I have been filled with excitement these past few weeks, as the countdown to Great Lent has begun. What a blessing it will truly be to participate in the most holy period of the Church calendar, that was so sadly stolen from us two years ago due to the Coronavirus Pandemic!
The Church, in her great wisdom, has been giving us the path with which we must follow if we are to make this a successful and life changing 40 days. The Archbishop on his visit talked about the first step, that of Desire. We have to have the true desire to draw near to God, to be with God, and to lead a blessed life. We realize that we are like the Prodigal Son in the Gospel, spending our lives sitting and eating the pig’s feed of the world, but knowing deep down inside of our very being that we were destined to have so much more.
The Church then turned its attention to the second step in the example of the humility of the publican This was a man that realized he was eating the pigs feed of the world, and didn’t just yell to God: “Hey, I deserve better, give it to me!” He rather humbled himself and repeated those profound words that ought to be on our lips constantly during Lent: Lord, have mercy…”
Those first two steps, desire and humility, lead into the theme of this Prodigal Son Sunday, where the Church shows us not only the movement necessary to return to a blessed life, but also the response of a loving Father when His creation is moved to that third step: Repentance.
We often hear this familiar hymn being sung this weekend which describes what humble repentance truly looks like:
“Make haste to open to Me O Lord, Your arms in Fatherly Embrace. I have wasted all of my life in sin like the prodigal son. As I now behold O my Savior, the unfailing riches of Thy Great Loving Kindness, do not despise my feeble heart…For unto You, I cry with tears of repentance: “Father, forgive me…I have sinned against Heaven and Before Thee.””
What incredible news it is for us to know that there isn’t a wrathful smack awaiting us from our Father…but rather an Embrace of Love that awaits those who humbly desire to once again walk towards a life of God.
Repentance is the beginning, middle, and end of our life as Orthodox Christians. We are blessed this morning to be able to witness what the beginning looks like, in the baptism of Ingrid Aurelia. We see in her an example of how all of our Christian journeys began. When we were first Baptized and Chrismated, our very first steps of this new life were around the baptismal font, following the Cross. This is the direction of our life dear ones! We are to spend our days picking up our own cross and following after our Lord in whatever direction He leads us!
Inevitably, after the passions get ahold of us, we forget about the cross and about things Divine, and begin to turn our attention towards the things of this world. We come to the mystery of confession to be made anew. We strive to continue to follow after Christ before stumbling, going back to confession, and starting again. This is why repentance is not just a one-time event for Orthodox Christians! It is rather our way of life, from the first time we are dunked in the baptismal font, to the very last breath that we take.
I often share the story from the dessert fathers of Abba Sisoes, who like many other saints, was a miracle worker and a truly holy man. It is recorded how at the end of his life, he was conversing with an angel on his death bed saying: “I am not ready to die”. The monks who were surrounding him were astonished at this, saying things like “How can you not be ready? You have been waiting for this your entire life!” to which Abba Sisoes responded: “No brothers…I have not even begun to repent.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, an entire life of repentance is the Orthodox Christian disposition. It doesn’t matter how long we have been “eating with the pigs” either!
When we forget later on in the day that we neglected to pray that morning: “Lord forgive my slothfulness”, run to the icon corner, and go speak to God.
When we spend a fast free week over-indulging: “Lord, allow me to return to your embrace” and begin a small fast for yourself.
When we spend an entire year full of anxiety, stress, and darkness: “Lord, clothe me in the robe of righteousness, and allow me to enter into Your Divine Feast once again.”
No matter how long we have been away from the Church or walking in the opposite direction of God, the path back starts now. Our repentance begins today. Let this witness of a new life and new birth in God in Ingrid Aurelia, be our inspiration today, as she leads us all in partaking of the Lord’s Divine Life in the Holy Eucharist, thus setting her up for a lifetime of drawing closer to our Lord.