The Medicine of Repentance

 “Once we regard Confession as fundamentally Christ’s action rather than our own, then we shall begin to understand the sacrament of repentance in a far more positive way. It is an experience of God’s healing love and pardon, not merely of our own disintegration and weakness.

We are to see, not just the prodigal son, plodding slowly and painfully upon the long road home, but also the father, catching sight of him when he is still a long way off and running out to meet him (Lk 15:20). As Tito Colliander puts it, ‘If we take one step toward the Lord, He takes ten steps toward us.’ That is precisely what we experience in Confession. In common with all the sacraments, Confession involves a joint divine-human action, in which there is found a convergence and ‘cooperation’ (synergeia) between God’s grace and our free will. Both are necessary; but what God does is incomparably the more important.

Repentance and confession, then, are not just something that we do by ourselves or with the help of the priest, but above all something that God is doing with and in both of us. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, ‘Let us apply to ourselves the saving remedy (pharmakon) of repentance; let us accept from God the repentance that heals us. For it is not we who offer it to Him, be He who bestows it upon us.’ It should be remembered that in Greek the same word exomologesis means both confession of sins and thanksgiving for gifts received.  […]  Not that the penance should be regarded as a punishment; still less should it be viewed as a way of expiating an offence. Salvation is a free gift of grace. By our own efforts we can never wipe out our guilt; Christ the one mediator is our only atonement, and either we are freely forgiven by Him, or else we are not forgiven at all.

We do not acquire ‘merit’ by fulfilling a penance, for in our relation to God we can never claim any merit of our own. Here, as always, we should think primarily in therapeutic rather than juridical terms. A penance is not a punishment, nor yet a form of expiation, but a means of healing. It is a pharmakon or medicine.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, pp 51-53)