Friday, January 20, 2012

Repentance Defined

Before I begin postings of reflections on repentance, I'd like to offer this definition of repentance from the OrthodoxWiki website:

Repentance is the feeling and act in which one recognizes and tries to right a wrong, or gain forgiveness from someone whom he wronged. In religious contexts it usually refers to repenting for a sin against God. It always includes an admission of guilt, and also includes at least one of the following:  a solemn promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.

In Biblical Hebrew, the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs: שוב shuv (to return) and נח nicham (to feel sorrow).

In the New Testament, the word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), "after/behind one's mind," which is a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by 'after' and 'different'; so that the whole compound means: 'to think differently after'. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness". One of the key descriptions of repentance in the New Testament is the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32.

Phew...that was so much easier than trying to explain it myself...I especially like that "change of consciousness" explanation.  It is kinda like "Wake up!  Look around! Think through your life and be honest with yourself and make a change!" Or as the parable linked to above says about the prodigal son "But when he came to himself..."(verse 17).  It seems to me that a life lived in repentance is one in which you become more and more awake, a coming to yourself.  Unfortunately, this current age in which we live has more and more in which to put us to sleep, more ways in which to distract ourselves from facing reality and to just float along at the surface.  To ease our pains, instead of turning to repentance from which we will find healing, we turn to the safety of entertainment in all of its various forms.  We have become a generation quite adept at pain avoidance. 

In every worship service in Orthodox Christianity we pray "that we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and in repentance...".  Without repentance, salvation as defined by the Orthodox Church is unattainable, plain and simple.  You can't go around cheating people or gossiping or casting people into eternal torment and fully expect, because you call yourself a Christian and go to church and read your Bible, that you will find salvation. It is non-sensical to even suggest that this could be possible. 

"When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Mark 2:17

And if the Apostle Paul can align himself with sinners, "this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." 1 Tim 1:15, then it goes without saying that I am too.   

So I think I've made my case about the importance of repentance.  Next up, quotes from those who have lived their lives in repentance and have run the race in such a way that they have received their prize. 1 Cor 9:24.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry."

Quote in the title from Brooks Hatlen in a letter to Red from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.  This was Brooks' observation of the outside world after he had spent the majority of his life in prison. 

My goodness I haven't been here in awhile...Christmas and Theophany have passed and somehow we are already half way through the first month of 2012.  I don't know about you, but I feel like someone has slammed on the accelerator and suddenly we racing towards *something* at break-neck speed.   Something doesn't feel quite right, everything is maddeningly fast and angry .  To quote St. Anthony of the Desert, who we remember today:

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"
I've witnessed this first hand.  People are genuinely surprised when you "do the right thing". A few years ago, I noticed on the way back to my car from a grocery store that I had not been charged for 1/2 gallon of milk.  So, I did an about face and returned to the store to pay what I owed.  The guy behind the counter shook his head and spoke to me in a really demeaning manner like I was an ignorant person for coming back and paying for the milk. Now I wasn't expecting to receive a medal for paying what I owed (well...truth be told, a nod of thanks would have been nice), but I also didn't think I would be treated with contempt.  Crazy I tell you, just crazy.  Politicians are cheered for their excessive use of the death penalty, and others jeered for suggesting that we use the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) in our foreign policies.  Huh?

So back to the acceleration thing.  I don't know, maybe it's the constant inundation of information from TV and the Internet that makes things feel like we are in state of  perpetual hurried-ness.   There is no room for patience in this new world we find ourselves in.  There isn't even the time to practice patience, and anyhow, patience is for the weak.  We must frame an opinion or make judgment quickly on events. Your inability to do this in a "timely" manner must mean that you have a low IQ, or maybe you are depressed, or perhaps psychotic.  Whatever it is, you are not normal. Oh and by the way, there is no place for history now.  History is a waste of time!  Yesterday was version 2.0 and today is version 3.0 which obviously must mean that 2.0 is inferior and obsolete.   What's that?  You are still using the 1.0 version?  To your face, I'll call you quaint, but behind your back, loser.  You can only win with 3.0.  I may have to un-friend you for fear of being associated with a 1.0.  I could lose my job you know.

Sorry if this post (my 100th actually) was a bit of a bummer, but again, I don't have a very comfortable feeling about this year.  Neither seatbelts, nor airbags nor version 4.0 will not be enough to protect us from whatever it is this world is hurtling towards.  And as for this whole Mayan 2012 thing, which if I understand it correctly, the world will have some new "consciousness" and it will be all good, I don't buy it for a second.  This "universal influence" would be usurping a human being's ability to make decisions and exercise free will.   Sounds like a Hitler situation to me.  Or in biblical jargon, an Antichrist situation.  No thanks, I'll pass.  I'm sticking with 1.0. 

So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God." Matthew 19:17
Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. Psalm 146: 2-4

I think my next bunch of posts will be on repentance.  Our whole life in the Orthodox Church is to be filled with this, so there is lots and lots to be quoted.