Before His Passion at the cost of which the salvation of the human race had to be bought the Lord went to pray in the secluded Garden of Gethsemane. There the God-Man kneeled down and prayed; and being in agony, He prayed so earnestly that His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
Do not fabricate raptures for yourself, do not excite your nerves, do not inflame yourself with a material fire, with the fire of your blood. The sacrifice pleasing to God is humility of heart, contrition of spirit. With wrath does God turn away from sacrifices offered with self-confident presumption, with a proud opinion of oneself, though the sacrifice be a whole burnt offering.
The word anathema means severance, rejection. When the Church anathematizes a teaching, it means that that teaching contains blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of salvation it should be rejected and removed, as poison is removed from food.
According to the holy fathers, the younger son could also be an image of all fallen mankind and of every sinner. The younger son’s inheritance is God’s gifts, with which every person is endowed, especially Christians. The most supreme gifts of God are the mind and heart, and especially the grace of the Holy Spirit given to every Christian.
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk. 19:10) Beloved brethren! These merciful words that we hear today in the Gospel are spoken by God become man about the sinner whom God’s righteous judgment had pronounced lost, but who was sought out by the power and grace of redemption, and numbered by it among the saved.
Beloved brethren! Today we have heard in the Gospel that the true servants of the true God worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, and that God seeks, that is, He desires to have such worshippers. If God desires to have such worshippers, then it is obvious that he will receive only such worshippers and servants, and they only are pleasing to Him. This teaching was imparted to us by the Son of God Himself.
Who shall roll the stone from the tomb for us? These words of the holy women have their own mysterious meaning. They are so edifying that love of neighbor and a desire for his spiritual benefit will not allow us to be silent about it. The tomb is our heart. The heart was once a temple, but it became a tomb. Christ enters it by means of the sacrament of Baptism, in order to dwell in us and work in us.
What was this sight, which brought the onlookers to total bewilderment? What was this sight, which sealed the lips of the onlookers with silence, and yet struck their souls? They came as to a spectacle, just to satisfy their curiosity; they left the scene beating their breasts, carrying away a horrifying astonishment… What was this sight?
Bread strengtheneth man's heart (Ps. 103:17), the prophet foretold of a certain miraculous bread, which, unlike ordinary, material bread that strengthens the body, is to strengthen man's heart. Our heart is in need of strengthening! It was frightfully shaken when we fell, and cannot by itself stop wavering. It is continually shaken by various passions. Fallen man in his blindness preaches to no purpose and in vain about the firmness of human will.
I will say of them what has already been said of them; I will pronounce the sentence that was already pronounced. I will say it with bitterness of heart, but without mistake, because I am merely repeating the Apostle’s words, the words of God. The widow that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth (1 Tim. 5:5-6). Do not think that these words are directed only at widows according to the flesh! No, they apply even more succinctly to me and you, who have renounced the world to serve Christ.
Vainglory and its offspring, hypocrisy, are ruinous at their very root—they deprive a person of all heavenly reward, representing the vain human praise he has chosen and desired as the only reward. The Lord condemned vainglorious hypocrites.
Beloved brethren! We have already reached the very gates of the holy fast! They are even now about to open before us! Already, according to the typicon of the Holy Church, we hear the instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ read to us today in the Holy Gospels about the correct way to begin the podvig of fasting.
It is very easy for us to be continually with Christ, to ceaselessly hear His sweet voice, and to nourish ourselves with His life-giving teaching; for the Lord Jesus Christ still abides with us. He abides with us in His Holy Gospels, through the Holy Mysteries of the Church.
Pray without ceasing—and pray without anger or thinking. Know that every thought that distances the mind from God, no matter how good it might seem in and of itself, is from the devil, who constantly sows high-sounding and irrational dreams only in order to distract the mind from God, from His commandments and His good works. The attention must not attach itself to any such thing, but rather it should firmly tear itself away and cleanse the heart in every way from evil suggestions. The devil tries very hard to distance the mind from God and enmesh it in worldly delights.
In general, in the church of God one should preserve the utmost reverence and order, for the glory of God, as well as for one's own soul's profit and for the profit of those people present, who are to be instructed in reverence by the monastics. But lack of reverence disturbs them, scandalizes them and harms them.
Confession requires decisive self-denial. It must be triumphant. It must be made as if in the open arena, before all mankind, before angels, saints, and fallen angels, before the gaze of earth and heaven. For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men (1 Cor. 4:9), as the Apostle Paul says of himself and the rest of the Holy Apostles.
Mercy will present to Christ also those who were only able to show mercy to themselves, who visited themselves with self-criticism and freed themselves from the poverty, sickness, and prison of sin through repentance. Repentance is impossible for the hardened heart: the heart must be softened, filled with sympathy and mercy toward its catastrophic state of sinfulness.