overflowing love of Christ. So, let’s rouse ourselves out of any spiritual lethargy that may have taken hold of us, and let’s take hold of the hand of our holy Mother, the Church. She will lead us in the fear of God, with faith and love, into the joy of Holy Pascha and we will taste for ourselves how good the Lord is. Amen.