The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably the most well-known parable, and therefore let us call to mind some thoughts that commonly arise about it. The parable reminds us of the gradual nature of the development of vices, which are opposed by the good in a person’s life; and, if not for that obstacle, sin would manifest in people and in society with the speed of a hurling stone and would destroy both individuals and those persons closest to them.
The prodigal son did not perish but “came to himself.” Hunger served as a means to his repentance. This drama is constantly repeating in our own times. Hunger and poverty often serve as the initial nudge toward repentance. Good memories direct one’s path to repentance. The prodigal son would likely not have repented, if it were not for the positive memories of the good life that he had previously experienced. It is necessary for us to always remember this, and we must always help each other with both emotional and physical needs, so that people are able to develop good memories. The path of repentance and the return to the good are often a distant journey. One can only travel this path by mustering sincere feelings.
It is imperative not to forget that the father saw his son approaching from far away and the sight of his returning son brought great consolation to him. The prodigal son’s words addressed to his Father are the basis of salvation. He strongly judged himself, admitting that he justifiably deserved punishment. Did he consider that it would have been cruel on the part of his father to take a son back as one of the servants? No, he did not think this would be cruel of his father, but rather he believed that punishment would be fair and well-deserved. Such is the true nature of repentance; and, in response, his father returns back to him his finest clothes.
Repentance is a necessary condition of rebirth. In repentance there is bitterness, but there is also the element of joy, for repentance is hope knocking on the heart. But repentance comes gradually, and the return path is often long, for vices rarely cease immediately.
Those who have fallen-away from God have a spiritual hunger, but there also develops in such persons a callousness of the soul and a deterioration of the heart. We say that suffering and hunger are the primary vehicles to rebirth; however, along with these dynamics, repentance and tenderness manifest. Let us remember Zacchaeus, who without suffering any need, committed himself to repentance and conversion with great sincerity and zeal, obtaining salvation for himself and his household.
– Adapted from thoughts shared by Metropolitan +Anthony (Khrapovitsky)