Repentance and Confession (Part III)

Venerable Theodora of Thessalonica

Venerable Theodora of Thessalonica

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


The Two Dimensions of Repentance

Human Response

"Penthos" is the conditioned sorrow of a repentant soul, adding sorrow upon sorrow each day, like a woman suffering in childbirth".

Repentance, as has been noted, is not a mere incident or stage through which one passes and then leaves behind; rather it is an attitude which colors one's whole life and for which, at the same time, one must struggle continually, it is a way of life, and as such a way of transfiguration, in which man's heart and mind continuously receive illumination by the Holy Spirit. It is a continuous pathway, at least in this life, a perennial striving, an all-embracing motion and not merely an occasional emotion. Repentance is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms the heart of the human person, and not a fruit of individual effort or anguish.

Whether related to this continuity and endurance or to the depth of moral sensitivity involved, for the Holy Fathers of the Church there is an intimate link between repentance and tears. There are other criteria, but grief is paramount, and its intensity is proportionate to the depth of repentance. "Truly you are blessed, Abba (Father) Arsenios, for you wept for yourself in this world! He who does not weep for himself here below will weep eternally hereafter; so it is impossible not to weep, either voluntarily or when compelled through suffering." Saint Gregory the Theologian believed that everyone must weep. He even identified repentance with tears, whatever other ways of expressing it there may be. "All must shed tears, all must be purified, all must ascend." Saint Symeon the Theologian is even more definite: "Remove tears and with them you remove purification; and without purification no one is saved."

The word penthos (mourning) has the same root as pathos (passion) both stem etymologically from the verb "to suffer." A Christian speaks of worthy suffering, of subsuming suffering in God, just as passion and mourning are subsumed in God. There is suffering in compunction (katanyxis=pricking), which also causes tears. "joyful sorrow" transfigures this suffering and pain through grace. Penthos consists in mourning for the loss of God's presence; it makes for sorrow at His absence and thirst for Him. "Passion or suffering for God gives rise to tears." Man is in the state of bereavement, and the Church Holy Fathers and liturgical hymnology speak of Adam sitting opposite Paradise in mourning over his bereavement, and estrangement from God. The Makarian Homilies say that man must "weep his way back" to Paradise. But tears--a concomitant and a culmination of repentance-- are also a turning point in homecoming, a pledge to return, and a first fruit of its joy. The longing for return from exile is also an anticipation of the glory to come. Tears demonstrate the frontier between the present and the future.

The Holy Tradition of the Christian East gives special prominence to the "gift of tears." The Tradition can be traced to the New Testament, through the Desert Fathers, to Saint John Klimakos, through to later times, with Saint Symeon the New Thelogian standing out as one of its most important witnesses. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (St. Matthew 5:4). Tears are primarily "up to God," and only derivatively "up to us." There is a thirteenth-century French tale "Le chevalier au Barizel" according to which the knight was supposed to fill up a barrel with water; he travels all over the world to do this, but the water always passes through the barrel. Seeing that his efforts achieve nothing, he weeps, and one teardrop is sufficient to fill the barrel. Tears bespeak a promise, and they are also proof of hope fulfilled, of sins forgiven. There is a kairos, "a season and a time" (Ecclesiastes 3:1) for each divine gift, and this kairos is the time in which God acts, calling us to participate in His action. Tears are a way and a consequence of purification through repentance; the ultimate goal is a transcending light and delight. (Source: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

Next: The Mystery (Sacrament) Of Confession



Praised by the Heavenly powers with hymns that are never silent and doxologies that never cease, fill our lips with praise of You, that we may fitly magnify You Holy Name. And grant us a portion and share with all who truly fear You and keep Your Commandments; at the intercession of the Holy Theotokos and of all the Saints.

For You are our God, a God Who shows mercy and saves, and to You we offer up glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto 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