Let us stand well; let us stand with fear, faith and love

Demetrios Tselengides, Professor of Dogmatic Theology of the Theological University of Thessaloniki

Note: the translation of this letter was recently sent to us by the sisters of Saint John the Forerunner, along with a word of encouragement from Gerondissa Efpraxia.

We are found before events with apocalyptic significance for all of us. For this reason the measures that have been announced should be accepted as a common “penance for impiety” for us all, that is, as a philanthropic disciplinary means, permitted by our long-suffering and all-merciful God, in His loving Providence, to lead all of us, clergy and people, to salvific repentance, which is interpreted as the turning of our nous to God.

Let us take on this “penance” humbly, with thanksgiving, and let us endure it in a spirit of deep repentance, as a bitter, yet cleansing medicine for our healing. In this way, our repentance will become an averting shield of the Holy Spirit inside us. It will become an invisible sheltering umbrella for our sure protection.

The sorrow which we experience unerringly examines the inclination of our intention. That is, we ascertain where our will leans – to God, or to the world. Let us accept the bitter and salvific medicine of our salvation with a spirit of prudence. Now is the acceptable time, now is the season of our salvation (in repentance). All penances and all brought on by God is repealed with sincere repentance, especially when this is followed by God-pleasing mourning and fasting.

Repentance creates the spiritual key for the renewal of the loving relationship of man with God. This is confirmed in writings and the spirit so much of the Old and New Testaments, as much as by the experience and tradition laid down through time, continuing to the recently canonized Saints of our Church.

Our deeply lived repentance, combined with our compassion to our suffering neighbor, will serve to liberate us and abolish our bitter “penance.” Let none of us think that we are exempt from what has been said above.

If we lived with the mindset of the publican and the repentant prodigal from the parable in the Gospel, or at least that of the grateful thief on the cross, we would not be deprived of the Divine Eucharist now.

Let us bear in mind that for the first time in the History of our Church, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy has been interrupted; this means we are no longer worthy to participate in it. And, essentially, Christ permitted this painful trial as a “penance” because we all commune unworthily.

For the above reasons, we await our Bishops and Priests to confess publicly and humbly……, and to ask mercy, so much for themselves, as much as for the people of God, for the rightfully imposed “penance.” Further, we scripturally confess to the Lord, that “righteous art Thou in all which Thou hast done for us” (Daniel 3). Likewise, during the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, the liturgists (Bishops or Priests) ask from Christ the remission of their own sins and those committed in ignorance by the people of God (“to fall down before Thy compassion for our sins and those committed in ignorance by the people,” 1 st Prayer of the Faithful, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

Only with our fervent prayer, self-examination in the Holy Spirit, revelation (from above) of self-diagnosis, and genuine self-knowledge, which follows, will we see the personal “beam” in our spiritual eye, as the initial and primary cause of our common “penance.”

Only with repentance deeply entwined in our lives and our whole existence, and with the remission of sins which we will experience from Christ, who will be present, will we live our genuine communion with God charismatically, in our hearts. And after the lifting of the “penance,” we will also live it sacramentally in fullness in the Temple of God in congregation and exultation with the other members of the mystical body of Christ.

Until then, we will keep the divine commandments most diligently, thereby
expressing in action our repentance and love towards Christ, in order to reactivate the kingdom of God within our hearts.

Contrition with pain of heart will reactivate the inactivated presence of the Holy Spirit within us and will enable us to fit the active energies of His presence. He will comfort us, being the Comforter, bestowing on us the vitamin-rich fruit of His now active presence, that is, “love, joy, peace…” which will be experienced inside us “in all of our senses.” This taste comprises the indisputable criterion of the authenticity of our repentance. On the contrary, if the above is not ascertained and experienced inside us, this means that sin, and primarily, its cause – that is, the evil desires of our intention – remains within us, cherished and indulged in, unrepented of and unconfessed.

Let the words of God sound alarmingly in our ears, from the mouth of the Prophet and King David, “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:3-4).

Finally, we close realistically optimistic, recalling the deliverance of Nineveh after the eager response of all its inhabitants (from the king and the magistrates even to the animals) at the preaching of repentance of the Prophet Jonah. As it is recorded characteristically, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10).

Saint John Chrysostom, marveling at the repentance of the Ninevites, exclaims, “We have seen God speaking falsely for the love of man. Nineveh repented, and God repented. Repentance rent asunder the decree of perdition… O all-powerful repentance! It is performed on earth, but it overturns the things in heaven.”