Webster's defines the term "prodigal" as "wastefully or recklessly extravagant." This is the defining characteristic of the Prodigal Son in today's Gospel... not merely, as many think, that he was wayward... though most certainly he was. Certainly this younger son was restless and impatient, demanding of his father that he receive the inheritance due to him at once. Perhaps against his better judgment, the father acquiesces to this demand, and soon thereafter the Prodigal "took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living" (a colorful term indeed!) That is to say, he departed from the promise of a heavenly homeland into a realm ruled by the darkness of the passions, unilluminated by the light of God.
And so he squandered those God given gifts by which he might have attained eternal life and salvation, preferring instead to wallow in the mud of sensual desires, rather than striving to acquire those ineffable good things God has in store for those who love Him and abide by His commandments. And why?.... Because it is so much easier to follow the path of least resistance, willfully distorting that divine image implanted within us at our creation, blinding the eyes of our soul to the truth while seeking in every possible way to justify our unbridled indulgence in sensual pleasures.
And so it is that we, like the Prodigal Son, prefer the transient joys of "riotous living" over a life devoted to the struggle to achieve self-denial and sacrificial suffering for the sake of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. But what, precisely, does this life of "riotous living" entail? Drunkenness and debauchery on numerous levels, to be sure, but at the basis of it all is... fornication! Which, in the broadest sense, includes all forms of idolatry: exalting any person, object, or idea above God, which includes worshipping any ideology or "ism" in the place of God.
On the most basic, physical level, though, fornication simply means... having sex outside of marriage, no matter the circumstances or self-justification. Thus, St. Paul exhorts us to "flee fornication," because "your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own." By this means we can refute those pro-life woman who insist that their body is their own, and they are free to do whatever they want with it. But I shouldn't need to say any more on this topic: as Orthodox Christians, we are well aware that abortion is purely and simply murder.
But are we so firm in our convictions when it comes to fornication? To be blunt: do we truly consider any sexual relations outside of marriage to sinful, always and everywhere, and despite the circumstances? Back in the old days (before the so-called "sexual revolution") fornication was widespread enough to be sure, but nevertheless, everyone knew it was wrong, and those who transgressed were subject to the sanctions of a society that was still imbued with Christian values. But things have changed. "Living together" and having "partners" has become so much a part of our moral landscape that even professed Christians barely bat an eyelash. Yet Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever--and so are those moral standards He has imparted to us by divine revelation. And so we must cast to the wind our "political correctness" and our fear of "offending," calling a spade a spade--not in a spirit of judgement and condemnation, but rather in a spirit of love and compassion, that the sinner might by God's grace and mercy return from his evil ways and live.