Sunday, February 14, 2010

Repentance and joy

We are now at the threshold of the Great Lenten season where we are called to purify ourselves in preparation for our Lord's Great and Holy Pascha. Today, many Orthodox Christians inaugurated this holy season by asking for and receiving forgiveness from others, whether they wronged them or not. Though the asking of forgiveness is a somber moment where we are actually invited to see our own sins in our fellow man, one cannot escape the joy that accompanies it.

Forgiveness, both in offering and receiving, is an act of repentance. Repentance is a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of who and what we are away from the sinfulness that has dominated our lives. But with that change of mind and heart away from worldly passions and lusts, we must also make sure not to do so in a manner that reflects a legalistic approach to the Christian life. Our repentance must be joyful, not somber. We would only be somber if we regretted such a change. If this change is not something you truly desire and wish for, then don't do it. What will it avail you, if you offer and/or receive forgiveness but do so with a frown on your face and with a spirit of despondency? What will it avail you to give alms to the poor if you can only think about how much more you have deprived yourself of something that you could have had? What will it avail you to go to the many extra church services only to complain about the length of them? What will it avail you if your prayers at home take up time which could be spent doing things around the house or watching TV? The answer is, of course, nothing. True repentance must be joyful.

Our Lord's Pascha, which is the source of all our joy, the holy day of holy days, is a joyful event. It is that historical happening that allows us to embark upon the life of repentance with actual results. If our Lord's Pascha is not a happy and joyous event, then we would be well to go about doing good works for the poor and our fellow man and worshiping Christ with reservation and questions about what else we could be doing.

Let us weep for our sins, yes. But let us be joyful that we have been vouchsafed by God to weep for our sins and to repent of them. Let us be joyful that our Lord has not given us over to perish in our iniquities but has given us not only His life and saving work, but also repentance (remember this is the word with which both He and St. John the Forerunner began their ministries).

Joy is the hallmark of Christian living. We are joyful because joy is not given by this world but only by Christ, our God. Without Him there can be no real or true joy. So, let us enter into the Great Fast with joy in our hearts and on our faces. Let us rejoice that our God has loved us so much to call us back from the pit of destruction which we have fashioned with our own sins.

Happy fast, everyone!

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