Sin is a Wound. Confession the Remedy.

“Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame  and repentance possesses the courage. I beg of you, pay careful attention to me, so you may not confuse the order and lose the benefit. There is a wound and there is a medicine, sin and repentance. Sin is the wound; repentance is the medicine. In the wound there is rottenness; the medicine cleanses the decay. The putrefaction, reproach, and mocking are caused by sin. However, courage, freedom, and the cleansing of sin accompany repentance. Pay attention carefully. After the sin comes the shame; courage follows repentance. Did you pay attention to what I said? Satan upsets the order; he gives the courage to sin and the shame to repentance. . . .  There exist a wound and a medicine. The wound has the rottenness; the medicine can cleans the decay. Could the decay be derived from the medicine, the cure from the wound? Do these things not have their own order and those things theirs? Is it possible for this to pass over to that, or that to this? Never!

Let us now come to the sins of the soul. Sin has the shame, sin has the contempt and the infamy as its lot. Repentance has courage, repentance has fasting. Repentance procures righteousness. ‘First tell your transgression, so you may be justified’ and, ‘A righteous man accuses himself at the beginning of his speech.’”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom On Repentance and Almsgiving, p. 115)

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The Sin of Envy

“The Christian concept of envy is twofold. It is the resentment experienced by one person when another person is perceived to have some good that he or she lacks, coupled with the strong desire that the other person be deprived of it.

Rather like vultures and flies, which gravitate toward stenches and festering sores, envious persons glory in the faults and failings of others, relishing the opportunity to broadcast such misdeeds to tarnish reputations.

Thus the healing of the illness of envy requires re-educating the mind as to what constitutes true good (i.e., virtue) and redirecting our fundamental, ambitious impulse away from the noxiousness of envy to this healthy end.”

(St. Basil the Great, On Christian Doctrine and Practice, p. 122, 129, 126)

Confess Your Sins so that You May Be Healed

“Confession extends the healing of baptism to the realities of sinful life after baptism. ‘Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects‘  (James 5:16).  Accountability to the other, and ultimately to the Other, is a healing act of humility, a necessary and often painful condition for real change and repentance. When one bares one’s soul to at least one other person then real accountability and potential for change can occur.”  

(Daniel B. Hinshaw, Suffering and the Nature of Healing, p. 243)

In confessing our sins to another, we come to experience our human life as being truly social – we are members one of another.  “Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another”  (Ephesians 4:25).  Confession is teaching our self to put away falsehood – lies, pretension, pretending, covering up, deception, self-deception, hypocrisy, acting for show – so that we speak the truth about our self not only to our self but to those we are supposed to love.  In confessing to another, we get outside of the confines of the self, and experience our organic unity with the rest of humanity.  We realize we share a human nature not only with the sinful Adam but also with the Christ.

Every human is part of a bouquet – there is beauty in each of us, and yet when arranged with others, the glorious result is even more stunning and profound.  The individual beauty of each flower is highlighted and intensified by being in and with all of the other flowers, leaves, stems and greenery of the arrangement.

Confession: Seeking the Compassion of God

“Our tendency is to conceal and minimize our sins, thinking that God’s compassion means that He will ‘go easy on us’ and understand that ‘we’re only human.’ This section of the Canon [of Repentance of  St. Andrew of Crete] invites us to a different view: that all our sins are very serious (even those we don’t know about), and yet God is abundant in mercy. He already knows all about our sins, and is ready to rush toward us in compassion. All that is necessary is for us to admit we need his compassion. Repentance is truth telling, and ‘the truth will make you free‘ (John 8:32). What hidden sins can you begin to admit, and allow God to take away?”

(Frederica Mathewes-Green, Firstfruits of Prayer, p. 14)

Confession Not Concealment

May the infinite love and mercy of the Lord triumph, in consequence of our sincere recognition and confession of our sins; and may the sinful flattery of the Devil, teaching us to conceal our sins and not to acknowledge them, be covered with shame! May all the snares and bonds of the Devil be torn asunder by our repentance, like a cobweb!

The Devil seeks that we should conceal our sins, and thus give ourselves up to them in secret still more and more easily; but let us even here destroy his snares and wiles; let us confess our sins, in order that we ourselves and all others may see to what abomination we are giving ourselves up or have given ourselves up, and that thus, by recognizing this abomination, we may more easily amend. “Tell,” it is said, “all thine iniquities,” and do not be silent about them, “that thou mayst be justified.”

(St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, p. 284)

The Tyranny of the Flesh

“… the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.‘”  (Matthew 4:16-17)

6849430658_240066832e_nThe first sermon that Jesus preached according to St. Matthew was a one line, straight forward message:  ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.‘   That message, a call to repentance has been central to the Christian message ever since.  At every Orthodox liturgy we pray that “we might spend the remaining time of our life in peace and in repentance.

All of us who are members of the Orthodox Church have personally embraced that message and have agreed that repentance is essential to cure what ails us as human beings.  Every year we attend the “School of Repentance” – Great Lent – in order to respond to the call of Jesus Christ.  We are the ones who have said “I need to repent” – Christ’s Gospel message have resonated with us.  In the first week of Great Lent we pray the Canon of Repentance of St. Andrew of Crete: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.”  We each acknowledge our personal need for God’s mercy and the forgiveness that Christ offers to repentant sinners.  St. Andrew’s Canon is not a dreary dirge but rather brings us face to face with Christ’s call to repentance.  It is meant to change our heart of stone into one of flesh, which feels the pain of sin and it’s result – our separation from God.  The Canon is meant to awaken in us that pain of separation so that we seek God with all our heart.

Repentance in Orthodox spirituality is normative to our daily spiritual life – instead of blaming everyone else for the world’s sorrows and problems, we acknowledge our own personal contribution to the problems and sorrows of the world.  We come to church not to blame violent shooters and sexual predators, but to repent not only of our personal sins but also of anything we do which enables such sin to continue in the world.

We can consider the words from one of the Lenten hymns for the first week of Lent:

Let us keep the fast not only by refraining from food,

But by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions;

That we how are enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh

May become worthy to partake of the Lamb, the Son of God.

4446986418_6c3154f029_nStrangers to bodily passions . . .  enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh –  sounds like monastic exaggeration or extremism.  Yet, for all of us “living in the world” we can readily understand these words in our daily experience.  How often do we make choices purely because it is easy, comfortable, convenient or pleasurable?  When choices made based on any of those become our pattern of behavior, we have become slaves to them.  We avoid choosing what is good or right or godly preferring to follow that path of least resistance – what is pleasurable, convenient, comfortable or easy.   We don’t want to have to fast, or practice self denial, or attend a weekday service, or give more to charity or to have to apologize to others or forgive them.   Thus ease and convenience and comfort tyrannize us – as we don’t want to have to deal with what is difficult or important and so allow our lives to be controlled by the tyranny of the flesh =  that which is easy, convenient, pleasurable and comfortable.  Instead of doing the next right, good or godly thing, we opt for ease and convenience and let that govern our daily lives.

Lent is the chance to regain control of our choices. To recognize how ease and convenience are really tyranny of the flesh.  Repentance means changing one’s mind and heart, allowing it to be healed of the tyranny of the flesh and the passions, so that we in fact strive for what is godly.

 

Chrysostom: Interpreting the Parable of the Prodigal

There were two brothers. Having divided the paternal inheritance between themselves, one remained at home, the other squandered all that was given to him and departed to a distant land because he could not bear the shame of poverty.

I wanted to speak of this parable from the outset so that you could learn that, if we are attentive, there is remission of sins even after baptism. I do not say this to put you in a state of inertia, but to distance you from discouragement, because discouragement produces worse evils among us than inertia. Therefore, this son bears the image of those who suffer the fall after the Laver. That he represents those who fell after baptism is obvious from the parable. He is called “son”; no one can be called a son without baptism. Furthermore, he inhabited the paternal house, and took his share from all the paternal substance. Before baptism no one has the right to receive paternal things, nor to obtain an inheritance, so that through all these events he speaks to us about the status of the faithful. He was a brother of the reputable one; he would not have become a brother without spiritual regeneration. Therefore, what does the one say who fell into the workst wickedness? “I will arise and return to my father.” His father did not hinder him from departing to the foreign land precisely for this reason: so that he could learn well from the experience how much beneficence he enjoyed while remaining at home.

Therefore, since the prodigal son departed for the foreign land and learned from his own experience how much evil it is for someone to be driven out of his paternal house, he returned, and his father did not remember the wrongs that he had committed against him, but accepted him with open arms. Why? Because he was a father and not a judge. Then, there took place dances, sumptuous feasts, and festivals; and the entire house was beaming with joy and exceeding gladness. What are you saying? These are rewards of wickedness? Not of wickedness, O man, but of the return. Not of sin, but of repentance. Not of cunningness, but of change toward the better.”

(St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church, pp. 11-13)

Revealing Sins in Confession for Healing

St. John of Kronstadt comments on the sacrament of Confession:

Bear the sufferings and painful smarts of the operation so that you may regain your health afterwards. It means that at confession you must declare all your shameful deeds to your confessor, without concealment, though to do so may be painful, shameful, ignominious, and humiliating. Otherwise the wound will remain unhealed, will ache and be painful, will undermine your spiritual health, and remain as a leaven for other spiritual infirmities, or sinful habits and passions. A priest is a spiritual physician. Show him your wounds, without being ashamed, sincerely, openly, with son-like trust and confidence; for the confessor is your spiritual father, who should love you more than your own father and mother; for Christ’s love is higher than any carnal, natural love. He must give an answer to God for you. Why has our life become so impure, so full of passions and sinful habits? Because a great many conceal their spiritual wounds and sores, owing to which they ache and become inflamed; and it is impossible to apply any remedy to them.”  (My Life in Christ, p. 170)

Unmercenary Healers

The Repentant Addict

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”  (Matthew 21:31)

Christos Yannaras writes:

In this sense the Church’s gospel “endorses” sin: it confirms that in the pursuit of true life the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the robbers – not those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9) – precede us, show us the way. It confirms that our precursors in freedom from nature are those who have really renounced any trust in nature, trust in their capabilities, the successes in exercising self-control, the psychological satisfactions of the ego. They are those who see theirself as so sinful that it does not allow them the slightest margin for placing any trust in it. All that remains for them is to surrender themselves to the relationship to abandon themselves to love. ( Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event, p. 47)

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.    [Step 1 & 2 of The Twelve Steps]

In the desert fathers we encounter a story which shows the help of having a sponsor to talk to when one is being overwhelmed by one’s addiction.

And another brother also was engaged in a war against fornication, and he rose up by night, and came to one of the old men and told him his mind, and the old man persuaded him to endure, and he was helped, and went back to his cell. And again he came unto the old man, and again he helped him, and the brother went back to his cell; and the war came upon him the third time, and again he went back by night to the old man, and the old man did not cause him pain but spoke with him for his benefit, and said to him, “Give it no opportunity, but come here whenever the devil vexes you, and you will expose him, and when he has been exposed he will take to flight. For nothing goads the devil of fornication so much as that a man should hide his thoughts and not reveal them.”

Now that brother came to the old man eleven times and made accusations against his thoughts, for he wished to be helped; and when the old man spoke unto him that devil took to flight, but when he came back to his cell the war came upon him. At length the brother said unto the old man, “Do an act of grace, father, and tell me a word whereby I may live.” The old man said unto him, “Be of good courage, my son, and if God permits my thought it shall come to you, and you shall bear it no longer, but you shall depart being innocent.” He said this, and God did away the war of that temptation. (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 2237-47)

Now is the Time for Salvation

Repentance is powerful upon the earth; only in Hades is it powerless. Let us seek the Lord now while we have time. Let us do what is good so that we will be delivered from the future endless punishment of Gehenna, and will be made worthy of the Kingdom of the Heavens. By the grace and love toward man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the might, unto the ages of ages. Amen. (St. John Chrysostom, The Fathers of the Church: St. John Chrysostom on Repentance and Almsgiving, p. 130)