Fr. Stevan Bauman
The Lord said that we should take up our crosses and follow him and so we are. Remember this one phrase as we go through this today: “Show me who you are.” Remember that phrase. Today we are talking about repentance, the obstacles to it, and how to overcome them. So, we’re at the beginning of Lent, which is an opportunity to repent, which means more than saying I’m sorry and going to do it again. We’re really seeking to go a bit deeper today and in the days to come.
We have before us an apparent contradiction: the cross. For those who don’t know this, our small cross contains a portion of the true cross that is brought out on the feast days of the cross. So, the cross signifies death and life. Now, we’re well aware of the first one; we know what the feeling of Good Friday is. The death upon the cross and all those things of Holy Week are so deeply impressed upon us after we’ve been through it even once. And yet today the cross is brought out with a radically different feeling. It’s brought out to us at mid-Lent for refreshment and assurance. It is called “the Life-giving Cross” and is borne aloft surrounded by flowers and it’s venerated to make us light and courageous for the remaining tasks before us in Lent. Light and courageous. The cross is brought out so that we may become – what was that – light and courageous. It’s the King’s ensign or banner coming in advance of his coming, so the advanced guard of Pascha is with us today.
Christ takes the cross today, the sign of law breaking and death and plants it in a garden amid flowers as a sign of life and a sign of our repentance because before the cross we bow down. He shows us with His own life that having a physical body, our painful experiences, whatever they are, no matter how bad they are, or were or still are – and even our sin is not a permanent obstacle. When we repent, paradise opens to us. St. John of Kronstadt has said, “In making the sign of the cross, believe and constantly remember that your sins are nailed to the cross. When you fall into sin, at once judge yourself sincerely, make the sign of the cross upon yourself saying “Lord, thou that nails our sins upon the cross, nail also this – my sin to Thy cross and have mercy upon me after Thy great goodness,” and you will be cleansed from your sin.
And so, we have this door to paradise that is opened. We’ve been told that if you want the door to paradise to open, this is what you do, and therefore we always do that – except we don’t – even when that invitation is so clear, when it’s so available – the Lord has made Himself available to us. He has come in the flesh and set the cross before us as a way to Him. We still question. We doubt. We hide. We say we’re sorry and then blame somebody else; we squirm around to avoid what Christ tells us to do, simple as it is. Why do we do this? What’s going on that repentance is so difficult? It would seem to be the most natural thing in the world to not just say I’m sorry, but actually experience this change of heart and be different as a result of it. So, drawing on some commentaries on Psalm 37 by Elder Aimilianos, he talks about a condition of sterility, spiritual arrogance that is afflicting all mankind and leading us to these kinds of questions:
Have I confessed my sin properly?
Was my confession genuine?
Did I say too much or not enough?
And so on. So, what’s the right way to confess – to repent? How do I do it? “Those who have such questions,” he says, “are suffering from an ambivalence of soul – from inner disunity and division. The questions reveal that even though they have gone to confession, all they really did was cover things up in order to satisfy or appease moral scruples. They went through the motions of a religious ceremony so they might return to what they have always done without any inconvenient pangs of conscience.”
I do that. We all do that. We’re all addicts. We seek a recovery program so that we don’t have to spend as much on our drugs to get high – so we can go back to our sin, feeling without any pangs of conscience. We’re not only repenting, we’re not even going through the motions of repentance. We’re going through a religious ceremony to ease our pangs of conscience to go back and do the same thing again because we haven’t addressed that weakness that’s in us and we haven’t really come to repentance – a change of heart – metanoia. So that’s what we’re seeking today. How do we do that? How do we go beyond the surface of confessing?
Looking at Psalm 37 (included below) it belongs to a group of Psalms that David wrote in the wake of some rather disturbing events: murder, adultery, revolution, political revolution, the affair with Bathsheba, and the killing of her husband. Despite the appalling things he has done, David went about his business for how long? An entire year without thinking he had done anything wrong. We hear these things: adultery, murder. And then the prophet comes; David repents. We know Psalm 50 – he realized. We think okay, he did these things and the next day the prophet came and the next day he’s repenting, and everything is fine. No! He went an entire year without realizing that adultery and murder were wrong. His conscience did not convict him. It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan came and he awakened to what he had done, “Thou art the man.” Oh, I’m the one who sinned. I’ve done this to another person. And he was able to say, “I have sinned against the Lord.” He realized it wasn’t just that he’d made a mistake with some people or as a king – it wasn’t just that he was sorry – he’d sinned against the Lord. And so that’s a good beginning – that’s good to acknowledge I’ve sinned – but that’s not enough. The repentance that David portrayed in this Psalm and that we need to reach is not the story of a troubled conscience that finds relief after having unburdened itself. Christ did not come to provide us with a temporary psychological experience. He did not come to deceive us; he did not come to hear our confessions so that we could have relief or feel better. Christ came to rescue and redeem souls, to liberate us from bondage to sin. To lead us to the rest of a new eternal Sabbath. That is real relief.
So, we’re in Lent. The services of Lent enable us to understand something about the root meanings of repentance and thus about the obstacles to repentance that are buried deep inside us – that we don’t turn toward the Lord freely, readily, repeatedly – but in fact, turn away, we hide, we squirm around. We do all these other things. We don’t want to face it. Who does? So, the psalm says, Lord do not rebuke me in your anger nor chastise me in your wrath. The Lord in the Gospel says take up your cross if you want to be with me; this is how we do it. The elder says to rebuke is to reprove or reprimand, but the deeper sense is to call someone to account – to hold someone accountable – to answer for your conduct – to explain yourself. Who wants to do that? But observe the humility of the psalmist. He doesn’t say, “Don’t rebuke me Lord. Don’t call me to account.” That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying, “Do not rebuke me in your anger.” As if he’s saying, I know I’m guilty. I must give an account of my actions. But don’t let this take place in the face of your anger. I’m a sinner, yet I still feel within myself that I am your son. You are the Lord and have every right to call me to account, yet I, as your child, have the right to appear before you asking for mercy and love. Now, that’s the balance the church teaches us right from the beginning – from the Sunday of forgiveness when we’re asking forgiveness from everybody, when we’re hearing the Paschal tones. There’s always that hope set before us and so challenging to get, to comprehend, to live with, and certainly to extend to anyone else. So, I have sinned. I’m being called to account You have the right to do that. At the same time, I have the right as your son, to call you to be God for me – to appear before you asking for mercy and love as the Prodigal Son did.
Enable me oh Lord, to know the depth of my soul, so that I myself might understand it. Do not chasten me in your wrath. Despite the fact that he had sinned, he does not feel that he has lost his boldness of speech before God. And so, he asks him, do not chastise me in thy wrath, even though I have fallen down and am lying in the mud, God does not stop being God. Even though I have many vices, God does not cease from being virtuous. Thus, I have the right to turn to him – to approach him just as he is. This is what I am. I’m saying this is what I’ve become – in the mud, a sinner. You, however, can’t stop being yourself God. You can’t be something you’re not. Your love and goodness cannot change into something else. And that’s why I’m turning to you in my sin. If a person has truly repented, he has no reason to fear God, to be disappointed in God. Such a person might appear to be downcast, but in reality, he is looking to heaven. That’s repentance.
It’s not just saying I’m sorry and feeling bad about myself, focusing on myself and my feelings. It’s saying, “Oh. I’m the man. I’ve done it. Forgive me. Because you’re God, you can do that. Because I’m a sinner, I can appeal to you even in the midst of my sin. Do not rebuke me in your anger nor chastise me in your wrath – the martyrdom that you will make me undergo, the punishment that you will inflict upon me is in essence, a lesson – a form of education. It is the way in which you condescend to my level. I have sinned and so I need to change – to grow – to learn a new way of living. I’ve made a mistake and I must be corrected. How is this going to happen? I must be chastened, but not in wrath. “How beautiful,” says the elder. He knows that for himself it will be a chastisement, but that for God it will be an act of love. The psalmist petition that God refrain from wrath is also a plea that the chastisement may be brief since wrath is something that endures over time. Anger boils over and becomes wrath, which takes a long time to cool down. So, the psalmist is saying, and we are saying, “Why do I ask this of you oh Lord?” Because I’m in such a state that were you to be severe with me, I would instantly collapse.
– – To be continued next week. – –
O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
2 For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.
3 There is no soundness in my
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness.
6 I am troubled, I am bowed down
I go mourning all the day long.
7 For my loins are full of inflammation,
And there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.
9 Lord, all my desire is
And my sighing is not hidden from You.
10 My heart pants, my strength fails me;
As for the light of my eyes, it also has gone from me.
11 My loved ones and my friends stand
aloof from my plague,
And my relatives stand afar off.
12 Those also who seek my life lay snares for me;
Those who seek my hurt speak of destruction,
And plan deception all the day long.
13 But I, like a deaf man, do
And I am like a mute who does not open his mouth.
14 Thus I am like a man who does not hear,
And in whose mouth is no response.
15 For in You, O Lord, I hope;
You will hear, O Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Hear me, lest they rejoice over me,
Lest, when my foot slips, they exalt themselves against me.”
17 For I am ready to fall,
And my sorrow is continually before me.
18 For I will declare my iniquity;
I will be in anguish over my sin.
19 But my enemies are vigorous, and they are strong;
And those who hate me wrongfully have multiplied.
20 Those also who render evil for good,
They are my adversaries, because I follow what is good.
21 Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
Show Me Who You Are is a message given by Fr. Stevan during Lent 2015. >