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Why are Repentance and Confession so crucial in our lives? – Part 1

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June 7, 2017

Why are Repentance and Confession so crucial in our lives? – Part 1

Today we tackle one of the mysteries of the Church that raises many questions among the faithful: We ask the Question “Why are Repentance and Confession so important within the life of the Christian Believer?

Many ask: “What i’s the point of repentance? Or How does confession remove my sin? And even “Why should I confess to a priest?” All of these are sincere questions and our Orthodox Church provides some great answers for them. In order to do them justice, we will break down this theme into a three-part series: this first video will address specifically the question of “what is repentance?”, the second video will speak to the subject of confession and its direct correlation with repentance. And Finally, the third video will give us a brief overview of why the Church insists that the true and proper mystery of confession requires a priest or bishop who has been granted the Priesthood of Christ. Let us begin with repentance.

First let us define Repentance – or what is called “Metanoia” in Greek. This term, translated, refers to a change in mind – or better expressed is a change in your “Noia – or your noous”. The “nous” here is what the early church Fathers always referred to as “the eye of the soul”. What this then means for you and I,  is that repentance is when we redirect our spiritual intellect or spiritual mind back to God. This by default means that sin is that state in which our direction or orientation is away from God – it is pointed towards sinful passions. The Church has always described this false direction as a “falling away” of some sort of the grace of God. This would explain why we have always referred to the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the garden as “the Fall”. If the state of sinfulness is therefore categorized by a falling,  then the process of repentance must therefore be seen a “rising up”! Now let’s put this into context with the word Metanoia – or what we have often herd within the Coptic tradition being called a “Metanya”. A Metanya is the action of rising up from the position of a full prostration. Our rising up, therefore, is precisely what we are called to whenever we hope to combat sin in our lives.

See, for example, the story of the prodigal son as portrayed in the gospel of St Luke chapter 15. We all know how the younger son asked for his inheritance and then left his Father and wasted his life away in prodigal living. We also know of how he came to his senses and chose to go back to his father. What we should pay attention to, however, is how he expresses this need to go back to his father when he realized the horror he had found himself in. Let’s read together from that passage of Luke 15:17-20

Luke 15: 17 17“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 “And he arose and came to his father.

This rising up that we witness in the story is the meaning of repentance – a complete and utter change is adopted not only in his speech and mindset, but also in his behaviour and ultimately his life.

Now if we are to speak of Repentance as a “change in direction”, or a change in your NOUS, then we must understand that as Christians we struggle in order to ACHIEVE Repentance, and we also Repent ALONG the way! You see, Repentance is both the JOURNEY and the DESTINATION of our salvation. The Church labels this phenomenon by stating that there is both a Repentance to life, as well as a life of Repentance.

Now the first is clearly observed when a person comes to their senses and receives the revelation of Jesus Christ and immediately adopts a change in order to receive this new life that is offered to them. We see this very evidently in the book of Acts chapter 11 where the great Apostle Peter tells the story of how the Holy Spirit fell upon men who were considered Gentiles after he spoke to them and how the Lord had reveled to him that “What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 11: 9). In this same chapter verse 18 says “When they (the Apostles) heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” This repentance to life is therefore found in the fact that true life is bestowed upon those who adopt this “Metanoia” – this change in NOUS and direction.

However, according to the Orthodox faith, this is not merely a single moment in time that is forever solidified and once received it cannot be undone… on the contrary. This Repentance must be chosen and acted upon every moment of our lives. Which now makes it a Life of Repentance. And this is very evident in the lives of the Saints who have preceded us. We have many great examples of in the history of the Church who are beautiful examples of how to live a life of repentance. Take for example St Moses the Strong and St Mary of Egypt. Both lived a very sinful life – we all know their stories. They both also  experienced Repentance to life: For St Moses, this occurred when he was admitted as a brother within the Monastic Community in Scetis. For St Mary of Egypt it was that moment after she had cried to the Theotokos asking for her intercession, that she was allowed to enter into the Church on the day of the feast. However in both cases, we also see the need for a presence of a life of repentance. For St Moses it was in his daily struggles with his passions as a Monk, for St Mary it was her extreme ascetic approach in wondering the desert for years. In both cases we see in the lives of these saints the true meaning of a change in direction as they are great Icons of Repentance.

For us what we must remember, is that our Goal is to push forward and to ask the Lord to grant us true repentance no matter the spiritual war we find ourselves in. As St Macarius of Egypt warns us and says:

“It often happens that Satan will insidiously commune with you in your heart and say: ‘Think of the evil you have done; your soul is full of lawlessness, you are weighed down by many grievous sins.’ Do not let him deceive you when he does this and do not be led to despair on the pretext that you are being humble. You should answer: “I have God’s assurance, for He says: “I desire, not the sinner’s death, but that he should return through repentance and live”. ‘ What was the purpose of His descent to earth except to save sinners, to bring light to those in darkness and life to the dead?” St. Makarios of Egypt (The Philokalia Vol. 3)

If then the Lord truly has come down for our sakes in order for us to Repent and to have abundant life in Him, then let us be encouraged and bold in our struggle, always being assured that He will grant us real change, victory, and Repentance in our lives.

Remember my beloved, know your faith, live your faith,

and Teach your faith.

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