The Way of Repentance

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Way of Repentance
Sunday after Theophany
11 January, 2009
Sunday after Theophany

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I always appreciate the way in which the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew is presenting to us the work and the Person of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He shows us how the Saviour is fulfilling everything that had been prophetically proclaimed beforehand. Today we heard several of those quotations from the Prophet Isaiah.

It is important for us to remember that our Saviour did not just drop out of nowhere with no preparation (as though He was suddenly there, and suddenly He was supposed to be understood, somehow). The Lord in His mercy and His love had been preparing for the Incarnation and the saving work of the Saviour ever since He led our first parents, Adam and Eve, to understand that there would ultimately be a resolution. Saint Irenæus of Lyon and Saint Cyprian of Carthage both refer to this. The Lord would provide as the Lord has always provided, as He did with Abraham, and the sacrifice of Isaac. The Lord provided the ram that was in the bushes, caught by the horns. The Lord provided and does provide always. We see this clearly when the people were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and when they were hungry. Quails, manna, all sorts of things the Lord provided while the people wandered in the wilderness. When they were thirsty, the Lord provided water in the wilderness. The Lord provides. The Lord provided the way of repentance when everything was falling apart in Jerusalem, and when people were taken away into captivity to Babylon. The Lord provided the way back for them. The Lord always provides.

It is really important for us to remember this. The Lord was preparing the way for the Incarnation of His Only-begotten Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. “When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). We hear today the Lord saying : “‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’”, just as His cousin, the Forerunner had been saying.

What does the word “repent” mean ? We hear it often (especially amongst western evangelicals). It does not mean “boo-hooing” all the time that I am such a terrible sinner, that I am so bad – boo-hoo. Sometimes it does involve that, because we do have to bend our heads in shame and admit that we are sinners. We have to admit that we do, in fact, fail. However, this is not the essence of repentance. The word “repent” actually means to turn about. How ? To turn about from death to life, from darkness to light, from fear to love – this is repentance. Repentance is turning away from the ways of death, sin, darkness, and turning to the way of life in Him who is the Way, who is the Truth, who is the Life (see John 14:6). Repentance is this daily exercise that we all must engage in : getting up in the morning and choosing to follow the way of Jesus Christ. That is the way of repentance.

When we fall and slip because we forget (because you-know-who-down-below is so clever at helping us forget), then again we ask the Lord to help us up. We say to the Lord : “Help me, and save me”. He pulls us up ; and we start again, choosing the way of our Saviour, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

The words of the Apostle this morning are also important in this connexion because the Kingdom of Heaven is not a political entity or political creation. It is a way of life. It is within us already. What is the way of the Kingdom ? That way certainly does not ever involve selfishness. It certainly does not involve personal autonomy. The Apostle Paul is telling us that the way of the Kingdom consists of humility : forgetting ourselves, putting the Lord first, putting everyone else first in front of us, and being the sort of person that the Lord created us to be. The Lord created each of us, like Him, to be servants. He created us to serve, to care for other people, to look after other people and His creation.

The Apostle Paul is telling the Ephesians (and with them he tells us) that everyone has been given particular gifts – all sorts of gifts. No-one has all the gifts, nor every gift. Some people are given many gifts, and it is hard for them to live with so many gifts. This is between them and the Lord, anyway. The Lord gives gifts to each of us as He wills and as He pleases, because He knows how things are best ordered in His Kingdom. He gives these gifts according to His will. Some people are bishops, and some apostles, and some are teachers. There are all sorts of gifts, as the Apostle is suggesting (and his list is not a complete list). Why does the Lord give all these gifts ? He gives all these gifts so that each of us can help others in accordance with the gifts that He has given us. These gifts are for building up the Body of Christ. What is the Body of Christ ? It is us, all together, the Orthodox Church. The Lord gives all these gifts so that we can strengthen each other, lift each other up, and help each other into the Kingdom. We are all together interconnected in the Body of Christ. We are not separated from each other.

Therefore, the good things that I do in my choosing daily to follow Christ are helping other believers (and even people who want to believe). My choices are helping them to do better, themselves. When I fail, when I turn away from the Lord, when I forget, when I fall, I am dragging down my brothers and sisters, because I am no longer a healthy person. Then they need to support me and help me out of my darkness. All our choices are affecting our brothers and sisters all around us, and all creation, in fact, for good or not for good.

The Lord proclaims : “‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’”. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. It is now. It is amongst us. Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask the Lord to give us the awareness of how important each of us is to every other person ; of how important is our every choice towards the Saviour, and what good comes from it because of His love. Let us ask the Lord to help us to exercise those gifts that He has given us for the good of other people, and for the good of His creation so that with us the rest of His creation will understand, and be able to live in the joy of the reality that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). There is no other truly good reason to carry on, except for His love, His joy, His peace, His strength, His life.

Let us ask Him to give us the strength and the mindfulness every minute of our lives to call upon Him for health, and strength, and renewal of heart. Finally, let us ask the Lord to fulfil the words and exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska : “From this day, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing that we will fulfil our purpose in creation, which is to glorify in everything the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.