Passions: The Inclination to Sin

Venerable Stephen the Abbot of the Kiev Far Caves and Bishop of Vladimir in Volhynia

Venerable Stephen the Abbot of the Kiev Far Caves and Bishop of Vladimir in Volhynia

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


True Repentance

True Repentance follows humility and is known by its tears. Saint Symeon the New Theologian tells us: "If after we have been baptized we gravitate towards evil and foul actions, we lose sanctification of baptism completely. But through repentance, confession and tears we receive a corresponding remission of our former sins and, in this way, sanctification accompanied by the Grace of God" (Philokalia IV).

Once again, the teaching of our holy father in Christ Saint Isaac the Syrian speaks of the sharp tears of repentance and the fresh tears of compunction: "If we are all sinners and no man is above sin's temptations, it is certainly true that no virtue is more pre-eminent than repentance" (Alfeyev, 2000). Nikitas Stithatos explains this as follows: "When we act based in obedience to our fallen self...we defile the flesh with the noxious flux of sin, darken the soul with embittered anger and estrange ourselves from the Son of God. We should therefore cleanse the stain deriving from the body's intrinsic ferocity with floods of heartfelt tears...and we will dispel with the luminosity of compunction and the sweetness of godlike love the cloud that darkens our soul" (Philokalia IV). The depth of repentance can be heard in the Seventh Prayer said by Eastern Orthodox Christians in the Orthros (Matins) service or in daily prayer.

"O God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Thy Holy Spirit, [Thou] doest guide us. Wherefore we beseech Thee: pardon, remit, forgive whatsoever sins we may have committed unto this present hour, whether by word, or deed, or thought, whether voluntarily or involuntarily; for if thou wilt be extreme to mark iniquity, O Lord, Lord who shall stand? For with Thee is redemption. For Thou only art Holy, a Mighty Helper and the Defender of our life; and our song shall ever be of Thee. Blessed and Glorified be the Might of the Kingdom: of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen."

Bishop Alfeyev (2000) notes Saint Isaac's definitions of repentance:

Abandonment of former evil deeds and grieving for them.

Continual and mournful supplication which by means of prayer filled with compunction draws near God in order to seek forgiveness of past offenses, and entreaty for preservation from future infirmity.

Ongoing Repentance

Repentance then is considered a synergistic act: standing before God, sorrow for past sins and commitment to avoid "missing the mark' (Gk. Amartia) in the future.

As is common among the Holy Church Fathers, true repentance is considered a second baptism. The fervent tears shed over our separation from God, over missing the mark (amartia) and over our spiritual illness act as a cleansing, a washing way of our disease. In our first baptism, if we put on Christ, we do so again in the second baptism of our repentance. As Saint Isaac teaches (quoted by Bishop Alfeyev, 2000): "Repentance is given to man as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God...apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy."

Consider the powerful metaphor used by Saint Isaac: "The man who sighs over his soul for but one hour is greater than someone who raises the dead by his prayer while dwelling amid men."

True repentance is also a synergistic act of heart and mind. As Bishop Alfeyev tells us Saint Isaac "speaks of the 'grief of the heart' and 'sorrow of the mind.'

The Paradox of the Gravity of Sin, But the Simplicity of Repentance

To help us understand the seeming paradox of the seriousness of sin but the uncomplicated nature of repentance, consider the simplicity of the words of the good thief, crucified next to Jesus, who merely said: "And we indeed justly [are crucified]; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And He said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise" (Saint Luke 23:41-43). Saint Isaac explains this mystery: "Seeing that His face is set all the time towards forgiveness...He pours over us His immense grace which, like the ocean, knows no measure. To anyone who shows just a little suffering and the will to compunction for what has occurred, to such a person immediately; at once, without delay, He will grant forgiveness of their sins." I always am taken by what the good thief did not say to receive Christ's promise that he would be with Him in Paradise. The thief did not recite a long, complex tome or prayer asking for forgiveness, but only offered a few words indicating responsibility for past wrongful deeds: "and we indeed justly [are crucified]; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds."

(To be continued)





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


With sincere agape in our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George