By Archbishop Stylianos of Australia
 Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis of Australia

Sisters and Brothers,

In accordance with the order of Feast Days for the Ecclesiastical Year as designated by the Church Fathers (who decreed wisely on all matters!), the Sunday of the Prodigal Son has come upon us once again, with its two ‘Readings’ which are so characteristic, so educational and so necessary for every moment of life, not just for annual usage.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son on the one hand (Lk. 15:11-32), and the Epistle of St Paul to the Hebrews on the other (7:7-17), are two readings which we should visit at least once a week. Because this is not a straightforward and complete story that begins and finishes.

Just as man is not one singular adventure, nor just one singular sin, in the same way the narrative of the Prodigal Son is comprised of many stories.

The father is one scenario.
The elder son is another.
The younger son another.

But at every moment of our lives we are and we become something else. Each one of us!

Medical science informs us that the cells of the human body continually change: They age, they are replaced and they arerejuvenated.

Therefore, man is not something monolithic: It is not as though he became good and will die good. Or that he became mindlessand will die mindless. It does not work like that in human life. Because such presumptions do not exist in the Providence of God, in His love for man, in His wisdom, in His all-powerfulness.
He has given us so many possibilities, yet He has also left open so many opportunities for good and bad (as many as the hairs on our head!). Just the thought of it is enough to send us into a spin!

In other words, whatever ‘major’ thing I achieve might in the next moment be demolished, spoiled, forgotten, not counting for much in the final result.

Indeed, whatever major thing we achieve is capable at some time of turning out to be not merely minor, but bitter and harmful. Yet, at the same time, whatever mistake or sin we commit might just turn out to be for us a ‘stepping stone’ for something higher, if it becomes a cause for reflection and repentance.

And when he came to himself…” (i.e. come to your senses, as our people say, reclaim your sanity, in order to realize who you were!).

Who comes into this world and God does not allow him to develop all the possibilities which He has given him? God has never ‘blocked’ anyone’s path.

And in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, if we observe it from the outset, the father deals with his two sons ‘in his own way’.

Then comes the younger son: We should have expected that he would be the more reserved, the more restrained, the moretimid. He would never dare to leave the shelter of his Father!

And yet, although that is what we expected, the exact opposite occurs. He comes and says “Give me my share of the property…”. Give me my ‘cut’, that which belongs to me. (Since when does it belong to you, friend? When did you create it? When did you labour for it? You found it all there when you were born. The house, the property, your father’s honour, the paternal shelter and protection! Did you create all of that?)

The Father should be the one who demonstrates prudence, who lays down the law, who provides security. For a single moment he allows his soul to ‘waver’. (Should I give him his share now, that which I would have given him, or should I not?)

These secret hesitations and doubts are not mentioned in the Parable. And they are not mentioned because this parable refers to God Himself. And God of course knows what He is doing at every moment. He has no need to ‘reconsider’, to ‘regret’.

Nonetheless, let us not forget that the Parable is ‘ANTHROPOMORPHIC’ – portrayed in human terms.

The father, then, instead of saying to him “you’re not going anywhere; the time has not come yet, you are immature”, chooses to honour the freedom that every person is entitled to. For this reason, although he is younger, he gives him what he asks for! ‘OnlyGod knows’ with what pain a father’s heart watches his child depart – whatever child that might be!

I will never forget my Mother’s tears when I was departing from Rethymno for Hania on the island of Crete in Greece (3½ hours by car in those days. It was as if I was actually ‘migrating’ – from Rethymno to Hania. Today it is just a 25-minute drive!). And I was only leaving to attend School. To enrol at the Ecclesiastical Seminary of Crete.

My mother shed ‘black tears’ for a whole week before I left. She would look towards the mountains and say “there, behind them, is where you are going…”!

How much more dramatic, of course, it is when a mindless child leaves home, taking whatever it takes with it. And, crucially, going wherever it might imagine!

But you have heard the narrative of the Parable. I won’t repeat it.

Partying here, spending there, the younger son engaged in charlatanism, tramping and prodigality (from where the adjective ‘Prodigal’ is derived!).

This is where he saw so many things. And what didn’t he see! He saw people circulating; others happy, others sad and others indifferent.

Himself a stranger, amongst other strangers. But when his money ran out, he “began to be in want!”.

He had to go and work. This son of a Nobleman went to a farm as a slave! He watched the swine eating locusts, the pea pods with which he also tried to satisfy his hunger!

There, for the first time, he seriously remembered who he was – from whence he came, whose son he was, what he forsook, what he neglected, what he betrayed.

At that point he thought to himself: The employees of my father (the servants who are paid every day) wallow in everything. “And I perish in hunger”. And I am dying of starvation!

So, he took the decision: “I will return, I will see him again, he won’t have changed. Such a father could not have changed”!

Observe how the younger, prodigal son, deep-down, believed. I will say to him: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you”. I have embittered both God and yourself. Right before your eyes I committed such foolish deeds.Forgive me. And “receive me as one of your hired servants”.

Forgive me. Receive me back so that I might fit into your home again. (The Greek word for ‘forgiveness’, ‘συγχωρώ’ – ‘syn-horo’, means exactly that. To ‘fit in together’ with the others, in the same place).

Receive me as one of your hired servants”. Take me back, not as your son. I don’t dare ask for that. I don’t deserve to ask for that.

He who once said he is entitled to his “share of the property” now does not dare ask even for his name, even for his father’s abiding paternity.

Observe how the same person changed from one phase to the other.

And the father himself, though embittered and hurt in the beginning, now does not know how to show his joy.He opens his embraceful arms and runs. He runs ahead first, to welcome him, to kiss him. And you recall what directions he gave: He called for the fatted calf to be killed. He clothed him with a regal robe. He forgave him.However, whilst the celebrations for his return had commenced, so many others were changing!

And it was the elder son who changed most of all. He who up till that hour was the modest, prudent son who had never ‘abandoned’ the paternal home.

Do you see how a person changes? We are like the heliotrope. The flower that leans towards the direction of the sun.We, in this world, do not lean towards the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ who is Christ. That is, God. Unfortunately we lean as the butterfly does towards the ‘light’, and is scorched. We lean towards anything that shines and appears as gold, though it be just tin! We forget that in this world nothing should be presumed as ‘honourable’ or ‘dishonourable’. Everything is honourable and everything can become dishonourable. It depends on whether a person utilizes his brains as meant by God: to function in a God-like manner (as is fitting for God!).

So the virtuous one changed. The prudent one changed. As the elder son (the presbyter) was returning from the fields, he heard the music, the celebrations, the revelry. “What’s going on”, he asks. “What has happened”?

–          Your brother who was dead has returned! He was lost and he is found!
–          “Oh, is that so now”!

He approaches and gives his father a ‘dressing down’, as if he were God Himself judging a sinner!

Think about these things! That is why I said we should read this Parable at least once a week, if possible.

The father listened to him. He didn’t ‘rouse’ on him. He didn’t turn him away. He just listened: “For so many years I worked for you from morning till night. And I would come and you never gave me a fatted calf to eat with my friends. And now that he has come here, he who devoured your fortune on harlots, you hastened to sacrifice everything for him!”

The ‘poor’ father. Let us say here (in inverted commas!) ‘poor’ God. What more must ‘poor’ God be ‘compelled’ to listen to yet!

As for us, we continue in our own world: You did such and such to him. You did such and such to the other. Why didn’t you do something for me? Why didn’t you give me such and such? We determine the measure! Instead of saying, “It is You who gave the Law. It is You who have given life. It is You who have given everything. It is You who govern all things”. Instead of us, then, saying to God “Your will be done” (as did the Only-Begotten Son, God Himself who became Man), we become a lawless law, an unjust law, a poisonous law. And we insult and blaspheme God!

Yet God is not so aggravated as to forget us or to ‘insult’ us derogatively (even though God does not ‘insult derogatively’!). Whatever He created is His. It is precious to Him. Whatever contains His image is He Himself. That is why He respects it, He aches for it and He honours it. And He wants to save all of us – men and women, sinners and lesser sinners, wise and unwise (we are all unwise before the Wisdom of God!). My child, he says to him, why are you complaining and you don’t come to delight with us? You, also, should be glad and jubilant that your brother “was dead and has come back to life, was lost and is found”. He was dead and came back to life. He was lost (we know not where) and has been found. You should have been glad. That is how the complaint of the Father concludes.

However, the most tragic lesson that we take from the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the following truth regarding human egotism: The more ‘leniently’ any instruction, any lesson is enounced, the more deeply it ‘cultivates’ and ‘alters’ the recipient, whoever he might be.

In order to conclude the essentially inexhaustible analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we have left as a final observation, a tragic truth which we have discerned from years ago.

It concerns the most frightening cause and effect which threatens the arrogant person, when his secret self-indulgence thirsts for self-justification (!), leading him to the point where he commits (before the All-knowing God!) exactly the same sin for which he rejects and condemns his fellow human. He censures him as prodigally abandoning the paternal home and, aggravated by this, he himself refuses to enter again into the common home! “He was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him” (Lk. 15:28).

May God not allow us to reach such blindness, accusing others (of the same things), instead of ourselves!


Sunlight & Clouds

Source: The Greek Australian Vema Newspaper, March 2009

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