Repentance and Confession (Part II)

Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer

Venerable Joseph the Hymnographer

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


The Two Dimensions of Repentance

Divine Initiative

Repentance is not a self-contained act: it is a passing over, a pascha from death to life, a continual renewal of that life. It consists of a reversal of what has become the normal pattern of development which is the movement from life to death. To experience this reversal in repentance is to have tasted of the glory and beauty of God; it is the mark of man's presence before God in the abundance of His mercy and of God's presence before man in the abyss of his weakness: "Set Your compassion over against our iniquities and the abyss of Your loving kindness against our transgressions." It is the awareness of God's beauty that makes one realize the chasm that separates one form His gratuitous grace. The initiative belongs to God, but presupposes man's active acceptance, which is a way of perpetually receiving God within the heart, of God being embodied within man, of divine Incarnation. Here God calls man, and man responds to God and in doing so gains salvation and life abundant: "Sorrow working repentance to salvation not to be repented of" (2 Corinthians 7:10). In repentance it is man's total limitation and insufficiency that is placed before God, not simply particular wrongdoings or transgressions.

The "dialectic" of beginning and end underlying repentance is important. Every manifestation of life has an eschatological dimension, even while, paradoxically, repentance gives rise to restoration, to a return to man's original state. Everything tends towards and expects the "end," even while being a matter of the here and now. To repent is not merely to induce a restoration of lost innocence but to transcend the fallen condition. Indeed the greater the fall, the deeper and more genuine the repentance and the more certain the resurrection. Man is "enriched" by his experience even if it has been crippling and tormenting. The Holy Fathers appear to express greater love - almost a preference - for the more sinful person, inasmuch as thirst for God increases in proportion to the experience of one's debasement and abasement (Romans 5:20).

The word for "confess" in Greek (εξομολογούμαι, ομολογώ) does not bear the contemporary meaning peculiar to it. When we say "confess" we imply that we accept, recognize or witness an event or fact. But this is not the original meaning. The point is not of admitting, more or less reluctantly, a hitherto "unrecognized" sin, but an acceptance of and submission to the Divine Logos/Word (exomologesis) beyond and above the nature and condition of man. It is this Logos, the Word of God, that man seeks to regain, or rather commune with. To confess is not so much to recognize and expose a failure as to go forward and upward, to respond from within to the calling of God. Created in the image and likeness of God, man bears before himself and in himself that image and likeness. In repenting he does not so much look forward as reflects and reacts to what lies before and beyond him.

However, repentance is also a way of self-discovery: "Open to me the gate of repentance." Metanoia is the gateway to oneself, to one's fellowman, and to heaven. It leads inwards, but it also leads outwards by leading inwards. The world ceases to rotate round the self and begins to gravitate towards the other - the divine and the human other. Sin has the opposite effect. It blocks the way both inwards and outwards. To repent and to confess is to break out of this restriction, "to accept with joy," in Saint Isaac the Syrian's words, "the humility and humiliation of nature," to transcend and to recover oneself. The world thereupon ceases to rotate around "me" and begins to gravitate towards the other, centering on God. Then, everyone and everything no longer exists for myself but for the glory of God, in the joy of the Resurrection. One is then able to comprehend more clearly the positive dimension of even sin, suffering, death, the devil and hell. Then, one discovers the depth of love crucified, the presence of the Lord in our midst - even "when the doors are shut" (St. John 20:19, 26). One is not, however, demanded to love God from the outset, but rather to know that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (St. John 3:16). Nevertheless, the love of God is implicit in His very nature. God Himself is the Archetype of divine love. When Saint John the Theologian says that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 16), love is seen as an established ontological category of both divinity and humanity in His likeness. In fact, the beauty and loving freedom of the human person is, in the words of Nicholas Berdiaev, God Himself. It is He, "the Creator of all...Who out of extreme erotic love moves outside Himself...burning with great goodness and love and eros." It is He Who is "the fullness of erotic love". And it is this supreme love that moved God to create human nature in His image and likeness. "As Lover, He creates; and as Loved, He attracts all towards Him." "As a mad Lover He desires His beloved human soul," says Saint Nilos. "Herein is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us (St. John 4:10).

The response to this ineffable outpouring of love is none other than its acceptance. Repentance thereby acquires a different dimension to mere dwelling on human sinfulness, and becomes the realization of human insufficiency and limitation. Repentance then should not be accompanied by a paroxysm of guilt but by an awareness of one's estrangement from God and one's neighbor. Why, after all, does one not partake of Holy Communion after committing sin? Not for punishment, but surely because sin itself is a denial of communion. Although God is constantly being chased away by humanity, yet He returns day after day in the Liturgy; in the words of the Psalmist, "the mercy of God runs after us all the days of our lives…for His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 22, 6 and 135). God is not only at the end of the journey of repentance but also in the beginning (Revelation 1:8), and Christ the Way (St. John 14:6). One seeks, then, Him Whom one already possesses; and the voyage is an unceasing arrival as well as a never ending departure. Man in all his sinfulness is loved by God if he can just keep moving towards God. When one does fall, if one only cries out with confidence, the fall is not into nothingness but into the arms of God stretched open once and for all on the Cross. (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

Next: Human Response



Priest: (Standing before the holy icon of Christ) Almighty Lord, You have created all things in wisdom. In Your inexpressible providence and great goodness You have brought us to these saving days, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions, in the hope of the Resurrection. After the forty days You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses the Tables of the Law in characters divinely traced. Enable us also, O Benevolent One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to keep the faith inviolate, to crush underfoot the heads of unseen tempters, to emerge victors over sin and to come, without reproach, to the worship of Your Holy Resurrection. For Blessed and Glorified is Your Most Honorable and Majestic Name, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

CANTOR: Amen. May the Name of the Lord be praised, from this time forth and to endless ages.


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


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

+Father George