The parable that the Church reads on the Sunday of the prodigal son is from the Gospel of Saint Luke 15:11-32:
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 fed on 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 father divided his living and inheritance between his two sons, upon the request of the youngest. This shows how the father loved them both equally. The Church Fathers indicate that the parable’s father symbolises God. God gives rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous, as the Scripture says, and this is why the father equally divided his living between them. As God, he knew what was going to happen but he didn’t care about money, he didn’t care about His inheritance, he didn’t care about anything material. He respected the freedom of both his sons. Whatever he was supposed to give to the younger he gave it to him, no questions asked, unconditionally.
The Gospel story goes on. We realise that the prodigal son went away; he did what he did and at some stage he came to himself. The Greek text says: “εις εαυτόν ελθών.”
There was an Elder in Mt Athos who passed away a few years ago. He was a very holy man and he once explained what this meant. Of course every little piece from the Gospel can have a number of meanings but I wanted to share with you what I understood from his interpretation. He said that the prodigal son “coming to himself” is a mystical experience of the people who pray. It’s when someone’s mind, like the prodigal son, spiritually enters his heart and “comes to himself”. It might not make sense to some of us. That’s because it has nothing to do with understanding. It’s an experience. You either have it or you don’t. Although it is an ascetic, mystical experience, it also happens to people who live in the world but pray. We are talking about the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me a sinner”. This union of the mind with the heart (and by heart we do not refer to the human organ but to the centre of our existence) is very important. Unless we come to ourselves and unless we unite our powers inside us, we can’t understand what happens around us and we won’t know what the right thing for us is. The prodigal son coming to himself is like our lost mind entering our heart during prayer. Our mind becomes united with God within our heart.
Everything inside us becomes one. Mind, prayer, God, our heart, everything becomes One. From then onwards whenever we operate as One, whenever we re-activate this state, our decisions are pleasing to God, our mind is occupied with God and we can finally say that we now start to understand God’s Will in our lives. The first time this experience is given to us is a great gift. We can’t spiritually push our mind into our hearts, regardless how hard we try. But once our mind is given this spiritual pass, we can easily find our way to the heart. With a little practice it ends up happening automatically.