The Fruits of Repentance: Guiding our Flock towards the Mind of Christ

St John Chrysos­tom under­stands our Lord to be speak­ing of inter­per­son­al peace:

Here He not only takes away alto­geth­er our own strife and hatred amongst our­selves, but He requires besides this some­thing more, name­ly, that we should set at one again oth­ers, who are at strife.1

This also fol­lows, for to have the peace of Christ per­fect­ly estab­lished in our hearts must not only free us from the pas­sions that sep­a­rate us from the love of God, but also yield a com­pas­sion­ate­ly right­eous under­stand­ing of those neigh­bors for whom we already have God’s mer­cy. Hav­ing this, we can do the work of the only begot­ten Son of God, our Lord — guide, strength­en­er, and gra­cious co-work­er. As St John sug­gests, we then go on from hav­ing peace with oth­ers to mak­ing peace among yet oth­ers. With this exten­sion of God’s mer­cy and under­stand­ing we pass from the moral and con­tem­pla­tive virtues to lev­els of spir­i­tu­al hero­ism reached by the great­est saints.

Blessed are They which are Persecuted

The mys­tery of human free­dom includes the sad fact that not all who hear the Gospel see, under­stand, and are con­vert­ed and healed; and some will per­se­cute. He who made our peace and gave us adop­tion into the fam­i­ly of God, the Church, gave His life to do so, for He met the full fury of world­ly vio­lence and tram­pled down the death by which it ruled with His own redemp­tive Death, con­quer­ing vio­lence and fear of death with His glo­ri­ous Res­ur­rec­tion. In doing so He told us that to share His life we must bear His Cross. So He ends the Beatitudes:

Blessed are they which are per­se­cut­ed for right­eous­ness’ sake: for theirs is the king­dom of heav­en. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and per­se­cute you, and shall say all man­ner of evil against you false­ly, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceed­ing glad: for great is your reward in heav­en: for so per­se­cut­ed they the prophets which were before you (Mt. 5:10–12).

The bless­ing of the King­dom of God is assigned to both the poor in spir­it and those who are per­se­cut­ed for right­eous­ness’ sake. These are they who come to real­ize with their Sav­iour that the soul’s eter­nal life must reject the life of this age and, by giv­ing its own life for the world, bring forth the fruit of the sal­va­tion of oth­ers.2 These are they whose growth in the life of Christ has brought them in the uni­ty of the faith to the place of see­ing that they do not abide alone, but in and with the Sav­iour, Who calls them to give their lives for the life of the world, just as He did. As He spoke of the Cross as the instru­ment of the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the Son of Man, so the dis­ci­ple who is tru­ly one with Him will be will­ing to deny him­self and take up his cross and fol­low [Him] (Mt. 16:24). These holy mar­tyrs, pas­sion bear­ers and con­fes­sors are they who accept the full con­se­quence of shar­ing the Life of Christ. Not all who solemn­ly and sober­ly come to this real­iza­tion suf­fer vio­lent death, but they must know the seri­ous­ness and con­se­quences of their respon­si­bil­i­ty, as St Basil the Great did in writ­ing to the apos­tate Emper­or Julian:

After insult­ing God, it is use­less for you to give heed to wid­ows and orphans. The for­mer is mad and dan­ger­ous; the lat­ter the part of a mer­ci­ful and kind­ly man. It is a seri­ous thing for a pri­vate indi­vid­ual like myself to speak to an emper­or; it will be more seri­ous for you to speak to God. No one will appear to medi­ate between God and man. What you read you did not under­stand. If you had under­stood, you would not have con­demned.3

May God grant us the faith, courage, and spir­i­tu­al readi­ness to speak as St Basil did when the time comes. The most impor­tant ques­tion, though, is not “What if?”, which like Peter before the Cru­ci­fix­ion we might be tempt­ed to answer with a boast that could prove painful­ly false. To be where St Basil, the Mar­tyrs Poly­carp, Cather­ine, Kyrill of Kazan, Grand Duchess Elis­a­beth and many more con­fes­sors, pas­sion-bear­ers and mar­tyrs have been spir­i­tu­al­ly, we need to repent as they did, and as pas­tors we must con­sid­er how we are assist­ing our parish­ioners with that work.

Gaining the Mind of Christ

To that end, let us come to some final thoughts and ques­tions. My con­clud­ing con­vic­tion is that repen­tance is the process of gain­ing the mind of Christ, begin­ning with the humil­i­ty to suf­fer and serve.4 When think­ing of exam­ples of repen­tance we are used to con­sid­er­ing Prophet David, St Paul, St Mary of Egypt, Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky and oth­ers who turned dra­mat­i­cal­ly by the grace of God from evil and self-destruc­tive ways to true piety. These are mar­velous exam­ples of the grace of God and the pow­er of the free­dom He has giv­en us. But the spir­i­tu­al labor of St Mary’s repen­tance was accom­plished dur­ing her 47 years in the desert, the first 17 of which were spent strug­gling with the demons of her for­mer life. Her promised peace came indeed, but few details appear in her Life.5 This is per­haps best, since every life is unique and we can become unhealth­ily engrossed in the strug­gles of oth­ers. Good read­ers of nar­ra­tive lit­er­a­ture rec­og­nize we can be helped by thought­ful anal­o­gy, but also dis­tract­ed or seduced by over-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Our Lord’s words are spare and mem­o­rable. Put anoth­er way, repen­tance is each Christian’s dis­tinct, per­son­al coöper­a­tion with God in the mys­tery of reveal­ing what each of us shall be when He is revealed; for, we shall be like Him when we shall see Him as He is (I Jn. 3:2).

I hope the approach to the path of repen­tance found in the Ser­mon on the Mount and the com­men­tary of some of the Church Fathers will help us reflect on our path of repen­tance and on those of our parish­ioners. The fruit of that process is the mys­te­ri­ous man­na and the unique­ly inscribed white stone the Sav­iour tells John He will give to him who is vic­to­ri­ous in the strug­gle, …and on the stone a new name writ­ten which no one knows except him who receives it (Apoc. 2:17). Please let us help one anoth­er see how bet­ter to assist the peo­ple of our church­es win the vic­to­ry, the name, and a place beside the Saviour.

About the Author

Rev. Priest David Starr is rec­tor of St Juliana of Lazare­vo Ortho­dox Church in San­ta Fe, New Mexico.