On Thankfulness - Homily on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (2024)

On Thankfulness - Homily on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery

In today’s Gospel we see two manifestations of exceeding human unthankfulness, yet two manifestations of exceeding divine mercy.

Thankfulness lies at the heart of the Church’s life and worship. Eucharist, as is well known, means thanksgiving. Thankfulness is a confession of God’s greatness and goodness born from experience of his love. The importance of thankfulness surrounds us in our ascetical and liturgical spiritual lives. It shows up in the very first page of the Philokalia in St. Anthony the Great, who explains that it is absurd that we often thank physicians who prescribe bitter medicines and perform painful surgeries for our health’s sake, but do not thank God for those things which seem harsh to us but are soul-saving.

St. Isaac the Syrian also emphasizes the importance of thankfulness. St. Paisios of Mt. Athos deems his writings as equal to a whole patristic library. St. Joseph the Hesychast says that if all the patristic books were lost, Abba Isaac would suffice. Furthermore, St. Isaac himself explains at the end of his second homily that the few indications he provides in this homily are sufficient for a man’s spiritual growth and salvation in place of many books, if he lives attentively. And the very first words of this homily are: “The thanksgiving of the receiver moves the Giver to give greater gifts than the first.” And a little further on: “There is no gift which remains without addition, save the one which is received without acknowledgment and thanksgiving. The fool’s portion is small in his eyes.”

The first sin confessed on St. Dimitri of Rostov’s confession is unthankfulness: “I have sinned daily and hourly by mine ingratitude toward God for His great and countless blessings and benevolent providence over me a sinner.”

The first lines of Psalm 102, which is placed at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy—the greatest thing on earth—exhorts us to “forget not all that God hath done for us”; to “forget not all of His benefits.”

Unthankfulness is the source of every passion, sin, and evil. How can we say this? Is not pride the root of all sin? Or self-love? What about gluttony or avarice? For do not the Apostles and Fathers explain these as the roots of all sin? What about the devil? Is not his primordial fall rooted in a narcissistic turning upon himself which enamored him with his own beauty, blinding him to God the Source of all good? Doesn’t his fall consist in vanity and pride against God; a covetous ambition to surpass not only all the other angels but also God Himself; and does not the wise Solomon explain that the envy of the devil lies at the root of the devil’s instigation of the fall of man?

What about Adam and Eve? Is not their fall—the eating from the forbidden tree which appeared good to eat, beautiful to contemplate, and an enticing source of knowledge—rooted in greedy gluttony, covetousness, and a vain pride which moved them to seek quick and easy self-deification?

All of these are roots of evil. But the forgetting of God Himself, His goodness, and the many blessings He pours out on us, and the consequent unthankfulness which goes hand and hand with this evil forgetfulness, is the seedling of all the passions and sins just mentioned.

Unthankfulness for being created out of nothing as a glorious angel, whose mode of life was one of bliss and contemplation of God, led Lucifer to pride, self-love, and envy, and thus he became the darkest, most wicked, and foul Satan. Lack of awareness and thankfulness for Paradise and all of God’s blessings lie at the heart of the fall of Adam and Eve. Unthankfulness led Cain to avariciously hold back the best portion of his crops from God, to grow envious of Abel who gave his best to God. It lies at the heart of Cain’s sorrow and anger and led him to murder his brother whose presence was a torment to him. It finally led Cain to pridefully go far away from God in trembling and groaning. Then he finally tried to hide himself in the vanity and pomp of a glorious city.

Unthankfulness is the reason for the fall of both the prodigal son (who represents the sinners and publicans) and his older brother (who represents the cruel-hearted Pharisees to whom Christ spoke today’s parable). Unthankfulness lies at the heart of prodigality, needless gluttony, lust, and grasping greed, on the one hand. While on the other hand, it lies at the heart of envy, anger, sorrow, hatred, judgment, complaining, stubborn self-isolating pride, and murder.

Why did the Prodigal greedily desire his inheritance which would only rightfully be his upon the death of his father? Unthankfulness for what he already enjoyed in his father’s house. Why did he waste his inheritance on harlots and debauchery? Unthankfulness for the natural and God-given pleasures of food, drink, clothing, shelter, family, friends, and a loving father. When did the prodigal wake up and become thankful for all these things which he abandoned? When he found himself stricken with suffering, poverty, and hunger as direct results of his sinfulness.

When we fall because of unthankfulness, and come back to ourselves, let us be thankful for God’s mercy and patient long-suffering. Let us remember the truth of God’s love by calling to mind the beautiful and sweet image of the Father depicted to us by the Son Himself, Who alone knows the Father perfectly.

The prodigal awoke amidst his suffering. He remembered with thankfulness all the blessings of God. He resolved within himself to turn back to God and to pray to Him. He takes one step, and then what happens? God sees him, is deeply moved with compassion for him. God runs towards him, embraces him, and fervently kisses him. He re-clothes him in the grace of his Baptismal garment. He re-unites him to His Church through absolution, the Second Baptism. He then communes him with the Precious Body and Blood of His Son. This is the beauty of the Divine Liturgy. This is the joy which the angels share with repentant men. This is the Church of Christ. Let us not sever ourselves from such joyous communion with God, His angels and saints, nor from each other.

Let us not refuse to enter into the joy of others as the older son in today’s parable. He heard the music and the dancing. He heard that his younger brother had returned after wasting his life and the livelihood of his father. He becomes envious, enraged, judgmental, stubbornly remaining outside, not participating with all his heart in the celebration.

Envy is defined as sorrow at the good fortune of others. Compassion is defined as sorrow at the evil fortune of others. The Gospel explains in concise parallel passages the envy of the older son, and the compassion of his father: The older son refused to go in. Thus the father came out to him. Do you see the unbounded compassion of God? He doesn’t even forsake us when we are afflicted with envy, anger, hatred, selfish sorrow, and judgment. He tries to call us into His joy, speaking to our soul through our conscience, inviting us to share in both the joy and suffering of others that we might become more like Him. Even in the face of our complaining He still tries to explain to us that we have everything we need for happiness and salvation. Even when we self-righteously claim that we have not sinned, He still seeks to move us to repentance.

The parable ends with hope for the repentant prodigal, yet strikes us with its sudden ending without revealing to us how the older brother responded to the voice of his father’s pleadings and exhortations. Let us complete the parable in our own lives. Let us seek to acquire thankfulness that we might not fall away from God into sin.

How do we acquire thankfulness? We must actively and consciously, and even forcefully at first, remind ourselves of all of God’s blessings, both those universally poured out upon all creation, and those particularly experienced in our personal lives. Every breath must become an opportunity to consciously remember the love of God. Every inhalation of fresh air must move us to remember God’s pleasant sweetness. Every time we eat, drink, clothe ourselves, are warmed from cold weather, or cooled down from hot weather; every time we enter Church, see the icons, hear the beautiful hymns and prayers; every moment and everything we have from God must be consciously received as straight from His hand. Every encounter with other people must be seen as an opportunity to love and serve them and God through them. Then all of life becomes a sacrament.

We must recall and thank God constantly, every day, for granting us life, for granting us entrance into His Holy Church, for forgiving our sins in confession, for granting us countless new beginnings, for nourishing us with the Deifying Food of His Very Son. We must recall and thank God for every difficulty, danger, near-death experience, suffering, affliction, and confusion which He has time and time again delivered us from in the past.

Furthermore, we must beg God to grant us true thanksgiving. We must beg Him to open the eyes of our souls that we might see the wonders of His love in creation, in our lives, and especially in the Incarnate Dispensation of His crucified, resurrected, and ascended Son, Who pours out His Spirit of joy and peace upon us.

What is the reward for all our efforts and prayers for true and genuine thankfulness? Constant spiritual vision of the world; unceasing awareness of God; contentment with what we have; lack of consternation and desire for what we don’t have; heartfelt thanksgiving; a healthy sense of our unworthiness, unthankfulness, and utter inability to truly render God repayment for His goodness; the remembrance of our sins in the face of His unstinted love; true compunction, tears, and repentance free of both despair and pride; the seeing of ourselves as God sees us in His compassion; a broken heart which will not be rejected by Him; an unbounded outflowing of prayer, confession, and thanksgiving; exaltation in constant praise; life like, and with, the angels; a partial participation, as far as is possible in this life, in the mode of life which will dawn forth after the Resurrection.

Acquiring a solid disposition of thankfulness will render us invincible to all the sufferings of this life. We will begin to remember all the hardships of our past life and see that each one was actually a blessing from God to make us grow into the stature of Christ. We will then learn with the Apostles to endure reproach and hatred for Christ’s sake with joyful thanksgiving. We will learn with the Martyrs to embrace sufferings and even death as things which unite us more closely to Christ. We will learn with the Fathers to exclaim:

Glory to God for all things!

Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee!

Glory to Thee, O Christ God our Hope, glory to Thee!

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.