December 2022 - Our Orthodox Faith
The following passage comes from "Repentance and Confession", part of the Spiritual Life Series, a compilation of spiritual counsels of Hieromonk Gregorios, the Elder of the Cell of St John the Theologian, Koutloumousiou Monastery, Mount Athos.
Repentance is man's return to God. It is the transformation in the mind (the nous) from the darkness of sin into the light of Christ. The beginning of this journey is "the awareness of our errors, which is a great opportunity for us to attract divine mercy. This is why the Prophet David says to God: Have mercy upon me... For I am conscious of my iniquity (Ps. 50: 1, 3)." We acknowledge that we are responsible for our condition, and we humbly seek God's mercy...
Confession and Holy Communion
Ever since the early years of Christianity, the sacrament of holy Confession has preceded that of holy Communion. Concerning this, St. John Chrysostom says: "Many of the faithful...while overflowing with numberless evil deeds...approach the holy Table on feastdays indiscriminately. They do not realize that the appropriate time for holy Communion is when one has a clear conscience, not on the occasion of a feastday or festival... So I plead with all of you: do not approach the holy Mysteries simply because [you believe] the feast demands it. Rather, if you intend to take part in this holy Offering, cleanse yourself thoroughly in advance with repentance, prayer and charity."
The Celebrant's exhortation, the holy Gifts for the holy, means that "he who does not demonstrate worthy repentance...is not worthy to present himself for holy Communion." Genuine repentance "gives birth in our hearts to everlasting joy and leads us to behold the unsetting light, and unless we strive in all earnestness to attain it...we shall not be able to partake of the holy Sacraments worthily."
In order to partake of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, a person must first be purified by means of holy Confession. The Apostle Paul writes: But let everyone do a self-examination, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks unworthily eats and drinks judgment to himself, if such a one does not discern the body of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:28-29). "How can we receive God within, and become one body with Him, if we do not first remit our sins through the agency of holy Confession and purify the filth which has accumulated from those sins in the soul with charity, chastity, self-control, prayer, compunction, and the other works of repentance?"
Should our conscience be under the sway of something, we take refuge in the Lord through holy Confession, and follow His instruction which is communicated to us through our Spiritual Father - it is he who will regulate our approach to holy Communion.
How does the Benevolent Father Receive us?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son describes how God's love works to draw all those who have sinned near to Him again.
The prodigal son left the compassionate Father and traveled to a far country. The Father's love, however, reaches as "far" as his beloved child had gone: But while he was still at a distance, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. He ran, and embraced his son, and kissed him (Lk. 15: 13, 20). The charitable Father does not wait for the arrival of His child, but while he is still at a distance, He runs to receive him.
The compassionate Father received the prodigal "with open arms...because he was a father and not a judge. Dancing and banquets and feasts were arranged and the whole household was merry and joyful... The elder son was angered with these things, but the Father cajoled him gently saying: 'When you must save the one who is lost, it is not the time for judging, but rather for loving-kindness and pardon... And even if he should have been punished in that foreign country... You are looking at a brother, not a stranger. He has returned to his father, and his father cannot remember anything of the past. Better yet, he remembers only the things that arouse in him sympathy, mercy, affection and fatherly compassion.' This is why the Father did not allude to what the prodigal had done, but what he had suffered. He did not remember that he had squandered His wealth, but instead that he had fallen victim to countless misfortunes." The older brother was thinking in accordance with the laws of human justice, but the benevolent Father was acting according to His compassionate fatherly heart.
The holy Fathers emphasize that "God in His loving goodness receives and loves those who repent." St. Basil the Great says: "The Father stands and waits for your return from delusion. You have only to come back, and while you are yet far off, He will run to you, fall on your neck and embrace and kiss you lovingly, now that your soul is already cleansed by repentance. And He shall clothe the soul, which has stripped off the former man and his acts, with the first robe... He shall place a ring on his hands...and shoes on the feet that have returned from the evil road to the way of the Gospel of peace. He shall announce a day of delight and joy to those who are His own, Angels and men, and will celebrate your salvation in every possible way."
This heavenly joy for the penitent's return is the dominant element in the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost drachma and of the prodigal son. The good Shepherd carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing! Coming home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' (Lk. 15:5-6). In all three parables the Lord assures us there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Lk. 15: 10)."
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