WINDOW TO ETERNITY
CATECHETICAL ADDRESS ON THE OCCASION OF THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLY AND GREAT LENT
BY THE GRACE OF GOD ARCHBISHOP OF CONSTANTINOPLE, NEW ROME,
AND OECUMENICAL PATRIARCH ,
TO THE FULNESS OF THE CHURCH BE GRACE AND PEACE FROM CHRIST OUR SAVIOUR, WHILE FROM US BE PRAYER, BLESSING AND FORGIVENESS
"Let us listen to the Scriptures concerning the Prodigal, who became temperate
and with faith let us follow the good example of his repentance" (Ikos of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son)
Beloved Brethren and Children in in the Lord,
By the grace of God we are once again entering the period of the Triodion, during which the Holy Orthodox Church invites all to a good repentance. Despite the fact that, according to the Fathers, a good repentance is essential to those who are perfect in faith and virtue, many Christians do not know that they too have need of a good repentance.
However, good repentance is a process much deeper than the acceptance of our sins and the recognition of our errors that relate to our actions. This is because good repentance refers first of all to our thoughts and our musings, to our convictions and our emotions, from which our actions spring. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that our musings defile us in just the same way as our actions and that the imagined performance of evil is equal before God to its realisation. Apathy towards our fellow man, our imprisonment within the "ego", its desire and needs, our bitterness about the behaviour of others, the absence of love, and, moreover, hatred and all other feelings which degrade other people, such as our own feelings of superiority, vanity, ambition, lust and avarice, shape a person very differently from one who is filled with love, humility, meekness, peace and reconciliation with God. We are all, therefore, in need of good repentance, which means a change of mind and a different view of good and evil, for we are all very far from the image of the ideal human being.
We all see others' actions and frequently judge those people for their hardness of heart, for their poor knowledge of the truth on certain matters and, in spite of this, their self-assurance that they know the truth, that they act, think and judge correctly. We ought to ask ourselves, do others, perhaps, see us the same way? We ought to examine which aspects of our life we should change, which of our characteristics we should improve, which part of our intellect we ought to control, rectify and increase. By keeping ourselves in check in this way, we would come to the conclusion that we are found greatly wanting and that we are ignorant of our own ignorance and other spiritual shortcomings. The holy Fathers consider sin to be whatever we ought to repent of, be it our ignorance, our heedlessness, our negligence or our listlessness - all conditions that nearly everyone agrees are not the acceptable norm.
Apart from this, our love for our fellow human beings and for God is not as great as it should be and requires improvement. For this reason we need good repentance for even the small amount of love which we have, and a good effort to increase our love towards others. We need, even more, to drive from our hearts the willingness to condemn others, our arrogant attitude towards them, the feeling of bitterness for their offensive behaviour and, moreover, our grudges and ill will. In place of these things we should have forgiveness, reconciliation with and prayer for our fellow human beings -even those who hate us, oppress us and injure us- and should act in a way that will benefit them. If we watch ourselves to see how much this forgiving and loving disposition has taken root in our hearts, we will surely notice that we have a huge field of repentance to cross for our inadequate kindness and for the necessary purification of our inner selves from thoughts and feelings which, fall short of the Christian standard and which are permanently rooted, within us.
Christ is ready to accept our good repentance and to help us to spiritually pull ourselves together. There is joy in heaven for one sinner, that repents. But this great joy -the sense of freedom and release- pervades the whole life of the Christian, who repents well of what he is, and yearns for the increase of his love towards God and man. In contrast to this, the soul which remains in animosity, hatred and all harsh and unloving sensibilities towards God and man, is one of complete misery and affliction. Such a soul causes pain not only to his fellow human beings, but also to his own self and, what's more, to himself more than to others. And this because others whom he may hurt and injure can be comforted; they can confront the pain and transform it into prayer and peace of heart. But the one who kills, hates, disdains, scorns and who generally opposes his neighbour, without good repentance of his passions, undergoes an inward torment which in turn provokes those passions.
But the person who does not nurture enmity, yet remains indifferent to God and neighbour and remains closed within himself, in the end finds himself confronted with the fear of death, loss of meaning in life, despair and a bad repentance of his way of life -that is, repentance without hope- because the person will surely come face to face with the truth and will then have to change his way of thinking. In other words, he will be confronted with repentance as a reality -one that will prove to be very different to the way we perceived reality until that point. If the person was prepared for good repentance, filled with hope in God, and trod the road that leads to the Father, he would be surprised by the true reality that he sees, but, accustomed to good repentance, the ardour of his repentance would drive out all hesitation and take him into the bosom of the Father, as happened with the Prodigal Son, and he would enjoy His love, according to his soul's desire. If, however, he did not tread the road of good repentance in his life, he would despair before the, new reality for which he did not make any preparation, and will turn his back on the good Father and oppress himself because of the rejected love which is offered to him. The world is, unfortunately, filled with people disillusioned and without hope, who do not want to make that step back to the Father, even though He awaits them with open arms.
The repentance of every person is unavoidable. When each person comes face to face with the truth -and the time will undoubtedly come when all of us will- he will show how far from this truth he was in life and will alter his perception of the truth. In other words, he will repent. Blessed is he who, filled with hope, repents the good repentance of the Prodigal Son, for he will be found in the bosom of the Father. Wretched is the man who, without hope, repents the bad repentance of Judas, who admitted that he had sinned by betraying innocent blood, but did not ask forgiveness nor wept bitterly, but went and hanged himself.
Let us hear the words of the
Scriptures, fathers and brothers, concerning the Prodigal, and let us imitate
his good repentance. Amen.
Great and Holy Lent 2006
+ Archbishop of ConstantinopIe fervent intercessor for you all