“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” Matthew 4:17
“If you cannot become like us, sit in your cell and weep for your sins.” Sayings of the Desert Fathers*
A prayer rule without honest self-examination and humble repentance is will not produce fruitful virtues or strength against sinful temptations. Modern Christianity stresses praise as a means of growing closer to God. Yes, it is good to glorify and give thanks to God. But, it is not a substitute for searching one’s own heart and confessing sins. Typically we pray for others, which is a blessed thing to do. However, we should be just as concerned for the state of our own souls as we are that of other’s physical and spiritual well being. Even we Orthodox get caught up in distractions such as how many knots are in our prayer ropes and what prayers to offer from which Church fathers. These things are useful only if we use them with the correct frame of heart and mind.
After being led by the Holy Spirit to fast 40 days in the desert and overcoming temptations from the devil himself, Jesus proclaims repentance as the way to prepare for the kingdom of heaven. We may not commit obviously evil deeds. But, how many times have we held on to fantasies that were not holy? Do we have bad habits that are tolerated by society? These “minor” sins are like small snowballs on the top of a mountain. They seem harmless enough when they first begin to roll down hill. Left unchecked, the little snowballs collect more snow, pick up speed, and become an avalanche for our souls. Even “minor” sins should be approached seriously with deep remorse.
Deep remorse must be matched with an actual change in thought, word, and behavior. Repentance is like leaving Interstate 64 west bound and turning east to go to Norfolk. There may be some bad drivers around Williamsburg to avoid. There will be construction in Newport News. And the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel could cause a back-up well before Mercury Blvd. But, whether you drive a top class Mercedees Benz or the hooptie from the old Sir Mix A Lot video, I-64 East is the way to get to Norfolk from West Point. Repentance is the way to reach the kingdom of heaven no matter how we may struggle along the road.
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