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Repentance, A Golden Key

by Very Rev. K. Mathai Corepiscopa, Philadelphia, USA

"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near"
First Sunday after the Baptism of Christ (Feast of Denaha)

The reading of Evangelion (Gospel) during Holy Liturgy on the Sunday after the church celebrates the baptism of Christ is St. Matt.4:12-22. We come across two central themes there – a call for repentance of sins and recruitment of disciples. These are the two fundamental requisites for the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven. St. Mathew usually used Kingdom of Heaven, while other evangelists used Kingdom of God which is the same as the former in meaning. The targeted audience of St. Mathew's gospel was mainly the Jewish community who never takes God's name (Kingdom of God) in vain based on God's commandment, so he used the Kingdom of Heaven, which is synonymous to the other. Kingdom of Heaven/God is the sphere where God reigns, repentance is the acknowledgment of God's rule.

John the Baptist and Jesus Christ started their public ministry with a powerful message of REPENTANCE. "And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (St. Mk. 1:4, NIV). Jesus proclaimed, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (St. Matt. 4:17, NIV). His call was not addressed to the nation as a whole like that of in the Old Testament, but it was personal to each individual. Repentance is a golden key to Heaven, while the recruitment of disciples meant to prepare people how to use the key to open the door. When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God, Jesus promised him `keys of the Kingdom of Heaven' (St. Matt. 16:19).

The first man in the Holy Bible to call people for repentance was Noah. Because of his righteous life he and his family were secured from the destruction by flood. Later on, many prophets stood firm for God calling people for turning away from their sins. A long line of such men of God may be presented here, as Isaiah (Is 1), Ezekiel (Ezek 18), Jonah (Jon. 3), Joel (Joel 2) and Jeremiah (Jer. 31).

Salvation was unconditionally given to many known sinners who repented, according to New Testament. (1) An adulterous woman who was brought to Christ for judgment and punishment was released due to her repentance. (2) The publican who admitted that he was a sinner while praying at the temple was accepted, where a Pharisee boasting of his self-righteousness was denied by the Omniscient God (St. Lk. 18). (3) The repented prodigal son was welcomed back to his home with a great celebration (St. Lk. 15). (4) Peter who shed tears for betraying Jesus was redeemed (St. Lk. 23). (5) The thief on the right side of the crucified Christ prayed and confessed at the last moment of his life was immediately allowed to be in Paradise with Christ (St. Lk. 23). (6) There are many more examples to cite. We wonder how powerful and beneficial the repentance and tears are!

What is Repentance?

(1) The Greek word for repentance is `Metanoia' which means after- thought, perception afterwards and change of mind. Spiritually, it means a conversion of life, a change from wrong to right, a change in outlook, a change from sin to sainthood. As sin is a departure from God (as Adam ran away from God), the repentance is an arrival to Him. When prodigal son's sin of disobedience distanced him from his father, his repentance brought him closer to mend the broken relationship with the father (St. Lk. 15:18-20). He got a changed and better vision of life. In St. John's gospel and first epistle the repentance is stressed as the "new birth" meaning a turning away from sin to God by the exercise of faith and baptism (Jn 3:3, 1Jn 1:9).

(2) Repentance is reconciliation with God. When sin disputes with God, repentance makes peace with Him. God says, "Return to me, and I will return to you" (Malachi 3:7). The prodigal son, who reconciled with his father, said, "Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you." (St. Lk. 15:21).

(3) Repentance means spiritual awakening. A sinful person is unaware of his state of spiritual life. The Bible says to the sinful, "that now it is high time to awake out of sleep" (Rom. 13:11). Looking at this context, repentance is spiritual awareness and return of a person to himself, the return of one's self to its original sensitivity, the heart to its fervor and the conscience to its work. It is rightly said about the prodigal son that he "came to himself" (St. Lk. 15:17), meaning his return to a state of alertness, to his correct thinking and spiritual understanding and respect towards the values of his family he once scornfully discarded.

What are the privileges of Repentance?

(1) Repentance makes you eligible for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. If sins are regarded as the spiritual death (Rom 6:23, Wages of sin is death), forgiveness is the transfer from death to life. St. James 5:20 says, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."

(2) Repentance resulting from the divine act inside a person causes to form a new heart in him/her to obey God Almighty. God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezek. 36: 25-27). Prayer and submission are required for the divine intervention.

(3) The true repentance gives the power to forsake sins without returning to them. It leads us to a life of purity and closeness to the Lord who is holy and glorious. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51:17).

(4) The heaven rejoices over those who repent (St. Lk. 15:7), and a great wave of joy is flooded in their homes, as evident in the repented prodigal son's family (St. Lk. 15:22-27). Sin kills real joy of personal and family life while repentance brings it alive.

What is the practical side of repentance in Orthodox Christian perspective?

The Church invites every one for repentance through confession. A true confession should have all the attributes of repentance as explained above. The Church fathers were very mindful of the necessity of repentance/confession. St. Anthony said, "Ask for repentance during every moment." St. Basil, the great Cappadocian father said, "It is good that you do not sin. If you do sin, then it is good that you do not delay repentance. If you repent, then it is good that you do not return to sin. If you do not return, then it is good that you know this is with God's help. If you know, then it is good that you thank Him for the state that you are in."


See Also:

Beginning of Jesus’ Ministry
Gospel Reading appointed for the first Sunday after Danaho: Matt.4:12-22. Some thoughts for contemplation.

Gospel is about The Kingdom of God
'The Kingdom of God' This is the primary and predominant theme in the Gospel. It was to make a fallen creation aware of this, that the Lord became incarnate.

Story of Joseph in the Bible is an epitome of a forgiving mind, a proof that even if man decides to hurt one's feelings or rob one's best part of life, nothing shall ultimately prevail against what God has destined.

Giving Thanks and Spiritual Healing
God calls us not as we should be but as we are. Each of us has our own unique flaws. If we will allow it, the Lord will use our flaws to bring beauty and grace in service of God and humanity. In God's great economy, nothing goes to waste.

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