For me, this image of God as seen in the Prodigal Son’s return, highlights a certain ethos in Orthodox theology that I have found refreshing, and challenging. As a westerner shaped in the judicial, morality-guilt focused, and rational landscape, my own theology has at times worked against the simple, but profound love of God.
This love, in Orthodoxy, is not exuding from a divine Creative force, but a Personhood reveled through the material flesh of the Son. I understand now, why the Eucharist is so central, because it speaks beyond a world divided in spiritual/material ontological categories, but of life itself as a gift to be acknowledged as such before our loving Creator. A budding flower, a galloping horse, a friend showing up at your door, these being intensely rich supra-natural opportunities of thanksgiving not only towards God, but within Him by virtue of relational experience. He is here, and He is there, He is both intimate and transcendent. At once, God is permeating His present reality through His energies, His essence is love, inviting, overcoming, divesting. Who deserves this Father?
I have learned to stop and pay attention, to see through things, like art, and ritual. In any tradition, the heart can lose focus, and even be lulled to sleep. Much of the sacramental life of the church in my context (Ukrainian Orthodox) remains unfortunately hidden, and even detached from the material world where people live and move. This is unbelief, a result of the fall, to think that there is a sacred reality apart from the world where we live, move and have our being. Religion is humanities attempt to break down a wall already destroyed in Jesus.
This seems a travesty, that the very keys to life and hope in Christ are not actively taking root in the culture, the Orthodox Church is often viewed as political, compromised, irrelevant to a majority of Ukrainians. Surely the key lies not in getting people into a liturgy service, but to embody the love of Jesus ourselves, life as liturgy and sacrament (thanks) as we go to the hurting, the oppressed, and vulnerable, like our Lord has.
I am moved to open my table more intentionally, to host and provide the garden of fellowship, the very taste of heaven on earth for and with my neighbor. In the same way God has offered the full of creation to gratefully enjoy, He has come, as salvation, in the Son, as the Father. He’s welcoming me home, each day, the prodigal son.