Tag Archives: Prodigal Son

Sunday of The Prodigal Son

I found this poem on Maria Horvath’s blog more than ten years ago, and have kept her introductory words attached. This week in the Orthodox Church we remember the story of the Prodigal Son. I noticed that this poem can be sung, if you want, to the same tune as “Amazing Grace.”

Today’s poem, “The Prodigal Son,” tells of a father’s unconditional love for his son. It was written by John Newton (1725-1807). He is the former slave trader who became famous for “Amazing Grace,” the folk hymn that also examines the nature of forgiveness, his own in this case:

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

The poem recounts the story of one of Christ’s best-known parables. The younger of two sons asks his father for the share of his inheritance, only to squander it all on loose living. Humiliated and desperate, he comes crawling back to his family.

THE PRODIGAL SON

Afflictions, though they seem severe;
In mercy oft are sent;
They stopped the prodigal’s career,
And forced him to repent.

Although he no relentings felt
Till he had spent his store;
His stubborn heart began to melt
When famine pinched him sore.

What have I gained by sin, he said,
But hunger, shame, and fear;
My father’s house abounds with bread,
While I am starving here.

I’ll go, and tell him all I’ve done,
And fall before his face
Unworthy to be called his son,
I’ll seek a servant’s place.

His father saw him coming back,
He saw, and ran, and smiled;
And threw his arms around the neck
Of his rebellious child.

Father, I’ve sinned — but O forgive!
I’ve heard enough, he said,
Rejoice my house, my son’s alive,
For whom I mourned as dead.

Now let the fatted calf be slain,
And spread the news around;
My son was dead, but lives again,
Was lost, but now is found.

’Tis thus the Lord his love reveals,
To call poor sinners home;
More than a father’s love he feels,
And welcomes all that come.

-John Newton

I just roam.

gl-prodigal-son-paintingWe Orthodox have come to the Sunday of The Prodigal Son, one of the weeks preparing us for Great Lent. Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord, is so central to the faith that we not only have the 40 days of preparation for the feast which constitute Lent, but we have a month of Sundays preparing us for the preparation. It’s all good.

I loved this poem on the subject by Romanian Fr. Dumitru Ichim. The phrase I took from it for the title of this post, “I just roam,” reminds me of words in an Orthodox prayer: “Always I am fleeing and no consolation have I….”

Lent is our opportunity to repent of running to and fro, “always fleeing” and distracted from our purpose. Sometimes the beginning of the journey back home is made in the pain of darkness and hunger, but “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)

THE PRODIGAL SON

“The fog slowly is rising around here:
Father, it’s dark, I’m taken by fear!”
“Why? Can you no longer see the road home?”
“My light and my heart are worn; I just roam;
All bridges are broken, impossible,
Because I love myself… the prodigal.
The fog slowly descends from the mountain
Cunningly, to the mill, to the fountain…
Do I just seem to hear the cranes singing?”
“The clouds deceive you: fog they are bringing…”
“Where are you Father? You are a rock beyond choice
And closer to me than my very own voice.
The silence is painful, but I still shout to you!
I am hungry of you, and I’m very cold, too!”

-Fr. Dumitru Ichim, translated by Octavian Gabor

Rise and go and do the next thing.

I was reminded by another blogger this week of how we need to ask God, not to remove our burdens, but to give us grace to bear them, and to bear them to Him, so that He can use them in our lives to bring us fully into His Heavenly Kingdom.

In the Orthodox Church this Sunday of the Prodigal Son is one of our markers letting us know that Lent is approaching, and I’ve been thinking again about what I can learn from the story about this grace I need.

The parable for this week is about a journey, and every journey consists of putting one foot in front of the other, or “doing the next thing.” We are all familiar with this sort of activity when we are ill, and need to take our medicine, follow the prescriptions of our doctors, according to schedule. And don’t stop taking the medicine until you are all well!

The extra effort we put forth during Lent is not to show our zeal but to acquire humility which puts us in the place to receive grace. Paul Evdokimov writes about just one of the many “treatments to be taken” in the Church:

The sacrament of confession is metanoia or transformation more than penitentia. Confession is understood as a ‘clinic,’ that is, a place of healing. That prayer before confession says: ‘You have come to the physician, may you not return without being healed.’ … St. John Chrysostom describes this quite precisely: ‘Time is of no matter. We do not ask if the wound has been treated often but if the treatment has been successful. The state of the wounded one indicates when the disease has been removed.”

“In patience you possess your souls,” the Lord has told us. (Luke 21:19) That is what I have to learn, to say, “I will arise and go to my Father,” as the prodigal did, today, tomorrow, and the next day and the next, until I am completely healed. And I don’t expect to see the day on this earth that I won’t need to stay with the program.

Here are the thoughts I had on this parable a few years ago:

He Came to Himself

One thing that impressed me about the story was the distance factor. The son was in a far country, when he realized what he needed to do. He was hungry and wasted, but he still needed to rise and go, to travel a long way, which must have been a struggle.

All of humanity is represented by the prodigal son, and most of us are still on the journey. Some of us have begun to repent and are a bit farther on our way, but we are all clothed in our flesh, struggling with our sins, anticipating the day when we sit in the Kingdom and feast with our Father, enjoying the restoration of our full inheritance.

In the story, the son receives everything he had thrown away and lost. For now, we have the earnest of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God to help us continue. Every day I need to decide to take the next step on the way. But I know more than the son in the parable, who hoped for a corner of the pig shed. “…for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

I’m afraid I often act a bit nonchalant, as though I am at the gate or even in my Father’s arms already. My initial coming to myself has to be followed up by a constant facing-up to the toil of the road. Maybe I have been sitting on the grassy shoulder wishing the trip weren’t so long, wondering if maybe someone will arrive and carry me the rest of the way.

St. Herman of Alaska reminds me: “The true Christian is a warrior making his way through the regiments of the invisible enemy to his heavenly homeland.”

Quote of the Week – Regret

Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it is only good for wallowing in.
–Katherine Mansfield

 

This contrast of building vs. wallowing is a good one for me to keep in mind as we approach Lent. Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This young man probably didn’t exactly grunt around in the mud with the swine even if he did covet their food, but I wonder if he wasted a lot of time feeling miserable before he said, “I will arise and go unto my father.”

Glory to God, we can get up every time we fall and by the power of the Holy Spirit go to our Father in prayer, saying as did the Prodigal, “I am not worthy to be treated as your son.” And we can expect to be embraced, and to be built up in Christ.

Addendum: By the Linked-Within feature I discovered that I did in fact write about the Sunday of the Prodigal Son before, and even used the same icon. It’s sort of a sequel to this part, discussing what happened after he left the pigsty.