Orthodox Thought for the Day


Sunday, April 29, 2012

On the Mystery of Repentance

One of my all-time favorite spiritual books is Wounded by Love, the Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios.  The content of this book, I’ve found, is a balm for the soul, pure and simple.  Most Orthodox Christian bookstores carry this book, if you are looking for it and cannot find it, write to me and I’ll help you source one, if desired.  Here is an excerpt, starting on page 173, where you can read further if you have a copy at home.   

‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…’

There is nothing higher than what is called repentance and confession.  This sacrament is the offering of God’s love to mankind.  In this perfect way a person is freed of evil.  We go and confess and we sense our reconciliation with God; joy enters us and guilt departs.  In the Orthodox Church there is no impasse.  There is no impasse because of the existence of the confessor who has the grace to forgive.  To be a confessor is a great thing.

I had the habit from the time I was a boy—and it’s a habit I still have—that whenever I sinned I went and confessed and everything went away.  I would jump for joy.  I am sinful and weak.  I resort to God’s compassion and I am saved, I become calm and I forget everything.  Every day I think that I sin, but I desire that whatever happens to me I turn it into prayer and I don’t keep it locked within me.

Sins makes a person very confused psychologically.  The confusion doesn’t dissipate whatever you do.  Only with the light of Christ does the confusion depart.  Christ makes the first move, ‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden…Thereafter we accept this light in our good will, which we express with our love towards Him, with our prayer and with the sacraments.

For the soul to repent it must first awake.  It is in this awakening that the miracle of repentance occurs.  This is where human will plays its role.  The awakening, however, is not something that rests only with the individual man or woman.  The individual on his own is unable to bring it about.  God intervenes.  Then divine grace comes.  Without grace a person cannot repent.  The love of God does everything.  He may use something—an illness, or something else, it depends—in order to bring a person to repentance.  Accordingly repentance is achieved through divine grace.  We simply make a move towards God and from then onwards, grace supervenes.

You may say to me, ‘If that is so, all things are done by grace.’  This is a fine point.  Here, too, we have a case of what I say, namely, that we cannot love God if God does not love us.  St. Paul puts it very well:  (Galatians 4:9) Now having known God, or rather having been known by God…The same happens with repentance.  We cannot repent unless the Lord gives us repentance.  And this holds for everything.  It is a case of the Scriptural principle (John 15:5), Without me, you can do nothing.  If there are not the pre-conditions for Christ to enter into us, repentance does not come.  The pre-conditions are humility, love, prayer, prostrations and labor for Christ.  If the sentiment is not pure, if there is no simplicity and if the soul is moved by self-interest, then divine grace does not come.  In that case, we go and confess, but we don’t feel relief.

Repentance is a very delicate matter.  True repentance will bring sanctification.  Repentance will sanctify us.

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