For the week of November 14-20, 2021
Dear Holy Nativity Faithful,
Christ is in our midst!
The Nativity Fast begins this week. We fast to enter into the longing of all mankind for the coming of the Saviour. Next Saturday (12:00 pm) we will begin our catechumen classes. We will discuss what Orthodox Christians believe and do, and why they believe and do it. All are welcome.
I will be teaching a class for home schooled children on the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple Thursday this week at 9:00. Please talk to Judi Petker if you are a homeschooler and would like to participate in future talks about Orthodox Church life and teaching.
The following are some thoughts that I hope will be encouraging.
The amazing power of repentance is such that what you do today can change the way God sees what you did yesterday, and not only yesterday, but all of your yesterdays. This may seem unfair to some of us because many of us think that God’s relationship with humanity is based on justice. It doesn’t seem just to us for God to forgive several years of sin just because we later repent. The scales don’t seem to balance.
The people of Israel felt the same way, and both the prophets Jeremiah (ch. 18) and Ezekiel (chs. 18 and 33) deal with this very issue and explain the reason why God can forgive someone all of their sin if they repent. The reason, they argue, is that the sinner who repents reflects on their life, sees that it is not good, and turns away from the sin. That is, all of the sin—and the suffering that resulted in the sin—brought the person to the place where they could finally see the futility of a selfish life. Seeing the emptiness that a life of sin has brought, the person turns to the Lord (repents), which is what God has wanted all along.
You see, God is indeed just, as the scripture tells us repeatedly; but God’s justice is not like human justice. God’s justice is more like what we call mercy. Or as the scripture puts it rather poetically, “mercy triumphs over justice.”
When we sin we twist or pervert ourselves and hurt ourselves and others. In fact, it’s this twisting, or spinning (to use a modern idiom), of reality that causes us to call good what is not good. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, her conversation with the serpent twisted her perception of reality (“Did God really say?” “You will not surely die, but your eyes will be opened”). And with a twisted view, suddenly she saw the forbidden fruit as “good for food…pleasant to the eyes…desirable to make one wise.” What was forbidden now seemed good, and in doing what seemed good to them, Adam and Eve did evil.
And the half-truth of the devil came about. Her eyes were indeed opened, but instead of seeing wisdom, she saw that she was naked causing her to experience shame. Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden fundamentally changed the way human beings come to God. That is, the very fact that we come to God is what is new. Instead of being born in Paradise, we are now born into a world in which sin begins to twist and pervert our perception of reality even before we realize there is a reality to perceive. But God has not abandoned us.
Just as the seed of the fruit brings forth the tree, so the fruit of a perverted view of reality brings forth suffering. And suffering gets our attention. In the Garden there was only good, but now we experience both good and evil, both pleasure and pain, both joy and sorrow. In the Garden Adam and Eve, experiencing only good, walked with God and were growing into who God had created them to be. Now, because of our sin (our sin, not just Adam and Eve’s sin), we experience not only good, but also evil.
And have you noticed that it often feels like there is a lot more evil than good. I think that’s because evil—pain, suffering, sorrow, death, sickness and all of the bad we see and experience—was not what we were created for. We were created to live in the goodness of God. That’s why all that is bad feels so unnatural, so wrong. We realize “life shouldn’t be like this!” I think this is what gets our attention and makes us consider our life and turn our hearts and minds toward repentance. And this is what God has wanted for us all along. God longs for us to turn from perverted ways of thinking that lead to suffering and to turn toward Him so that our minds can be renewed (Romans ch.12).
The amazing power of repentance is that even in this fallen world we can begin to return to Paradise. We can leave what is behind, behind us. We can see the True Light and receive the Heavenly Spirit. We can humble ourselves, confessing our sins, and begin to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.