Second, repentance is endless. Even Martin Luther got this one right, and demonstrated orthodox apostolic faith when he declared this as his first of 95 theses against the Roman Church “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said repent, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Since God is holy, and sin is unholy, since God desires oneness with us, and sin separates us…there is only one way to reunion: repentance… and since we sin often, daily in fact: our repentance must be endlessly constant but here is the really good news – so is God’s love – endless fatherly compassion, every prodigal’s dream.
“All the virtues, by the grace of God, may be perfected by man, but no one can perfect repentance, since we need repentance until our last breath, for we err in the twinkling of an eye. Therefore repentance is interminable – and this is a good thing! O how good God is! Although we err as humans, we are sluggish to say “I have sinned”…but time flies, the years roll by, and we are drawing nearer and nearer to eternity. We see this, yet a mental numbness has bound us until we (and I first) are thrown into hell!
In a world of values clarification, and of sensitivity training, and of political correctness this idea of hell, sin and confession would be denounced vociferously in a heartbeat – as judgmental, mean-spirited, condemning and well – just not nice. But the essence of our Orthodox faith is always counter to the culture: for we know that in order to live one must first die. Repentance is dying with Christ, a second baptism, a baptism of tears of contrition and sorrow, and as we plunge often into the depths of our tears, into the dark recess of the grave – we, like the icon of Pascha, find ourselves as Adam and Eve…whose hands are upraised and bodies are plucked out from death and the grave by Jesus Christ. It is only in Satan’s playbook that repentance is considered a downer, bummer, and an archaic superstitious option… he, and he alone knows that repentance, like the Cross, is the instrument that smashes the gates of hell and opens the way to paradise… our repentance must be daily, weekly monthly, yearly…endless and why not? For what it offers us what we need most…grace – a second chance – a new beginning. Let us sincerely repent, let us confess frankly and in detail. Let the tribunal of God and His decision preoccupy us continuously and let us say: “I wonder, shall I be saved or shall I face the torments of hell?” May it be that none of us regrets the chance to repent in this life, as we stand at the gates of the life to come…only to have them barred from us… imagine the sorrow when we realize what we could have had for eternity if we would have but humbled ourselves in the present. Lord have mercy. May it never be.
Finally, repentance is good. So very, very good. It is a gift unlike any gift we have ever been given, or will ever be given. It is life, peace, health, visitation and salvation rolled into one. We are seated in darkness and repentance opens our eyes to the Light. We place ourselves in the region and shadow of death…and yet, through repentance Light dawns…it is not by coincidence that our place of confession and repentance is in that corner… right next to the laver, the font, the source of our rebirth through baptism as infants…and now as adult infants we go to that self-same space and rebirth and regeneration happens again and again… I especially love it when after kneeling for the blessing my larger posterior bumps into the font and rattles both me and it…! It’s as if the Lord is saying “Hey you, don’t forget what happened here!” and come back again real soon…
I close with this. May the Spirit of God, and the loving admonition of our priests and confessors, and may our consciences always serve as the voice of Christ beckoning us to come home again… for here, and especially there you are always welcome… always, no matter what. The door is open, a chair is at the table for you, for me, for everyone…for we are sons and daughters… and what son or daughter is ever denied a place at dinner?
“I pray that all of us will awaken, light our lamps, and with a vigilant eye wait patiently for the Lord to come, so that we may enter into the resplendent bridal chamber of eternal bliss, the festival of the bright angels, to chant with them the resurrection canticles, which will elevate us to divine ascents! Then – oh then – we shall fully realize what a great work it is to compel us in everything and that our superiors did well to push us, and grieve us, for we shall say: “Behold, what we see now! Then our thanks to God will have no limits… so…
Let us not lose our time in vain. Rather….let us repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.