March 20, 2024

Homily for Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent at Great Compline: About Fasting and Repentance

Homily for Wednesday of the First Week of Great Lent at Great Compline

About Fasting and Repentance

(cf.: 2 Cor. 6:2)

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1964)
"Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!"

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Entering into the feat of the Holy Forty Day Fast, we must thank the Lord with all our hearts for the fact that He, the merciful One, who desires the salvation of all, has vouchsafed us this year to live until the holy days of Great Lent, and here, under the arches of this ancient temple, to pray and be edified with touching Lenten chants, and, testing ourselves, bring repentance to God for our sins. The Holy Church has now put on mourning attire and with slow, drawn-out bell ringing, and touching chants and prayers of the fast she call us to repentance, trying to awaken our sleeping conscience and arouse in us zeal for correction. Just as in the spring the whole nature of animals, birds and trees takes off its old cover and puts on a new beautiful robe, so on these holy days we must cleanse ourselves, put off the dirty rags of sin - by fasting, prayer and repentance - and clothe our souls with clean garments acceptable to the Lord.

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things." This is how the Venerable Andrew of Crete addresses his soul in his touching Canon, which we heard during the evening service. With these same words, we, beloved, will turn to our sleeping soul and try to wake it up from a heavy, sinful sleep.

"My soul, my soul, arise!" Arise from your attraction and addiction to earthly things. After all, you were created not for earth, but for Heaven, not for enslaving yourself to passions, but for glorifying your Creator and Redeemer.

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping?" Look how your Redeemer and Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ, your Guide and Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, your Guardian Angel and all the saints are waiting for your awakening! They tell you, poor soul: “Raise your gaze from earth to Heaven, arise from your sinful sleep! Should you sleep now, when your tender, sincere friends show such care for you and want to heal you, the sick one, with prayers and the Mysteries, while your enemy lulls you to sleep and tries to destroy you!

"My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near!" Why don’t you take care of yourself, my poor soul, why do you spend the few days of your life scattered? Don’t you know that soon, soon you will be called to the trial that will be at the Last Judgment of God? This Judgment will be terrible, truly terrible, although the Lord is good and merciful. For the same Jesus, who now graciously calls everyone to Himself, will then send away all unrepentant sinners from Himself, saying: "I do not know you; depart from Me, all you who practice iniquity" (cf. Matthew 7:23; Luke 13:27).

"The end is drawing near." Don’t you know, my poor soul, that a person, as soon as he has time to step into this world with one foot, is already standing in the grave with the other foot? The first hour of earthly life is already a step that brings us closer to death. A day passed, and we came closer to death, and a year passed, and we came even closer to the limit of our lives. Time now flies with terrifying speed, not only hours and days, but also months and years flash by, and you, poor soul, are dozing and do not feel that death is approaching you imperceptibly with quick steps.

If the souls of the righteous, not without fear and trembling, thought about the coming death, then what trembling will you experience when the time comes for you to be separated from your body! That terrible day and hour will come when you will be truly troubled; no one will protect you then: neither your relatives, nor your brother, nor your father, but then only your deeds will appear with you. And then you will be afraid and troubled by your vile earthly affairs, which will be revealed to you with all clarity. You will want to improve, but it will be too late, you will cry out for mercy, but the doors of repentance will then be closed, and you will suffer forever.

But rise up, so that Christ God, who is everywhere and fulfills everything, will have mercy on you! While the doors of repentance are open to us, let us hasten, beloveds, to this Mystery and take advantage of its grace-filled healings. There is no other path to salvation for us except repentance! We are all sinners. There is not a single person who has lived and not sinned. We sin every hour in word, in deed, in thought, and with all our feelings, voluntarily and involuntarily, knowingly and unknowingly, day and night. The Mystery of Repentance is a ladder that takes us up to where we fell.

We should be disposed to repentance not by blind imitation of the example of others, not by unaccountable adherence to a long-established custom, but by the consciousness of our sinfulness and aversion to sin. Whoever turns to repentance, following a long-established custom, imitating the example of others, his repentance always turns out to be fruitless, such a person repents every time, but does not improve in the least in his life: as soon as he leaves this font, he again plunges into the sinful mire and is accepted for their lawless deeds.

He who resorts to repentance from the consciousness of the destruction of his sinful state and aversion to sin burns with the desire to untie himself from sin, leave the path of vice and take the path of virtue.

What, for example, prompted the prodigal son to return from a foreign land to his compassionate father? Is it not consciousness of his hopeless situation, is it not disgust for his depraved life, which forced him to languish from hunger? Yes. Having come to his senses, the Gospel tells us, he said: "How many of my father’s hired servants have an abundance of bread, and I am dying of hunger. I will get up and go to my father and say to him: Father! I have sinned against heaven and before you" (Luke 15:17-18). "Know that you have sinned and that sin is a terrible evil, and you will have a desire to make amends for it,” teaches Saint Neilos of Sinai. Having recognized ourselves as great sinners, we should not blame others for our falls, but only ourselves.

Our first parents tried to lay the blame on one another: Adam on Eve, Eve on the serpent and the devil, but God did not take into account their justifications and gave each of them due punishment. Neither the temptations of the world, nor the seduction of evil people, nor the temptations of the devil can draw us into sin, unless there is our evil will.

In vain do some justify themselves in their falls by the weakness of their own nature and general human weakness, or by the fact that “everyone does this.” Holy Scripture assures us that the weaker we are, the better we are and the more capable of doing good, then grace will be more abundant. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” the Lord said to the holy Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:9), while depravity reigns when physical forces are in abundance, as was the case before the flood during the time of the giants’ presence on earth. Sin does not become less because it is common; on the contrary, it is then that God’s wrath flares up the most. If Noah had lived the way his contemporaries lived, then he too would have perished in the floodwaters: there will be room in hell for all the wicked.

The best and most reliable thing to do in your sins is to condemn only yourself in everything, to reproach yourself alone for everything. Self-condemnation will turn away from us the severity of God's judgment, incline His mercy towards us and seek forgiveness for our sins.

“He who is dissatisfied with himself is on a good path and can expect forgiveness for his sins: he who accuses himself excuses himself from the Just and Merciful Judge,” writes Blessed Augustine. “If a soul accuses itself before God, the Lord will love it,” says Saint Pimen the Great. Why was the Pharisee condemned by God? Is it not for self-justification? How did the publican earn his favor? Isn't it self-condemnation?

When we self-condemn ourselves for our sins, we must heartily lament for them and shed bitter tears as our iniquities occur. “Whoever wants to be cleansed of his sins, cleanses himself of them with tears,” teaches Abba Pimen. By temporary weeping we can save ourselves from eternal weeping. “Whoever does not weep for himself here will forever weep there. Therefore, it is necessary to weep: either here voluntarily, or there from torment,” says the same great Father.

If our fall is small, a few tears are enough for us, but if the fall is great, then there must be a stream of tears. Blessed is he who constantly mourns his sins. Just as after a torrential rain the air becomes clean and pleasant, so after the shedding of tears there comes silence and clarity, and the darkness of sin is dispelled. And how can we not weep over our sins, when through sin we incur the wrath of the Heavenly Father, become crucifiers of Christ, offend the Holy Spirit, arm the Heavenly Angels and all creation, heaven and earth, against ourselves, enslave ourselves to the primordial enemy the devil, destroy our soul and body, we become partners with demons and prepare ourselves for hell with eternal and endless torment! Is it possible after this not to mourn your sins? During the entire period following his renunciation, the Apostle Peter could not indifferently hear the midnight rooster crowing, but he immediately stood up and shed bitter tears, begging the Lord not to remember his grave sin. Being in this disposition, he remained faithful and devoted to the Lord until his martyrdom.

On the contrary, our insensitivity to sin directly speaks of our reluctance to part with it. Saint Mark the Ascetic writes: “If anyone falls into any sin and does not grieve according to it, he will easily fall into the same snare again.” That is why the Lord does not so much turn away from sinners as from those who, having committed a sin, do not want to correct themselves. “God is irritated not so much by the sins we have committed, but by our unwillingness to change,” says Saint John Chrysostom.

However, while lamenting our sins, we should not indulge in grief immoderately, because immoderate sadness about sins becomes disastrous. We should not reach the point of despair from imagining the multitude and greatness of our sins: despair is a satanic work - it can lead us to the very abyss of evil, place hell in the soul before it brings it down to hell.

No matter how many sins there are and no matter how serious they are, God has even more mercy. Even if our sins were equal to the sins of the whole world, still there is no need to despair, because our Savior is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the whole world.

The blood of Jesus Christ is powerful to cleanse us from all sin, if only our repentance is accompanied by firm faith in the Divinity of Him, crucified for us, and strong hope in the atoning power of His death on the cross for human sins. How did robbers, fornicators, publicans and other serious sinners escape? Is it not tearful repentance, combined with faith in the Redeemer and hope in God’s mercy? On the contrary, why did the fratricidal Cain and Judas the traitor die? Because they despaired of forgiveness of their sins. This means that it is not the greatness of sins that destroys a person, but an unrepentant and hardened heart.

Having recognized our sins, condemning only ourselves in them and weeping about them, we must confess our sins, combined with faith in the Redeemer of the world, before the priest, who received from God the power to be a mediator between Him and people and to bind and resolve sins. Through confession before the priest, we seem to spew out of ourselves the sinful poison with which the serpent bit us. On the contrary, unrepentant sin remains unresolved and nests in our soul to its greater corruption. Just as cancer eats away all members, if the tumor is not removed at the very beginning, so unrepentant sin eats away at the soul. There is no need to be ashamed to confess your sins before a priest, because the priest is a weak person and also has weaknesses. Moreover, the priest should not reveal the sin confessed to him to anyone. According to the rules, this remains a secret to everyone.

Having confessed our sins before the priest and through him having received forgiveness from God, we must try not to repeat them again, otherwise our repentance will be nothing more than hypocrisy and deceit before the Lord.

Saint Augustine writes: “It is good to confess sins when correction follows. But what is the use of opening ulcers to a doctor and not using healing remedies?” In this case, the Lord will deal with us in the same way as the king did with the unmerciful debtor in the Gospel (see Matthew 18:23-34), and will deprive us of the forgiveness granted to us, and we will remain unpaid debtors to Him.

When, after confession, we feel such aversion to sin and disgust that we agree to die rather than arbitrarily sin before the Lord again, then we can believe that our sins are truly forgiven, teaches Saint Basil the Great.

In order for us to more accurately preserve ourselves after confession from repeating sins, we strive, especially at first, while we are not yet morally strengthened, to avoid encounters with sin: to move away from those persons and those places that can give us a reason to fall. The Venerable Mary of Egypt, after confessing her sins in Jerusalem, did not return back to Egypt, but went and settled in the Trans-Jordanian desert, fearing lest she fall again into the same sins. This is what everyone should do. But if, due to our weakness, we have to fall again into the same sins for which God’s mercy forgave us, then we should not despair. For even if we sin a thousand times, but then again resort to repentance, then we will again be cleansed of defilements and of the iniquities we have committed. The Lord commanded the Apostle Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven (see Matthew 18:22), especially since He Himself will do so.

A certain brother once asked Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do, I have fallen?” The elder answered: “Get up.” The brother said: “I rose and fell again.” “Get up again,” the elder answered again. The brother asked: “How many times?” “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin,” said the elder, “for a man heads to his judgment either fallen or getting back up again.”

Hoping for repentance will only do us no good when we find ourselves in hell. This is where this medicine will be powerless. And while we live, then, even if we resort to repentance in deep old age or even at the gates of death itself, at our last breath, the Lord will not reject our repentance, teaches Saint John Chrysostom .

Therefore, beloved brothers and sisters, striving diligently in the field of struggle against sin through repentance, we will become dear to the Heavenly Father, we will be accepted among the friends of His Only Begotten Son and, cleansed from vice and lawlessness, we will be able to exclaim together with the Most Pure Virgin Mother of God: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" (cf. Luke 1:46-47).

Grant, Lord, that we all spend the holy days of fasting prudently and blessedly and, having lived this way, meet the Bright Resurrection of Christ with spiritual joy and glorify the Risen Savior, to whom is due from us honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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