Monday, October 27, 2014

Romanos the Melodist and the Parables (part 3)

Romanos the Melodist

This post is the final one on Romanos the Melodist's kontakion on the parable of the Prodigal Son. What is notable about the ending of this kontakion is that, like some other responses to the parable (e.g., the stained-glass window in Chartres Cathedral, Antonia Pulci's play about the Prodigal Son, etc.), the older brother is depicted as being persuaded by the father to join in the celebration of his lost brother's return.

Stanza twelve turns to the story of the elder brother who is out in the fields when his brother returns and, when he hears what has happened, he refuses to join the celebration (stanza 13). The narrator’s voice then reminds the hearers of the “compassion and measureless pity” of God, who “wishes all to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). God loves both brothers and listens to the lengthy complaint of the elder brother (stanzas 16-17). God then, however, makes very clear to the elder son, who symbolizes the ones who “have not separated from the Church,” that his place is with God, but that the younger brother had come home in shame, lamentation, and repentance. The question God poses to the older brother is: “How could I not have pity and save my son as he grieved and wept?” (stanza 19).

The kontakion then addresses the thorny problem in the parable that the younger son had already received his inheritance so, upon his return, whatever else is given to him actually comes from the older brother’s inheritance (which obviously seems unfair). Not so, God says in stanza 20:

Understand what I say, my son. All that is mine is yours,
and to him I wanted to grant some of my goods.
The property which you have is not any less,
for I did not take from it to give to your brother;
I provided for him from my own treasures.

How that can be true is left unexplained, but the father (God) then invites the older son to the supper, where he will “celebrate and sing with all the angels” the return of his brother who was lost but now is found. Stanza 21 records the older son’s response:

When he heard these words he was persuaded
and shared the gladness with his brother. And he began to sing and say,
“All of you shout with praise,
that blessed are they whose every
sin is forgiven, and whose iniquity
has been covered and wiped away” [cf. Psalm 31/32:1]

The preacher of the sermon concludes with a message for all who are listening to the sermon, which includes a reference to the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican:

O Son and Word of God, Creator of all things,
we your unworthy servants ask and implore you:
have mercy on all who call upon you.
As you did with the prodigal, spare those who have sinned.
Accept and save through compassion
those who in repentance run to you, O King, crying “We have sinned.”
Give us tears, as you did the harlot,
and pardon for the sins we have committed.
And, as you did the publican, take pity on us all,
At the intercessions of the Mother of God.
Make us partakers of your supper, as you did the prodigal.

Master and Lord of the ages.

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