April 12, 2017: Holy Wednesday
The Hymn of Kassiani that we just heard summarizes the not only the theme of the service but of Holy Week and the whole of our lives as Orthodox Christian disciples of Jesus Christ. That theme is, in a word, repentance.
Though the Son is incarnate in creation, without repentance I’m aware of His presence. Blind to His presence, the world is for me a lonely and hostile place. It is through repentance, that “nature, red in tooth and claw” becomes a sacrament of God’s love and care for us.
And though at baptism God has blessed me, as He has all of us, with gifts for His glory and my salvation, without repentance, the grace He has given me lays fallow. It is through repentance that we come to know the grace we’ve been given and the vocation to which we have been called by God.
The question we must ask now is what do we mean by repentance? Let’s beginning with what repentance isn’t.
It isn’t feeling bad myself. To look at my reflection in the mirror and say “You’re a bad person!” or words to that effect isn’t repentance. It just means that I have a negative self-imagine.
But even more balanced view of my failures and shortcomings isn’t really repentance. Not to minimize it in anyway but to know what I can–and can’t–do, is simply a matter of accurate self-knowledge.
It’s important to make these distinctions because without them I’m likely to misunderstand what the hymns we’ve sung tonight in Matins. In the kontakion, for example, I heard that my soul is more corrupt than the adulterous woman. I have “transgressed, O Good Master, more than the harlot” because her sins were the fruit of ignorance. She fell yes, but she doesn’t come to know Christ and His mercy until later in life.
But what excuse do I have? I have know the Gospel from my youth. And even if my sins are relatively minor compared to hers, nevertheless “I come to You without the shower of tears.” I am worse than the harlot not because I have sinned more but have failed to repent and remained caught in “the mire of my deeds.”
So what is this thing called repentance?
In the Hymn of Kassiani, we see that while the adulterous woman is aware of her sinfulness, she is even more aware of the love and mercy of God. And it is from this experience of God’s love and mercy that she finds the strength and courage to not just acknowledge her sinfulness but to ask God for His forgiveness.
This then is repentance: To know first the love of God and then, second, to know one’s self as loved and forgiven by Him. It is only through knowing the love of God and forgiveness of God that any of us can hope to bear the burden of our own sinfulness.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God has forgiven all of us! God has forgiven you because He loves you! Secure in the knowledge of His love for us, let us now lay aside the burden of our sin and race to greet the Risen Christ on Pascha!