There was once a very great man, a king and a dignitary of the most prestigious order. He was singularly the most important figure in the entire history and character of his race. Even with consideration of his great rank and prominence set aside, he was, by virtue of his remarkable personal character, a man of distinction – most well-bred and kind, courteous, and generous to all men regardless of their rank or station in life. He was king, but he was also friend to every man and woman in his kingdom – such was the goodness of the man.
Our king had a son who everyone knew to be the very image and likeness of his father. In every area of learning, commerce, statesmanship, and personal character the prince was as outstanding as his father the king. What’s more, the king’s paternal affection for his son was a model to all, as was the son’s love for his father.
One day the king decided to put on a great banquet at his estate in honor of his son who had proven himself to be a capable and compassionate heir to his father’s throne. Out of the kindness which all knew to be common to him, though such kindness is by no means ‘common’ at all, the king decided to invite all his fellow countrymen, rich and poor alike. He had the royal banquet hall decorated in grand style and made all the necessary arrangements for the finest of food and accommodations for his guests. It was fitting, of course, that all attend this auspicious occasion – this great royal banquet in honor of the son of the king – with its opportunity to demonstrate both fidelity and appreciation which were rightly due to such a grand sovereign as they were graced to have over their daily affairs. So one would think.
When finally the day for the royal affair drew near enough, and everything had been made ready, the king sent out his servants to make personal invitation to all throughout the countryside. But because all indeed knew of the king’s gentleness and his good nature some indulged themselves to make excuse for their absence. One said, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I must go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused.” And yet another said, “I have just married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” Some had placed their children in activities which conflicted with the time of the royal banquet. Others simply preferred to indulge in activities, entertainment and pleasures which pleased themselves rather than bothering to please the king. After all, had not the king forgiven many a man and woman their waywardness in the past?
When the day for the grand occasion finally arrived, though the king’s heart was made heavy by the excuses of so many of his countrymen, he never-the-less, for the sake of those faithful whom he yet expected to come, and for love and honor of his son, opened the doors of his royal palace to all. It was a picture perfect day for such an excellent festivity. The royal hall was beautifully appointed and the tables themselves were heavily laden with every imaginable select dish and morsel. Everything was made beautiful and rich and all for the sake of the king's son and those who would momentarily arrive to show him their faithfulness and devotion. When the hour arrived the king bade his servant to ring the great bell in the palace tower to announce the beginning of the feast and to call the stragglers to make haste. The royal hall was nearly empty and the king grew deeply troubled and fearful that perhaps some great enemy had dealt foul play to his beloved citizens. Yet what could he now do but begin the feast lest his beloved son be dishonored rather than honored.
And thus the banquet began, even with only a handful present. Those few persons lowered their heads and offered thanksgiving for the bounty which lay before them and then they sat and began to feast sumptuously, with thanksgiving. Slowly, more did indeed begin to arrive and seat themselves at the great table. Among them were those who ate as though they had no manners what-so-ever, though at great expense the king had made sure that every one of his subjects had access to the finest education and training. Others sat and began making demands and mistreating the servants of the King, mindless of whose presence they were in. Yet others came dressed slovenly, with no attempt at all to attire themselves fittingly for such a grand occasion. Some among the people – and the number had grown to a fair crowd by this time though by no means in contrast to the number of subjects in the King’s dominion – actually talked among themselves and laughed and snorted while the king was attempting to address them with words of wisdom and encouragement, and to heap praises upon his beloved and worthy son.
One can only suppose that the king’s well-known forbearance and kindness made it easy for the brutish among the guests to forget the proper behavior one ought to demonstrate in the presence of a king. Perhaps if the king had been a scoundrel, or exceedingly cruel and demanding in the past then the people would have attended in full number, with great attention to promptness, attire, and conduct. But then again, after all, had not the king forgiven many a man and woman their waywardness in the past?
So this is the end of the story. We all know very well that obedience out of fear has nothing to do with love and respect don’t we? Genuine love and respect must come freely – they must come from the heart. And, of course, there is no guarantee that though a king, or a God, should show great love and respect for his subjects, impartiality in his judgements, and kindness and long-suffering in all his dealings, that his subjects will show love and respect in return, is there? But then, those subjects who do love and respect their beloved sovereign, it is they who reap the true and sure benefit of the king’s love; and who dwell securely and peacefully in the land with no fear for the future.
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Excerpt from a homily delivered at St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A., May 23, 1999