Feast of St Gerasimus the Righteous of Jordan
AS SOON as the son who had broken away from his father came to his senses and realized into what evils he had sunk, he wept over himself saying, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger?” (Lk. 15.17). Who are the hired servants? Those who through the sweat of repentance and humility gain salvation as their reward. Sons, by contrast, are those who obey God’s commandments out of love. As the Lord said, “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (Jn. 14.23).
So the younger son, who has abandoned his sonship, comes out of his holy country of his own free will, and fallen into famine, passes judgment on himself, humbles himself and repents, saying, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven before thee” (Lk. 15.18). We were right when we said at the beginning that this father is God. How could this son who had left his father have sinned against heaven unless his father was in heaven? For he says, “I have sinned against heaven”, meaning against the saints, the citizens of heaven, “and before thee”, who dwellest in heaven with Thy saints, “and I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Lk. 15.19). Brought to his senses by humility he is right to say, “make me”. Nobody can manage the steps of virtue on his own, though also not without his own deliberate choice. “And he arose”, it says, “and came to his father. When he was still a great way off” (Lk. 15.20). How did he come to Him when he was still far away, so that his father, having compassion on him, came out to meet him? He who repents in his soul reaches God by his good purpose and his rejection of sin. He is, however, still far from God, tyrannized mentally by habitual sins and failings, and he needs great compassion and help from above if he is to be saved.
The Father of Mercies came down to meet him. He embraced him and ordered his servants, namely the priests, to put on him the best robe, sonship, in which he had been clothed before through holy baptism, and to place a ring on his hand, putting the seal of contemplative virtue on the active part of the soul, as symbolized by the hand, as an earnest of the inheritance to come. He also ordered them to put shoes on his feet as holy protection and assurance to empower him to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy. Then he orders the fatted calf to be brought, slain and offered at table. This calf is the Lord Himself who is led out from the hidden place of divinity, from the heavenly Throne set above all things. Having appeared on earth as a man, He is slain like a fatted calf for us sinners, that is, He is offered to us as bread to eat.
God shares His joy and celebration over these events with His saints, making our ways His own, and His extreme love for mankind, and saying, “Come, let us eat and be merry” (Lk. 15.23).
—St Gregory Palamas, On the Parable of the Prodigal