The Concept of Repentance
The importance of repentance is undisputed by all but repentance in the Orthodox Church is totally different from repentance in other Churches with respect to its definition, efficacy, practice and necessity for salvation.
(1) Repentance is a sacrament
In the Orthodox concept,
repentance is one of the Church's
Seven Sacraments. It is called the Sacrament of Repentance.
However, the Protestant groups, in not believing in the Church
Sacraments, do not consider repentance a holy Mystery.
Therefore, there is a difference between repentance and the
Sacrament of Repentance. This difference has its consequences.
(2) Repentance and confession
In the Orthodox concept, confessing one's sins represents a main part of the Sacrament of Repentance. By confessing, we mean confessing to a priest: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov.28: 13).
People in the Old Testament practised confession. It is written: “And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned” (Lev.5: 5,6).
The Holy Bible is full
of examples of confessions.
Confession continued until the last prophet of the Old
Testament or the time between the Old Testament and the New
Testament, the time of John the Baptist, when “Jerusalem, all
Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him
and were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins”
In the New Testament also people practised confession. It is written: "And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds" (Acts 19:18), and “Confess your trespasses to one another” (Jas.5: 16).
However, the Protestant groups do not believe in confession and do not consider it part of repentance.
(3) Repentance and the Church
true that repentance is a work within the heart involving
regret and a resolution to abandon the sin in addition to the
actual abandoning of sin practically and from the heart. Yet
repentance is completed inside the Church by confession and
the absolution. The sinner is to confess his sins and the priest is
to read the absolution and give the forgiveness, following the
Lord's words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins
of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any,
they are retained” (John.20: 22,23).
This is also followed by the
guidance that the penitent
receives from his spiritual father in order to remain in his
individual act, with no relation with priesthood because they do not believe in priesthood but they believe in the direct relationship with God.
Regarding this point, our Protestant brethren are divided into two groups:
(a) A group which openly rejects confession and priesthood. This is the weaker group because it is so open that those who are steadfast in their belief will be aware of it. Also the notions of this group are clear and can be replied to.
(b) The second group does
not speak against confession or
priesthood or the Eucharist, but its followers try to make people
forget these sacraments by not talking about them and by
presenting alternatives. For example, they say: “You are in need of
repentance and in need to return to God. Go and cast yourself at
God's feet; leave your sins to Him to erase by His blood and
immediately you will come out justified as if you had not sinned
before. He washes you and you will become whiter than snow.”
They do not speak about the importance of confession or the absolution or the Eucharist; they leave them out to make people forget about them. At the same time, they use spiritual words and thus deceive many naive people. This is an obscure way and it is our duty to reveal it to people.
(4) Repentance and salvation
our Protestant brethren try to separate repentance from
the subject of salvation. When they concentrate on Christ's Blood,
they say to people: “You are saved by the Blood of Christ and not
by repentance. Repentance is one of the deeds and you cannot be
saved by deeds.”
We do not deny that salvation is completed by the Blood of Christ. But there is no salvation without repentance. The Lord Jesus Christ says: “...unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Lk.13: 3).
Repentance is necessary for
salvation because nobody is
without sin. As long as there is sin, then there is punishment for
sin, and the wages of sin is death. There is no salvation from
that death except through repentance. Repentance makes us
worthy of Christ's Blood; “unless you repent you will all
(5) Repentance and the work of Grace
Many Protestant groups hold that repentance is one of the works of Grace and all man's strivings are void. It is sufficient that man casts himself at the feet of Christ to save him from his sins. The Orthodox doctrine holds that the whole spiritual life of man is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit supports but man should strive. If man does not strive the Apostle will reproach him, saying: “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Heb. 12: 4).
Holy Bible portrays the spiritual life as a struggle which
needs the whole armour of God: “For we do not wrestle
against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against
powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against
spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph.6:
12). This war undoubtedly needs man to struggle and win.
This fight is what the Lord
Jesus Christ meant in His
message to the angels of the seven churches when He said: “To
him who overcomes I will give...” (Rev.2: 17). Grace does not
do all the work, otherwise God would not have said: “Return to Me... and I will return to you” (Zech.1: 3).
(6) Repentance and experiences
Protestant brethren consider repentance an experience,
and encourage repentant to inform people of their experiences.
So you hear from them the expression: “I was so and so, and
now I have become so and so”. The repentant continues to
recount his previous sins in front of everybody without shame,
covering his sins with the grace he has now attained. If he
keeps silent, he will be asked: “Tell us about your experiences.”
but Orthodoxy forbids these narrations as they mainly involve
boasting of the change, which the repentant has reached.
(7) Repentance, joy and contrition
Orthodoxy emphasises the
contrition of the soul of the
repentant. He should remember before God the sins he
committed, drenching his bed with his tears as David the
Prophet did. Protestantism, however, pushes people towards
joy, which involves no contrition. In most cases, the repentant
directly becomes a minister, which gives him no chance to
grieve in his inner self over his sins. The reason the
Protestantsgive for this attitude is that a repentant should rejoice over his salvation.
replying to this point, we put before them the incident of
the people of Israel eating the Passover lamb: In the midst of
their joy for their salvation from the sword of the Angel of
Death, they had to eat the Passover lamb with bitter herbs,
according to the Lord's command (Ex.12: 8). The bitter herbs reminded them of their sins because of which they were enslaved to Pharaoh. It is true that eating the Passover lamb reminded them of salvation and its joy but the lamb had to be eaten with bitter herbs.
What is the position of bitter herbs in repentance according to the Protestant concept? One of the Protestant books even attacked the phrase “Lord have mercy” which we say in our prayers! It also attacked all the phrases of contrition, condemning them to be against the joy of salvation.
(8) Repentance and newness of life
we call in Orthodoxy 'repentance' is frequently called
by our Protestant brethren ‘newness of life’, ‘renewal’ or
‘salvation’. Some Protestants ask one another:
“Have you been
renewed? Have you been saved? Have you experienced
newness of life?” And all they mean is the act of repentance; no
more, no less.
Orthodox concept, all these expressions: Crenewal',
'newness of life' and 'salvation' are completed in the Sacrament
of Baptism, but repentance is a process of change in man's way
(9) Repentance precedes all other sacraments
The Sacrament of Repentance
precedes the Sacrament of
Baptism as St. Peter the Apostle says: “Repent, and let every
one of you be baptised” (Acts 2: 38). It precedes the
Sacrament of Eucharist, as our teacher St. Paul the Apostle
says: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of
the Lord in an unworthy manner will be
guilty of the Body and
Blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let
him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he who eats
and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement
to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body” (1Cor.11: 27-29).
The Sacrament of Repentance also precedes the Sacrament of
the Holy Unction. Our teacher James the Apostle says: “Is
anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the
church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in
the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the
sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed
sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas.5: 14,15).
The same applies to the rest of the Sacraments because so long as the Sacraments are graces of the Holy Spirit then they should be prepared for by purifying the heart through repentance but since our brethren the Protestants do not believe in Sacraments nor in repentance as a Sacrament, these words are outside their concepts.
(10) Repentance, conduct and deeds
Our brethren the Protestants hold that the Christian life is not a life of conduct and deeds but a life of Grace and faith. In Orthodoxy, faith and Grace are important but nevertheless our Church says with the Forerunner: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt.3: 8). Orthodoxy holds that conduct is an important matter necessary for salvation.
Protestant brethren persist on the importance of Blood
for man's purification, we put before them the saying of the
Apostle John regarding the relation between conduct and the
Blood of the Lord:
“But if we walk in the light as He is in the
light, we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of
Jesus Christ His Son Cleanses us from all sin” (1John.1: 7).
Here, conduct is put as a condition. There is no cleansing by
Blood without repentance; repentance is an essential condition.
As sin is separation from God, repentance then is returning to God. God says: "Return to me, and I will return to you" (Malachi 3:7). When the prodigal son repented, he returned to his father (Luke 15:18-20). True repentance is a human longing to return to the origin from which it was taken. It is the desire of a heart that stayed away from God, and felt that it stay away any longer.
As sin is a dispute with God, so repentance is reconciliation with God. This is what our teacher Saint Paul said about his apostolic work,: "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading by us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Actually repentance is not only reconciliation, but the means by with God returns and dwells in the human heart, transforming it to a heaven. As for those non-repentants, how can God dewll in their hearts while sin is dwelling therein? The Bible says, "What communion has light with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).
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