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Conversion of Sinners

We have discussed the subjects of man's free will and examined the first of virtues humility, spiritual mourning and striving toward God's Truth. Now, we must speak of the process of the conversion of an erring sinner to the path of righteousness.

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-32) is the best example of this process. This parable tells us of a young son who is annoyed by the careful guardianship of his father. The son senselessly decided to betray his father, and came to him asking for his share of the inheritance. Having received it, he departed into a distant country. It is clear that this senseless son represents each sinner. Man's betrayal of God is usually manifested in this way: one receives everything that God has given one in life, and then ceases to have fervent faith in Him, ceases to think about Him and to love Him, and finally forgets about His law. Is this not like the life of many contemporary intellectuals? Overlooking what is truly essential, they live in remoteness from God.

In that far away land, so deceiving from a distance, the senseless son squandered and wasted his possessions, living dissolutely. Thus it is that the senseless sinner wastes his spiritual and physical strength in the pursuit of sensual enjoyments and in "burning through his life," and departs, in heart and soul, further and further from His Heavenly Father.

The prodigal son, having squandered his possessions, grew so hungry that he took a job as a swine-herd (a keeper of animals which, according to Mosaic law, were impure). He would have been glad to eat swine's food, but no one gave him any. Is it not so that a sinner, entangled finally in the nets of sin, hungers spiritually, suffers and languishes? He tries to fill his spiritual emptiness with a whirlpool of empty pleasures, which cannot drown the torment of hunger from which his deathless spirit grows weak.

The unfortunate-one would perish if it were not for help from God, Who Himself said that He "does not desire the death of the sinner, but that he should be converted and live." The prodigal son heard the call of God's Grace and he did not push it aside nor reject it, but accepted it. He accepted it and came to himself as one who is in comes to himself after a terrible nightmare. There was a saving thought: "How many of my father's hirelings abound in bread, but I, his son, am dying from hunger."

"I shall arise," he decides, "and go to my father and say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to be called your son. But accept me into the number of your hirelings." A firm intention, a decisive resolve - he arose, "and went to his father."

He went, all penetrated with repentance, burning with the consciousness of his guilt and unworthiness - and with hope on the father's mercy. His way was not easy, but when he was yet far off, his father saw him (it means that the father was waiting and was perhaps looking every day to see if the son was returning). He saw and took pity, and running out, threw his arms around his shoulders and kissed him. The son was about to begin his confession: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am unworthy to be called your son." But the father did not allow him to finish. He had already forgiven and forgotten all, and accepted the dissolute and hungry swine-herd as a beloved son. The Lord said, "There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not have need of repentance" (Lk. 15:7).

So gradually the process of falling away and conversion to God occurs in one. One is, as it were, lowered and then elevated by steps. At first, betrayal of God, going away from Him to a "distant country." In this alienation from God, there is a complete serving of sin and passions. Finally, there is a full spiritual bankruptcy, a spiritual hunger and darkness - the person has reached the depth of falling. Here, however, according to the words of Apostle Paul, where sin has multiplied, an abundance of Grace appears to instruct man. The sinner accepts the saving, Graceful appeal (or rejects it and perishes - and alas, this happens). He accepts it, and comes to himself, and firmly decides to part with sin and go with repentance to the Heavenly Father. He goes along the path of repentance, and the Father comes out to meet him and accepts him, all-forgiven and with as much love as ever.

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