True Repentance - Printable Version
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True Repentance - Mark Fletcher - 14-02-2007
Quote:Gospel of St. Matthew Chapter 18 verses 1 to 11
My query is about how one truly repents. I believe that true repentance is to become child-like in one's obedience to God's commandments. There are no intellectualisations, ifs and buts, but a child-like trust in God's Love and Care. One is obeying Him because a truly loving Father always knows what is best for his children, and His rules are rules of Love. God is utterly pure and holy, and therefore in order to receive us as His children, we need to reflect those qualities ourselves in all we do and all we are. There are also serious penalties for our not acting as God would have us. Learning comes from true penitence.
I would be interested to read other people's comments and experiences about this as it is a matter of crucial importance and affects everybody. How can I truly repent?
Repentance - Mark Fletcher - 15-02-2007
Quote:'Direct glimpses of the divine glory are sometimes conferred by God on a person as an unexpected gift, before the person has even begun to repent and to commit himself to the struggle of the "active life". Conversely, however deeply a man may be initiated by God into the mysteries of contemplation, so long as he lives on earth he must continue to fight against temptations; up to the very end of his time in this world he is still learning to repent. "A man should expect temptation until his last breath", insists St Antony of Egypt. Elsewhere in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers there is a description of the death of Abba Sisois, one of the holiest and best loved on the "old men". The brothers standing round his bed saw that his lips were moving. "Who are you talking to, father?" they asked. "See," he replied, "the angels have come to take me, and I am asking them for more time - more time to repent." His disciples said, "You have no need to repent". But the old man said, "Truly, I am not sure whether I have even begun to repent". So his life ends. In the eyes of his spiritual children he was already perfect; but in his own eyes he was still at the very beginning.'
- admin - 15-02-2007
This is another good question, and I am not sure I can give a good or complete answer.
But it seems to me that there are certain things which underly our repentance, things which provide the context in which we repent. Using the prayers from the British Orthodox Church I noted even today a few passages that are relevant.
Firstly, from the Concluding Prayer of every Hour
Quote:Christ our God, the good, the long suffering, the abundant in mercy, and the great in compassion, who loves the righteous and has mercy on the sinners of whom I am chief; who does not wish the death of the sinner but rather that he returns and lives, who calls all to salvation for the promise of the blessings to come.
I am glad that we pray this prayer every time we use the written prayers of the Church. We are reminded that Christ is on our side. We don't have to convince Him to love us or forgive us. He wants to forgive us. He does not wish the death of the sinner. So we should not approach God in repentance as though He were an angry tyrant. He is filled with love already, indeed he calls all to salvation.
Or we can turn to Psalm 50 which we also pray everytime we turn to the prayers of the Church.
Quote:Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your great mercy; and according to the multitude of Your compassions blot out my iniquity.
We ask God to have mercy on us because He is already the one who is merciful. Of course we are aware of our iniquity, but when we come to God to ask Him to deal with our sin we discover that he is filled with overwhelming compassion already.
In fact if we want to come right down to it we can recall John 3:16.
Quote:For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not die..
So when we seek to repent we do not need to fear that God is unwilling to receive our repentance.
I think that in answer to your question I would want to say that for me I do not think I repent in a sort of one-off manner. Repentance isn't so much a matter of screwing ourselves up and feeling something. Though of course I often feel ashamed, guilty and the contrite for having offended God.
But to be honest I think that in one sense words are cheap when it comes to repentance. It is easy for me to say I am sorry and ask for forgiveness, and I am sure that God grants me forgiveness in the measure I do repent. What I think true repentance really demands is a change of behaviour and of attitude. This is after all what repentance means - metanoia - to turn around.
Now if I am really determined to repent then I need to do more than be sorry for sins I have committed, I need to seek to change my life by God's grace and through the advice and prayers of spiritual fathers, so that I do not sin anymore, especially in the particular way I might be repenting for.
This often requires wisdom and therefore the support of people wiser than ourselves. We might think that the way to overcome sin is to concentrate on it almost to the exclusion of everything else and will ourselves not to fall into such a sin again. Actually, in my experience this is almost always bound to end in failure.
I have slowly learned from our daily prayers that we need grace to live the Christian life. Therefore I cannot will myself to be good, though of course my will must be engaged. Rather for myself I have learned that a more positive concentration of God tends to produce less space for temptation to take root.
I guess what I am trying to say very inadequately is that the life of repentance - of turning round to face God every day - requires a positive attitude, not a focus on the negative. One step is to work with spiritual advisers to develop a rule or routine of prayer. This is a positive thing. Likewise to seek advise about beginning some simple and achievable rule of fasting. Perhaps a simple list of things to read as well. All of these go towards building the Christian life in a positive sense.
It would be easy to become consumed in our weakness, but this is not wise. If we are sorry for our sin and seek the forgiveness of God He will give it. If we want to enter into the Christian life then we need to do so by building positively not continuing to look at ourselves.
This is true repentance as far as I understand it. Not continuing to say sorry, though we need to do that. But seeking the Holy Spirit to renew the Image of God in us.
I hope some of this helps, and that others will also add their own thoughts and correct my errors.
Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 15-02-2007
Thank you very much for your response, which I find to be personally very helpful in my own set of circumstances. I am grateful to you for it, and for your humility in answering the question.
I am reading Chapter 6 of 'The Orthodox Way' by Bishop Kallistos Ware at present. Although it's entitled 'God As Prayer', there's a lot about repentance contained therein that I personally find helpful. I recommend it to all.
Thanks again for your kindness in helping me in this way. It's appreciated.
Repentance - John Charmley - 15-02-2007
Peter offers some wise advice here.
Repentance is also about learning to like yourself for who you really are - God's child. How easy it is when in full zeal to denounce oneself for all one's sins, to declare 'there is no health in me' and - ultimately - to despair. If one was perfectly spiritually healthy there would be no need to be in a spiritual hospital; what matters is turning to Christ, being truly sorry for one's sins, and trying to walk in His way in future.
True repentance? Trying not to do whatever it was again because you have offended your loving Father - yes, even as you say, as a child would. Trying, also, I would suggest, to do something good and kind to others whenever an opportunity arises; even if it is something trivial like letting another person have the last set on the bus, or letting another driver out at a right turn; or even just smiling when transacting some mundane business. Show to others the love God shows you - and forgive those who sin against you even as you hope to be forgiven your own sins.
Peter is so right about the need for a positive attitude. God doesn't want us to gaze at our navel in disgust at what we find there; He has called us to repentance, to newness of life - and to the joy that goes with it.
Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 15-02-2007
Thanks for that, John. I have noticed that the more I come to terms with the evil in my own "heart", the easier it is to see the goodness and kindness in the faces of others. Simple courtesies and kindnesses cost nothing. Even picking up litter is tax-free. There are so many kind things people can do which make a little difference to the general atmosphere of the world today.
Repentance - John Charmley - 15-02-2007
I am sure that is correct. There is so much in this world we feel we can do nothing about, but if each of us did what little we could to make life easier for those around us, and if each of us showed that love that Christ asks that we show, then pretty soon things would be a lot better.
I want to reform the world, but where should I start? With me, dear Lord, with me.