In approaching the threshold of Great Lent, the Church begins preparing the Orthodox Christian soul for this period of spiritual purification and renewal as it sings "Open to me, O Giver of Life, the gates of repentance..." And the Lord, Who is pleased to fulfill this soul-saving petition, opens them wide.
Through the weeks that follow we struggle with the added prostrations, the stricter fasting, the longer prayers. It may be that we succeed in adhering to the external practices which the Church assigns to us these forty days. But as the radiant Feast of Our Lord's Resurrection draws near, we may well ask ourselves: Do our penitential actions represent more than a formality? Have we in fact passed through the gates of repentance, or are we still standing outside in our hardheartedness?
One of the most deeply moving passages in all of Scripture tells the story of Apostle Peter's betrayal. Just before the Lord foretold this to His disciple, Peter had vigorously proclaimed an undying loyalty to his Master: "Lord," he had said, "I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death." But when the hour of temptation was at hand, his faith wavered; he was overcome by the weakness of his human nature, and he denied any knowledge of the Lord. His was not, however, the calculated betrayal of Judas.
When the cock crew, he "remembered the word of the
Lord .... And
provoked this flood of repentance? Was it not the Apostle's realization of the
Lord's infinite love for him--in spite of his many failings, his sin of
betrayal? Was this not what was communicated, just after the cock crew, when
"the Lord turned and looked upon Peter"?
Bear in your heart continually the words CHRIST IS LOVE. St. John of Kronstadt
Man is created in the image of God. This image is meant to reflect the attributes of God--mercy, longsuffering, patience, meekness, love. "Be ye perfect," taught the Lord, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). In giving in to our inclinations to sin, we have tarnished the image of God within us; we neither reflect God's love as we ought, nor do we recognize it in our neighbor. And this causes us to have a very weak perception of the love which Christ has for each of us individually. It is only when we see it shining brightly as the sun--in the lives of saints, in the words of Scripture, or when by God's grace it unexpectedly pierces our hearts--that we catch a glimmer of God's unsurpassable mercy, His boundless love for us. And then, even as our hearts fill with joy, we are overcome by an awareness of our sinfulness, our utter unworthiness of Christ's love, and our hearts soften with the sweet tears of genuine repentance, free of all despair.
St. John of Kronstadt, who supremely demonstrated the law of love, had a special gift for inspiring repentance. No doubt it was because his own repentance was born of love. "Sometimes," he wrote, "we do not see any outlet, any escape from our sins, and they torment us; on account of them the heart is oppressed with sorrow and weary; but Jesus looks upon us, and streams of tears flow from our eves, and with the tears all the tissue of evil in our soul vanishes; we weep with joy that such mercy has suddenly and unexpectedly been sent to us."
In the short time that remains of this holy fast, let us cultivate the knowledge of Christ's redeeming love, drawing it deep into our hearts like a sacred treasure. May this love generate in us true repentance, cleansing our souls and leading us into the unending joy of Our Saviour's Resurrection
Fr. Alexey Young, Editor[OA/_private/oabot.htm]