Repentance and Confession (Part I)

Icon of the Mother of God "the Unfading Bloom"

Icon of the Mother of God "the Unfading Bloom"

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Confession is in decline and repentance is misapprehended. The decline and the misapprehension cannot be easily qualified, but they are unmistakable at least inasmuch as they are considered to be no more than incidental practices in the life of the Church today. The "traditional" way of thinking of sin and forgiveness has collapsed among a growing number of Christians. Nothing less than a theological and pastoral renewal is necessary in order to rediscover the living meaning of repentance and confession.

The degeneration is indeed an act of reconciliation, of reintegration into the Body of Christ, which has been torn asunder by sin. For "if one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Corinthians 12:26). "Therefore, confess your sins to one another...that you may be healed" (St. James 5:16). The whole Church expresses a search for repentance in the repeated words of the Psalmist, commonly known as the "miserere" (Psalm 50). It is through the faith of the community that the individual is readmitted and forgiven. "When Jesus saw their faith he said, 'man, your sins are forgiven'" (St. Luke 5:20; cf. St. Matthew 9:2 and St. Mark 2:5). "Justification" in the New Testament does not mean a transaction - a kind of deal; and repentance defies mechanical definition. It is a continual enactment of freedom, a movement forward, deriving from renewed choice and leading to restoration. The aim of the Christian is not even justification but a re-entry by sinner and saint alike into communion in which God and man meet once again and personal experience of divine life becomes possible. Both prodigal and saint are "repenting sinners."

Repentance is not to be confused with mere remorse, with a self-regarding feeling of being sorry for a wrong done. It is not a state but a stage, a beginning. Rather, it is an invitation to new life, an opening up of new horizons, the gaining a new vision. Christianity testifies that the past can be undone. It knows the mystery of obliterating or rather renewing memory, of forgiveness and regeneration, eschewing the fixed division between the "good" and the "wicked," the pious and the rebellious, the believers and the unbelievers. Indeed, "the last" can be "the first," the sinner can reach out to holiness. Passions are conquered by stronger passions; love is overcome by more abundant love. One repents not because one is virtuous, but because human nature can change, because what is impossible for man is possible for God. The motive for repentance is at all times, humility, unself-sufficiency - not a means of justification for oneself, or of realizing some abstract idea of goodness, or of receiving a reward in some future life. Just as the strength of God is revealed in the extreme vulnerability of His Son on the Cross, so also the greatest strength of man is to embrace his weakness: "For my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will render glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). To be flawed is the illogical, perhaps supernatural characteristic of humanity in which one encounters God.

The Greek term for repentance, metanoia, denotes a change of mind, a reorientation, a fundamental transformation of outlook, of man's vision of the world and of himself, and a new way of loving others and God. In the words of a second-century text, The Shepherd of Hermas, it implies "great understanding," discernment. It involves, that is, not mere regret of past evil but a recognition by man of a darkened vision of his own condition, in which sin, by separating him from God, has reduced him to a divided, autonomous existence, depriving him of both his natural glory and freedom. "Repentance," says Saint Basil the Great, "is salvation, but lack of understanding is the death of repentance."

It is clear that what is at stake here is not particular acts of contrition, but an attitude, a state of mind. "For this life," states Saint John Chrysostom, "is in truth wholly devoted to repentance, penthos and wailing. This is why it is necessary to repent, not merely for one or two days, but throughout one's whole life."

Any division within oneself or distinction between the "time to repent" and the "rest of one's time" is, in the language of the Church, attributed to the demons. The role of these demons is extortionate, offensive, "diavallo," the root of the word "devil," means to tear asunder. We cannot be deprived of true repentance or diverted from its path by the deception of demons. Yet the demons can work through virtue, working to produce a kind of spurious repentance. By nature we are destined to advance and ascend spiritually, but the demons divert the course by simulating advance in the form of a fitful movement, a wobbling from side to side, like crabs. One can test the quality of repentance by ascertaining whether it is fleeting or fluttering inconstancy and inconsistency are a danger signal, lastingness is auspicious. One is being tempted by the demons when one is caused "at times to laugh, and at other times to weep." (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

Next: The Two Dimensions of Repentance



[A Prayer Offered by the Priest before the Entrance takes place.]

At nightfall, dawn and noon, we sing to You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we beseech You, Master of all, Lord and lover of mankind: guide our prayers aright as an offering of incense before You. Let not our hearts be led to wicked thoughts or words, but deliver us all from those who pursue our souls. For it is on You, Lord, Lord, that our eyes are fixed, and in You that we have our hope; do not put us to shame, O our God. For all glory, honor and adoration are Your due, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George