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The One Thing Needful

August 4, 2012

“To leave this bruised and wounded state, there is but one path, that of repentance.”

We may speak at length about strategies for coping with bad thoughts; we may carefully develop approaches for cultivating good thoughts; we may wax eloquent about all the ills that afflict humanity; but without repentance (μετανοία), that deep change (μετα) in the basic orientation that governs our life (νόησις), we remain very much and very sadly the same.  This is true because what fundamentally ails us is our estrangement from God. In order for the therapies, strategies, and reconstructed schemata to be effective, the one thing needful is the re-orientation of our lives so that our focus is on repentance.  Nothing else works.

In chapter six I write, “In our portrait of the spiritual child, the initially luminous outlines of the ideal Christian are darkened by the tenebrous strain of sin. The person who comes to a spiritual father for confession is also a sinner, that is, someone who fails to fulfill the commandments of Christ and lead that perfectly virtuous life.  In practical terms, this includes all Christians, ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’  Even after holy baptism, ‘no one can be so prudent and so circumspect as never to slip at any time.’  For this reason, God gave us the ‘medicine of repentance; as a remedy for the sinner.’”

Prayer, fasting, vigils, confession, and the practice of watchfulness comprise the multi-faceted treatment, which characterize Christian repentance. They are like a regimen of medications that must be administered on a consistent, daily basis, so that our entire orientation may be shifted from the darkness of stifling love of self to the light of the expansive love of God. And each of these medicines, when fully infused by the spirit of whole-hearted repentance, have a power like nothing else in this world.  Further along in chapter six, I quote the ancient fathers in buttressing this point, “Saint Cyprian’s words about the martyrs who confessed Christ can be applied to the change possible for the sinner who confesses his sins:  ‘At the confession of a single voice, adverse things give way, joyous things appear, kingdoms are opened, empires are prepared, suffering is overcome, death is subdued, life is preferred, and weapons for resistance by a mischievous enemy are broken asunder.  If there is sin, it perishes; if there is crime, it is left behind.’  For someone with faith, confession can change the very order of things, for when man confesses, God responds.”

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