Sunday of the Prodigal Son
From the life of St. Arsenius of Paros (commemorated Jan 31)
A certain girl from Syros came to the Convent of the Transfiguration to visit her sister, who was a nun. The nun had previously been informed that her sister had fallen into a serious sin. When she learned that the girl was outside the doors of the convent, the nun screamed at her, “Go far away from here. Since you are defiled, you will defile the convent and the nuns.” Instead of feeling pity for her sister, and trying to lead her to repentance, the nun and some of the other nuns struck the poor girl and told her to go away.
The wretched girl cried, “I have made a mistake. Forgive me!”
The nun shrieked, “Go away, or I will kill you to wash away the shame you have brought to our family.”
“Have you no pity, my sister, don’t you share my pain?”
“No,” the nun shouted, “you are not my sister, you are a foul harlot.”
“Where shall I go?” she sobbed.
“Go and drown yourself,” was the heartless reply.
The poor girl fled from the convent, bleeding and wounded, intending to kill herself. At that very moment, St Arsenius was on his way to visit the convent. Seeing the girl in such a state, he asked her what was wrong. She explained that she had been led astray by corrupt men and women. Realizing her sin, she went to the convent to ask her sister for help.
“See what they have done to me, Elder. What do you advise me to do? Shall I drown myself, or leap off a cliff?”
“I do not advise you to do either, my child. If you wish, I shall take you with me and heal the wounds of your soul and body,” he said gently.
“Where will you take me?” the miserable girl asked.
“To the convent, my child.”
“I beg you not to take me there, Elder. My sister and the other nuns said they would kill me if I came back.”
The saint replied, “Do not be afraid. They will not kill you, because I shall entrust you to Christ, and no one will be able to harm you.”
“Very well,” she said, “If you entrust me to Christ I will not be afraid of them, for Christ is more powerful than they.
”St Arsenius led her to the convent, consoling her and encouraging her to repentance and confession. After hearing her confession, he made her a nun. Then he called all the nuns into the church and severely rebuked those who wounded the girl. He reminded them of the parable of the Prodigal Son, and of how Christ had come to save sinners. He often associated with sinners, showing them great love and mercy.
“You, however, have done the opposite. Though you knew that her soul had been wounded by the devil, you did not feel sorry for her. You did not embrace her and try to save her from further sin, but you attacked her and beat her. Then you urged her to kill herself. Now I, your Spiritual Father, tell you that you are not nuns, you are not Christians, you are not even human beings. You are devoid of compassion, affection, and sympathy. You are murderesses! Therefore, I forbid you to receive Holy Communion for three years, unless you recognize your sin. Repent and confess, weep and ask forgiveness from God and from me, your Spiritual Father, and from the other nuns who did not participate in your sinful behavior.”
The nuns began to weep bitterly and they repented. Thus, he lessened their penance and forgave them. He gave the girl’s sister the penance of not receiving Holy Communion for a whole year. Because the other nuns had shared in this sin, he would not permit them to receive Communion for six months.
“Give me a word!”
Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless? Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (cf. Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation.
-St Peter of Damascus