There is an incredible hymn that is taken from the Matins Service for this weekend of the Prodigal Son, sometimes called “Thy Fatherly Embrace”, which pushes us to realize our own weaknesses in turning back God:
“Make haste to open unto me Thy Fatherly Embrace, for as the Prodigal, I have wasted my life. In the unfailing wealth of Thy mercy, O Savior, reject not my heart in it’s poverty. For with compunction I cry to Thee, O Lord: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee”.
Last week, when we were reading about the Publican and the Pharisee, we spoke about how we in the Orthodox Church have to be very careful to not just show an exterior love for God, but to also change the interior of our souls to re-orient our lives towards God. We do this first and foremost, by bringing humility into our hearts…repeating the words of the Publican: “Lord, Have Mercy on Me.”
On this second Sunday of Preparation for Great Lent, we read in the Gospels the story of a young man who was given everything by his father in the form of an inheritance. He then left his home, squandered the money, and came to the realization that he needed to go back to the love of his father, lest he spend the rest of his days starving and in misery.
Jesus tells this parable because it is a picture of our own spiritual relationship with God! In so many ways, we turn our back on Him in this life, in search of something else! We take for granted the love of our Father in Heaven. We forget about all of the things He has given us. And the question we need to as ourselves as we prepare for Lent, is “why”?
Why is it that we so quickly forget our Father in order to chase after our own ambitions…our own desires…and turn our backs on the Love that is freely given to us by God?
This past week in my house, I was confronted with an image which has to do with that very question. As 3 and 5 year old children often do, we had an evening in our house where bed time felt more like a hostage negotiation! How many parents have caught themselves saying: “We will give you ANYTHING if you promise to just go to sleep!”
After a little while of back and forth, the running around upstairs ceased, and Matushka and I turned out all of the lights and went up into the bedroom about an hour later, only to find that there was a blockade of stuffed animals and blankets in the middle of the hallway, with our two children sleeping soundly together at the base of our door.
I think that anyone who has ever had experience with children, has seen this common theme, which is the same for all of us when we were growing up. From our mother’s womb, each of us has this innate sense of wanting to be close to our parents! When we were young, we would cry when we had to go to school or daycare. At parties or social events with a lot of strangers, we would grab on for dear life to our parent’s legs for safety! When we awoke suddenly in the middle of the night from a bad dream, much to mom and dad’s dismay, we would crawl into their beds to snuggle into the comforter. It is natural for us as human beings, to want to be no-where else, than by our mother or father’s side!
After a few years, as children get more dependent, they sometimes, like us all, begin to take for granted the love of their parents. It happens so quickly too! Even children who have reached the age of 3, who relies on their parents for everything, are the first ones to run out of an open car door into the unknown, when they see a playground in the distance. They do this because children are like all of us! We eventually become so intoxicated with our own wants, our own desires, and our own self will, that we ignore the dangers of going too far away from our parents love!
There is that four letter word which I now cringe at when my child utters it…because it is the very word that destroys the innocence of mankind. Unfortunately, it is also typically one of the first words we learn as children: “Mine”. Once we learn this word, our lives change forever, because it is this one word that drives the way that we live in the midst of the world. It is the “mine” mentality that leads us to take for granted the Love of our Father, who has given us EVERYTHING!
One of the most wonderful parts of Great Lent (besides the incredible worship services) is the systematic destruction of the “mine mentality”. The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, calls for us to spend 40+ days rooting out all of those things in our lives that cause us to turn our back on the Fatherly Embrace of God. During Lent, we deny ourselves worldly pleasures (MY entertainment). We limit the types and amounts of food that we eat (MY cravings). We increase the amount of prayers and services that we attend (MY time). We do all of these things so that we as God’s children can remember the reliance that we once had on our Father. The more devotion we have to this Holy Period, the more we stop learning to say “Mine”…and start remembering that we are “His”.
One of the most beautiful parts of the parable of the prodigal son, is the ending. We take great comfort in knowing, brothers and sisters in Christ, that no matter how far we have fallen, regardless of the lack of love that we show Him, and no matter how many times we have turned our back on Him, we have a Father who literally RACES towards those who want to return home. He dresses us in the finest robes. He throws a party to celebrate our return. He gives us the ring of power which we once had in the time of Eden. God truly does celebrate anyone who has walked the path towards death, and has changed direction to walking towards the path of life.
May we all strive this Lent to seek the Fatherly Embrace once again!