Without Repentance, there is no Salvation
Shepherd February 2017
Without Repentance, there is no Salvation
Ever-Memorable Archbishop Averky, + 1976 A.D.
DO WE ALL sufficiently understand the meaning and power of this remarkable saying, which has long since become proverbial? In our times, do we all continue to remain capable of such genuine and saving repentance, in the same way as even the most hardened sinners were capable of it? And, generally, is there with- in us a consciousness of our sinfulness or any desire to repent?
These and like questions are naturally bound to enter our heads, especially now, at the very onset of Great Lent, in so far as that, while living in the diaspora, we have not completely lost a feel for churchliness, and in so far as we are not yet completely alienated from our Holy Church and her salvific prescribed orders.
If we go to church, and if we pay attention to what is read and chanted during the Divine services, then we cannot but turn our attention to the following particularities of the services. The lofty festive and joyous days of the Great Feasts of the Nativity of Christ and the Theophany had only just passed, when in our churches there was given a call from the Lord Himself Who, set- ting out after Baptism on His public ministry, in a sermon to the people sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, naturally ad- dressed us as well: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17).
And just two weeks afterwards (sometimes this comes even earlier, and sometimes later, depending on the date of the celebration of Pascha), we hear in our churches a request to God offered in the name of every one of us, a tender yet mournful cry from the soul: Open unto me the doors of repentance, O Giver of life.
What does all this mean? And why is it that days of joy, days of festive celebration, are so quickly and so unexpectedly turned to days with a resolute call to grieving over our sins, to days of lamentation, of penitential affliction and sorrow?
Of course, all this is not accidental, because in our wondrous and incomparable Divine services everything is filled with the most profound meaning and significance, with edification for our souls. It is thus instilled in us that not to participate in the feasts much means not to give oneself over much to joy, exultation and rejoicing, even if it be on the occasion of the feasts of Christ which are truly lofty and joyous. One must make one’s own the grace- lled fruits of these feasts; one must join in with one’s whole soul, with all one’s being and its saving, spiritual powers. Only then will our keeping of the feasts be meaningful, rational and redeeming. To keep the feasts in any other way - this means, to be just like a light-minded lover of drunkenness, who senselessly squanders and wastes the riches of the inheritance which has come down to him, instead of drawing from it what would actually be to his benefit. Regarding such fruitless celebration, already in the Old Testament the Lord has spoken through the lips of the prophet: Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth (Esaias 1:14).
This is exactly why the Holy Church, in giving us to taste of the banquet of faith, in giving us to delight in the solemn great events, immediately thereafter forcefully calls us to repentance, for it is only through repentance that we might make our own the saving power of the great events, which have been commemorated during the days of the feasts of Christ’s Nativity and Theophany.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Lord has already come. Through our noetic and reverential gaze we have seen how He was born of the Virgin in a poor cave; we have seen how He was baptized in the waters of Jordan that He might crush the head of the ancient serpent and wash us in the laver of re-birth, clothing us with the vesture of incorruption. All this was
done by the Lord, for the sake of us men and for the sake of our salvation. He brought close to us sinners His Heavenly Kingdom, and He granted us entry therein. What is required from our side, that we might enter therein? Repentance.
Repent, the Lord calls to us, which means change. Be- come something other than what you have been until now, fundamentally change your way of life for the better, and not only your outward way of life, your behaviour, but all your inward disposition, your thoughts, your feelings, your tastes, your aspirations - be renewed spiritually! Everyone who crosses the borders into some earthly kingdom or state is obliged to abide by the laws of that country, otherwise he would not be granted permission to reside there. If the laws of that state are contrary to his customs and habits, then he has himself to adapt and force himself to lay aside those customs and habits, and it is exactly the same with everyone who desires to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: he must forcefully divorce himself from everything that is contrary to the laws of that Heavenly Kingdom, he must root out of himself his former sinful habits and usages and voluntarily submit himself to all the demands of the law of God.
It is precisely in this that repentance consists, and without it there is no salvation. Repentance is the renewal of Baptism, says the great preacher of repentance and of the ascetic life, John of the Ladder. Repentance is a contract with God for a new life. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the former sins. Repentance is purification of the conscience (Step 5:1). Repentance is a second rebirth from God, says an- other great exponent of repentance, the venerable Isaac the Syrian. From these words we see that one who has repented is like one who has been born anew, he has become as it were something other, a new man, unable to carry on with his former sinful life and resolved to adopt a life of virtue, in every way in accord with the law of God.
Alas! Many people in our times not only make themselves incapable of such repentance, but they are even far estranged from any right understanding of repentance. Almost the majority of contemporary Christians sincerely think that to repent means to go to confession before the priest, recount to him your sins, and hear the prayer of absolution, and then afterwards to leave the church and again continue your previous shameless and heedless sinful life, almost without even a twinge of conscience and without any self-correction. And some do not even recount their sins, but simply hear the priest and consider themselves to be alright having received from him the absolution of their sins, sins of which they have not repented. There are even numbers of obstinate, unreasonable people among us, who to every call to full repentance such as requires correction of life, persistently reiterate one thing: “No, leave off! I cannot change myself. As I was born, so will I die!” And some in justifying their stony lack of feeling (which is what the holy Church calls such a destructive condition) even dare to ex- press blasphemous abuse against God Himself. “This is how God made me,” they say, audaciously laying the blame for their sinfulness on God, and manifesting thereby their complete ignorance, their alienation from even the most elementary understanding of the truths of their Faith, which so clearly instruct us concerning ancestral sin, concerning the inheritance of the corruption of sin, and concerning our redemption from the oppressive powers of sin through the suffering on the Cross of the incarnate Son of God.
But, may it be that such a complete rebirth for a man immersed in the sinful life is actually impossible? Indeed! With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27). And we know that the power of the grace of God, drawn by sincere tears of repentance, has worked great and wondrous miracles unto the complete inner rebirth of the souls of people which seemed hopelessly begrimed by the deepest forces of sin. How many striking examples of such renewal through repentance do we find in the lives of the saints,
which inform us of the fact that many greatly sinful men and sinful women became great righteous men and women like the angels.
And to draw to oneself that all-powerful grace of God, which grants re-birth, depends wholly upon us; it only requires that one desire it. But it is in this very thing that the misfortune of contemporary man consists, that he does not have that desire, does not wish to repent, does not feel his need of the grace of God which would grant him rebirth. He is content with himself and does not see that he has any need to repent. And even if he comes to confession to a priest, then that is just because of habit, just from established tradition. He comes and has nothing to say, and waits until the priest reads over him the absolution of sins. He does not apprehend how harmful the situation he is in is for him, even when, with the most exaggerated degree of condescension, he does acknowledge some sins. “I am sinful with all the usual sins of mankind,” many say when they come to confession, considering that thus the very “usualness” of their sins gives them full justification to be excused. Their absolution is a light thing, without any struggle, without any need of forcing their will upon themselves, which would commit them to a radical change of their whole life and of their inner disposition. And we are not yet even talking of the fact that a greater and greater number of people in our times are starting to consider that confession is superfluous for them, and therefore never participate in it.
Is it not because of this that there is more and more confirmed in the people a stony lack of feeling? Such is the natural consequence of the ever-strengthening grip of a satanic pride upon the souls of people, to heal which, by His Divine humility, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who humbled Himself unto death, even the death of the Cross, came upon earth. In the process of the “falling away” which is allowed by God (2 Thess. 2:3), contemporary man, guided in the world by the agents and forerunners of the Antichrist who is coming, will depart further and further from the true teaching of the Church, will forget his Creator and Provider God and, relying
upon his own “cultural achievements,” will begin to consider him- self to be like a god, making every sacrifice for himself, for his own fancies, his own sinful desires, for his own wanton passions. Be- sides this, in order to render God’s glory to the image of God which he himself bears, to all his strengths and abilities, which made him a king over creation, a lord over what was created by God and over nature wisely made by Him, the man who has departed from the Church puffs himself up with all this, taking the path of diabolical delusion, by which the Morning Star (Satan) who had fallen in love with his own perfections also fell, and they break the commandments of God, tempted, as were our forefathers in Paradise, by the serpent.
Egoism, self-opinion, self-love, self-admiration, contentedness with one’s self, self-praise, self-direction, and sometimes even shamelessness, are manifest in all their passions and vices which emerge from a deeply fundamental demonic pride in their hearts - all these characterize the governing disposition of contemporary mankind, who is animated by the process of the “falling away” itself. “Why must I repent and change myself, when I am just as good, and in many instances, better than many others?” Thus many contemporary false Christians, even if they do not ex- press it aloud, think, displaying in this a pharisaical disposition of soul, one which is decisively denounced by the Holy Church before the approach of Great Lent, when She calls us to “humble ourselves with the sighings of the publican.” The position of the Christian pastor, when many of his ock now dispute his natural right to “reprove, rebuke and exhort” (2 Tim. 4:2) is now endlessly difficult. They bear malice against him and are indignant with regard to him, when he, carrying out his pastoral duties, points out to them their sins, their breaking of God’s commandments and the precepts of the Church. And many make so bold as to require of the pastor praise and to be extolled for the lawless things they have committed. Woe to that pastor, who submits his God-grant- ed standing to such examples of man-pleasing, ruining his ock thereby and himself as well! (see Esaias 5:20, Ezekiel 33:7-9).
Now pay heed: Great Lent is upon us again, the time purposely set aside by the Church for repentance, for the cleansing of our souls from the sinful defilements which have nestled in our souls, for the correction of our lives, for grace- lled re-birth. Let us use this “acceptable time;” let us reflect upon the disgusting power of foul sin which inevitably draws us to perdition; let us come to know ourselves as prodigal sons; let us hasten to God’s churches, for it is good that they are still open and the Divine services are still freely served therein; let us do so with profound attention to the instruction and teachings of the Church, which call us to repentance and to offer sincere contrition for all our sins before the spiritual father appointed by God, and with a rm resolve not to repeat those sins.
And so, brethren! Let us remember that neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor usurers, nor drunkards, nor those who speak evil, nor extortioners shall inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). For all those who persist in these and in similar sins there awaits an inescapable, dreadful, eternal perdition, for without repentance there is no salvation.
Translated from the Russian, published by the Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville in 1975.