Now is the acceptable time, now is the time of repentance!
With these words from the aposticha of Forgiveness Sunday the Holy Church inaugurates the season of Great Lent. The phrase is adapted from the words of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 6:2), themselves borrowed from the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 49:8). The church hymn, however, has the word "repentance" substituted for the word “salvation" in St. Paul’s original text.
Why was “repentance” used in place of “salvation?” Why change the text of Scripture?
The reason is both simple and profound. Repentance is the means by which every Christian attains to salvation. Our Savior begins preaching the Good News of our salvation by proclaiming this very thing, saying “Repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (Matt 4:17).
Repentance does not mean simply asking God to forgive our sins. True repentance means a total change of life. The word itself in Greek means literally a “transformation of the mind.” To transform our mind from the ways of sin to the mind of Christ is the work of our whole lifetime, but it begins with an acknowledgement of sin and a petition to be forgiven and delivered from sin. It then continues with bringing forth “fruits meet for repentance” (Luke 3:8). These fruits are the practical expression of our inner state; and chief of these fruits is fasting. Not that abstaining from foods is in and of itself the purpose of the fast, as some people mistakenly think; but the fact that we deprive ourselves of physical pleasure for the sake of God demonstrates our sincere intention to change ourselves. Moreover, by detaching ourselves from material things, we are able to “purify our senses that we may behold Christ, radiant with the unapproachable light of the Resurrection,” as we chant in the Paschal Canon.
In his homily on Great Lent, Abba Dorotheos of Gaza compares the Holy Fast to the tithes that the Israelites offered to God in the Old Testament. He calculates the period of Great Lent as one tenth of the year and explains that this period is given to us to repent for all the sins that we have committed throughout the rest of the year.
No one can come to know God, until they come to know themselves. No one can know themselves without repentance. Thus, no one can come to know God without repentance.
The true Christian is not one who knows about God, but one who knows God.
My beloved, the message of repentance is meant for everyone, clergy and laity alike. Clergy sometimes fall into the temptation of seeing themselves as being above the law. If anything, we who are clergy should see ourselves as more accountable to God than the laity, and above all in need of continual repentance. If we humble ourselves through repentance, the grace of God will overshadow us, and we will progress to the state of illumination, which is the state every Christian should be in. If we cleanse the eye of our mind and soul through repentance, divine grace will irradiate the whole of our existence. This is the beautiful state to which we are all called. Yet, when we read in the works of the Holy Fathers that the venerable ascetics of old rebuked themselves for not even having begun the work of repentance, what can we say of ourselves? Have we begun the work of repentance? If not, now is the time to begin!
Beloved, as often as we speak to you we try to impart to you this important message; that is, the message of repentance. It is the message of salvation itself. By carrying the Cross of fasting, we reach the Resurrection. That is, through repentance, we attain to salvation.
Let us, clergy and laity alike, crucify our will so as to conform to the will of God. Let us offer a truly acceptable fast, not just one of simply abstaining from food of the body. Let us fast with our tongue and not speak idly; let us fast with our thoughts and not judge or think evilly of anyone. Let us offer alms to the poor; and let us pray to God to deem us worthy to be members of His heavenly kingdom. This is the fast that is acceptable in God’s eyes.
Above all, during this period, let the hope of the Resurrection remain in our hearts as we contemplate the triumphant words of our Savior:
"Now will I arise saith the Lord, I will establish them in salvation, I will be manifest therein"! (Psalm 11:5)
Your fervent suppliant before the Lord,
† Demetrius of Boston
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