Repentance isn’t what you think it is.

Homily 390 – 29th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 5, 2020
Epistle: (298) 2 Timothy 4:5-8
Gospel: (1) Mark 1:1-8
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The Forerunner preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

The Orthodox life is full of calls to repentance – in peace and repentance let us pray to the Lord. The first call of the Gospel is a call to repentance – repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Our lives are lives of continual repentance. Not just once a year, or during fasting seasons, or when we prepare and go to confession. Our repentance is every day, every hour, every moment.

We have a variety of ideas about what repentance is. For some, it is a feeling of sorrow or shame. For others, it may be the resolve to no longer do a certain thing, or to do a certain thing, a resolution, if you will.

The dictionary defines repentance as “Remorse or contrition for past conduct or sin.”

The dictionary definition differs from the spiritual definition. I would offer that repentance is neither a feeling, nor a resolve. Rather, it is a change in direction.

In Greek, the word is “metanoia.” The first definition in most Greek lexicons is “to perceive afterwards or too late.” As in, I probably shouldn’t have done that.

It is a recognition that you have deviated from the target – which for us, as Christians, is the perfection and person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second definition is “changing one’s mind, or changing one’s purpose.” In other words, to return to the path of perfection.

If you hit a bad golf shot, swing at a bad pitch, miss an ingredient in a recipe – all these result in repentance. Not to mention cheating on a test, or lying, or harming another person.

So why is it that we find it so difficult to repent?

There are perhaps several reasons, but the primary reason is that we really don’t see what we did as necessarily wrong, or imperfect. We refuse to see, or we are blinded, or deceived.

In our fallen state, our knowledge of good and evil has been corrupted. Our self-focus, and self-worship which is pride, prevents us from acknowledging the error of our ways. So we can’t trust ourselves to discern the difference between right and wrong – between good and evil.

We have to use a ruler, a yardstick, a measure of sorts – and our standard is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the fulfillment and embodiment of the Law.

Jesus acted in perfect love, perfect compassion, and perfect justice. He remembered the weaknesses of people, how they struggled, and forgave them. He also knew those who should know better, and those who had their ease in life, and was very blunt and sometimes – sometimes – downright harsh.

And that is the way we have to become with ourselves. We have to learn how to measure ourselves to Christ, and to see how far we fall short – and we all fall short, every moment of every day.

In the teaching of St. Paul, that is the sole purpose of the Law. It isn’t for punishment, but for revelation – showing us that we fall short. Showing us that we live not by our achievements, but by grace.

Having recognized our shortfall, we ask for God’s forgiveness, and we refocus our effort and our vision on Christ. Our shortfalls are caused by taking our eyes away from Christ, and repentance is placing our view and our gaze back upon Him.

We turn from gazing inward, to gazing upon our Savior.

And, importantly, not become discouraged. God grants forgiveness to us, so that we don’t have to worry about failure. We can fail, because we will be forgiven. We are already forgiven.

That gives us a unique opportunity. To begin again, without sorrow, without shame. Because it is expected by God. He knows we will fail.

And so, we are able with confidence to keep going – to press forward to the goal, without concern that we aren’t progressing as we should. It is a life-long process. It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Progress isn’t linear. It comes in waves, just like on the ocean. And so, we can imagine that there are times when we are riding the crest of the wave, and there are times we are almost in free fall down the face of the wave.

St. Porphyrios of Mt. Athos wrote: You don’t become holy by fighting evil. Let evil be. Look towards Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love – the adoration of Christ which cannot be expressed, which is beyond expression, … And such a person attempts to undertake ascetic exercises … for the love of God.

He continues: No monk became holy without ascetic exercises. No one can ascend to spirituality without exercising himself. These things must be done. … What is important is not the prostrations we will make or the prayers, but the act of self-giving, the passionate love for Christ and for spiritual things.

Prostrations and fasting and prayer – in and of themselves, they have no value. The value, essential to our salvation, lies in what they reveal to us.

That we can actually tame our desires, and give ourselves completely to others. In that giving, we live in the Kingdom of God.

So, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!