“True repentance is a human longing for the origin from which we were taken.” ~ Pope Shenouda III
As I mentioned last week, the STSA church family is reading a great book together for Lent: The Life of Repentance and Purity, by the late Pope Shenouda III. This book was originally written back in the 1980's but was republished by SVS Press just last week and the new edition is FABULOUS!
The content of Pope Shenouda’s books have always been great, but the translation has been the problem. But this edition is written beautifully and is super easy to read. I sat down for 30 minutes one night and read almost 1/5 of the book. HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!
And to encourage you to read it for yourself, I’m going to share what I am learning from the book. I'll start with the first three chapters today and continue for the next few weeks.
The main takeaway for me is this: REPENTANCE IS NOT THE SAME AS CONFESSION.
We confuse the two. We think we did one because we did the other – especially in the world of Orthodoxy or Catholicism where so much emphasis is placed on the “act of confessing.”
But does “going to confession” mean that I have repented? Is it possible that I would go to confession regularly for years without ever having repented at all? Is that even possible?
The answer is YES! And the reason is because we have misunderstood repentance.
Pope Shenouda gives several analogies or descriptions of what repentance is:
"If sin is separation from God, then repentance is returning to God. If sin is conflict with God, repentance is reconciliation."
"Repentance is spiritual awakening; it is the return of a person to himself."
"Repentance is the desire of the heart that has strayed from God and finally felt it could go no further."
"Repentance is transfer from death to life."
All of that to say that repentance is more than just a remembrance of our sins: I told a lie… I ate cheese during Lent… I gossiped about my boss but he deserved it because let me tell what he did…
True repentance is a change in the outlook of our lives. It is realizing that God is no longer reigning in our hearts and that we need to fix that. Repentance is a renewing/recreation of our minds in the same way that baptism is a renewing/regeneration of our nature.
“Repentance is a divine privilege that God has given sinners to purify them and pacify their consciences, giving them inner peace and ensuring their return to their original nature before the first sin,” says Pope Shenouda.
Chapter 2 – REPENTANCE: ITS PROGRESSION AND PERFECTION He then speaks about how repentance works and where it fits in the big picture of a Christian's life. He says that “repentance is not the objective of the spiritual life, but merely the beginning of a long journey toward life of purity.” In other words, repentance is just the first step towards our ultimate goal of being “perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
So how do we get started on that path to perfection? The starting point is simply DESIRE. The most important step in repenting is answering the question that Jesus often asked, “do you wish to be healed?”
Desire may not solve the problem of sin in your life, but it opens the door the work of God’s grace within in. Because it was by our free will that we abandoned God and chose to sin, it must be by the same free will that we begin our journey back to God. As the prodigal son did, we must choose to return.
CHAPTER 3 – AN INVITATION TO REPENTANCE And that takes us to chapter 3 – a beautiful meditation on God’s insatiable desire for man to repent. Pope Shenouda writes:
“He [God] wants, through repentance, to share His kingdom with us and to satisfy us with His love. It is not simply a matter of orders [to repent] that God gives through the tongue of His prophets and saints, but an invitation of love for salvation.”
That’s my summary of the first three chapters. There’s a lot more in there but it would be impossible for me to summarize it all. But let me strongly strongly encourage you read the book yourself – especially during this time of Lent where we agreed last week that we need to cut out some of the noise and take time to ourselves.
If you cut out (aka, “fast from”) two episodes of your favorite 30 minute sitcom, you should be able to finish this book within a month – easily before Holy Week and Easter - assuming that you’re on the Orthodox calendar and Easter is not next week :)
Trust me, it will be well worth your time. Why? One last quote from the book – and this one is my absolute favorite:
“Many years of the devil’s hard work are lost in one hour of repentance.”