SUNDAY OF THE PRODIGAL SON
Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Leo, Bishop of Catania, Agathus, Pope of Rome, Bessarion the Great, Sadok the Bishop and the 128 other Martyrs of Persia, Plotinus
ST. PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS 6:12-20
Brethren, “all things are lawful for me, ” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me, ” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body and in your spirit which belong to God.
The Lord said this parable: “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his belly with the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
The Sunday after the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. This parable of God’s forgiveness calls us to “come to ourselves” as did the prodigal son, to see ourselves as being “in a far country” far from the Father’s house, and to make the journey of return to God. We are given every assurance by the Master that our heavenly Father will receive us with joy and gladness. We must only “arise and go,” confessing our self-inflicted and sinful separation from that “home” where we truly belong (Luke 15:11-24).
After the Polyeleion at Matins, we first hear the lenten hymn “By the Waters of Babylon.” It will be sung for the next two Sundays before Lent begins, and it serves to reinforce the theme of exile in today’s Gospel.
Starting tomorrow, the weekday readings summarize the events of Holy Week. On Monday we read Saint Mark's account of the Entry into Jerusalem. On Tuesday we read how Judas went to the chief priests and offered to betray the Lord. On the night before His death Christ tells His disciples that one of them will betray Him. He also predicts that they will desert Him, and that Peter will deny Him three times. On Wednesday the Gospel describes how Judas betrayed the Savior with a kiss. Thursday's Gospel tells how Jesus was questioned by Pilate. On Friday we read the narrative of Christ's crucifixion and death.
Saint Leo was bishop of the city of Catania, in Sicily. He was famed for his benevolence and charity, and his Christian love for the poor and the vagrant. The Lord granted him the gifts of healing various illnesses, and working miracles.
When Saint Leo was Bishop of Catania, there was a certain sorcerer named Heliodorus, who impressed people with his fake miracles. This fellow was originally a Christian, but then he rejected Christ and became a servant of the devil.
Saint Leo often urged Heliodorus to repent of his wicked deeds and return to God, but in vain. Once, Heliodorus impudently entered the church where the bishop was serving, and tried to create a disturbance, sowing confusion and temptation by his sorcery.
Seeing the people beset by devils under the sorcer’s spell, Saint Leo realized that the time for gentle persuasion had passed. He calmly emerged from the altar and, tying his omophorion around the magician’s neck, he led him out of the church into the city square. There he forced Heliodorus to admit to all his wicked deeds. He commanded that a fire be lit, and jumped into the fire with the sorcerer. Thus they stood in the fire until Heliodorus got burnt. Saint Leo, by the power of God, remained unharmed. This miracle brought Saint Leo great renown during his lifetime.
When he died, a woman with an issue of blood received healing at his grave. The body of the saint was placed in a church of the holy Martyr Lucy (December 13), which he himself had built. Later on, his relics were transferred into the church of Saint Martin the Merciful, Bishop of Tours (November 11).
Saint Agathon of the Kiev Caves was a great ascetic, and he healed the sick by a laying his hands upon them. He also possessed the gift of prophecy and foretold the time of his own death. His memory is celebrated also at the Synaxis of the Monks of the Far Caves on August 28.
The Hieromartyr Cornelius of the Pskov Caves was born in the year 1501 at Pskov into the noble family of Stephen and Maria. In order to give their son an education, his parents sent him to the Pskov Mirozh monastery, where he worked under the guidance of an Elder. He made candles, chopped wood, studied his letters, transcribed and adorned books, and also painted icons. Having finished his studies, Cornelius returned to his parental home with the resolve to become a monk.
Once, the government clerk Misiur Munekhin took Cornelius with him to the Pskov Caves monastery in the woods. The solemnity of services in the cave church produced such a strong impression on Cornelius that he left his parental home forever and received monastic tonsure at the Pskov Caves monastery.
In 1529, at the age of twenty-eight, Saint Cornelius was made igumen and became head of the monastery. While he was igumen, the Pskov Caves monastery reached its prime. The number of brethren increased from 15 to 200 men. This number of monks was not surpassed under any subsequent head of the monastery.
The activity of Saint Cornelius extended far beyond the bounds of the monastery. He spread Orthodoxy among the Esti [Aesti] and Saeti people living around the monastery, he built churches, hospices, homes for orphans and those in need. During a terrible plague in the Pskov region Saint Cornelius walked through the plague-infested villages to give Communion to the living and to sing burial services for the dead.
During the Livonian war Saint Cornelius preached Christianity in the occupied cities, built churches, and distributed generous aid from the monastery storerooms to the Esti and Livonians suffering from the war. At the monastery he selflessly doctored and fed the injured and the maimed, preserved the dead in the caves, and inscribed their names in the monastery Synodikon for eternal remembrance.
In the year 1560, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, Saint Cornelius sent a prosphora and holy water as blessing for the Russian armies besieging the city of Thellin. On that very day the Germans surrendered the city.
In 1570 when a See was established in Livonian Yuriev, a certain igumen Cornelius was appointed as Bishop of Yuriev and Velyansk (i.e., Thellin). Some have identified him with Saint Cornelius, but this does not correspond with actual events.
Saint Cornelius was a great lover of books, and at the monastery there was quite a collection of books. In 1531 his work entitled, “An Account of the Origin of the Pechersk Monastery” appeared. In the mid-sixteenth century the Pskov Caves monastery took over the tradition of writing chronicles from the Spaso-Eleaszar monastery.
At the start of the chronicles were accounts of the first two Pskov chronicles from 1547 to 1567. Besides this, Igumen Cornelius left behind a great monastery Synodikon for remembering the deceased brothers and benefactors of the monastery, and from the year 1588 he began to maintain the “Stern Book” [“Kormovaya kniga”: since the rear of a ship is called the stern, the sense of the title is “looking back in remembrance”]. He also compiled a “Description of the Monastery” and a “Description of the Miracles of the Pechersk Icon of the Mother of God.”
Saint Cornelius expanded and beautified the monastery, he further enlarged the monastery caves, he moved the wooden church of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste beyond the monastery enclosure to the monastery gate, and on its site he built a church in the name of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos in the year 1541. In 1559, he constructed a church dedicated to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos.
The Caves monastery, on the frontier of the Russian state, was not only a beacon of Orthodoxy, but also a bulwark against the external enemies of Russia.
In 1558-1565, Saint Cornelius built a massive stone wall around the monastery, and over the holy gates, he built a stone church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, entrusting the protection of the monastery to him. In the church was a sculpted wooden icon of “Nicholas the Warrior.”
In the chronicle compiled by the hierodeacon Pitirim, the martyric death of Saint Cornelius was recorded: “This blessed Igumen Cornelius … was igumen forty-one years and two months. Not only as a monk, but also by his fasting and holy life, he was an image of salvation … in these times there was much unrest in the Russian land. Finally, the earthly Tsar (Ivan the Terrible) sent him from this corruptible life to the Heavenly King in the eternal habitations, on February 20, 1570, in his 69th year.” (This information is on a ceramic plate, from the ceramics covering the mouth of the tomb of Saint Cornelius).
In the ancient manuscripts of the Trinity-Sergiev Lavra it was written that Igumen Cornelius came out from the monastery gates with a cross to meet the Tsar. Ivan the Terrible, angered by a false slander, beheaded him with his own hands, but then immediately repented of his deed, and carried the body to the monastery. The pathway made scarlet by the blood of Saint Cornelius, along which the Tsar carried his body to the Dormition church, became known as the “Bloody Path.” Evidence of the Tsar’s repentance was the generous recompense he made to the Pskov Caves monastery after the death of Saint Cornelius. The name of the igumen Cornelius was inscribed in the Tsar’s Synodikon.
The body of Saint Cornelius was set into the wall of “the cave formed by God,” where it remained for 120 years without corruption. In the year 1690, Metropolitan Marcellus of Pskov and Izborsk, had the relics transferred from the cave to the Dormition cathedral church and placed in a new crypt in the wall.
On December 17, 1872 the relics of Saint Cornelius were transferred from the former tomb into a copper-silver reliquary. They were placed into a new reliquary in 1892. It is presumed that the service to the martyr was composed for the Uncovering of the Relics in the year 1690.
The Hieromartyr Sadoc, Bishop of Persia, and 128 Martyrs with him suffered in Persia under Sapor II. Saint Sadoc was successor of the hieromartyr Simeon (April 17). He once had a dream, in which Saint Simeon told him of his own impending martyric death. Standing in great glory atop a ladder reaching up to Heaven, Saint Simeon said, “Ascend to me, Sadoc, and be not afraid. Yesterday I ascended, and today you will ascend.”
Soon the emperor Sapor, renewing the persecution against Christians, ordered that Saint Sadoc be arrested with his clergy and flock. In all, 128 people were arrested, including nine virgins. They were thrown into prison, where they were cruelly tortured for five months. They were told to renounce the Christian Faith and instead to worship the sun and fire. The holy martyrs bravely answered, “We are Christians and worship the One God.” They were sentenced to beheading by the sword.
Saint Agathon, Pope of Rome, was the son of pious Christian parents, who provided him an excellent education. After their death, Saint Agathon distributed his inheritance to the poor and became a monk. His virtuous life could not remain concealed from people. In 679, he was elected as the Bishop of Rome, and he remained in this position until his death in 682.