Christ is risen!
And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:38-40)
The call to repentance is a foundational message in Christianity. Yet in practice it means different things to different people. Here is one story from the desert fathers about repentance and confession:
An Elder tells us that a monk once fell to a serious sin. His conscience, however, reproached him, and he repented. So, he went to confess to an Elder. Because of his shame, however, he did not mention the act, but only his temptation to do it. That is, he told the Elder: ‘Father, I was troubled by this thought. Is there salvation for me?’ However, the spiritual father who heard this confession, since he was not experienced and lacked spiritual discretion, said to the sinful monk: ‘You have lost your soul.’ As soon as the brother heard this, he said to himself: ‘As long as I have lost my soul, I may as well go back to the world.’
[A big part of this story is that the elder to whom the monk confesses, is not very discerning and reacts harshly to the monk’s confession. The monk had not even revealed the full extent of his sin, but the elder condemns him as hopelessly lost. The monk’s decision to go back to the world is somewhat equivalent to any lay person deciding to abandon faith in Christ because they believe themselves to be so sinful that even Christ wouldn’t forgive them.]
As he was leaving, however, he thought to go to Abba Silouan, who was known for the gift of discretion, and confess his thought to him. But, ongoing to Abba Silouan’s cell, he did not confess his sinful act to him either, but confessed only his sinful thought, as he had done with the previous elder. Abba Silouan, after he had heard the monk, opened his mouth and began to tell him that, according to the Holy Scriptures, there is no condemnation for those who sin only with their thoughts. When the sinful brother heard this, he took strength in his soul and, encouraged by the hope of salvation, revealed to the Elder his sinful act also.
[Abba Silouan is more discerning and merciful than the first elder. He not only does not condemn the monk for his thoughts, but informs him that just thinking about sin is not at all equivalent to committing sin. The monk, with his hope in Christ revived, now confesses the full extent of his sin trusting that indeed Christ forgives sinners who repent.]
After the elder had also learned of the brother’s deed, like a skilled and experienced doctor he molded the monk’s soul with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, showing him that there is repentance for those who willfully return to God.
After this incident, my Abba visited Abba Silouan, from whom he heard the story of the repentant brother. Thus, this monk, who had lost hope for himself and was about to return to the world, came to be like a bright star among the brothers. (THE EVERGETINOS Vol II, pp 142-143)
[The monk’s faith in God is revived by learning of the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. He continues his discipleship holding on to the hem of Christ’s garment.]
Another thought about repentance comes from a 20th Century American novel:
“When you see that you have sinned, and you repent the sin, do not wish you had not sinned. Wish instead that God, in his mysterious way will turn your sin to a good end, for your sin is now already a part of the history of his ongoing creation of the world. To wish it away is to resist his will.” (Walter Miller, SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN, p 125)
Here the thought is that once you sin, you can’t take it back, as your sin is now part of history. What you can do is to ask God to transform your sinful deed into some good outcome, so that it doesn’t badly affect others. Rather than just being mired in contrition, one can hope that God can miraculously turn your wrongdoing into something good. We sing in the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”:
“No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You (God) can restore a conscience turned to ashes. You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are love; You are Creator and Redeemer. We praise You, singing: Alleluia!“
Think in terms of the Patriarch Joseph’s words in Genesis 50:19-20 to his eleven brothers who had sold him into slavery: “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” We can always hope that in the end, not just to be forgiven of our sins, but that God will be able to transform our misdeeds into good for others.
Truly, He is risen!