Orthodox America

Repent and Forgive  

"Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven i8 at hand."

After His Baptism by John, the Lord Jesus Christ began to preach, calling men to repentance: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." This call to repentance remains in effect up to now; it refers to each one of us.

What is the meaning of repentance? One must recognize ones own untruth and make God's truth the aim of one's life. Repentance is usually accompanied by confession. John the Baptist acted thus when he baptized, because his baptism was unto repentance. Confession was practiced from the very foundation of the Christian Church.

How should one repent? Is it enough to repent within oneself before God, and not in the presence of a man-for example, a priest? Some think this: I repent before God, and there is no need of a priest or anyone else.

Such an approach is incorrect. First of all, it does not correspond to the human psyche. It often happens that someone who has performed a serious sin, even though he repents within his soul, supposing that he is doing this before God, still finds no rest for himself; his sin follows him everywhere. And then a man looks for a way out; he wants to speak to someone about his heavy state of soul. And if there is no priest, or if he himself is not ready to turn to a priest, he seeks out at least a friend or simply any man, and tells him, and he feels better. This can be called a natural confession. People themselves say, "It is difficult for someone who keeps everything within himself, but much easier if he can say it out.

This device of natural confession is often used in literature. The great Russian writer Dostoevsky, for example, used it in his novel "Crime and Punishment." Raskolnikov, after performing a terrible murder and enduring great moral suffering because of it, confessed to Sonia Marmeladov, and this confession was the turning point in his correction

One must look at repentance and confession also from the religious-church point of view. Confession is a Mystery, a kind of small judgment. The priest who hears a confession is a witness of it, but at the same time he is a judge, because he gives forgiveness in the name of the Lord Jesus. The significance of this small judgment is this: a man must endure some kind of shame for his sin. Often it happens that a man confesses small things but is silent about the adultery he has committed. Why? Because it is shame ful to speak about it. However, through this small shame before a single witness a man is delivered from eternal shame after the Fearful and Universal Judgment, when the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead.

Let us not spare our sins-why carry around an unneeded burden? Because it is shameful?-but this is a false shame. One should be ashamed of sin. And only through shame can one be delivered from sin.

"If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.(Matt. 6:14-15)

Great Lent is at hand-a time of increased prayer and repentance. At this time we must make use of all our spiritual powers to ask from God forgiveness of our sins.

However, so that our repentance might be fruitful, we ourselves must be reconciled with our close ones.

What is the most obvious sign of reconciliation? It is when we ask forgiveness of our neighbor. On the Sunday which is the eve of Great Lent, the Holy Church has established the custom of asking forgiveness of each other; this day is popularly called "Forgive ness Sunday."

From whom should the i n it i a t i v C for reconciliation come, if there is some evident hostility between people? Most people would say: From the guilty party. And the innocent one will agree with this; he will say: "He offended me; he began it, and therefore he should ask forgiveness of me. In my heart I forgive him, but I do not see why 1 should ask forgiveness of him."

In every conflict between men, even as just a principle of law, one must recognize one party as guilty and the other as innocent; but as a principle of morality, or rather, proceeding from the spiritual knowledge of things, the innocent party t6 some degree is also guilty, because he may have done some evil himself previously, and now it has fallen upon him like a boomerang.

And if we look at it from the psychological side, it turns out that when the innocent party is the first to ask forgiveness of the guilty one for the conflict that has occurred, the guilty one will be touched by this and will hasten to be reconciled.

It is even easier for the innocent one to ask forgiveness, since the guilty one is more inclined to self-justification, so as in some degree to soften his guilt and not appear before others in a bad light.

Therefore, for reconciliation it makes no difference from whom the initiative proceeds, whether from the guilty or the innocent party.

And this is why the Lord says: When you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember not merely that you have offended some one, but even that someone has anything against you-leave your gift, go and be reconciled first with your neighbor, and only then bring your gift to God (Matt. 5:23-24).

But before God we are always guilty. If we ask forgiveness, by this we open the door for God's mercy towards us.

Can self-love really be dearer to us than God's mercy? Let us think on this. Amen.

Bishop Alypy of Chicago