On this third Sunday of preparation for Lent, we read the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32.  This Sunday's theme, as was last week on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, is repentance.

The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1667/1670 (detail)

 

Jesus tells the parable of a man with two sons.  The youngest son asks for his inheritance, leaves home and squanders it away.  He is left with nothing and nowhere to go.  Finding a job feeding swine and still finding himself hungry, he realizes that his father's hired servants always had enough to eat.  He decides to go home and ask his father for a job.  But upon his arrival, his father welcomes him and chooses to celebrate saying, "For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 20-24). They have a feast! The older son, coming in from working that day wonders what the celebration is for and becomes resentful upon learning it is for his brother.  He has been ever faithful to his father and his father has never given him such a celebration.  Yet this brother, who squandered all he was given is honored with a lavish feast!  The father says to his angry son, "You are always with me, and all that I have is yours," but explains that his brother is cause for celebration as "your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (vv. 31-32)

The parable demonstrates that repentance is a man's return from exile.  Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent:  Journey to Pashca  "A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance."  The prodigal son felt his exile.  He was enslaved to strangers and hunger.  He returned back, repentant, to his father's home, admitting his sin.

This parable offers hope to those who have fallen into despair with their sinful ways. It allows us to see that we must recognize and admit to our own sinful ways and return to God through repentance.  Just as the father of the prodigal son hoped and waited for the return of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father is patiently waiting our return to Him.

I think we can look at this parable in two ways. The obvious one is described above- that of repentance and the need to repent of our own sins. But I also see forgiveness being taught here...do you?

As much as we are the prodigal sons of God who must look into our souls and see the sin there and repent of it- we must also look around at the prodigals around us - AND FORGIVE THEM.  Just as the father took his son in and celebrated with a big feast- we must recognize the prodigals around us and take them in.  They may not always be as recognizable as the prodigal son who came home, homeless, hungry and shamed. That doesn't release us of our need to forgive them.  It is not up to us to determine if someone is truly repentant  or not.  It is up to us to forgive them.  For in our inability, or rather stubbornness, to do so, we are also being sinful. And then it goes around again- we must be repentant of our sinful nature to hold grudges, anger and resentment.

So take this opportunity as Lent approaches.  Look into your heart.  What sins must you overcome?  Is there someone you need to forgive?  Or someone you must ask forgiveness of?

Kontakion: (Tone 3)

When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.

 

Sources and Related Resources:

Great Lent: Journey to Pascha

The Second Sunday of the Triodion Period: The Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The Repentance of the Prodigal


*Note:  The above book, Engaging Today's Prodigal, is NOT an Orthodox source.  However, this reader did find much benefit in its contents and would recommend it highly.

1

s295922263988903417_p44_i1_w600"If you have sinned, acknowledge the sin and repent.   God will forgive the sin and once again give you a new heart...and a new spirit (Ez. 36:26).  There is no other way:  Either do not sin, or repent."    ~ St. Theophan the Recluse from The Path to Salvation:  A Manual of Spiritual Transformation

I stumbled upon the above quote in one of my many searches for Orthodox Quotes to put on my Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/Orthodoxmom3 ).  I post a quote or prayer there every morning - well, almost every morning...

I am always attracted to anything that speaks on forgiveness.  Whether it be the human need to forgive others or God's forgiveness of us.  It's a constant struggle - forgiveness.  And I know that not to be true of just myself.  It's a common theme among Christians and non-Christians alike.  Everyone has someone who has wronged them and struggles with their feelings about that person and what he or she has done to offend them.

St. Theophan, in the quote above, addresses our own sinfulness and the need to repent for God to forgive us.  All we have to do is acknowledge the sin and repent of it.  Easier said than done sometimes.  We, humans, are stubborn.  We don't care to admit that we have been capable of hurting someone or doing something wrong in the site of God.  And yet, we are human.  How do any of us live a day without sinning in some form or manner?  But God forgives.  That's so far out of the grasp of our understanding sometimes.  But, indeed, He does.

And we humans are called to do the same.  FORGIVE.

It matters not what the person has done, whether it was voluntary or involuntary.  Whether it was by word or by deed.  Whether it was in knowledge or of ignorance.  We are called to FORGIVE and to repent of our own sins and ask Him for FORGIVENESS.

 

Orthodox Prayer Before Communion

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.

Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.

May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.

 

My husband shared with me a page out of our Daily Vitamins for Spiritual Growth Book (volume three) by Anthony M. Coniaris that he happened to pick up and flip open to.  It was a wonderful reading and I decided to share it with you today.  It’s from p. 147 (May 22nd).  It is titled “DAMAGED ICONS”:

Every one of us is created in the image of God.  And every one of us is like an image of God, an icon of God that has been damaged by sin.  But if I were given an icon damaged by time or circumstances or human hatred, I would treat it with great reverence and tenderness.  I would pay attention not primarily to its being damaged.  I would concentrate on what is left of its beauty.

This is exactly what we must learn to do with people.  Every one of us is a damaged icon.  Who has not been wounded by sin or suffering or hatred or excessive criticism? We must learn to look and look until we come to see by God’s grace the inner beauty of the image of God in each person, however marred it may be.  Only then can we even begin to help that inner beauty to blossom.  For unless we strengthen the image of God in us and encourage it to grow, it will die.  We all need encouragement, and we need it all the time.  We need it for ourselves and we need it for others, especially for our children. For we are all damaged icons in need of repair; damaged icons that need to be brought to the Master Iconographer – Jesus – for renewal and restoration.

For this renewal to take place we need encouragement: the encouragement of God, which we have; the encouragement of the Scriptures, which we have; and the encouragement of God’s people, which we do not always have.  And which we so desperately need.

Isn’t this the way Jesus treated people – people like Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, Peter who denied Him three times, and so many others?  Through His forgiveness He encouraged them to grow and achieve their full potential as children of God. This is how Zacchaeus the dishonest tax collector went on to become the benevolent philanthropist; this is how the adulterous Samaritan woman who had five so-called “husbands” became St. Photini, one of the first evangelists; and this is how the weak, vacillating Peter the Rock, the chief of the apostles.  The encouragement sinners received through Christ’s forgiveness made them new persons.”

I thought this was a wonderful thing to share during Lent.  It’s a wonderful thing to contemplate in our spiritual journey – not only how all of us are created in the image of God and ALL of us are images that have been damaged by sin but that we should treat one another with reverence and tenderness REGARDLESS of the tarnished damage and how we should concentrate on the beauty that is still there.  We must do that with ourselves, our spouses, our children, our mothers and fathers and all of our family, friends and others around us.

We must offer our love even to the people in our lives damaged by sin.  We must reach out and encourage them – point out the beauty given to them by God – show them we believe it’s still there.  For it is… We must encourage. We must love.  We must forgive.  We must pray.

 

Available at the Orthodox Book Store and Light and Life Publishing

 

Other Books by Anthony Coniaris:   Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life, Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality, Daily Vitamins For Spiritual Growth - Volumes I  and II ,   and many more!

 

 

5

"It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue, and the pain lessens, but it is never gone."
~ Rose Kennedy

I have to agree with Rose on this one.  While I often have referred to forgiveness in my posts with different quotes and my posts on Orthodoxy, I don't think forgiveness necessarily means you lose the scar tissue.  There are pains in life one never forgets.  It sticks with you like a thistle sticks to your socks, like the clutching hold of a drowning man, like a tick embedded in your skin....

You do need to forgive - not necessarily for the sake of the person that has offended you but for your own soul and your ability to live a peaceful life.  That doesn't mean you'll forget the pain or that it won't affect you in any way.  You don't need to have an ongoing relationship with someone who causes you immense pain.  You don't need to submit yourself to more pain and certainly not abuse.  You do need to forgive, pray for them, and let go of the anger that lives down inside erupting into unexpected blows that erupt like Mt. St. Helen's.

And yet even with forgiveness, the pain can still linger....  but I think we can put it to good use.  We must recognize where the pain comes from.  While we work on forgiveness, we must also recognize 'what has this event or circumstance done to us? What has the pain caused?'  A person who is overly sensitive because of traumatic events in childhood can use that sensitivity to be empathetic to others who are sensitive as well or have lived through similar ordeals.

What qualities do YOU have that are a result of past pain? Though that pain may truly never cease to exist, how can YOU use it for good - allowing the pain to subside and be put to good use?

Random Thoughts On A Saturday:

  • We had a wonderful time at the 77th 2014 Novogodny Ball held at the Crown Plaza in New Jersey this past weekend.... here's a video clip from the 2013 Ball that I found on You Tube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1In_2R0H3g
  • Writing is my passion.  So is chocolate...but writing is a bit healthier.
  • While listening to her toddler make rhyming words is incredibly delightful and I can truly find amazement in his ability to do so, the fact that the rhyming words are nonsense words and he does it all day long can drive a mamma wild.  LOL
  • I am grateful to the people that love my family and make our days brighter by the gift of their time to help us.
  • It's important to do things for yourself.  Make yourself a priority.  That doesn't mean to forget the other priorities in your life, but don't forget to include yourself in them.

6

American Motivational speaker, Wayne Dyer says,

“Judgements prevent us from seeing the good that lies beyond appearances.”

I'm not a Wayne Dyer fan... though I know people who are.  I think some of what he says is good.  The above quote struck me as VERY good.  It's so true.  People often make judgements based on appearances and that is so shallow and so neglectful of finding out the truth.

Things are not what they appear.  For example, a peanut is not a nut; it is a legume.  A koala is not a bear; it's a marsupial.  And sometimes a smile is not a sign of happiness. It is a mask that covers the pain within.

One can never know someone's story just by looking at them or even by only catching a glimpse of the picture.  I read this story a couple of months ago that brought me to tears - it was about a woman's husband who had suffered a brain injury which left him with a changed personality.  Once in a while she would catch glimpses of the man she married only to have him fade away again at a moment's notice. His behavior was not understandable to people who were not aware of the injury - it's not like he or his family carried around signs to say "I'm suffering from a traumatic brain injury.  I'm really a nice guy underneath this so please excuse my behaviors and be kind to me and my loved ones."  But the point of the story was perhaps we all should carry signs.

You can read the whole story as it was originally posted here.

When I read this story, I couldn't help but think of my own family and friends.  I thought of the things they have been through, the things most people don't know about and the judgements people may make based on appearance or behaviors when they don't know the story behind it.  People can be very rude and judgemental.

I hope you take time to read the woman's story.  And I hope you can recognize that we all have stories. And then I hope that you will  " think about some of the big signs with big messages that I bet you wish you could wear around your neck sometimes so that people would be more gentle, or even that you could put around the neck of someone you love — so that you didn’t have to go into a big long story to defend yourself or someone else– so that people would just stop judging and just be kind."

I also believe we must forgive these people who are not kind.  The ones that don't know the story and feel they have to make the comments they do - not knowing all there is to know. They are swimming in their own stuff that we, the judged, don't know anything about either.

Forgiveness Doesn't Excuse Their Behavior
Forgiveness Doesn't Excuse Their Behavior

Random Thoughts For a Saturday:

  • Be Kind
  • When you feel yourself judging, try doing a random act of kindness for that person instead.
  • How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work on a snowy morning?
  • Three year olds do not understand that stuffy noses do not clear up just like that. Nor do they understand that crying makes it worse.  🙁
  • It's hard to explain to a dog that swallowing the medicine is what makes it work.
  • It's amazing what a fourteen year old boy can train a toddler to do (give the 14 year old a hug every time the toddler wants him to do something, for example).
  • Again, Be Kind.