Monday, February 21, 2022

Homily on the Week of the Prodigal Son - Flesh and Spirit (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 
By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on February 25, 1951)

You heard in the Gospel reading the parable of Christ about the prodigal son. This is one of the most precious, most important parables of Christ for us, and I must explain it to you.

Why did I call this parable precious and extremely important? Because in it our Lord and God Jesus Christ teaches us the most important thing: how we should build our life, He teaches us what we should consider necessary in our life.

Why did the prodigal son leave home?

Piety reigned in this house, everything was pure and holy in it, and both the father and the eldest son lived a hardworking life.

And the youngest son didn't like it, he didn't want piety, he didn't want a life consecrated to God; instead he strove for pleasures, strove for the joys of life, and not at all for serving God in constant prayer and fasting.

That's why he decided to leave his home, why he asked his father to give him the half of the inheritance that was waiting for him.

And he received it, and left, and lived as his flesh wanted. Striving for fun, for delights, striving for carnal pleasures, he began to live dissolutely in fornication, and he squandered all his possessions with harlots, with drunkards, with his drinking companions.

But when a severe famine came in that country, when he squandered all his possessions, then he began to starve severely, then he sank low, very low. He came to the point that he had to tend pigs and lived in their company. And he would have been glad to be satisfied with the food of pigs, but even that was not given to him.

This is what his service to the flesh led to, the desire for its joys and comforts.

This is a deep, deep warning for us, so that we do not live for the sake of our flesh, not for the sake of earthly comforts and pleasures, for if we act like him, if we serve our lusts and passions, then we will inevitably sink deeply to live among people who are like pigs: among lechers, thieves, harlots, even murderers, bribe-takers, slanderers, perjurers - we will live among all the scum of the human race, for we ourselves will become worthy to be among the scum.

This unfortunate younger son either never heard or forgot the great words of Christ, that we cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve God and mammon. You must choose one of two things: either serve God, or serve mammon, that is, wealth, that is, the flesh, that is, its passions and lusts.

One of the two must be chosen, there should not be a middle ground. We read about this in the great Apostle of Christ, John the Theologian: “Do not love the world, nor what is in the world: whoever loves the world, in him is not the love of the Father.”

Do not love the world, do not love the comforts of the world, do not love the pleasures and comforts of the flesh - "for everything that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are not from the Father, but from this world" (1 John 2:15-16).

Our eyes seduce us, they seduce us with shameful visions, and with visions of how brilliantly rich people live, far from God, from Christ. This is the lust of the eyes.

Worldly pride is aroused in us when we achieve success on this path; we are infected with the love of money, and the love of money is the root of all evil, for it moves us to many evil and criminal things and in the end leads us to the most grievous passion - pride, which is spiritual death. So says the holy apostle John.

Now listen to the words of one of the greatest saints, Saint Anthony the Great: “Hate everything worldly and bodily rest, for they have made you an enemy of God. But just as a person, having an enemy, fights with him, so we need to fight with the body, so as not to put it to rest."

In another place, Saint Anthony the Great says this: “Do not follow the lust of your eyes and do not relax your heart. For evil lust corrupts the heart and darkens the mind; move away from it, lest the Spirit of God that dwells in you be angry with you. Let us strive for purity even unto death, and guard ourselves in every possible way from the filthiness of lusts.”

Thus spoke the great Saint, who dedicated his whole life only to God. So say all the innumerable ascetics, hermits and monks of piety like him. They hated their flesh, they hated all the pleasures of the world, all the charms, all the temptations of the world.

They whipped their body like a beast of burden, like a lazy and disobedient slave. They exhausted their flesh with fasting and vigils and attained the power of the spirit over the flesh. They achieved what the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:16-21).

You see, the apostle speaks about the very thing that the Lord Jesus Christ told us about: "You cannot serve God and mammon."

We cannot serve the flesh and the spirit, we must choose one. And all people make a choice that decides their fate.

The vast, vast majority of people prefer to serve the flesh rather than the spirit.

I have just spoken about those great saints who served only the spirit and not the flesh in the great feat of piety.

But they are opposed to bestial people, animal-like people, people who serve their passions and lusts, people who, in order to receive the pleasure of the flesh, stop at nothing - even killing their neighbors. These are carnal people, quite the opposite of spiritual people.

And between these two extreme thoughts is the mass of humanity, that mass, which, although it does not commit any atrocities and crimes, but prefers the lusts of the flesh to the highest inclinations of the spirit.

Among these people there are many unbelievers who reject the existence of the spiritual world, who value the Gospel of Christ as nothing and who prefer to live according to the dictates of their mind, to go their own way, the wide and open road, and not the narrow, sorrowful path of Christ. These are also servants of the flesh, for they do not think of the spirit.

There are many, terribly many of them, and we must shed bitter tears for them!

And now let's look at those who are the servants of the spirit, to those who fill our churches, like you now, who believe in God and in the spiritual world, and seek salvation, and strive for the Kingdom of God. What shall we say about them?

Let's say that many of them serve their body much more than their spirit, do more deeds of the flesh than deeds of the spirit. The Apostle Paul says this about them: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:15-19).

And they would like to serve good, but the flesh pulls them down, and they would like to live in the spirit, but the spiritual life in them is weak, it outweighs, like a cast-iron weight, and drags them down towards the flesh - the dictates of the flesh, the lusts of the flesh, the passions of the flesh. And they live in a deep bifurcation of their conscience: they strive to fulfill the commandments, and they think about the Kingdom of God, and they would like to serve the spirit, and not the flesh.

But their spirit is weak, the flesh is strong and powerful, but the weight of the flesh pulls down and does not allow the mountain to ascend, to heaven, to God; does not allow them to live according to the commandments of Christ, does not allow them to live as a pure spirit would like.

This is precisely the division of the entire human race into those who are strong in spirit and those who are strong in flesh, the split that reigns in the hearts of even those who believe in God, and the Lord Jesus Christ points this out in His great parable.

All of us, all of us, are like the prodigal son: we all strive for pleasures, it is hard for all of us, it is hard to serve the spirit. We do not want to fast, we do not want to pray for a long time, we do not want to focus our thoughts on the commandments of Christ.

The Cross of Christ does not stand before our eyes relentlessly. We do not constantly see before us the Divine Sufferer, who shed His Blood in terrible torment on the Cross for our salvation.

We pray to God, remember Him, and then we forget again.

This is where lived a younger son who had completely gone into the service of the flesh with pigs, he lived among people who were completely alien to the service of the spirit, who had sunk low.

But shouldn’t we live with those who are closer to God, shouldn’t we come to our senses, as the prodigal son came to his senses, leave the service of the flesh and with all our hearts in deep repentance turn to the Heavenly Father, saying:

"Father! I have sinned before Heaven and before You, and now I have come with repentance. Accept me not as an heir, accept me as Your servant!"

And if we do this, it will be what was in the parable: the Heavenly Father Himself will hastily come towards us, the penitents, He will embrace us, the prodigals and accursed, will forgive us everything and create a feast, a feast of joy, for it is said that there is great joy in heaven for the sinner who repents.

May we all be such penitent sinners - and God, Who is Love and Forgiveness, will open His arms to us!

May all our thoughts be directed to Him. Let us dedicate our lives to him!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.
 
 
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