Sunday of the Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


Rejoice! O Lady, Mother of mercy, life, sweetness, and our hope, Rejoice! To you we cry, children of Eve in exile. Upon you we gaze, groaning and wailing in this valley of lamentation. Wherefore, go ahead, our defender, turn our compassionate eyes to us and with this look show us Jesus, the Blessed Fruit of your womb, O Sweet Virgin Mary. Amen.


On March 2nd Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Hesychios the holy Martyr; Saint Nicholas Planas; Saints Andronikos and Athanasia the holy Martyrs; Saint Theodotos, holy Martyr of Cyrenia.

THE HIEROMARTYR THEODOTOS, BISHOP OF CYRENIA on the island of Cyprus. He was chosen for his wisdom and virtue as bishop, and governed the Church of God with love and zeal. When a persecution of Christians arose in the time of the wicked Emperor Licinius, this man of God was taken before the judge and put to various tortures. When the torturer, Sabinus, urged him to deny Christ and worship pagan idols, Saint Theodotos replied: "If you knew the goodness of my God, who, it is my hope, will by these brief tortures make me worthy of eternal life, you would wish to suffer for Him as I do!" They hammered nails into his body, and he thanked God; then, believing that the end was near, he counseled and instructed the Christians that were around him. But, by the Providence of God, there came at that moment an order from the Emperor Constantine to free all Christians who had been brought to trial for the sake of Christ. Then this Saint also was freed, returned thus tortured to his see in Cyrenia and lived for a further two years. He then entered into rest in the Lord whom he had served faithfully and for whom he had suffered greatly. He finished his earthly course in 302 A.D., and went to the courts of the Lord.

SAINT NICHOLAS PLANAS THE PROTECTOR OF ATHENS. "One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may behold the delight of the Lord, and that I may visit His holy temple" (Psalm 26:4). There can be no better description than the above quoted verse from the Psalm. How happy, how blessed we are to have the account of the life of this marvelous little father by his disciple the nun Martha, in the world Ourania Papadopoulos.

This most pious priest, truly worthy of wonder, was born on the island of Naxos. His parents were quite well-to-do; they had land of their own, and on this land there was a little church named for Saint Nicholas. From the time when he was a little boy, he would go at all hours and secretly enter the little church; he would dress up in a sheet and chant whatever he knew in his childlike way. One night, a man was passing outside the church late and heard chanting. Out of natural curiosity he got down from his mount to see what was going on, and there he saw Pap-Nicholas--a little boy then--chanting!

Once Father Nicholas was telling stories from his childhood. He told us that one winter night, when they were sitting close to the fire, he said to his father, "Papa, just now our caique (sailing vessel) Evangelistria (Our Lady of the Annunciation) sank outside of Constantinople." "Our father was filled with fear," he told us, "and he said to my mother, 'Woman, what is the boy saying?' And truly, at that moment our caique sank..." And to put the notion of holy clairvoyance out of our heads (since he didn't have any teeth at all, he spoke like a little child), he said to us, "All wittle children are cwairvoyant."

His father died young, leaving him at fourteen years old. His mother took him together with his sister and they came to Athens--an Athens which, as he told us, started at the Acropolis and reached to the Vlassarou Panaghia Church. His mother made him marry when he was seventeen. He lived with his wife for a very short time--just until they had a child. Afterwards, on the twenty-eighth of July 1876, he was ordained deacon in the church of the Transfiguration in Plaka, Athens. Five years later, in 1884, he was ordained priest in the church of the Prophet Elisseus.

First he was parish priest at Saint Panteleimon's, in Neos Kosmoas (At the time, this was a country chapel on the outskirts of Athens. Today, it is a large parish in the midst of Athens). His parish consisted of--thirteen families! Later he was assigned to the parish of Saint John ("the Hunter," as they called the church in those days) on Vouliagmeni Road. The parish of this church consisted of--eight families! And the priest's salary was a piece of meat from the lamb of Meat-fare Sunday or Christmas. That didn't bother him at all; he thought fasting was the cornerstone of virtue. It was enough that he had a church so that he could serve the Divine Liturgy.

His dismissal from the Church of Saint Panteleimon cause him great spiritual sorrow. One night, as he left Saint John's to go home, he was weeping on the road. The place was deserted at that hour. Suddenly, he saw on the road a fine young man who said to him, "Why do you weep, my Father?" 'I weep, my child, because they chased me out of Saint Panteleimon's.' "Don't be grieved, my Father. I am always with you." Papa-Nicholas said, "Who are you, my child?" "I," he said, "am Panteleimon, who lives at Neos Kosmoas." And immediately he disappeared from in front of him. He himself described this vision word for word to a daughter of his synodia.

Every year, on the feast of Saint Panteleimon, he went to the church of the Saint at Neos Kosmos and held vigil. One year, as he himself used to tell, he was sick; he had a raging fever. His family was not going to let him hold the usual vigil. But he was burning with love for the Saint and went. "That night," he said, "after the Liti, I was leaning exhausted on the edge of the Holy Altar Table. There, right in the middle of the stupor of the fever, I saw Saint Panteleimon in front of me, young vigorous, holding a little glass full of medicine, and he said to me, 'Drink it, my Father, so you'll be well.' I took it from his hand and drank it, and I was completely well--even the fever left me! For one week I had the sweetness in my throat. I thought it was a sin and ungrateful not to mention it. I came out from the Holy Door and said, 'My children, I was very sick tonight, and just now Saint Panteleimon gave me medicine and I drank it, and I got well.' All believed and knelt, glorifying Saint Panteleimon.

For fifty years without a break he celebrated the Divine Liturgy daily from eight in the morning till three in the afternoon, in snowstorms, in revolutions...Not even with the invasion of the English and French, which took place in 1917, did he interrupt the sequence of his Divine Liturgies. He ate every evening. He would abstain from oil during all the fasts, as well as for that of the Cross. He would commemorate names for hours on end. First deceased patriarchs, metropolitans, priests, deacons, monastics, and--the people of Naxos and of Athens.

The prosphoron of the Angel

Over the span of half a century, in which he celebrated the Divine Liturgy without a break it happened from time to time that he had no prosphoron (bread of oblation). But even when he did not have one with him, he would find one easily enough in the nearby bakeries, or else they would almost always send him one. In short, he was never without one. One day, Orthros (Matins) had proceeded quite a way and there was no prosphoron to be seen anywhere. He sent out two members of his synodia to go to the bakeries, to the housewives who he knew would always have prosphora; he looked in the cupboards of the sanctuary, in case another priest had left a prosphoron--nothing. None to be found. After such a sequence of Liturgies to have a break!... He was saddened to the point of tears...Whereupon they saw him coming out of the Holy Gates holding a prosphoron (just the Seal, not the whole loaf), as fresh as could be. He had found this prosphoron on the Holy Altar Table. Moved with joy, he said, "Look, my children, what a sign God has wrought for us." He called all miracles "signs". As we see in the lives of the Saints, an Angel of the Lord would minister to the ascetics in the desert with revelations and the supernatural aid which he offered them; so it was with Papa-Nicholas.

His final days on earth

Weariness and ripe old age revealed themselves one day in the first fortnight of June 1931, while he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy at Prophet Elisseus'. As soon as he had consumed the Contents of the Holy Chalice, he suffered a slight fainting spell. Immediately he was carried to the narthex of the church, and at the same time called a doctor. When the doctor took his arm to give him an injection, he lifted up his other hand imploringly and held it out to the icon of Christ, saying, "I cannot...anymore, my Christ."

From October until the end of February, when he reposed, he said his prayers at home.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 6:11-16
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 20:46-47; 21:1-4

"Let not loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them about your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man". (Proverbs 3:3-4).

[Saint Luke 15:11-32]

The Parable of the Prodigal Son forms an exact icon of repentance in its different stages. Sin is exile, enslavement to strangers, hunger. Repentance is the return from exile to our true home; it is to receive back our inheritance and freedom in the Father's house. But repentance implies action: "I will rise up and go…" (v.18). To repent is not just to feel dissatisfied, but to make a decision and act upon it.

On this and the next two Sundays, after the solemn and joyful words of the Polyeleos at Orthros (Matins), we add the sorrowful verses of Psalm 136, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept..." This Psalm of exile, sung by the children of Israel in their Babylonian captivity, has a special appropriateness on the Sunday of the Prodigal, when we call to mind our present exile in sin and make the resolve to return home.

The Epistle Lesson for this Sunday (I Corinthians 6: 12-20) opens up what is a sort of digression and touches on a special subject, that of mortification of the flesh. This is explained by the fact that, eight days after this Sunday, we will be entering the period of the fast; and, already, the Church gives us a warning from Saint Paul to listen to. The holy Apostle first of all says to the Corinthian Christians that not all lawful things are profitable. We must not allow ourselves to be dominated by anything, even it if is permitted. Foods are for the stomach; the stomach is for food. But neither the stomach nor foods are of importance in spiritual life, for God will destroy both foods and the stomach. Enlarging on this theme, the holy Apostle then speaks of impurity. Although foods are for the stomach, our body is not for fornication. Our body is for the Lord; the Lord is for our body. Here we have an argument which is very characteristic of Saint Paul, who judges all things "in terms of Christ." "Know ye not that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot?" Not only are we members of Christ, but we are the temple of the Spirit. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…?" Therefore, "Flee fornication…" Fasting from food is neither the only not the highest form of fasting. Sexual purity, of heart and thought, as well as of the body itself, is imperatively required of us, each according to our condition, whether in marriage or in celibacy.

Of all the Gospel Parables, that of the Prodigal Son (St. Luke 15:11-31) is perhaps the best known and the most familiar. It is certainly one of the most touching. Possibly we do not always realize where the centre of the Parable lies. Is it in the change of heart experienced by the young man who has left his father, squandered his inheritance in a life of debauchery, suffered such hunger that he envied the pigs who had husks to eat, and then decided to leave and return to his father? Certainly the young man's words: "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son"--indeed, these words are a deeply moving expression of repentance.

The story of the Prodigal Son is our own story. The self-willed departure, the blameworthy life, the misery, then repentance, return and forgiveness: we have lived all that--and how many times! We can also look at the role played by a third person: the elder brother of the Prodigal. In the Parable, the elder son shows that he is jealous of his brother. He is annoyed that forgiveness should be granted so generously, and refuses, despite the entreaties of his father, to take part in the rejoicing. But this is just the opposite of what actually takes place when a sinner returns. Every prodigal son who returns does so at the prompting of the Elder Son, the Son to Whom the Fathers says: "Thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine"--the Lord Jesus--Who takes the sinner by the hand and leads him to the Father with ardent affection.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George