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Homily for 2/20/11 - PS - Taking Action

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  • Fr David Moser
    Luke 15:11-32 As we move towards Great Lent, we have laid out for us a reminder of whole process of our salvation. First the repentance of Zachaeus, then the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 20, 2011
      Luke 15:11-32

      As we move towards Great Lent, we have laid out for us a reminder of
      whole process of our salvation. First the repentance of Zachaeus, then
      the prayer of the publican crying out for God’s help in maintaining that
      repentance. Today we have the parable of the prodigal son which teaches
      us the necessity of action in addition to our repentant and humble attitude.

      Zachaeus teaches us the importance of humility and repentance, of
      turning away from our sinful ways and resolving instead to live
      according to the law of God. This is the first step, the first thing
      that we have to do in order to begin to work on our salvation. Remember
      how our Lord said that only he who is ill requires a physician. Only
      when we acknowledge our sinfulness and express a desire to turn away
      from it and be healed will we allow God to touch our lives. This is
      exactly what Zachaeus did – he confessed his sinfulness and repented,
      declaring his desire to turn away from his sinful life and to be
      delivered from it.

      But sin has us all firmly in its grasp and alone we cannot free
      ourselves. Simply the desire to repent and the resolve to live a new
      life in Christ is not enough. Like the publican, we must turn to God in
      prayer and put all of our hope in His grace. The publican considered
      himself to be unworthy even to lift his eyes to heaven, but he remained
      prostrate in his prayer. He knew that in himself there was nothing good
      – no purity, no good works, not even the strength or will to do any good
      works on his own. Recognizing his own weakness and need for God’s help,
      he falls on his face and cries out for only one thing – mercy; “God have
      mercy on me a sinner”. He throws himself completely in God’s care and
      confesses his dependence on no other person, not even himself, but on
      God alone.

      Today in the parable of the prodigal son we see these same qualities at
      work. The younger son, in his self centeredness and arrogance, demands
      that his father give him his share of the inheritance, and having
      received it, goes and spends it all satisfying his passions with no
      thought for tomorrow. Finally his fortune is gone and he is reduced to
      feeding pigs in order to feed himself. At this low place, the young man
      begins to repent. He sees how he has wasted all that he has been given
      by his father and he regrets having ever left his father’s house. He is
      sorry for his arrogance, for his disobedience and disrespect. He is
      sorry that he indulged his passions so willfully. He repents, as did
      Zachaeus. But his repentance is of no value by itself, it is only the
      first step to his redemption. He could have just as easily contemplated
      all of his foolishness and his wastefulness and his willfulness and as a
      result fallen into despair, losing all hope of ever climbing out of the
      pig sty.

      But this was not the case. The young man did not lose hope, but
      remembered his father’s house and how even the servants lived better
      than he himself was living at this moment. He hit upon a plan – he would
      ask his father for help, not as a son, but offering himself as a
      servant. In the same way that the publican sought help from God, not as
      anyone of worth, but simply a sinner begging for mercy. In the same
      manner this young man would go to his father asking for mercy. For the
      young man, however, even this is not enough. He could have hoped and
      hoped for his father’s help, but not received anything as long as he
      remained in the pig sty. Something else was needed here.

      In addition to his humility, his repentance, his cry for help and his
      hope that this would be given, now in order to further his redemption,
      the young man had to do something more, he had to act. Not only did he
      need to repent of his errors and turn away from them, he now needed to
      act on that repentance and get up and leave the pig sty that was the
      final end of his error. Not only did he need to hope for his father’s
      help, now he needed to actually go to his father and ask for that help.
      It was not enough for Zachaeus to repent and humble himself – he also
      made restitution to those he had cheated and gave to the poor, in this
      manner overcoming the passions of greed and acquisitiveness that had
      captured him. He had to take action. So also our young man needed to act
      – he had to get up and leave the place of his error and actually return
      to his father’s house asking not for what he deserved or for what he had
      earned, but rather begging for mercy as one no better than a slave.

      This same action is required of us. We repent with Zachaeus and that is
      good. We hope in God and beg for mercy with the publican and that is
      good. But now with the prodigal we are called to act on our repentance
      and hope. We must not only want to live the Christian life, but now we
      must actually live it. We must retrain ourselves not to wallow in the
      mud of the pig sty of enslavement to the passions – we must struggle to
      tear ourselves away from this filthy pit and return again to our
      father’s house. The parable skips over the details of the prodigal’s
      return, but think how difficult it must have been – not only
      emotionally, but physically. Here was a young man with no friends, no
      money, no resources at all. He first had to give up all the security he
      had in the world (feeding the pigs) and then he had to make a long
      journey on foot with no food, no shelter, no resources at all. How many
      times on this journey must he have been tempted to forget it all and go
      back to feeding pigs? How many times was he tempted even to doubt his
      father’s love and mercy?

      In the same way we must struggle first to tear ourselves away from the
      passions that rule our lives. Then we must continue this struggle
      through ascetic labor and through practicing the virtues holding with
      faith the hope in God’s love and God’s mercy strong as we return to Him.
      This coming period of Great Lent is for us like the prodigal’s journey
      home. Like him, we repent of our errors and sinful ways. Like him, we
      place our hope on God and like him we get up and leave the pig sty where
      we have fallen prey to the passions and we struggle to deny ourselves
      and to return to the Kingdom of God. During the fast we have this
      opportunity – the opportunity to struggle, the opportunity to deny
      ourselves in a meaningful and demonstrative manner. By keeping the fast,
      we deny ourselves not only those things that are sinful, but also
      through self denial, we distance ourselves from the sources of
      temptation, from the passions, from the subtle lure of the demons. The
      fast is our journey into the kingdom of heaven.

      But no journey is without an end. Finally the prodigal returns to his
      father’s house and not only does he receive his father’s mercy, but
      beyond all hope and expectation, also his forgiveness and love. He is
      restored to his father’s arms and to his father’s household and the
      whole household rejoices as the return of the long lost son. The journey
      of our salvation will also have an end, when we finally enter into the
      presence of God and are restored to His kingdom. Even though we do not
      deserve it or have no right to expect it, He will grant us his
      forgiveness and love and embrace us as His long lost children who have
      returned to His bosom. And again the journey of Great Lent teaches us of
      this. During the fast we struggle and work in the labor of self denial
      as ascetic effort. But Lent does not last forever – there comes the
      moment when the struggle is ended, Lent is finished. We face the
      greatest struggle as we enter into the life of Christ during Holy Week.
      With Him we are betrayed, beaten, mocked and crucified. With Him we die
      to this world. And finally, with Him we are resurrected and the joy of
      His love and life and mercy and forgiveness is poured out upon us
      without measure. Pascha is the image of the end of our journey. At
      Pascha, we finally arrive at our father’s house and beyond hope, beyond
      expectation, we are received with joy and rejoicing. Like the prodigal,
      we are also received into our Father’s kingdom and experience His love
      and forgiveness.

      Let us therefore, brethren, lay aside our sinfulness by humility and
      repentance and putting all our hope on God and crying out for His mercy.
      And hoping in Him, let us turn from our sin and with hope and joy take
      up the struggle of self denial and ascetic labor that is Great Lent that
      with joy and rejoicing, we may also enter into Pascha, the Resurrection
      of our Lord and so be restored to the household of God our Father.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
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