January 25, 2015  A Word on Repentance, St. Ignatius Branchianinov

In the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

The Church year passes quickly.  Only recently we met the Nativity of Christ and already we have celebrated His Baptism.  And already today we heard His first words directed to the people.  With what kind of words does Jesus Christ, both the Son of God and completely human, begin His sermon?

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 4, verse 17, we read:  “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – these are such blessed words.  They mean that the Kingdom of Heaven draws near to us through repentance.

The first step that a man should take if he desires to be reconciled with God is repentance.

You most likely have heard of a certain wonderful Russian holy man, a spiritual writer, a wonderful homilist, man of prayer and saint – Ignatius Brianchaninov.

Listen here to what he writes about repentance:

“O earthly wanderers!  O, all of you, rushing or drawn along the wide path, attached to the incessant noise of earthly cares, amusements and entertainments, like flowers mixed with prickly thorns, hurrying along this path to the end , a certainy for everyone and forgotten by everyone – to a dark tomb, to an even darker and more terrible eternity, stop!  Put aside attractions of the world, constantly keeping you captive!  Give heed to that which the Savior announces to you, give due attention to His words!  Repent and believe in the Gospel, He says to you, repent:  the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

It is utterly necessary for you, earthly wanderers, to give your full attention to this essentially useful, saving admonition:  otherwise you will reach the grave, and your earthly remains will reach the gates of eternity not having gained any kind of correct understanding of eternity nor of the responsibilities of entering into it, having prepared for it only a just execution for your sins.  Inattention to the words of the Savior, disregard for the Savior, is very grave for sinners.  Repent!

It is flattering, the deceptive way of life on earth:  for those starting out it presents a limitless field of endeavor, full of validity; for those having completed it – the journey is very short, surrounded with unfulfilled dreams.  Repent!

Glory, wealth, and all of the other mortal acquisitions and advantages, on attaining which the entire earthly life is spent, all the strengths of soul and body, the blinded sinner must abandon at that time when his clothing, his body, is forcibly removed from the soul, when the soul is taken inexorably by the angels to the judgment seat of the righteous God, not knowing it, disdainful of it.  Repent!

People labor and rush to enrich themselves with knowledge, but only with knowledge of little importance, suitable only for a time, contributing to the satisfaction of the needs, comforts and whims of life on earth.  The knowledge and work that are essential necessities, for which life on earth was only given to us – knowledge of God and reconciliation with Him through the intercession of the Redeemer – we completely disdain.  Repent!

Brothers!  In light of the Gospel, impartially take a good look at your life on earth.  It is insignificant!  All of its blessings are taken away by death, and often even before death by various unexpected circumstances.  These unworthy mortal things, blessings that so quickly disappear, are called blessings!  They are, rather, illusions, chains.  Getting stuck in these chains and entangled in them, the true , eternal, heavenly, spiritual blessings, provided by faith in Christ and by following Him on the mysterious way of living in the Gospel, are lost.  Repent!

Why are we so terribly blind!  How obviously our downfall demonstrates this blindness!  We see the death of our brothers; we know that this will definitely happen to us, perhaps very soon, because no man remains on earth forever; we see that many people facing death change, their earthly well-being changes, it often turns into an affliction similar to a daily taste of death.  Despite how much evidence there is of this experience, we pursue one-time blessings as if they were permanent, eternal.  And to these alone we turn our entire attention!  God is forgotten!  The majestic is forgotten and in its stead is a fearsome eternity!  Repent!

Repent!  What does it mean to repent?  It means:  to confess, to be sorry for your sins, to give up your sins – which is how some of the great holy Fathers answered such a question – and never come back to it.  In this way many sinners turned into holy men, many of the lawless into righteous men.

Repent!  Reject not only the obvious sins – murder, robbery, gluttony, slander, lying, but also ruinous entertainment, carnal pleasures, criminal musings, and lawless thoughts – everything, everything prohibited in the Gospels.  Cleanse your former sinful life with tears of sincere remorse.

Don’t tell yourself in despondency and emotional weakness:  “I fell into grave sin; I gained the sinful skills of a longtime sinful life:  over time, they turned into a natural characteristic, and they have made repentance impossible for me”.  Your enemy arouses these gloomy thoughts in you, without you even noticing or understanding it yet:  he knows the power of repentance, and he is afraid  that repentance can rescue you from his grasp, – and he tries to divert you from repentance,  making you think that  God’s Almighty Healing is feeble .

The instiller of repentance is your Creator, having created you from nothing.  More easily than that, He is able to reconstruct you, to transform your heart:  to make a God-loving heart from a sin-loving heart, to make a clean, spiritual, holy heart from a beastly, carnal, malicious, sensual heart.

Brothers!  Let’s cognize the unutterable love of God for the fallen human family.  The Lord became incarnate, in order through His incarnation to make possible for Himself to accept executions deserved by men, and by the execution of the Most-Holy to expiate the guilty from execution.  What attracts Him to us here on earth in our state of exile? Is it our truth?  No!  It is that disastrous condition into which our sinfulness has plunged us that attracts Him to us.

Sinners, take heart!  For us, precisely for us, the Lord accomplished the great act of His incarnation; He looked at our sickness with incomprehensible mercy.  Let’s stop to hesitate!  Let’s stop to lose heart and to have doubts!  Full of faith, zeal and thanksgiving we will proceed to repentance:  by means of it we will become reconciled with God.  21But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.  22None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him.  Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. (Ezekiel 18, 21-22). God gives such a promise to a sinner through the lips of His great prophet.

Let’s answer, with our weak power, the Lord’s great love for us, as His creatures are able to answer the love of the Creator, the fallen creatures:  let’s repent!  Repent not only with our lips; not only  with a few brief tears, not only by outward participation in the church services like Pharisees are satisfied in fulfillment of the church rituals.  Instead, with tears and outward piety let’s bring the worthy fruit of repentance:  let’s change our sinful lives into lives of the Gospel.

“Why do you die, o House of Israel?!” (Ezekiel 18,31).  Why do you perish, Christians, in eternal death from your sins?  Why is Hell filled with you as if all-powerful repentance had never been established in the Christian church?  This infinitely blessed gift of the House of Israel is given- Christians – and in any time of life whatsoever,  and for any sins whatsoever, it acts with equal power:  it washes away all sins, saves all who come running to God , even in the last minutes before death.

Why do you die, o House of Israel?!  Christians utterly perish in eternal death because the whole time of earthly life they are occupied with only the violation of the vows of baptism, only in the service of sin, and they perish in that they do not pay the least attention to the Word of God calling them to repentance.  In the very last minute before death they cannot take advantage of the omnipotent power of repentance!  They cannot take advantage because they did not accept any concept of Christianity or they accepted a very insufficient and confusing concept which should be called full ignorance, rather than some kind of knowledge.

As surely as I live, declares the Lord God – as if forced to strengthen assurance before the unbelieving and to stimulate the attention of the inattentive – As surely as I live, declares the Lord God, I do not desire the death of sinners, but that sinners turn from their ways and live.  Turn, turn from your evil ways; why will you die, o House of Israel? (Ezekiel 33,11).

God knew the infirmity of men, knew that after baptism they would fall into sin:  for this reason He established the sacrament of repentance in His church, by which sins committed after baptism are washed away.  Repentance should accompany faith in Christ, to precede baptism in Christ; and after baptism it corrects the breaches of the responsibilities of coming to believe in Christ and being baptised in Christ.

By confessing sins friendship with sin is severed.  Hatred toward sin is a sign of true repentance, – of a resolve to conduct life properly.

If you gain skill in sin, then increase the frequency of confession of them, – and soon you will be freed of your sinful burden and will easily and joyfully follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who continually betrays his friends will make enemies of them; they withdraw from him as from a traitor seeking the destruction of their faith.  He who confesses his sins, the sins will depart from him, because the sins are based on and strengthened by the pride of fallen nature, and do not bear exposure and disgrace.

Brothers!  We have lost by voluntary sin our holy innocence, inviolable in its original state not only of a sinful act, but also of knowledge of evil – innocence, in the spiritual radiance in which we came into existence from the hand of the Creator.  We have lost both this innocence, which we received through re-creation by baptism.  By various sins on the journey of life we have soiled our robes, which were cleansed and whitened by our Redeemer.  A specific water for washing was left for us – repentance.  What will happened to us if we will neglect this washing?  We will have to stand before God with a soul disfigured by sin, –  He will stare fearsomely at the defiled soul and condemn it to the fires of Hell.

 Wash yourselves, God declares to sinners:  make yourselves clean; take your evil deeds out of My sight; Stop doing evil. Then come and seek justice.  Is this is how the judgment of God will end, judgment of the repentance to which God continually calls a sinner during the time of his earthly life?  When a man acknowledges his sins and decides on sincere repentance and correction:  then God decides His judgment on the man with the following declaration:  Although your sins are like crimson, I shall make them white as snow; and although they are as scarlet, I shall make them white as wool. (Isaiah1, 16,18).

God grant that the powerful words of the holy Ignatius would help us to reflect on the quality of our spiritual lives and would help us to offer sincere repentance (at first personally, and then in confession) before our Lord.  Then, and only then, will His mercy and Kingdom draw near to us and our lives will become intelligent, spiritual, unwavering, filled with hope and quiet joy.  For how can a soul grieve and suffer if it knows that God is near?