This Gospel reading on the feast day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (John 19:6-11, 13-20, 25-28, 30) encourages us to deny ourselves and follow Christ – this is our Cross. These are two separate things. The prodigal son didn’t do any of the two at first. He did not deny himself. He went on enjoying himself, spent all of his father’s money, and he did not follow his father. He went away. Later on though he ended up doing both.
The older brother [in the parable of the Prodigal Son] on the other hand, did the second thing all his life. He was always serving the father and as he claimed, he never disobeyed his commandments. He was honest in what he was saying. He wasn’t lying. He was always close to his father and he never disobeyed his
commandments. Be careful here though. We have hidden an extremely venomous snake! He did not deny himself. He was full of himself. This ego-centrical fullness over flowed. All his life he did not empathise anyone. When he came home and he realised what was happening he said to his father: “your son”. He didn’t feel that the other person was his brother. He didn’t even call him his brother. He said: “your son” and didn’t even want to be related to him because of his past sins. He did not understand what it is to be human and that he himself was a living lie. And above all he never realised who his father really was. That the father was the incarnation of love. Unfortunately his ego was stopping him from being happy with someone else’s success and improvement. This is the case sometimes with us too. We can’t be happy with what others achieve, even if this other person is our brother. How sick is it to feel and see your brother or sister as a stranger. Not to know them and not to want to be known by them. Especially when the Gospel preaches to love our enemies! By saying: “this son of yours who did this and that”, he was attacking the father. He blamed the father, God, for injustice! And yet he never disobeyed him and yet he was always serving him. This is what happens when we follow Christ without emptying ourselves. We become dangerous people. We become people that can judge, attack or even hurt others easily (including our benefactors), because we don’t have self-knowledge. If we don’t have self-knowledge, there is no way we can have Knowledge of God. That’s why the older son never realised who his father really was.
I don’t even dare to talk about how dangerous it is in the case of Church people getting high Church positions, giving the impression that they follow Christ, when all they are following in reality is their ambitions. They never emptied themselves beforehand and what they truly follow is themselves and that’s what they’re full of.
How do we empty ourselves? We now need to point out that to achieve all of the above we need nepsis and prayer. Nepsis is when we have vigilance, when we empty ourselves from thoughts - all sorts of thoughts. Positive and negative. Good and evil ones. This is like denying ourselves while praying in order to be able to pray. Nepsis is also precious in our everyday life to enable us to move on without having thoughts confusing us. When we deny and follow, when we deny our thoughts, when we deny ourselves, when we deny our will and focus on praying and focus on following Christ, this is what will lead us to the next level. To come to ourselves and become unified personalities, able to embrace God’s Will in our lives. Able to truly and fully follow God.
This [article series] has been transcribed and edited from a talk in a young families gathering in Perth, Western Australia, organised by the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John.