This Sunday is called the Sunday of the Prodigal Son named after the Gospel parable that is read on this day. We have come to the end of the second preparatory week before the Holy Fast established by the Church for our benefit. The preceding week was fast-free, that is, there was no fast on Wednesday and Friday.
Last Sunday we heard the Gospel parable about the publican and the Pharisee, in which the publican, realizing his sinfulness, could say nothing good about himself except for “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” The Pharisee, on the other hand, listed many of his supposed merits before God Who is all-knowing. One of them was fasting – “I fast twice in the week”.
We do not know whether the publican fasted or not, but the Pharisee’s fasting did not bring him benefit and was not credited to him as a virtue.
In order to feel the bitterness of sin more acutely, the Holy Orthodox Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has done away with fasting on Wednesday and Friday of the preceding week as a reproof of pharisaic fasting. However, while this canceling of fast days before Lent may cause some confusion, the Holy Apostle Paul in today’s Apostle reading explains this, saying, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor. 6, 12).
Blessed Theodorit says, “This is because you live not under the law, but you are free and have the full right to choose. It is not always beneficial for you to take advantage of this right, for as soon as you commit an impropriety, you lose this right and become a slave to sin.”
Indeed, if we take a quick look at the Old Testament which is based on the Law of Moses, we see that the people of the Old Testament had few choices. In fact, they generally did not have any choices, except on rare occasions. If someone committed a sin, he was punished, often condemned to death by stoning. For example, the sin of fornication was punished by death, murder was punished by murder. The basic rule was “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth”. There was no place in the Old Testament for such strugglers as St. Mary of Egypt, the Holy Apostle Paul, the Canaanite woman, and others, because there was no spiritual freedom, for everyone was under the law, and the law was, if you sinned, you were punished.
In the New Testament, sin could be covered by repentance, and true repentance can be attained only by free realization of one’s sinfulness. No one can be forced to repent!
And the Holy Apostle continues, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them...” (1 Cor. 6:13)
Whoever wants to use this freedom, let him do so, for the belly is made for food, but he should remember that this will come to an end, for in the life beyond the grave any food will be superfluous for people.
Thus, food was made by God to be used properly, and not to be ABUSED. This can be applied to all things in general, for the Apostle teaches us saying, “I will not be brought under the power of any”. The improper use of fasting by the Pharisee did him harm, as shown by the Apostle reading and the fact that the Holy Church reproves it.
For the healing of a possessed person, the Lord clearly prescribed fasting, telling His disciples that this kind is not cast out except by prayer and fasting. Therefore, anyone who rejects fasting in general is implying that the Lord was not right when He fasted, or he is contradicting himself.
So, the Holy Apostle Paul at the end of today’s Apostle reading calls us “to glorify God in your body and in your spirit...”, saying that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. How so?
When we partake of the Christian sacraments, we receive the gifts and the seal of the Holy Spirit. This can be compared best of all to a seed: if we receive a seed and we water it, it will sprout. If we neglect it, it will not bring forth anything, and if we neglect it further, it will dry up completely. Likewise with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: they are given to us but we can fail to use them.
These are all laws of spiritual life. And yet how difficult they are for us to understand, mainly due to our carelessness! Indeed, we know physical laws of nature and we don’t think that they get outdated. We accept them as they are, yet with spiritual laws, there are always so-called ‘know-it-alls’ who want to change them. The laws which God established can never be abolished, and the consequences of such ‘wisdom’ of trying to change them are always very sad.
There are many things we CAN do, but they are usually far from being useful to our spiritual and physical life. The Lord did not forbid us to use earthly blessings IN MODERATION.
Keeping in mind the Holy Apostle Paul’s advice that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, let us present it as a sacrifice of abstinence, and sanctify our soul with the remembrance of God’s various blessings to us, and try in some way to adorn our spiritual life, so that our body can truly be called God’s temple. The Lord will not disdain our efforts, as the father of the prodigal son did not disdain his son, but will bless us in this life here, and will not leave us when we cross over into eternity, to Whom is due glory to the ages. Amen.