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Knowing that confession, repentance, and satisfaction of the Divine Righteousness are spiritual concepts of utmost importance in the Orthodox Church, we will start today to build an understanding of these concepts, understanding based both on Scripture and Tradition.
One of the best expositions of the Orthodox view on these subjects is offered by the divinely inspired, our Father among the Saints, Nektarios of Aegina, whose book Repentance and Confession serves us as a spiritual guide for the next spiritual lessons. According to St john of Damaskos, repentance is a return from unnatural to the natural state and from the devil to God through ascesis (spiritual exercise, practice, discipline,) and toil (suffering and pain associated with the spiritual struggle against evil;) even more, it is a voluntary return from transgressions toward the opposite virtues. The signs of repentance are remorse and a change of mind, while characteristic of repentance include contrition of the heart, tears, the rejection of sin, and love for virtue. Repentance must, of necessity be sincere. It is sincere when accompanied by contrition of the heart, by the disposition to compensate Divine Righteousness, and to confess one’s sins. True repentance is a change of mind for one’s actions, an alteration of one’s ethical life, a change toward the better, complete rejection of one’s previous life and sin, steadfast willingness to exercise virtue, complete unification of one’s own will with the Divine will. Therefore, repentance is an ethical rebirth of man and the starting point of a new, virtuous life. A model for true repentance is given to us by the Prophet Isaiah who incites the Jews to repent and return to God. We read: “Wash you, be clean; remove your iniquities from your souls before mine eyes; cease from your iniquities: learn to do well… And come, let us reason together saith the Lord: and though your sins be purple, I will make them white as snow; and though they be as scarlet, I will make them white as wool” (Isaiah 1:16-18.) David the prophet and king is teaching us that the conditions essential for repentance are a broken and humbled heart. In the New Testament, the repentance of Zacchaeus simultaneously indicates both the manner in which the cure of sin takes place and the manner in which the offended Divine Righteousness is compensated. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken everything from any man by false accusation I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8.) The myrrh of the repentant harlot, the tears of Peter, the repentance of the thief are most expressive examples of true repentance and, concurrently, of God’s love towards man. (will continue)