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The abundant joy in Heaven over sinners' fervent repentance. Meditationes e Sanctis Patribus.

We all seek God. Some of us are like a child who, being in a major city, has let go of his mother's hand and has gone by himself, recklessly; all of a sudden, the child realises he has gone astray and he desperately calls his mother. Meanwhile, the child does not realize that she has not lost sight of him and that now she stands behind him. Likewise, this is what happens to some of our neighbours. Not without effort can they truly meet and know God, because those whom we call "civilized", "post-modern" have consciously let go of God's hand for generations to follow their own ways, drawing with a red pen over the plans of God for their lives, not involving Him in any way in their daily acts.

In other words, they do not establish in this world a curriculum vitae that places Christ and His Gospel at its centre. They consider themselves the masters of their own lives and faith, as an absolute virtue and religious value which is always subject to question. Despite this scenario, God waits, patiently, their return and to this end He calls them ceaselessly and lovingly. This sort of unhappy neighbour will find his or her joy, happiness, serenity, peace, hope, love and, most of all, the meaning of their lives, if they come to realize that the Most Good God has loved all of us first, with a love that is as unselfish and unconditional as it is incomprehensible and unbounded. He is the foundation of all love which is His essence, expressed in His substantial act of constantly reaching out.

To the extent that men know this and reciprocate His love with their love for Him, they may not remain readily compliant with the divine commandments--even of the most important of them all, that of love. From this perspective, however, they find the meaning of their life, they are set free from all obsolete aspirations, of all false engagements that prevent them from ascending to heaven, and in this way they become themselves. Thus, this way man finds out what is essential and crucial for him: since the Son of God has become man, he is not alone anymore. Since He died and was resurrected for us, we do not die "completely" because, through His Resurrection, He trampled down and defeated death and opened to the faithful the path to the eternal life. So man will live in eternity, either with Christ or with Mammon, but this depends on his will and actions. This aspect of overwhelming importance--eternal life after death--cannot be ignored or considered less relevant. For this very reason, in this article, we assume that men will "yearn" for heaven by the revealing of the irresistible and intense love of God for them, rather than by threatening them with the afflictions and torments of hell. In the public religious services of our Orthodox Church we celebrate the joy of the Resurrection of the Lord at every holy and divine liturgy during the year, except for one, when the universal judgment, that will punish with eternal torments sinners, is brought to our attention not to frighten and to threaten us, but to make us assume responsibility.

"The Foolishness" of God's love

Love, from a Christian point of view, is part of the nature of God (Clough 2006: 29). Man is called to answer the fundamental question of his existence: "Who is God?" Saint Gregory of Nyssa's answer to this was: "It is You, the love of my soul...." (Evdokimov 1993: 41)

God loves beyond nature (John Chrysostom 1994: 290) and His love "passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). His love is like a sea or an ocean whose shores you are on can be seen, but the other side is out of sight; it is a love that is limitless, unbounded and it transcends man's understanding, a love that St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Nicholas Cabasilas called "maniac love" (Meaning love that is incomprehensible and unfathomable for the human mind--author's note) from this perspective (Clement 1997: 48), just for the reason that "our Lord's gifts are so great and innumerable that we could neither measure them nor estimate their abundance." (Basil the Great 1988: 396) Phrases like "the foolishness of the divine love" and "God's foolish love" were found in Socrates" texts, in Plato's dialogue Phaidros (245b-c), where it is mentioned the character beyond reason of love that is, in reality a kind of divine insanity ([phrase omitted]); St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Nicholas Cabasilas also use this phrase that we quote in full in Greek: [phrase omitted] (Rupnik 2012: 112); it is also used by the Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who converted to Orthodoxy, who talks in one of his speeches about the foolishness of God'd love; moreover, these phrases are used by the Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov, who wrote the book L'Amour fou de Dieu (Evdokimov 1993).

In his turn, St. John Chrysostom underlines "... as bodies that are anointed with oils drop from our hands and slip easily, despite us holding them with thousands of hands, the same is God's love for men: whatever name we may give it, we cannot comprehend it; its greatness exceeds and even goes far beyond the scarcity of our words." (John Chrysostom 2002: 10) This is our God! He is good, infinitely good. He is love with a capital "L," true, unconditional, proven, permanent and limitless love. As for His love, we are not at risk of being rejected, victims of violence, of doubts or extortion.

We know that the philosopher Rene Descartes, in the 17th century, wrote the well known saying "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"), yet, there were opinions in the Church that amended his proposition, stating: "Amo, ergo sum" ("I love, therefore I am"), or, even better, "Amor, ergo sum", translated as "I am loved, therefore I am."

Psychologically speaking, the person who discovers he is loved is able "to become aware of his sinfulness and to find in others" love the strength to take another path, to pursue another way." (Ibidem: 110-111) This is the reason why our Holy Church established that every Sunday of the liturgical year we shall celebrate, filled with holy joy, the Resurrection of our Lord and every evangelical pericope of these Sundays tells us, one way or another, about the glorious and various manifestations and outpourings of the divine love. Only on one Sunday of the Church year there was established an evangelical reading that unveils the way the universal Judgment will be conducted and, especially, that answers one of the essential questions that we will be asked: whether or not God's love has been reciprocated through our love for Him and our neighbour.

Today, the prevalent approach is to make Christ understood and to reveal, as much as possible, His inexpressible love for man, so that man can internalize and witness Him to others. Father Professor Dumitru Staniloae, surnamed for good reason, the greatest Romanian theologian of the 20th century, wrote on this topic: "Never before has it been more necessary to be loved by others, so, then, let us proclaim and show how much Christ loves us. More than anyone else does. He endured sacrifice; He defeated death and was resurrected for us and now He loves us eternally. There is nothing else that man could appreciate more than being cared for and receiving attention. Christ gives the most attention to us, now and forever. We should be aware of the fact that He died for us to defeat death and for us to be with Him forever. This is the foundation of my theology and of any correct theology." (Staniloae 2002: 57)

Starets Ephrem the Philotheite said about the foolishness of God's love that: "If only we knew what a Father we have (how loving, forgiving, merciful He is--author's note), we would shout loudly like fools because of so great a joy. We do not know Him and this is why we do not follow the way that takes us closer to Him." (Apud Bacoianis 2016:167)

The multitude of man's sins does not preponderate God's love for him

For more than seven thousand years, Satan has been exerting himself to convince men that God does not love them and to discourage them from making bridges and connections of sacrificial and unfailing love between them. He is always piercing their minds and hearts with the unseen lances of hatred, discord, envy, malice, disloyalty, duplicity, pride, covetousness etc. He succeeded in deceiving our proto-parents and he is too often successful with their descendants.

We can easily notice that, in our contemporary world, those who come to enjoy successful achievements in their lives will establish, before anything else, the goals that they desire to reach and the very few actions they have to perform, with perseverance, every single day, to achieve objectives. They will maintain and increase their enthusiasm and work hard; they are systematic and prioritize. Good Christians work with the same methods when it comes to their spiritual lives. A good Christian begins by placing at the centre of his life his relationship with God and the fulfilment of His will. He takes time, every day, to meet with God, to pray and to read so that he knows His will. A good Christian focuses his life on what is truly important and perennial. His soul does not attach itself to the evanescent things of this world. He is fully aware of the fact that, when we are judged, each of us will stand before God and will have to account for his deeds in his earthly life. At that time, God will not ask him about his social status nor about his wealth and financial status nor about what he has left on the earth, but He will ask everyone these essential questions: "Have you done what I asked you to do?" "Have you learned to love Me with all your heart?" "Have you wished to know Me?" "Have you committed yourself to loving your neighbours?" This is what God will ask and expect from us, because these are the essential things in life: to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, it is imperative to set these two priorities in our lives today, not tomorrow or another day, but now. Otherwise, we risk failing for eternity.

There is nothing that can take the place of love in our lives and no virtue can equal it. When one understands this truth, he will fulfil first that virtue that is recommended to all of us by St. John the Baptist and by Christ the Lord at the beginning of their preaching: [phrase omitted]. This word from the old Greek consists of the preposition "after" ([phrase omitted]) and the verb "to understand, to realize, to observe, to perceive" ([phrase omitted]), thus, literally it means "to think after" or "to realise after," that is to say "to rethink, to reconsider," to comprehend, to be conscious at a later stage about the good that man should have fulfilled and he did not or about the fact that he insisted on doing evil deeds and not good and now he has come to realize that he persisted in a wrong course of action.

Some men figure that God does not love them infinitely and this is because, most of the time, they diminish love to their fallible human reference point, to their level of understanding and, in particular, to their experience. These men love their neighbours as long as the latter are worthy of their affection; otherwise, they discredit them. This will not happen with the love of our Good Lord. There is an immeasurable difference between human love and the divine love. Because of His love for us, God is patient and slow to anger; He bears with our imperfections: "Who is a God like Thee, cancelling iniquities and passing over the sins of the remnant of His inheritance? And He has not kept his anger for a testimony, for He delights in mercy. He will return and have mercy upon us and will forgive our iniquities. And all our sins shall be cast into the depth of the sea." (Mic. 7:18f). Since man fell, God has not ceased to insist on bringing him back into communion with Him, not for His benefit, but for the benefit of fallen man. He has loved us with eternal love, hence, He remains good. Men went astray from God but God does not despise them; He only despises sin. Throughout the centuries, He did not reject man and He did not grow tired of waiting for him. He sent prophets and priests to help men and to prepare their souls to accept God's love and blessings. The Holy Scripture says that God's prophets do not cease to weep in secret because of our pride; their eyes melt in tears because we have been enslaved by our sins and passions (Jer. 13:17).

Christ, "the friend of sinners" (Mt. 11:19) loves and forgives the one whom He chose and established as the crown, priest and king of creation, "turning into a heavenly celebration the return of he who repents." (Simeon Metaphrastes 2001: 312) The Saviour knew one of His disciples would betray Him and sell Him out, notwithstanding, in the end, He loved Judas. He knew one of His disciples would deny Him and swear he did not know Him and yet He loves Peter and He wishes him to return to Him. Christ's love broke St. Peter's heart and brought him back, repenting, at the feet of His Master. For three years, Christ the Lord lived together with His disciples, trying to teach them His love, not only through His words but, most especially through deeds. The night He was sold, He took a basin and poured in water, He girded Himself with a towel and washed their feet. His intention was to convince and make them aware of His immutable love.

God's magnificent love for humankind, "that is not afflicted with any injury that might estrange it from concern for our salvation and not defeated by our unrighteousness so that it will abandon its intended purpose, could not be conveyed in words through a better comparison than that of a man who loves his wife ardently. This husband, the more he felt he was being neglected and disdained by her, the more he is burned in his heart by the blaze of passion. Therefore, the divine mercy and protection will always stay with us and our Creator's love for His creature is so great that not only does it accompany us, but it even goes before the creature with His providence that the prophet, knowing it too well, confesses by saying: "As for my God, His mercy shall go before me." When He sees the first sign of benevolence within us, He pours light over it, He strengthens and calls it to salvation, allowing it to grow the seeds that have been sown in it, for He saw that this is the result of our endeavour." (John Cassian 1990: 536)

The multitude of our sins and transgressions does not preponderate God's love for him as He is steadfast in patience and He waits for every man to repent, yet, this certainty should not prompt the faithful to sink into sinfulness, but it should give them the courage to repent. Even after we men have committed countless transgressions and wrongdoings, by offending and denigrating Him, God calls us, He waits for us and invites us to come toward Him, He calls us so perseveringly and intensely as if we never wronged Him, but He has done something wrong against us. Christ condescends to us, He looks for His servant. This "Beggar" for love stands at the entrance of our heart: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). The Son of God comes from Heaven to Earth to sit "at the table of sinners." His love is sacrificial even unto death. "God dies for man to have life in Him." (Evdokimov 1993: 33) God continues to enfold us in His love and blessings, forever, even when we show no gratitude. He gives us His help without considering our lack of gratitude. In everything "God follows the path of His love for men." (John Chrysostom 1989: 230) True love does not expect or require anything, but it forgets about itself, sacrificing for the other; it is a voluntary kenosis of a person to support the other person in his or her spiritual progress. Continuing the reflection of St. John lingua aurea, St. Gregory the Dialogue said:

But God speaks (to man--author's note) even when man turns his back, as He calls him to return to Him even after committing a sin. He calls back the man who has alienated himself from Him. He does not consider the sins man has committed. He will open His merciful heart to the man who returns to Him.... Unless we fear His righteousness, we should, at least, be ashamed that we have not answered to the call of mercy. (Gregory the Great 1996: 218)

This idea can be found in other works of the patristic literature. Saint John Chrysostom attributed to God the following touching words:

You have dishonoured Me, Who brought you into being out of nothing, Who endowed you with soul, Who let you have dominion over the earth, Who made the Earth, the seas, for you, the firmament and all the creation for you! It is me Whom you have offended and you considered Me lower than the devil! And, yet, not even in these circumstances have I abandoned you, but, after all this I bestowed innumerable blessings on you. I incarnated as a servant, I was spat upon, I was stabbed, I endured the most shameful death; for you I ascended into heaven, I bestowed upon you the Holy Spirit, I made you worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven; I promised you great and marvellous things; I wanted to be your head, your groom, your clothing, your shelter, your root, your food, your drink, your shepherd, your master, your brother. I made you an heir and a joint-heir; I raised you from darkness into the kingdom of light! (John Chrysostom 1994: 306)

Regardless of how intensely man exerts himself to do good deeds and fulfil the virtues in this life, these do not match the blessings and the love that God pours so abundantly over him. Saint John Chrysostom states the opinion and writes that even if we died countless times for God, even if we fulfilled all the virtues, yet, these deeds of ours are paltry compared to the abundance God bestowed on us.

Just consider what I tell you: there is nothing that we have that God needs as He is self-sufficient; he brought us into existence, He endowed us with a soul as no other creature on the Earth has, He plated Eden, He made the firmament ... and if you just tried to speak about all the blessings and the wonders with which God endowed man, you should speak forever, without ever being capable of mentioning everything. (John Chrysostom 2002: 102 sqq)

Inspired by the philokalic spirit, St. Barsanuphius and St. John wrote to a disciple of theirs: "If you could know as you should the gifts God bestows on man, even if all the hairs on your head were mouths to speak, you could not praise Him enough or thank Him worthily. But I think that you have realised that." (Barsanuphius and John 1990: 150) God's goodness to us is great and wonderful and this goodness to us aims at determining us to return to Him and "it does not cast us out when we turn back and unless we return, it does not cease to call us.

A sinner who does not turn back and does not repent is responsible and guilty of his perdition, as he is unmoved by the abundant goodness of God Who exhorts him to repent (Gregory the Dialogue 1996: 216). Reaching such a conclusion urged St. John Chrysostom to exclaim:

Does God not justly turn His face away from us and punish us when He gives Himself completely unto us and we resist Him? This is obvious to all! God tells you: Do you desire to adorn yourself, let it be My ornaments! Do you desire to arm yourself, let it be with My arms! Do you desire to dress yourself with clothing, let it be with My clothes! Do you desire to eat, then feed yourself at My table! Do you desire travel, then go on My way! Do you desire to inherit, let it be My inheritance! Do you desire to enter a country, then let it be the city whose builder and maker I am. (Heb. 11:10). Do you desire to build a house, then build a house in My tabernacle! I do not ask for any reward for the things I give you, but I even owe you reward if you use My gifts! Is there something equal to this generosity? I am your Father Christ tells you. I am your brother, I am your bridegroom, I am your dwelling, I am your food, I am your clothing, I am your root, I am your foundation, I am everything you desire! Lest you need anything, I will minister! (Matt. 20:28). I am your friend and head and brother and sister and mother! I am all! There is one thing I will ask from you: cling closely to me. I am poor for you, a beggar for you, on the Cross for you, in the tomb for you. In heaven I intercede for you; on earth I have come as an ambassador from My Father. You are everything to me, brother and joint heir and friend! Could you desire more? Why do you turn away from Him Who loves you? Why do you strive for the world? Why do you pour water into a broken vessel? For you labour for the earthly life. Why do you put your hand into the fire? Why do you beat the wind? Why do you run in vain? Does every craft not have an end? This is obvious to all. Show Me the end of your earthly efforts. But you cannot. For 'vanity of vanities, all is vanity' (Ecc. 1:2). (John Chrysostom 1994: 868-869)

Clement of Alexandria brought to attention the fact that, in those times, at the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3 rd century AD, there were people who behaved as if God had not existed although His love for men was more intense. God wants His servants to become His sons, but they will not. He admonishes them as follows: "Oh, how great is their foolishness! You are ashamed of the Lord. He proclaims freedom and you prefer slavery. He bestows salvation on you and you descend to death. He bestows eternal life on you and you desire punishment and are concerned with having 'what the Lord prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matt. 25:41)." (Clement of Alexandria 1982: 137)

The writers of the Church Tertullian and Salvianus are fully convinced of the fact that, since the beginning of time, the human race has been ungrateful to God. First because we have not fulfilled our duty to God, Whom, because of our partial understanding of His nature, not only did we not seek Him, rather we insisted on making other gods and worshiping them. So, because we did not seek "the lord of righteousness, the judge and the punisher of guilt," the human race fell into a plethora of vices and sins. "Had we pursued after Him, we would have certainly found Him and, finding Him, we would have followed Him and following Him we would have experienced His mercy rather than judgment." (Tertullian 1981: 96) God bestows good things on man so that he can be good, but he, on the contrary, many times when he receives these blessing he sinks deeper into wrongdoings. God calls man with His blessings to a righteous life, but he prefers to sink into wickedness. He calls man through benefactions to repentance, but he sinks into lust. He calls him to piety, but he sinks into uncleanness. Salvianus concludes that: "How brilliant a response we give to receiving the divine gifts, how brilliant is our thankfulness for His benefactions if in return for these benefactions He pours on us, we dishonour Him." (Salvianus 1992: 295-296)

God's great love for man has not been received nor understood by all men. The Romanian poet Marius Iord?chioaia depicts in his poem "Still" the way the human race received, in general, the Son of God:
   When His birth was announced
   We sent in the soldiers to kill Him

   When He came into the world
   we gave him the coffin in the manger'

   when He descended among us
   we looked for the closest chasm

   when He cast out demons

   we said He was a demon-possessed man

   when he healed the sick
   we gossiped He was a sorcerer

   when He told the Truth
   we cried out He was a fool

   when He turned His face to us
   we spat upon it

   when He gave us a kiss
   we sold Him

   when He wanted to embrace us
   we nailed His arms to the wood

   when He forgave us everything
   we laughed at Him disdainfully

   when He opened in His heart the Heavens
   we pierced His side with a lance

   when we found out He would rise
   soldiers stood guard at His tomb....

   for two millennia
   we have been taking Him out of history

   and His love still seeks our hearts.... (Iordachioaia 2017)


We have all sinned and offended and dishonoured God to the fullest extent. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23). "... your iniquities separate between you and God and because of your sins has he turned away His face from you, so as not to have mercy upon you" (Is. 59:2) said the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Scripture goes even further and says that we have become "the enemies of God:" "whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Jas. 4:4). Regardless of all these things, the love of God for each of His creatures was not altered nor changed. God wills that this wall that separates us be broken down; He wills that we continuously cultivate this reciprocal relationship based on personal love.

Saint John Chrysostom strove with sacrifice and talent, with the responsibility and the fervour of a Bishop devoted to Christ, to raise our awareness of what we should fulfil in response to the love of Christ for us. Thus, he states the opinion that regardless of how effectively we would exert ourselves, we could not achieve anything great when we strive to give thanksgiving to Him for His great benefactions. "Could we worthily prove our love for Him Who has loved us so much? Even if we suffered death while observing the commandments He gave us, we would not be capable of equaling His love for us! He, Who is our Lord, died for men; He, who is God, died for the servants; and not for any servants, but for ungrateful servants, who were His enemies; but He, anticipatorily, imparted so many benefactions to us, to unworthy men, to men who had committed thousands and thousands of sins; and we, even if we did strive to our limits, we do not achieve our goal when we try to thank Him for His great blessings and gifts. All our good deeds, if we do them, are duty and a reward for Him; and all He does for us is unlimited grace and benevolence." (John Chrysostom 1989: 14) At the end, the Antiochian saint says a prayer for every reader of his works: "May God allow us to be filled with the burning flame of love for God as much as His heart is filled with love for us! The fire of God's love awaits the occasion; if only you allow it to kindle, you would ignite the flame of His beneficial love." (John Chrysostom 1994: 290)

The same Father of the Church, surnamed "lingua aurea christianorum", recommends cordially to us, proposing us to consider every second, if possible, not only the benefactions God bestowed on the entire human race, but also the blessings poured upon every man and not only those gifts that are known to everyone, but also those whose character is personal and concealed from others. This is the only way we can praise and thank the Lord unceasingly.

This is the most significant sacrifice, the perfect offering; this makes us have boldness before God. How exactly? I shall tell you! The one who continuously revolves in his mind these thoughts, who knows too well his insignificance, who thinks about the unutterable and the overwhelming love of God for man, He Who does not arrange his life according to our sins, but according to His righteousness and kindness, well, a man like this one will refrain his thoughts, will break his spirit, will humble his heart, will learn humility, will learn to deprecate vainglory in this life, will learn to laugh off all unseen things, will learn to think about the goodness to come, the eternal and infinite life. A man who has a soul like this brings offering that pleases God as the prophet says: 'Sacrifice to God is a broken spirit: a broken and humbled heart God will not despise (Ps. 50:18).' Servants, whose judgment and thinking is righteous, are not corrected through punishment and torments, but through benevolence and the consciousness of the fact that the punishment they receive is not according to their sins. (John Chrysostom 1987: 112-113)

In support of these statements and arguments, the great Cappadocian, St. Basil the Great, analyzes the fact that, if we--ontologically speaking--have so much affability and love for our benefactors and we make every effort to recompense their benevolence, there is no word that could be worthy to describe God's gifts. Because they are "so abundant, that we cannot count them, they are so great and so wonderful that even one of them is enough to make us owe all our gratitude to Him Who gave it to us." (Basil the Great 1989: 222) Thus, "What does the Lord thy God require of thee?... Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind and with all thy soul (Deut. 10:12; 6:5) and with all thy strength and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself (Lk. 10:27)." It is required of us to reciprocate His love with our love and to respond and interact with all people with the strength of the love that communion with Him gives us.

Father Nicolae Steinhardt of Rohia (f 1989), born in the commune of Pantelimon, the county of Ilfov, in a Jewish family, converted to Christian Orthodoxy in the prison at Jilava, where as a novice he took the name of Nicolae. He was tonsured and, after being released from prison he passed his Ph. D. examination in constitutional law, a renowned writer, a literary critic, an essayist, a legal advisor and a journalist, states that in the Jewish religious ritual there is a prayer that consists of thanksgiving offered before God for all the benefactions with which He blessed the people of Israel. As a chorus or as a verse after each of the blessings that are mentioned in this prayer are added the words "dai lanu" that mean "it suffices for us"

If the Lord had brought us out from Egypt, it would have sufficed to bless and praise Him. If He had turned the sea into dry land, it would have sufficed to bless Him and to not stop thanking Him. If He had fed us in the dessert. And the prayer goes on. Every action and deed of the Divinity, every wonder is enough to fill with gratitude the people and to make them exclaim: 'dai lanu!' This is what a Jew who was baptized through the Holy Mystery of Baptism believes. It suffices, O Christ our Lord, what You did for me! (Steinhardt 1992: 9)

We, as Christians, the followers of Christ, also have a multitude of reasons to thank and to be grateful to God for all the known and the unknown benefactions that our Good God so abundantly poured upon us and for which we will never be able to praise and thank Him sufficiently. If only we were aware of every gift God bestowed on us and we considered only this benefaction, it would suffice to repeat unceasingly, with a thankful heart and mind: "dai li!", "dai li!", "dai li!" ("it suffices for me") etc. And, thinking about the entire creation, about all the galaxies and the infinite goodness, which have not understood or measured by our minds, or are partially known or completely unknown to us, bestowed or ingrained by the Creator in all, we utter, with profound and limitless gratitude: "dai lanu!", "dai lanu!", "dai lanu!" etc. How wonderful is God's love for us! O, if only we were worthy to praise Him, at least to the boundaries of our strength! Help us, Lord, to fulfil this!

God's love is superior to any form of human love, as the light is superior to darkness, as good surpasses evil. In this regard, a spiritual father in Romania, father Arsenie Boca ([cross] 1989), mentioned in numerous circumstances that "God's love for the worst among sinners is greater than the love of the most righteous for God." (Paraian 2001: 71) This means that a saint, even the greatest of the saints, cannot love God as much as God loves the worst sinner in this world.

When someone loves another person truly, unreservedly and ardently and the latter does not have a reciprocal attitude, the former is distressed and suffers horribly because his or her love is not reciprocated by the person loved. Could we imagine how much God suffers, He Who loves us infinitely and more than we could love, how much He suffers when we do not respond to His love with our love? The patristic adage says: "All things are possible with God, except forcing man to love Him. " (Evdokimov 1993: 35)

The Abundant Joy in Heaven Over One Sinners" Fervent Repentance. The Parables of the lost sheep, lost drachma and of the prodigal son

Only one chapter of the Gospels recounts three parables, in which Christ the Saviour reveals the joy in heaven over the sinners' fervent repentance, namely: the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost drachma and of the prodigal son. As the shepherd rejoices when he has found his sheep, as the woman rejoices after having found the lost drachma and the father rejoices when his prodigal son was found, God and His angels rejoice when sinners return to Him through repentance.

In the lines below, we intend to put forth three parables told by the Saviour in an incredibly simple manner that allows us to get a glimpse of God's "foolish" love: the parable of the lost sheep and the second, concatenated with this first, about the lost drachma, which are addressed to murmuring and invidious Pharisees and scribes and a third parable, the return of the prodigal son. Richard Wurmbrand, a former Lutheran pastor, converted to Orthodoxy, delivered a speech about the foolishness of God's love, a speech that inspired us to write this section--author's note.

We present the complete text of the first parable:

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when the hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them: Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous which need no repentance. (Lk. 15:4ff)

Thus, the Saviour compares Himself to a shepherd who had 100 sheep of which then one was lost. Seldom does this happen because, as we all know, sheep travel one after the other, in a flock. But, in this case, we should not forget the fact that we are within the sphere of a parable. The shepherd leaves the other ninety-nine sheep and goes to search for the lost sheep, despite the fact that, the other sheep, ninety-nine of them, will be in danger, under the threat of wolves, wild dogs, lions, sand storms, etc. The shepherd finds the sheep that went astray, but he does not hasten to the rest of the flock, but, with the lost sheep on his shoulders, he invites his neighbours and friends to rejoice together with him because he has found the lost sheep. This is what happens in Heaven where more abundant joy is expressed when a sinner repents, than for ninety-nine righteous who do not need to repent. And now, allow us to query this situation: Is this normal, wise or foolish? Is it right to act in this manner? This is the foolishness of God's love. From this we may easily understand how much value God attaches to one single human being.

The other parable reveals, similarly, the intense love of God, Who awaits the return and for the sinner to repent. The Saviour says:

... what woman having ten drachmae, if she lose one drachma, doth not light a candle and sweep the house and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together saying: Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Lk. 15:8ff)

The value of a drachma was very low at that time; it was equivalent to 3.65 grams of silver or 4.09 grams of gold. In terms of its value it was among the least valuable currencies of that time, if not the least valuable. Valuable money units were the talent, equivalent to 43.65 kilograms of silver or 49.077 kilograms of gold. Then, the mina was equal to 727 grams of silver or 818 grams of gold, the gold shekel was equivalent to 16.96 grams of gold etc. Therefore, the value of a drachma was extremely low and the Saviour intended to show through this that any man, even the least and the most insignificant one from the perspective of other people, is worthy before God, Who will "leave" the righteous to go after him and, when He finds him, He transforms this man via repentance and return to a heavenly celebration. Coming back to the parable, a woman had 10 drachmae, she loses one, she does not wait for the sunrise, but, in the dead of night--it is written that "she lights a candle"--after finding the drachma she does not return to her bed but she says: "Rejoice with me, for I have found the drachma which I had lost!" Was this a wise thing to do or not? This is one of the major questions we cannot answer. Once again, it is about being a "fool," the "foolishness" of the divine love. People who love sincerely may have a glimpse of this foolishness, as, given the background of their epektatic and intense love, they are capable of the most remarkable sacrifices and abnegation, confronting and enduring any ordeal and even death.

The text of the third parable is as follows:

A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly into the husks that the swine did eat but no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said: How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, the father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said unto him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and thy sight and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servant: Bring forth the best robe and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it; let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field. And as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him: Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. However he was angry and would not go in: therefore came his father out and intreated him. And he answering said to his father: Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. And yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this thy son was come, who hath devoured thy living with harlots; thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him: Son, thou art ever with me and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found. (Lk. 15:11ff)

Christ our God, during His life on the earth, showed a particular kindness and concern for sinners. The latter, seeing this considerate attention, were drawing near to Him (1). Saint Luke tells us that: "Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him" (Lk. 15:2). Yet, this kindness and considerate care, full of affection, that Christ had for sinners was not at all appreciated by the Pharisees and the "righteous" scribes who would murmur: "And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This Man received sinners and eateth with them" (Lk. 15:2). And Christ, among others, told them the parable of the prodigal son, showing, on one hand, the terrible drama of the sinner and, on the other hand, the profound mercy of God the Father, as most exegetes recognize, in the person of the father is God the Father.

Despite the prodigal son wasting a portion of his father's possession, he had this strength to come to his mind, to reflect on his situation (the Greek here reads, He came into himself, [phrase omitted], i.e., he looked inside his own soul) and to return home. What a great achievement! We present a similar case that happened in the last century. In November 1987, there was brought to Athens the icon Axion Estin, a famous historical icon from Mt. Athos. Thousands and thousands of people were patiently waiting their turn, in a queue, to bow in front of this icon. "One morning, a journalist went to the church where the icon was brought and started interviewing those who had been standing in the queue for hours. He immediately spotted a naughty lad whom he asked: "Why are you here?" And the answer of that fellow was: "I have tried and experienced everything so far, but everything is delusion. I've had enough! My only hope is Christ." (Bacoianis 2016: 52) Unfortunately, not every prodigal son will undergo such a transformation. Not all of them come to their mind. Not all of them discontinue their platitude, their turpitude and passions. For this reason, many of them pass away far from their "house," without repenting. "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, the father saw him and had compassion" (Lk. 15:20).

He "came" to his father, he was yet a great way off. How is this possible? First, there came to him the wish to return, while his body was still at a long distance from his father's house. Yet, it was necessary that the body discontinue committing sins out of habit and to follow the soul, a transformation that he could not have achieved by himself. This is why he needed divine help. Thus, while he was still at a distance, he received the quick help of God: "he was yet a great way off, the father saw him and had compassion" (Lk. 15:20)--this makes us understand his father was expecting his return, he would look toward the horizon, every day, and he was waiting patiently, hoping that his son would return. We can easily draw the conclusion from the parable that this is what God the Most Merciful does as He awaits, like the good father, those who committed sins and left Him, to come to themselves and embrace sincere repentance. He expects and waits them to take the first step--a sign that He respects their freedom and He will do what remains to be done, the ninety-nine steps of one hundred. He is willing to forgive our spiritual shortcomings and to plunge into the ocean of His love, the sand of our imperfection. And this is not all, also to rejoice with us and to draw together the choirs of angels in this rejoicing.

Seeing his son in the distance, the father did not wait at the house for him, but he ran toward him; he embraced his son and kissed him as an expression of forgiveness (Lk. 15:20). The "he ran" ([phrase omitted]) designates "a behaviour that was very unusual and unworthy of the dignity of an old man in the Orient, even if he had rushed for this reason." (Jeremias 2012: 35) And while he was asking his father to accept him as one of his hired servants, as he was no longer worthy to be called his son (Lk. 15:19), the father, knowing about the odyssey in that period of his son's life, about his wanderings, his peregrinations, his suffering, in a word, about his son's drama, and about his introspection, his inner struggle and about the decision to relinquish all the passions that tormented his soul, he received him as a son. For this reason, the father did not allow his son to say "make me as one of your hired servants" and treated him not like a servant, but as his beloved son. This is apparent to us from the behaviour of the father thereafter. While the servants were wearing everyday clothes, the father commanded his son to be dressed with the best robe, a sign of superior status. The servants were walking barefoot, and "the father commanded the servants to "bring forth shoes" for his son. Only the fathers and their sons would wear a ring at that time, to show they were their begotten sons. But in this parable, the father told his servant to "put a ring on his hand" (Lk. 15:22f). We should imagine the situation and the setting: the son who had been lost stood in front of his father, the servants were putting the best robe on him, shoes on his feet and a ring on his hand. In those times this was worthy of a king. The father did not stop here: "Bring hither the fatted calf (not any calf, but the best one) and kill it; let us eat and be merry: for this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found" (Lk. 15:23f). These words of the father demonstrate how God receives with love and joy those who repent and how eagerly and lovingly He awaits them! This love, this mercifulness, this goodness of our God toward every man is our greatest hope in this world." (Bacoianis 2016: 51 sq)

The father will accompany his son with love, that love "which remains home, but is ubiquitous." (Ibidem: 42) He helps his son to learn and he patiently and mysteriously endures all. This does not mean that he is unconcerned about his son's inner wanderings and disquietude, but he overcomes all through the power of his unbounded love. This teaches us that remorse, bitter repentance and man's firm determination to improve himself are accompanied and followed by forgiveness received from the Most Merciful God. Our Heavenly Father made man so that man could be blessed and happy both in his earthly life and in the life to come. The only thing that hinders man's happiness is sin, which causes unhappiness to man and grieves God, because sin separates man from his Creator who is the Source of true happiness. Heaven, the world of the angels and of the saints, experiences sorrow as well when man, who was created in the image of God and called to "resemble Him," falls into the chasm of misdeeds deliberately and willingly. Since we mentioned happiness, we shall digress and we shall make, we would say, a brief remark. For two thousand years, these words of our Saviour reverberate in our conscience: "Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk. 11:28). We know too well that during all ages man has been tempted by the delusion of false unhappiness, of a sinful "happiness," "a mask of happiness, It is born of its own death and may last just a moment. To all those who know it well, all is old and all is new." (Eminescu 1966: 123) Many men strive to attain light, peace and joy. We should not chase after these; if we accept Christ in our hearts, light, peace and joy will be brought by the Good Saviour, because He is their true source. More than anything else, God wishes man to be happy and He continuously seeks to increase his happiness, despising havoc, promiscuity and immoderation, but He does not disapprove of

the genuine joy, the blessed abundance, the love for life whose name is Christ.. And do we dare to question the spirit of the wedding at Cana? Do we dare to pretend we do not understand it? Do we dare to consider it random, exceptional, as occurring exclusively on the occasion of a feast? Do we dare to say it does not shed light, clarify and foreshadow the entire teaching afterward? From the beginning, on the first occasion Christ made manifest His Divinity, He reveals Himself as the Lord who blesses abundance, joy and gifts! (Steinhardt 2004: 121)

For Christians, undoubtedly, being happy is a normal mood. On numerous occasions, Christ asks His disciples: "Why are you sad?" (Lk. 24:17; Matt. 6:5; Lk. 24:28) and then He exhorts them to rejoice (Matt. 5:12; 28:9f). Saint Paul, surnamed by exegetes "Christ's mouth", exhorts on numerous occasions those to whom he wrote his epistles to rejoice: "Finally, brethren, rejoice" (2 Cor. 13:11); "Rejoice evermore" (1 Thes. 5:16). He exhorts the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say: Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). From this last verse we conclude that it is imperative to rejoice "in the Lord" and not without the Lord, which means that our happiness should not be sinful and selfish as those of this world are, a fake "happiness" that separates us from God. Happiness should be genuine and sincere to allow us to unite with God and to strengthen our connection with Him.

Continuing our reflections on the parable of the prodigal son and the moment of his return home, Archimandrite Vasilios Gondikakis attributes to the son these words, for whom the father showed a fervent love of which he was unworthy:

... your love, which shows such a fervent love that could fill heaven and earth. Unworthy of your love that even here, in this remote country where I am in need and I live in lechery and torment, it follows and accompanies me.

I am not worthy to be called your son. I have fallen; I have lost my sonship. This is my sin, my only fault. It is not your inheritance that I have wasted. This is not a substantial, material thing, that I mend through my dexterity; ... I have offended the unique relationship between a son and his father. There is not anything I could have done because you honoured me more that I deserved. It is your very behaviour that condemns me.

If you were not so endowed with love, if you had not treated me as you did, if you were not so perfect in all, if you had wronged me only a little, perhaps I could find something with which to justify myself.... Your unequaled love and leniency, of which only now am I aware, make me incapable to answer, but only to be silent.

Should I have gone so far with my unacceptable behaviour to realize you love me? Should I have come on the edge of perdition and death to understand what salvation and life are? I am at a loss for words. All make clear to me one thing: my lack of generosity, my own foolishness. Your king-like behaviour, your love melts me.

I come toward you, called and drawn by you: by your love that drives me from within and makes me a partaker of it.

It turns me into your servant. Mine is the fault, yours is the forgiveness and the life. (Gondikakis 2012: 45-46)

The younger son decided to ask to be allowed to stay in his father's house as "one of his hired servants." If he had been allowed only that for which he had asked, it would have been like "a great heaven." God the Father restored him to the dignity of a son and turns his return into an occasion for sincere joy and feast. This

amazes and ingnites his soul. God rebukes through the adundance of His love. And you feel unworthy of this love. You'd rather take yourself away as a servant, a position that is enough for you and it is comfortable for you. However, this does not please God, Who loves so fervently, Who forgives so much, Who crushes and overwhelms one with His immeasurable love. And one cries with joy when seeing this wonder. And by crying one shows one's uncreasing joy. (Ibidem: 48)

The younger son humbles himself and he is exalted; he humbles himself and he is raised; his wishes are humble, but he is endowed plentifully; "because he repented sincerely, he is thrown toward heaven; he is given joy that multiplies immeasurably. ever more happiness is put on him repeatedly" (Ibidem: 49) and nobody can take this from him, because it springs from Christ Who dwells in him.

All this time, the elder brother, who returned from the field and found out what was happening, would not go in. The relentless serpent, the plotter that tricks man into all deceit and covetousness, worked the poison of envy into the soul of the elder son, even though his father intreated him (The Romanian word "invidie" comes from Latin, more exactly from the preposition "in" (= in) and the verb (indicative mood used in the present) "video", that, in translation, means "to see"; in other words, an envious man sees others" personal achievements and merits or divine gifts that person was endowed with and he becomes sad because of their well-being, he turns into personal distress the benefits received by others and he causes intense suffering to himself, wounding his own heart with the dagger of hatred). The verb "intreated" ([phrase omitted]) (the same word, in the noun form is used of the Holy Spirit, the [phrase omitted], "the Comforter" in Jn. 16:7; and of Christ Himself in 1 Jn. 2:1) shows that his father talked affectionately to the elder son, his words being uttered from the depth of his merciful heart. However, the elder son avoids to call the prodigal son "brother" and refers to his as "this" ([phrase omitted]), a pronoun that is used here pejoratively. The father continues to address his son particularly fondly. He calls the elder son: "son" ([phrase omitted]), "my beloved son". In vs. 32, the verb "should" shows that the discourse of the father is not apologetical, "I should have given a feast", but he draws his elder son attention to the fact that: "you should have been happy and rejoiced because he is your brother who returned home." (Jeremias 2012: 36-37) This parable describes with

an inviting clarity the nature of God, His goodness, His grace, His infinite mercy, His most abundant love. He rejoices when the lost man returns to Him just as the father who gave a feast to welcome back his son.... The parable was meant to be told to people who, like the elder son, were offended by the Gospel. Their conscience had to be awakened. Jesus told them: 'This is how great God's love is for His lost children, so different from your lack of happiness and love, from your ungrateful, full of discontent and self-justifying lives. So, do not cease loving and be merciful. The spiritually dead will be resurrected to a new life, the lost ones return to their dwelling, rejoice with them.' (Ibidem: 37-38)

Father Nicolae Steinhardt of Rohia presents our Lord Christ as a nobleman "Who is generous, discreet, modest, courageous, elegant and dignified, spontaneous and munificent in His interactions with the others. This gives us courage and hope! We all realize that our Lord is not a merciless book-keeper, a strict accountant, a harsh and narrow spirit, is not quick to consider and mind evil." (Steinhardt 1992: 197) After any conversion, Christ the Saviour sits at the table with those Who received and accepted Him in their lives (with Zacchaeus, with Levi-Matthew), He rejoices with the woman who was bowed together, He dines with Peter's mother-in-law, who was suffering from a great fever, He does not hesitate to kill the fatted calf and to rejoice when the prodigal son returns home. He enters anybody's house, a believer or not; He does not turn down the Pharisees, He even honours Simon the leper by visiting him (Ibidem: 119). Nothing more than returning to Him is asked from us:

without fear, without doubt, with hope and confidence. Dinner is ready, the doors are open, the veal is abundant and fat, everything has been carefully set in place. All we need is our wedding attire. In other words, faith and repentance.... With one word--as the sponge cleans the blackboard or the rubber erases the handwriting in the copybooks--Christ discharges all our past, no matter how dark and unclean. (Ibidem: 197-198)

The same worthy of remembrance and commemoration father, Nicolae Steinhardt, states that, from the well known parable of the prodigal son--as well as from other readings, akin in spirit to this one, from the Gospels--these observations we quote partially for their beauty and depth:

* God's benevolence, His nobility, His resemblance to a boyar, His knightly appearance, a gentleman (as the English say), a gentilhomme (as the French say) and a great artistocrat (from a spiritual point of view).

* His love for His enemies (earnestly recommended--Mt. 5:14) that culminated in His prayer on the Cross, uttered for the forgiveness of the horrible sin committed by those who crucified Him (Lk. 23:24);

* Forgiveness (St. Peter is instructed to forgive not until seven times, but until seventy times seven- Mt. 18:22);

* Mercy: a testimony to this are the countless healings out of mercy (the woman who was bowed together, the man with a withered hand, a man with dropsy etc.) and the resurrections of the son of the widow of Nain and of Jairus" daughter, the feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness etc.

* Discretion: when offering alms do not let your left hand know what your right hand does (Mt. 6:3).

* Trust, which is a sign of inner purity and nobility.

* Politeness. Jesus is constantly "polite." He usually addresses His interlocutors with the word "friend" or "friends." Even when talking to Judas the traitor, He used the word "friend."

Moreover, He is gentle, calm, and peaceful. He was only once enraged by the Pharisees "as they were the holders of two extremely vulgar characteristics: lies and hypocrisy."

* Abundant generosity--He multiplied the loaves and fishes and He once fed four thousand men (Mt. 15:38; Mk. 8:9), on another occasion five thousand men, beside women and children (Mt. 14:21; Mk. 6:44, Lk. 9:14; Jn. 6:10). He told His disciples to cast their nets and then the disciples could not pull in the nets because of the weight of the catch (Lk. 5:6; Jn. 21:6). (Ibidem: 193-195)

This is Christ's essential largess: ever more Grace, the most abundant, rewarding tenfold, an hundredfold, a thousandfold, according to the rule of compound interest. For, indeed, how does He respond, how does He endow, giving a tip or bribing secretly? On the contrary, instead, He honours the one who opened his door for Him by dining with him: 'Behold, I stand and the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me' (Rev. 3:20). And more than that (Jn. 14:23) 'If a man love me, he will keep My words and My Father will love him and We will come unto him and make Our abode with Him.' To state it more clearly, not only does God come to the worthy one to dine, but He will also remain and stay with that man. What does He promise the Apostles at the Mystical Supper? 'That ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones.' (Lk. 22:30).

Therefore, the reward is the invitation and the permission to partake in the kingly supper. Jesus could have had in mind many gifts, grace and blessings, but all these--insignificant as they may be would not have been as merciful, noble and infinite as is His nature: he who loves Him and keeps His commandments, he will be invited at His kingly table, he will be given the status of a partaker of the Supper together with the Holy Trinity, in truth! (Ibidem: 195)

Very similar to the parable of the prodigal son is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The lord of the vineyard pays every man one penny no matter whether they started working in the morning or in the afternoon (Mt. 20:1f) because they worked so fervently that they equaled the first that were hired. "[God] Grant thee according to your heart" (Ps. 19:4) says king David. "God sees not as man looks; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). A man looks at and evaluates from outside physical endeavour and askesis. God looks at the man from within and evaluates his mind, his heart, his mood, his readiness and willingness to sacrifice, abnegation and He rewards accordingly. In other words, He does not measure a person as we do, but with what heart, in what mood and how zealously (Bacoianis 2016: 53-54).

Notes

(1) Of the texts of the exegetes of this parable, we considered particularily expedient for our research, in which we intended to highlight, to the best of our ability, God's limitless love and mercy for repenting sinners, the following works: Bacoianis 2006; Jeremias 2012; Gondikakis 2012; Rupnik 2012; Steinhardt 1992.

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Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationship that could be construed as potential conflict of interest.

Liviu Petcu, PhD; Reverend Associate Professor, Dumitru Staniloae Faculty of Orthodox Theology, Department of Research, Alexandru loan Cuza University; Iasi, Romania; patristica10@yahoo.com

[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]

Caption: A Byzantine mosaic of St. John Chrysostom from the Hagia Sophia

Caption: Monk Nicolae Steinhardt, Rohia Monastery, Romania (1912-1989)

Caption: Rembrandt, The return of the prodigal son (1667)

Caption: The Deesis mosaic of Christ from the Hagia Sophia
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Date:Sep 22, 2018
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