As we approach the Sunday of Mary of Egypt, we think, above all, of the power and meaning of confession and repentance. The two are not always the same. If we approach confession in a proper frame of mind it can be a form of “housecleaning of the soul.” We will speak about that later, but first let us reflect on repentance. What does repentance mean? Think about it in the original Greek: “ metanoia”. This word means to turn around and face the other direction. Repentance means, not just saying “I am sorry,” but to “rethink.” To rethink our life and the direction that it is going in, the perspective we have on life. This is why icons always have a “reverse perspective. ” In an ordinary painting, lines are drawn in a way that they seem to merge toward the “back” of the picture, giving the illusion of depth. In the icon the lines draw together toward the front of the image, creating a reverse perspective. This is the icon of repentance – the reversal of our perspective, changing the direction in which we are moving spiritually.
…. As true faith is an orientation of the soul toward the will of God, true repentance has to begin with an orientation of the heart and mind toward love; toward our relationship with God and other human beings. Sincere repentance cannot arise from fear, but only from love. Fear may inspire us to think about our condition – the condition of our soul and our heart, but it cannot lead to sincere repentance, only to an activation of our survival instinct. When we have assessed our soul, our orientation toward love, toward God and neighbour, then love should impel us toward sincerely repenting for the sin against love. Every sin against God is truly a sin against the great co-suffering love of God, and every sin against our neighbour is a sin against the principle of love. This is why the great moral imperative of Jesus Christ is to love God with all our being and to love our neighbour and have empathy for him/her. If we wish to know our true relationship with Jesus Christ, we must first assess our relationships with other human beings.
…. True repentance, rethinking and reorienting ourselves can be a great joy, a great release from burdens which have weighed us down. Confession should give us an opportunity to help with this “housekeeping” of the heart and soul. It should be a healing process, and not one where we seek some kind of punishment, but where we seek a reconciliation and reuniting of our hearts with the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. For some, those with deep addictions and deeply penetrating vices, a great deal of struggle may be required – Mary of Egypt is a example of this – to regain control of our own hearts and souls. The act of turning ourselves around to go in the “other direction” spiritually does require struggle, the development of self-control and self-discipline. This is a major aspect of the Fast. Merely observing a or rule does not constitute repentance and spiritual growth, although it can help us with self-discipline. We need to keep the Fast above all on a spiritual level. It is certainly a time to rethink our lives, our perspective and the condition of our hearts. It is not necessary to ruminate over every small transgression, but above all to think about the orientation of our hearts and our souls toward love – first of all the love of God for us and also about our love for others. Our orientation toward love is the beginning of the change, the reorientation, of our lives toward the will of God, toward the principle of love, and the aspiration toward genuine cosuffering love.