Feast of Righteous John Cassian the Confessor
A CERTAIN man,” it says, “had two sons” (Lk. 15.11). Here in the parable the Lord calls Himself a man. There is nothing strange in this. If He truly became man for our salvation, it is not at all strange if He presents Himself as one particular man for our benefit. He is the eternal Guardian of our souls and bodies, of which He is Creator and Lord, and He has shown surpassing love and care towards us in His works, even before we came into being.
Before we existed, from the foundation of the world, He prepared a kingdom for us to inherit, as He tells us Himself (Mt. 25.34). Before we existed, for our sake He made the angels ministering spirits, as Paul says, “sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb. 1.14). Before we existed, for our sake He stretched out the heavens over the whole visible world, as if putting up a tent for us without distinction in this transitory life. [. . .] Before we existed, for our sake He made the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night (Gn. 1.16). He set them and the stars in the firmament of heaven to move in the same and in the opposite direction, existing together and differing from one another in their various kinds, that they might be for signs both for seasons and for years. None of these signs are necessary to the spiritual creation, which is above the senses, or to the animals, which live by their senses alone. They were made for us, who by our senses enjoy the other benefits of the visible world as well as its beauty, while in our minds we can apprehend the things we see.
For our sake, before we existed, He laid the foundations of the earth, spread out the sea upon them, poured out air in abundance over everything and above the air kindled fire in His wisdom, that the excessive cold of what lay below might be tempered by having fire all around, while the fire’s own excessive heat would be contained in one place. If all this was also necessary for the animals to survive, yet they too were made, before we existed, for the service of man, as the prophet David sings in the Psalms (Ps. 104.14).
To sustain our bodies our Creator brought this whole world out of nothing before He created us. But to improve our ways and lead us towards virtue there is nothing our benevolent Lord did not do. He made all the visible world like a mirror of heavenly things, so that by contemplating it spiritually we might attain to them as by a marvelous ladder. He put in each of us a natural law, our own conscience, as a steady plumbline, an upright judge and an unerring teacher. If we concentrate our minds within ourselves, we will need no other teacher to understand what is good. If, through our senses, we rightly turn our mind outside ourselves, “the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” as the apostle says (Rm. 1.20).
When by means of nature and creation, He had opened the school of virtues, He appointed guardian angels over us, raised up fathers and prophets as our guides and showed signs and wonders to lead us to faith. He gave us the written law to assist the law implanted in our reasonable nature and the teaching given by creation. In the end, as we treated everything with scorn—how great is our laziness, and what a contrast with the long-suffering and care of Him who loves us!—He gave Himself to us for our sake. Emptying the riches of the Godhead into our lowest depths, He took our nature and, becoming a man like us, was called our teacher. He Himself teaches us about His great love for mankind, demonstrating it by word and deed, while at the same time leading His followers to imitate His compassion and turn away from hardness of heart.
Tender love is found in people who have things in their care, so shepherds love their sheep and owners love their property. Since, however, such love is greater between those linked by blood and kinship, and greatest of all between fathers and their own children, the Lord uses these latter to demonstrate His own love for mankind, calling Himself a man and the father of us all. For He was made man for our sake and gave us new birth through holy baptism and the accompanying grace of the Holy Spirit.
—St Gregory Palamas, On the Parable of the Prodigal