A Sermon On The Prodigal Son
By Metropolitan Moses
On this the second Sunday of the Triodion we have heard the gospel reading for the prodigal son. A man had two sons and the younger son was filled with discontentment and a desire to experience the pleasures of life. He asked for his inheritance and his benevolent father, who would not violate his free will, gave it to him and in a few days the young man departed.
This young man wanted to exercise freedom, but did not know what freedom really was. It is natural for a young man to desire to establish his independence, but this young man was deceived by his thoughts. He departed far from his benevolent father and began to live riotously and in dissipation. It did not take long for his lifestyle to bring him to poverty. He began to be in great want and hired himself out to an inhabitant of that land and he herded swine. To a Jew of our Savior’s time, this was considered an indignity and defilement because eating pork was prohibited by the law. Furthermore, when this man desired to eat of the husks that he fed to the pigs, no man would offer them to him.
The pain of this experience caused him to think of his father and his brother and the workers on his father’s estate and he “came unto himself,” that is, he realized who he was and to what he had fallen. He considered that his father’s servants had bread to eat in abundance and he was starving. These thoughts caused him to humble himself and judge himself and take ownership for his sins. In this state of abasement he gained strength and he resolved to return unto his father and to tell him that he had sinned before heaven and before his father and that he was no longer worthy to be called his son. In addition he only wanted to be accepted back as the last of his servants. The young man turned himself around and made the long journey.
While the young man was a long way off his benevolent father, who had been looking for his return every day, saw him and fell on his neck and kissed him. The son abased himself and began to say that he had sinned against heaven and before his father and was not worthy to be called his son. His benevolent father interrupted him and called the servants to provide for his son to be clothed in the first robe, and to put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. The robe signifies baptism and the ring signifies the grace of the seal of the Holy Spirit and the sandals signify the young man’s newfound strength to henceforth trample upon the machinations of the serpent. And straightway they had a banquet and slew the fatted calf.
Many of you know this story, and you know that that banquet is the banquet of love wherein we partake of the Eucharist. This is one of the most moving and important stories in the Gospel because we are all prodigals, in a certain sense, we all are tempted to turn away from God from time to time, in our thoughts and words and deeds. We become forgetful of our Father’s house and turn away from the things of God. There are those who turn away from God for not minutes or hours, but rather for days and weeks and perhaps years of their lives. And yet our God looks upon all and waits for our repentance. The message of this story is that no man should ever despair and that we can always return to our Heavenly Father, if our repentance is genuine.
I speak to the young people of our Church and say that we all recognize that it is natural for a young person to pull away from their parents in order to establish their separate existence. Yet, what is described in this parable is not a free healthy establishment of independence, but rather a separation and a departure from the house of God in order to live a life of dissipation. The young man was deceived by a false notion of freedom that arose in his mind. Our thoughts come from our own mental activity, or from God or at times they are thoughts sown by the evil one.
The Holy Fathers have described the process of how the mind works when the evil one suggests an evil thought basically as follows. We can either accept to entertain this thought or reject it. If we entertain the thought then, if it is a passionate or sinful thought, there is a next stage that is called a wrestling in the mind and heart. If we fail in our wrestling, the thought becomes attractive to us. After this, then next stage is when we agree with the thought. After this, the next stage is when consciously decide to act on the thought. The next stage is when the action is completed. This process, just short of putting the thought into action, can happen very quickly.
Our Savior told us to watch and pray, waiting for his return. (Mark 13:33) When a person understands the process described above and practices the Jesus Prayer with humility and fear of God, the heart is vigilant and is able to recognize the subtlety of the thoughts sown by the evil one. All of the above is a very short description of the beginnings of a life of spiritual vigilance. The great practitioners of higher forms of this way of life were called the vigilant fathers or niptic fathers. (“Nipsis” in Greek means “vigilant.” )
If one is always distracted and never practices prayer, one is more vulnerable to being swayed and deceived by the evil one’s lies and deceit. If one reads, even a little, each day from the Scriptures or the writings of the saints, one’s mind is illumined and is better able to cast off the deceits of the evil one. These are concepts that parents must share with their children as soon as they are able to understand such things.
In today’s parable our Savior did not explain where the thought came from for the young man to take his inheritance and leave his father’s house to live a life of dissipation. Obviously this was not a good thought that came from God. It either came from the young man himself, or perhaps it was of demonic origin.
We now live in a time when the demons no longer have to work very hard to sow destructive thoughts. If one’s eyes are open, one can see that we are living in the midst of a spiritually dystopian popular culture that is reinforced by the media and the government schools to churn out devotees of hedonism who are convinced to believe that “slavery to sin is freedom.” Popular media is filled with propaganda, misinformation, manipulation of the past and denial of truth. So-called "liberal" thought police mock and ridicule Christian ideas of morality and the sanctity of life. Politically correct constraints on public discourse controls language. The film industry has been used to indoctrinate society. An anti-Christian spirit permeates our culture.
We are not being taken away to prison or tortured, but we are presently found in our own North American version of a dystopia that has emerged with variations and inversions of some of the ideas that were foreshadowed in George Orwell’s "1984" and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” We are in the midst of a culture war wherein our young people are being embraced by a hedonistic humanism that seeks to drag them down.
Our Savior proclaimed that whoever sins is a slave of sin. We the clergy and laity must find a way to work together to help the members of our Church of every age group to recognize and calibrate what has happened in society. If you understood the depth and the subtlety of the warfare that is put upon your children, you would be doing everything possible to work with the clergy to help form the “mind of Christ” within them. In order to protect your children it is essential that you labor to learn and experience the workings of the spiritual life first, and then it is also important to learn and understand exactly the workings of the spiritual warfare that is being put upon us every day.
There is a four part documentary titled, "The Century of the Self," that I suggest everyone should take the time to see. This documentary describes the impact of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays and their theories on the perception of the human mind and ultimately the control of the masses through the so-called public relations industry. The documentary is not without its flaws but it is extremely informative.
Another documentary that every parent needs to see is called “The Merchants of Cool.” This “Frontline” television documentary shows how the large media companies hired psychologists to study the youth culture and infiltrate it for the sake of exploiting the youth for their own profit without any regard for the well being of their victims. Parents should not allow their children to see this documentary without reviewing it first.
Everyone should also be aware of the Humanist Manifestos I, II, and III. These can easily be found on the internet. There are more resources, but this is a good beginning.
In conclusion I will paraphrase something Saint Isaac the Syrian wrote in his 52nd Homily, and say to all of our young people, ‘take heed lest you squander the wealth of your discretion and feed swine and serve a troop of demons.’
The wealth of our spiritual discretion is our faith. Spiritual discretion begins with the knowledge of why we are here and what our ultimate purpose is. We worship the God of love, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and He, the One God in Trinity, has called us to the banquet of love, that is, we are called to commune with Him. Christianity is a way of life that intertwines our prayer, our activities and our beliefs. Doctrine and morality are interrelated.
May God provide that you and your children are never confused by the deceits of the evil one and that you all remain in our Heavenly Father’s house and partake of the banquet of love. Amen.