Friday, March 7, 2008

The Orthodox Experience of Repentance

Dear Parish Faithful,

This life has been given you for repentance. Do not waste it on other things. ~ St. Isaac the Syrian
Repentance is a great understanding. ~ The Shepherd of Hermas
The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open. ~ Vespers of Cheesefare Week

As we fast approach the beginning of Great Lent, I strongly encourage you to read the passage below from Archbishop Kallistos Ware. It is a medley of excerpts from a great article of his entitled "The Orthodox Experience of Repentance." I believe that it takes us way beyond the common understanding of repentance (often confused with the idea of penitence).

To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings, but upward at God's love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with trustfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I can yet become....

Repentance, then, is an illumination, a transition from darkness to light; to repent is to open our eyes to the divine radiance - not to sit dolefully in the twilight but to greet the dawn ...

The connection between repentance and the advent of the great light is particularly significant. Until we have seen the light of Christ, we cannot really see our sins. So long as a room is in darkness, observes St. Theophan the Recluse, we do not notice the dirt; but when we bring a powerful light into the room - when, that is, we stand before the Lord in our heart - we can distinguish every speck of dust. So it is with the room of our soul. The sequence is not to repent first, and then to become aware of Christ; for it is only when the light of Christ has already in some measure entered our life that we begin truly to understand our sinfulness. To repent, says St. John of Kronstadt, is to know that there is a lie in our heart; but how can we detect the presence of a lie unless we have already some sense of the truth? In the words of E. I. Watkin, "Sin ... is the shadow cast by the light of God intercepted by any attachment of the will which prevents it illuminating the soul. Thus knowledge of God gives rise to the sense of sin, not vice versa." As the Desert Fathers observe, "The closer we come to God, the more we see that we are sinners." And they cite Isaiah as an example of this: first he sees the Lord on His throne and hears the seraphim crying "Holy, holy, holy;" and it is only after this vision that he exclaims, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips" (Is. 6:1-5)

Such, then, is the beginning of repentance: a vision of beauty, not of ugliness; an awareness of God's glory, not of my own squalor.

Repentance reaches its culmination in the Sacrament of Confession. As the parish continues to grow, it is becoming something of a challenge to hear everyone's confession during Great Lent! That is why I am requesting that we spread things out a bit, and that in addition to Saturday evening as the time of Confession, you may also look to some other possibilities: before the Presanctifed Liturgy on Wednesdays (Friday of the first week of Lent); the service on Friday evenings; and daytime visits to the church.

Those of you who have not been to Confession since last Great Lent - a year ago, that is - should only approach the Chalice after you have restored your relationship with the Church through the Sacrament of Confession. "Redeem the time," and make this Great Lent a time to overcome any misgivings, spiritual forgetfulness or plain procrastination.

Fr. Steven

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