In the Father’s House


There is a tremendous kindness in the parable of Prodigal Son. There are many ways to speak of reconciliation with God, or of the forgiveness of our sins. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, however, we find perhaps the most gentle of all images. The son who asks for his inheritance in a greedy and untimely manner wanders far in a land that is waste. He destroys himself in the wickedness of his own life only to find himself in a foreign country in the midst of a terrible famine. He attaches himself to someone as a hired hand and is assigned the menial task of tending pigs. In his hunger he envies even the pigs and the food they are given.

No more complete fall could be described.

But the same son “comes to himself” – he returns somehow to his right mind and determines to go home and beg to be forgiven. No longer worthy to be called a son, he determines to ask only to become a hired hand.

Again, the kindness of the story comes to the fore. He not only returns home, but finds himself forgiven before he can speak a word – not only forgiven – but the Father embraces him and kisses him – again before he utters a word. His Father will hear nothing of hired hands but restores him to his former position and orders a feast in his honor.

In the second portion of the parable the same kindness is manifest. The older brother, jealous of the attentions given to the younger, refuses to join the celebration. But he finds kindness as well. Again, the Father goes out to a son and entreats him to come in. “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” Beyond these kind and tender words he urges the older brother to be merciful and to rejoice at his brother’s return.

It is a story that is fittingly read among the pre-Lenten Sundays. For it is a reminder that repentance is not our turning away from our natural selves – but a return to our natural selves. It is a turning away from famine and life among the pigs and returning home. Blessed Theophylact says of the sons “coming to himself”:

The man who until now had been prodigal came to himself. This because he was “outside himself” and had taken leave of his true self so long as he committed foul deeds. Rightly is it said that he wasted and spent his essential property. This is why he was outside himself. For he who is not govern by logos, but lives irrationally without logos, and teaches others to do the same, is outside of himself and has abandoned his reason, which is his very essence.

The image of the Father is an image of unrelenting love – a love that remains constant and unmoving. Whether in running to the younger son, or going outside to the older, he is ever a love that is welcoming and urging that we be properly at home.

I have heard many people speak of conversion as a “coming home.” It is indeed the case – not if we treat Churches as though they were clubs to which we switch allegiances – but if in coming to the Church we are truly coming to God. For the Church of the living God is nothing other than our true home – our proper relationship with the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit. All every son, whether he has wandered far in a land that is waste, or whether he has always remained at home with his Father, every one of us – must come to know the Father as He is in His kindness and mercy. For it is this kindness and mercy we are bidden to have in ourselves. It, too, is our true home.

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (St. Luke 6:35-36).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


11 responses to “In the Father’s House”

  1. Rachel Avatar

    God’s mercy is astounding. For 5 or 6 months, I tried to hide my face from God, but now that I’ve come back, I feel so welcome. I thought it would be much harder, but it’s been wonderful, and I’ve been welcomed back with open arms. I know there will be trials and tests of conviction to come, but God has so blessed me by giving me a community to partake in (OCF and St. Anne’s). God be praised.

  2. November In My Soul Avatar

    Coming to the Orthodox Church was a homecoming on every level for me. No more wandering in the wilderness, no more doubt. My willingness to demonstrate and reflect to the world the love that was extended to me is where I fall so woefully short.

  3. Stephen Avatar

    For me coming into the fulness of the faith was and is a hard journey, yet the Father was there, willing to hold me even the stench of pig and mud that clung to my clothes. His love is so great for us.

  4. Ioannis Freeman Avatar
    Ioannis Freeman

    When I was a young teenager, maybe less than a year before my father fell asleep in Christ, my Dad and I walked a lot together. One day I told Dad about something said by my social studies teacher, something that bothered me. I was self-willed in my anger toward this teacher and her remark. My Dad responded that maybe I did not know all that this teacher knew. I felt the self-pride well up inside. Dad went on to say that he knew more about me than I knew about myself. In the 40 years that have passed since then, my interpretations of what my father told me have changed. God’s grace was active and remains active in all these interpretations. My earthly father was the voice of my heavenly Father, letting me know that there was nothing that I said that could surprise him, and that his ear was ready to hear me. Surely I was then, and persist in, a prodigal state of mind. Yet I remain comforted in the hevanly Father who uses a little memory such as this to say “come home.”

  5. handmaid Avatar

    “I have heard many people speak of conversion as a “coming home.” It is indeed the case – not if we treat Churches as though they were clubs to which we switch allegiances – but if in coming to the Church we are truly coming to God. For the Church of the living God is nothing other than our true home – our proper relationship with the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit.”

    Fr. Bless!

    As those of us who come “home” to Holy Orthodoxy as prodigals in the beginning; evolve and mature in our faith, we tend, sometimes, to become like the elder brother…

    By this, recently there have been some very good discussions on other blogs about how Orthodox view the heterodox and ecumenism, in general. The Gospel of the Prodigal Son can help in this situation, to my way of thinking.

    When we first come to the Church there is much in us like the younger son, or we can view the heterodox as the younger son and the Orthodox as the elder brother. It just depends upon where we are in our walk with Jesus Christ and what our degree of love and openness to love is for our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, these are just very generalized impressions of how I have responded at different points in my Christian life. We fall, we get up and God willing we grow through the mercy and grace of our Lord.

  6. FrGregACCA Avatar

    This parable operates on many levels -interethnically and interreligiously (Jews and Gentiles, and by extension, white and black, orthodox and heterodox), interpersonally, and, perhaps most profoundly, psychologically. Have we not, all of us, played the role of, first, the younger brother, but then, the elder brother, at different times in our lives?

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed, there is a universal quality to the story – though the Father’s house should not be made synonymous with just anything we wish to call paradise in a modern relative sense. In the last analysis, there is only one House of the Father, only one salvation which is too real to be a metaphor for anything less.

  8. Ioannis Freeman Avatar
    Ioannis Freeman

    Lack of a fixed point on God as God tossed me about on my way toward Orthodoxy, which is my reflection on the demise of God as God in many ecumenical circles where clubs are compared. Indeed, there are differences among Christians in degree, if not also in kind. This is to say that I concur with Father Stephen’s most recent response in this thread concerning paradisical synonymns.

    However, after the Orthodox Church welcomed me in chrismation, numerous ethnic members of the Orthodox jurisdiction I call home (for it is “my” home), made inane statements that are difficult for me to dismiss as insensible or ignorant. For example, one well-meaning cradle Orthodox congratulated me on having become a Christian. (By the way, where I hang my hat is Miami Beach, Florida, where the name Freeman is considered Jewish by default. No questions even asked.)

    The very wall that distinguishes real ecumenism from its many varieties of club-shopping and club-hopping must be mapped and studied by all of us on the Orthodox side as well as the so-called heterodox side. Moreover, there is no single “Orthodox view” of heterodoxy or ecumenism, which is why I believe that it is disingenuous to promote a post-Schism spin on the Prodigal narrative, whereby the “other” lacks in maturity. Here I mean by the “other” all those who do not profess Orthodoxy as received across the centuries and directly from the witnesses of the Resurrection. Certainly such spins serve none of us as we pray for the Holy Spirit to gather the Church into one Orthodox whole.

  9. handmaid Avatar

    I was speaking in the micro, not the macro sense of how Sacred Scripture often applies to what is going on in a person’s life at the time. It always surprises me how this changes with what is happening in my life.

    As to the bigger picture, on this Gospel reading I found interpretation of St Cyril of Alexandria says: ‘…And all the publicans and sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.’ Therefore, as the Pharisees and Scribes made this outcry at His gentleness and love to man, and wickedly and impiously blamed Him for receiving and teaching men whose lives were impure, Christ very necessarily set before them the present parable, to show them clearly this very thing, that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, and firm, and who knows how to live in a holy manner, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct, to be earnest in following His will, so that when any are called to repentance, even if they should be men highly blameable, he must rejoice rather, and not give way to an unloving vexation on their count.’ (Homily 107)

    I only present this because it seems that, I must beg forgiveness for applying this Gospel to a present day circumstance, apparently St Cyril also picked up on the piece that I did: that of accepting those who return to the fold with rejoicing and not vexation.

    Please forgive any offense, my comment was meant to be an observation not a starter on the “schism”.

  10. Ioannis Freeman Avatar
    Ioannis Freeman

    St. Cyril and Handmaid carry the Gospel with clear sight, as I would like to share the same clarity of sight by God’s grace. Thank you Handmaid for your reflections both today and earlier on the Prodigal. You do not offend, in my opinion. Rather, you make the Gospel clear that God finishes the work that He began…Glory to God.

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