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FEBRUARY 4, 2018
Today we are celebrating two feasts: the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The first is about the entering of a Son, the Son of God, into His Father’s House. The second is about a son running away and rejecting his father’s house. The first one is about the fulfilling of the Law, the second is about the breaking of the Law. The first is about warm familial love, while the second is about the rejection of love and family. The first is about profound humility, while the second is about arrogant and presumptuous pride and selfishness. The first is about an offering to the Father, while the second is about robbing a Father.
These comparisons are interesting, aren’t they? But the truth is that while they seem like direct opposites, they really aren’t. In fact, in the end, the parable of the Prodigal Son ends up just like the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord – the son enters his father’s house amidst much joy and celebration. Both commemorations are intended as directions for us – directions for our entry into our Father’s House, entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. The first example is taken from actual sacred history, yet it tells us something of the utmost importance to us. If we are to enter the Father’s House, we must do so as a little child – not chronologically, but spiritually. Jesus said “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Child-like faith; child-like trust in God and His providence for us, that’s what we need. That’s what we must acquire.
And what else do we learn from this Feast? The Christ-Child entering into the Temple is the Theanthropos, the God-Man. We too must be Theophoroi, God-bearers, wearing the garment of Christ, and striving in spiritual efforts, podvigs, to acquire divine life, theosis, deification. And what else? As the 40-day old infant Christ was brought to the temple in the arms of his most-pure and holy Mother and handed over to the holy Simeon, we must imitate Him. And how can we understand this? It means that we need the help of the Mother of God if we are to enter the Kingdom. Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica said  this: “The Most Holy Mother of God prays for us ceaselessly. She is always visiting us. Whenever we turn to her in our heart, she is there. After the Lord, she is the greatest protection for mankind. How many churches there are in the world that are dedicated to the Most Holy Mother of God! How many healing springs where people are cured of their ailments have sprung up in places where the Most Holy Theotokos appeared and blessed those springs to heal both the sick and the healthy! She is constantly by our side, and all too often we forget her.” We must never forget the Theotokos! We must never forget the help that Christ has provided us in His Most Pure Mother. When we are weak and collapsing, we must call on her. She will help us, she will intercede for us, and yes, at times she may even carry us. The other feature of this wonderful scene at the doors of the Temple is that the Christ- Child is surrounded by saints, not just His Mother. There is the Holy and Righteous Joseph, the supposed father of Jesus. There is Symeon the righteous elder and one of the Seventy translators of the Old Testament into Greek. There is also St Anna, the holy Prophetess, an ascetic and a proclaimer of Christ. Surrounded by saints, that’s what we need to be as well. We must know their lives, study their words, imitate their deeds, love them, have a relationship with them, and beg them for their prayerful aid.
And now let’s turn our attention back to the prodigal son.  What is it that makes it possible for him to enter back into his father’s house? What is it that  brings about that joy and celebration which followed? Jesus said: “I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent" (Luke 15:7). Repentance. Without it we cannot enter the Father’s House. St John of Kronstadt said: “All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life.” And St Isaac the Syrian said: “Repentance is the second grace and is begotten in the heart by faith and fear. Fear is the paternal rod which guides our way until we reach the spiritual paradise of good things. When we have attained thereto, it leaves us and turns back” (St. Isaac the Syrian - "Ascetical Homilies.”) And St Joseph the Hesychast says “If we wish our salvation, we will find it only in repentance and in our return to God, from whom we departed.”
Dear ones, let us rejoice in the happy confluence of these two truly wonderful commemorations: The Meeting of the Lord from the Menaion and the Sunday of the Prodigal Son from the Triodion. They both teach us the way to heaven: Child-like faith and trust; the choice to be Godbearers and the desire to be Christ-like; to appreciate and rely on the help of the Mother of God and all the saints; and finally true and God-pleasing repentance. May God grant us the grace to dwell always in our Father’s House, “where the voice of those who keep festival is unceasing, and the delight of those who behold the ineffable beauty of Christ’s countenance is unending.” Amen.