REPENTANCE WITHOUT CHRIST
Archpriest Sergiy Baranov
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Iveron Monastery of Orsk
October 1, 2023
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Recently I had a conversation with one man and he told me, “Father Sergiy, you teach how to say the Jesus prayer and you talk about deification. I would like to make a remark on this subject. The main idea of the Jesus prayer and all spiritual life in general is repentance. The main and the only idea is repentance.” In the course of this conversation, I remembered some words of God, Who said, Our Lord Jesus Christ said these words, “…without Me you can do nothing.”1 And these words concern everything. Literally everything. These words are about our repentance as well. At first, I knew it as some kind of theory when I had just read these words. But when I started repenting sincerely, I learned these words as a matter of practice. God, I cannot do it without You. No matter how sincere I am, no matter how courageous I am. I cannot do it without You. I wish no one could repent and I wish that man, who told me about repentance, also could not repent without Christ.
I mean there could be some kind of repentance, in some kind of way, without Christ. But the main idea here is not just any repentance but the one in Christ. There is a man who is in prison. He repents sincerely but he does not believe in God. Yes, he repents, he admits his sin, he regrets it. But there will be no real repentance without Christ. “…without Me you can do nothing.” Your repentance in the format of this world is like this: “Yes, forgive me, I am guilty, I will redeem” – that is it, nothing else. This kind of repentance will die together with you. May you have a nice, beautiful, flourishing, moral and virtuous life. But that is it, nothing else.
Pay attention that Judas Iscariot also had some kind of repentance. Did he repent? Yes, he did. He even returned money. Did he admit his sin? Yes, he did. Was he sorry about it? Yes, he was. He came and gave the money back, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”2 But he did not change and he remained the same Judas. What was the result of it?
Now many theologists may start arguing with me asking whether Judas rued or repented. Well, after all, it is just a word-play. But he tried. What made him do this? Maybe there still was some conscience. What other power was there to make him rue? Nothing but conscience. He got money, he was safe, the Pharisees would protect him, Rome would protect him. But some power did not let him have peace. There was a part of his conscience, which tormented him terribly. This torment was so horrible that it was easier to hang himself. But he did not repent. Our Church does not commemorate him as a repentant thief. Instead, it remembers him as Judas only. Even though he was sorry, admitted his sin, and gave the money back.
You know, when this person said the following words, “The most important thing here is repentance. Deification is something like lofty matters and we do not need it.” I was confused at that time and objected to him rather gently, but now I would reply strongly, “My dear, you know, repentance is impossible without Christ. If God did not enlighten your mind, it would be impossible.” Many people live on this planet and they have no idea how much they are contaminated by sin. Each of us is poisoned by sin so much that you could easily become Judas. Forgive me but it is the truth. Everyone could do whatever, any sin. If, God forbid, some situation or weakness occurs, you may fail it. If God does not enlighten our mind, we will fail. We live like nothing happens, we are relaxed, nothing bothers us. Well, maybe there is something that bothers us, but just a little. Moreover, this “a little” is nothing to compare with that abyss of sin we do. If God does not enlighten…but how does God enlighten us? In the evening, you, fully satisfied, go to bed, you are calm, you read evening prayers, you paid taxes, your children are fed, it is all good…in the morning, something suddenly happens to you. What is that? Were you thinking about it? Did you consider it? No. God has just touched your heart, your mind and you are crying now, God.
Look at this contrast: you were all right in the evening just like everybody else. But in the morning you cannot even articulate a word because you feel this lump in the throat. Was it a result of your thinking through? Was it your repentance? Was it a result of your mental analysis? No. God touched you and your mind was opened, so you could see yourself as you really were. So you saw yourself and got terrified. In desperation, you cry, “God, what am I doing! Yesterday I was fully satisfied but today I can see what I am doing? What is happening with me?” Having a nice appearance, which I try to maintain, I hide the internal stench from myself, my close people and even from God. But God came suddenly and opened this book.
Sometimes the Holy Fathers call the Last Judgement as the Judgement of shame. Why? Because all of us will be open in front of the whole world. An envelope, which covers our inside world, will be turned inside out and we will be not just opened but turned inside out as well. The whole world will know and see not only our actions but even the shortest shameless, dirty and shabby thought. This is why the Last Judgement is called the Judgement of shame. However, only unrepentant sins can be shown there. Repentant sins, which are covered by confession, will be erased.
There is a story in the Ancient Patericon. When angels were carrying a monk to the Kingdom of Heaven, some demons appeared and said, “He had this sin.” Angels said, “Did he repent?” “Yes, he did.” “So he does not have it then.” The mystery of confession is invaluable, we need it to not be burned in hell on the Last Judgement Day, and to not even reach it and be burned in the fire of shame.
The essence of deification is when God saves you, God thinks for you, God is your mind, God is your heart. It is not I who saves, it is not I who thinks, it is not I who feels but God. “…and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”3 All the saints were striving for this, “…and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” He is the only Truth, He is the only Innocence, He is the only Love. Not me. Let’s stop being hypocrites. What love can I be, what innocence can I be, what truth can I be? I am filth and stench. Try to remember your confession. What love and innocence could there be? We just want to hide it all and not be ashamed.
Repentance is an important part of the Jesus prayer, but the main idea of it is Christ without Whom repentance is simply impossible. To be more exact, there will be some repentance but only in the format of this life, on earth, and it will die together with you. Repentance is possible only in Christ. This time I speak about deification. Yield your mind to Christ, to Christ’s mind; yield your heart to the heart of Christ. This way something will probably happen. You need deification. Stop saying meaningless words about repentance without Christ. The essence of Christianity is in these words of Christ, “…without Me you can do nothing” Nothing. You cannot even repent. We can find ourselves on the level of Judas. Did he admit his sin? Yes, he did. Was he upset? Yes, he was. Did he give the money back? Yes, he did. So, what was the result? That is it. The end of the rope was the next step. “…without Me you can do nothing.”
Jesus the Sweetest, save us!