We are gradually approaching the Sunday evening before Great Lent, when we will all gather to follow Christ, without any detours or halts, all the way to Pascha.
During the Week of the Prodigal Son, we remember the image of a father's love to a sinner. The younger son decided to live on his own. It seemed to him that his life would be better if he took everything that was due to him and went to another country. It is not clear what his expectations were, but a person always strives for something. Therefore, he went and "...squandered his property in dissolute living." (See: Luke 15:11-24) Even if he had left his father and lived properly, multiplied his estate, built factories or banks, and became rich. By leaving his father, he would have still lost his love, which was no longer there in his new dwelling place.
Similar events happen at our monastery farmstead where people in difficult life situations find everything necessary, including work, food, shelter, prayer, and rest. Even in a house where they are loved, taken care of, and close to God, the world still tempts them, asking questions like, "What are you doing there? You are still young. You can make money and change your life. Can't you see that you are nothing but bums there? What benefit will you get? Aren't you tired of getting up in the morning, going to prayer and constantly forcing yourself?”
These thoughts came to one such person who left the farmstead in December. He was told that in Moscow his earnings would be very high and that he would quickly get rich. He was promised housing and everything else. He went there, drank a cup of tea, and, when he woke up, he found himself in a slave camp in Dagestan. This is what squandering means. He left chasing a “better life”, all the while barely escaping captivity months later.
There were many people like him there. Every day they were beaten, and they worked just for stew. When this man returned to the farmstead, he was already a different person. It was evident that he had experienced a very strong shock. We asked him to speak in front of everyone, but he said that he did not want to talk about it because it was a nightmare.
A person does not live by bread alone. You can never buy a father's love for his sons. This is why people who come to Christ and experience this love in their hearts are ready to lay down their lives for Him. They already know that there is a different kind of bread and a different kind of life in eternity.
We may have different situations, different moods and different circumstances (sometimes very sad ones) but we know that our Heavenly Father loves us. He never expelled us from church. He always forgave us. Today we are here because He has forgiven us, although we may still have never really repented in our lives. However, we know that He will always forgive us. We know that there is always going to be a priest with a cross, “forgiving and absolving” our sins. This is so, because God is love. This love is what the younger son was unable to find in the distant country (C. f. Luke 15:13).
God's love knows no borders. It may choose a homeless person over an ardent churchgoer. Often "what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God", and this is a good thing. As a loving Father, God is calling us home. To answer this call, we must depart from everything that prevents us from accepting His fatherly love and staying with Him forever.
This path is our earthly life. Eventually we will all leave this place, without being able to take anything with us. Nothing. Even the closest and most loving people will eventually have to part. Will they ever meet again? Is this life real or is it just an illusion, while there is some other reality in other worlds, as Buddhists say? No, there is not. It is here, on earth, that Christ came; it is here that we live today and, God willing, tomorrow. It is here, on earth, that you and I have loved, grieved, suffered and sinned. The Kingdom of Heaven begins on this earth. It begins in our hearts. "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).
It is very important that every time we come to confession, we understand that Christ is invisibly standing before us. We need to understand that a confession is not about talking to a priest about how we feel and how others treat us. It is about saying to Christ that we have sinned and that we are unworthy of being called anybody.
God forgives us and gives us His heavenly love through the Body and Blood of Christ. He does that so that we can live and learn to love one another. The meaning of Christianity is not in some state of nirvana, where you can live ignoring everyone, as long as it makes you feel good. The meaning of Christianity is in learning to love, help and serve one another, so that our lives may bear fruit. The fruit of the Spirit is peace, joy, long-suffering, meekness, mercy and self-control.
This is not the definition of humility that we’re used to. How do we tally it with the understanding of humility as “feeling inferior to others”, which is typical of so many spiritual books?
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