Orthodox America

  From the Bookshelf The Forgotten Medicine: the Mystery of Repentance

by Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev; Wildwood, CA, St. Xenia Press, 1993. 72 pp., $5.00. Also available from Orthodox America (add $1.50 p&h).

Mary Mansur

The holy Apostle Paul spelled it out clearly in his epistle to the Romans: the wages of sin is death.  To the Ephesians he wrote a similar word of admonition: no unclean person . . . hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Nowadays, the very notion of sin and wrongdoing has been buried under a prevailing philosophy which tells us, "I'm OK, you're OK," and if we are not OK, either our genes are at fault or we are victims of some prejudice or societal injustice.  While this has been a boon for defense lawyers, it has had an adverse effect on our spiritual development as Orthodox Christians.  Even as we utter the various excuses and justifications at hand, our souls are ailing, burdened by accumulated sins, and we wonder why we have trouble "connecting" with God. We are told we are well, but we are sick. We have every reason, therefore, to welcome the appearance of this slim volume on the Mystery of Repentance, aptly titled, The Forgotten Medicine.

This is not a theological treatise.  It is a basic, easily read and convincing explanation of why, if we truly desire to be with God, we should eagerly avail ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession.  "Sin," the author reminds us, "obstructs the way to God . . . [It] is a great evil with immeasurably heavy consequences-eternal torments in hell!  But its cure, established by Jesus Christ, turns out to be so easy!"  Different chapters answer common objections to confession, provide guidelines for "a saving confession," and describe its desirable results. The author makes his points with the help of citations from holy fathers, reinforcing them with examples from lives of saints and effective, allegorical illustrations, in-telligible to the youngest penitent.  To those who question the need for confession, thinking they have no special sin to confess, the author writes, "When a man stays in a closed room for a long time, he gets used to the bad air."  By contrast, "a soul which confesses regularly is like a house which is constantly swept."

A note "About the Author " states that Archimandrite Seraphim Alexiev (1912-1993) was an assistant professor at the Theological Academy in Sophia (Bulgaria).  His last book was an in-depth criticism of the heresy of ecumenism. The present, much simpler work, reflects his abiding pastoral concern.  (Two companion volumes, The Meaning of Suffering, and Strife and Reconciliation), will be available from the same publisher in January 1995.)  It is a smooth translation, attractively presented.  Some readers may frown at the rather gothic nineteenth-century Russian engravings, but others may argue in favor of such graphic emphasis.  The index appears superfluous.

Repentance used to be an important part of all the Christian confessions. The emphasis has disappeared.  No longer are there lines in front of Roman Catholic confessionals, and the hellfire-and-brimstone which once issued from Protestant pulpits has been replaced by more "comfortable" sermons on grace and charity.  Sadly, even in some Orthodox churches, the importance of confession has been allowed to fade: the particular has given way to general or infrequent confession, and it is often regarded as a formality, part of the rule in preparation for Holy Communion.  It is, in fact, a very powerful Sacrament, and if this book were given the distribution it deserves, it could help to restore a proper appreciation of this Mystery as a vital part of the spiritual life.

M. Mansur