Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

11th February 1990

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

How can we translate in terms that apply directly to us this parable, so rich and so beautiful? This is what I wish to try and do once more.

How often it is that we destroy a deep, a meaningful relationship because we get accustomed to the fact that the person who loves us gives, gives generously, gives continuously, never remembering himself, or herself - just gives; and how easy it is, gradually, to forget the person and to remember only the gift. This is what happened to the prodigal son, and this is what happens continually in our human relationships.

A relationship is established because for some miraculous reason we see a person, we see truly, with the eyes of our soul a person with all the beauty attached to this word. And then this person proves to be great, generous, and giving, but gradually the person becomes less and less important to us, while the gifts become all-important. I do not mean material gifts; I mean warmth, and tenderness, and understanding, and so many other things. The well ceases to matter, what matters is the water that runs along the rivulets.

If we continue in that spirit, then we turn away from the person more and more, he ceases to exist. The prodigal son said to his father, "Give me all that would be mine when you die" - in other words, "Let us agree that you don't exist for me any more - what matters to me is all that you can give". And like the prodigal son, we then live for a while on the gifts received; our heart is still warmed with the warmth which was given us, our mind still lives on the richness of previous communication and intellectual intercourse. Gradually even that fades away because it is no longer fed from source, from the fountainhead, it becomes memories - and then, even these memories fade, and we begin to be hungry.

During the time when we could take advantage of the gifts received, we were surrounded with people who also wanted to feed on what we had been given, like the prodigal son was surrounded by people who never left him alone as long as he was rich with his father's wealth. But when nothing was left of it they turned away, and for a second time barrenness came into his life. He had rejected one human relationship, and now he was rejected by others and he was left alone. He tried to feed somehow, but there was nothing for him to feed on; he went hungry.

How often it happens in our lives, that having discarded a fountainhead of a relationship, having been discarded by others who thought they could endlessly drink of the rivulets that run through us, we find ourselves ahungered. If we only could at that moment realise that what we have lost is the living way of relating to God and the living way of relating to people around us.

We cannot live all our life on gifts. We can live in relation to God and in relation to others in a continuous exchange, in which we are as much the givers as we are at the receiving end of other people's, of God's generosity. But when we feel hungry, when we feel desperate, when we feel dying of hunger, do we always remember that we have turned away from God, the Living God? That we have discarded the Living Bread of Heaven? That we have created with those who surrounded us, false relationships of giving what was not ours, that was taken away from us the moment it was given?

Then it is time for us to reflect deeply and earnestly on ourselves, and to realise that we have sinned against Heaven, and against our father, our brother, our neighbour, our sister - anyone around us. 'Sinned' means cut ourselves away from them, tried to be self-sufficient - no, not quite: tried not to relate to them as a giver, but relate only as a beggar, or a leach.

It's time then to go back; to go back to those who have been nurturing us, giving, caring; and ultimately to God, Who is the fountainhead of all gifts.

But so often, when we do this, it is not the father of the prodigal son whom we meet; we meet the elder brother, the one who has never had a true relationship of love, of friendship, either with us or with our father. We meet one who can pride himself on having always been dutiful, who has honestly slaved in his father's house, done all that was to be done - but without a heart; done as one fulfils an obligation that one cannot escape, or struck a bargain, work against pay, work against security, toil in exchange for belonging to a household that is safe.

We must reflect on that, because we are not only the prodigal son in our human experience, we are so often also the elder brother. Who meets everyone who comes, saying "I have lost touch with you, it is my fault, I have been a parasite, I want now to be a friend" - or how often we are the person who says, "There was a time when I was your friend. There was a time when we lived within a relationship that was precious to me - you broke it! My wounds are healed, I don't want to re-open any more. To me you are of the past, you have died, look for others to redeem you into life". How often are we the elder brother?

How different from the father who simply, at no moment, has ceased to love the prodigal son, even at the moment when this prodigal son renounced him, rejected him, wanted him dead in order to possess all that he had gathered by years of toil, of wisdom, of sacrificial love. The father has never ceased to love; the elder brother has - or rather - had never loved, only 'related’, professionally with those who surrounded him. And the father is the one that runs forward to receive the prodigal son: have we ever done this? When someone has offended us deeply, cruelly - have we ever been the one that makes the first move, remembering that it is easier for the offended one to make the first move because there is no humiliation, and no fear of rejection on the part of the offended, while there is a terror of humiliation and rejection on the part of the offender. Have we ever made the first move to bring to life again one that was spiritually, humanly dead? Have we been prepared to give him his first robe, have we clad him in his old relationship? Have we been prepared to give our signet ring, giving him (?), power over our person, our goods, our honour when he had squandered our friendship, humiliated us? Have we given him, as it says in the parable, shoes for him to walk, to walk safely?

If we reflect in these terms, each of us will be able to find where he belongs, we all belong to all the elements of this tragic and beautiful parable. But it is not enough to discover that; we must, having discovered who we are - and we are simultaneously the elder brother and the prodigal son - we must make a move, we must take a decision, we must renounce the kind of self we have been so far, go back and ask for forgiveness, for mercy - ask forgiveness from God, yes, but that is easy, because God visibly, tangibly never sends us empty away, never says to us "Go away from me!" - but from those whom we have offended, and from those who have offended us.

Let us reflect on this; this is a parable that precedes the week in which we remember the fall of man, the way in which mankind lost paradise, unity with God, oneness with one another, harmony with the created world - lost everything. This is a last warning, we can do something in the course of one week - not everything, something, so that when we come face to face with the Judgement, we can stand before our Judge and say "We have no words, we cannot, in any way, prove ourselves right - but I have done what I could. Have mercy and save me!" Amen.

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