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The Mystery of Repentance

Repentance is a feeling which is familiar to all people in various degrees. The Greek word for repentance, μετάνοια, means “change of mind/thoughts”. In Christianity repentance means that a person realizes his sins before God. Repentance takes various forms in the life of man. It can be words, like “Forgive me”, “I am sorry”, as well as certain gestures. All this serves a man to express his regret for a mistake made or for the evil inflicted upon others. Repentance is necessary for a person to cleanse his consciousness, become reconciled with people, intentionally or unintentionally offended by him.

The Mystery of Repentance

Sins and Repentance

We are guilty first of all before God, when we commit sins, thus breaking commandments given by Him. Each sin becomes an obstacle in our relationship with God and demands an atonement. A human being has free will, which is the ability to choose his own way in life independently, to perform good deeds and sinful actions. Often people tend to shift the responsibility for his sins upon the devil, inventing for himself such a justification as “the demon has confused me”. However the devil cannot make a person sin. He acts with craftiness, for instance enticing a person with a seeming profit from a sinful act. If a person could not resist and broke God’s commandment, he thus rejected the will of the Lord and carried out the will of the devil.  

It often happens that a person, who fell into some sins, cannot get rid of some sin independently, even if he prepares to change his life many times. The devil finds a means to push a person to sin. The only way to break free from the power of sin is the Mystery of Repentance, which gives God’s mercy and help back to the person. Seeing the repenting man, the devil loses power over him and finds himself conquered. This is why the satan prevents a person to come to repentance in various ways. He creates a lot of obstacles and excuses on his way. For instance, many people consider themselves to be in no need for repentance. The periodically appearing feeling of guilt is considered by them to be something abnormal, which needs to be suppressed. People are also often eager to shift the guilt for the sins they created upon the surrounding conditions: “life/society is this way, I’ve nothing to do with it”. Even more frightening is when people are not aware of the fact that they will have to answer for their actions before God.

It is necessary to remember that no believer or unbeliever will evade the Justice of God. People, seduced by the devil, think that they will have time to go to church and to repent, but years pass by – and then a person dies without confession. Although he had promised to Christ in the Mystery of Baptism, had not reject repentance as such, was aware of the fact that he would answer before God for every act and thought, he postponed the confession being taught by the devil. The Holy Fathers say that in every sin, even if it was commited unintentionally, there is a personal guilt. Person can always has a possibility to avoid sin, but neglects it. Every sin is a crime before God. But the Lord is merciful and waits for each sinner to turn to Him, to repent and apply all his forces to correct his way in life.

Repentance Is Necessary to Reconcile with God

To bring a sinner to reconciliation with God, to teach him the way of virtuous life, to lighten his soul, burdened by sins, the Church from ancient times uses the Mystery of repentance. This mystery helps a person to break free from the bondage of sins and become closer to God. Regular confession helps a Christian to lead his life in accordance with the will of the Lord and his own conscience. Every man must come to confession consciously. The order of confession compiled in ancient times contained various precepts and exhortations addressed to the penitents. These exhortations were aimed at helping a Christian to become aware of his sins, repent in them and start a correction of his spiritual life. Man must regularly take part in the Mystery of repentance. In fact the participation in the Mystery of repentance is the confirmation of the affiliation of a person with the Church of Christ. The one who does not participate in the Mystery of repentance can be said to exclude himself from the Church of God. According to a Christian tradition, penitents come to confession 4 times a year: during the Christmas, Great, Peter’s and Dormition Lents. The participation in the Mystery of confession must be at least annual. In any case the possibility to come to confession during the Great lent should not be neglected.

If some serious preventing obstacles have place it is considered pardonable not to be at confession for the maximum of three years. Pious life and spiritual labors lose their value if a person does not confess for a long time, all the more so if he has never been to confession.

Repentance Cures Sin

For the repentance to be fruitful we should become aware of how heavy and many our sins are. We should also understand what is the reason for sin. Every act is a consequence of some inner causes. Sometimes the inner causes of sin are sinful passions not seen by a person. He is not aware of them and they bring him to sins. All the varieties of sins can be reduced to the list of sinful passions, such as pride, fornication, avarice, gluttony, anger, hate, desperation. One should distinguish between sins and sinful passions. As abba Dorotheus explains:

Passions and sins are different. Passions are anger, vainglory, hate and the like. Sins are the very actions of the passions, when someone brings them to execution in practice, i.e. performs with his body the acts to which he is induced by his passions (for sometimes it is possible to have passions but not to act in accordance with them).

Thus, theft stems from avarice, laziness and drunkenness – from gluttony, murder and all hostility – from hate or anger and so on. Each passion has a virtue as its opposite, with which it can be cured. Thus, pride is cured with humility and self-derogation, anger – with meekness and mercy, avarice – with mercy and alms, cowardice – with patience, vainglory – with self-derogation and so on.

The Holy Fathers Preached Repentance

In order to see one’s own spiritual vices better and correct them, it is necesseary turn more often to the Holy Scripture. It is the reading of the spiritual literature which makes it possible to see one’s evil thoughts and evaluate oneself from the heights of the Divine Truth. Holy Hierarchs of the Church, such as John Chrysostom (ab.347-407) and Kyril of Alexandria (376-444), venerable Macarius of Egypt (ab.300-391), Abba Dorotheus (505-565 or 620), John Climacus (525-595 (605) or 579-649) and many other Holy Fathers have left us their soul-saving exhortations for our edification.

The Holy Fathers advise us to always keep the memory of our own death and the future Judgment of God, have the fear of God in our soul, try to attend the church, keep the prayer rule at home, always have prayer in our soul, always perceive the presence of the Lord, be attentive to ourselves and our actions, give time to reading of soul-edifying books, have a spiritual father and attend confession regularly, avoid the company of immoral people, constantly labor, not allow ourselves excessive rest, learn the love of God.