Universal Repentance

A Hymn to the Mother of God

O most-pure Mary, through thee we have come to know the restoration and second life of our human nature.  The Creator of creation was kneaded within thy womb.  He has both raised us from death and hell, and granted us eternal life for which we sing to thee O Ever-Virgin: Rejoice, thou who hast joined that which is below with heaven.  Rejoice, hope of all the ends of the earth, and its advocate and defender.  Rejoice, for through the resurrection of thy Son all things have been enlightened and the world is granted great mercy.  (The Theotokion of the Apostihka of Saturday Small Vespers, Tone 3)      

Universal Repentance

The subjects of personal and universal repentance were touched upon in the sermon on The Holy Protection in the last post.  Personal repentance was then briefly clarified and so now it follows that the subject of universal repentance should be further expounded.  In so doing, I will rely on St. Silouan the Athonite and Archimandrite Sophrony.  The subjects at hand are actually a few among a number that the latter wanted his spiritual children to speak or write about. 

So something will be said about universal repentance.  In doing this, I will also overlap into the subject of personal repentance and put forth another facet of it.  In the writings of St. Silouan, in the Chapter “Adam’s Lament”, we see both personal and universal repentance exemplified.  So we shall see how St. Silouan contemplated Adam’s lament after his first offense in the garden of Eden.

Adam the father of all mankind in paradise knew the sweetness of the love of God and so when for his sin he was driven forth from the garden of Eden, and was widowed of the love of God   he suffered grievously and lamented with a mighty moan.  And the whole desert rang with his lamentations.  His soul was racked as he thought; “I have grieved my beloved Lord.”  He sorrowed less after paradise and the beauty thereof—he sorrowed that he was bereft of the love of God, which insatiably, at every instant, draws the soul to Him.

In the same way the soul which has known God through the Holy Spirit but has afterwards lost grace experiences the torment that Adam suffered.  There is an aching and a deep regret in the soul that has grieved the beloved Lord.

Adam pined on earth, and wept bitterly, and the earth was not pleasing to him.  He was heartsick for God. (St. Silouan the Athonite, Archimandrite Sophrony, p.448)

Although we have not participated in sublime experiences of grace as St. Silouan, yet we still all have had some perception of what it is to feel close to God.  In the Church services, in our prayers, in our readings and reflections on God we have all at some time or another felt close to Him.  This is a great comfort, but to be bereft of it is a painful sorrow indeed.  But consider: We can experience even much more!  We must offer personal repentance to God.  According to the measure of each we must mourn in prayer over our having offended God by our sins and our separation from Him.  And this will lead one to universal repentance as Archimandrite Sophrony makes plain for us:

When an ascetic withdraws from the world, to start with his attention is concentrated on the first commandment and on his own personal repentance, thus giving an impression of egoism.  Later, when repentance attains a certain degree of fullness and grace touches his soul, he begins to feel Christ-like love in his soul spilling out on all humanity.  Then, though living in the desert and not seeing the world with his bodily eyes, he sees it in spirit and then lives in depth the world’s sufferings, for he lives them with a Christian consciousness of the unique character and great eternal worth of every human being.

Wherever man may betake himself, whatever desert he may retire to, if he treads the path of real life in God he will live the tragedy of the world. (ibid. p.227)

So then, Archimandrite Sophrony indicates for us what universal repentance is.  As he says, it is: “Christ-like love in the soul spilling out on all humanity”, also, “living in depth the world sufferings”, in addition, “living the tragedy of the world”.  St. Silouan, again, in his contemplation on Adam’s lament gives us an example of this.  He writes:

Adam knew great grief when he was banished from paradise, but when he saw his son Abel slain by Cain his brother, Adam’s grief was even heavier.  His soul was heavy, and he lamented and thought: “Peoples and nations will descend from me and multiply, and suffering will be their lot, and they will live in enmity and seek to slay one another.”  And his sorrow stretched wide as the sea, and only the soul that has come to know the Lord and the magnitude of His love for us can understand. (ibid. p. 449)

In writing of the Saints, St. Silouan explains this action in a person as follows:

The Lord gave the Saints His grace, and they loved Him and clung to Him utterly, for the sweetness of the love of God does not allow love for the world and its beauty….

God is love and the Holy Spirit in the Saints is love….

The Saints live in another world, and there through the Holy Spirit they behold the glory of God and the beauty of the Lord’s countenance.  But in the same Holy Spirit they see our lives, too, and our deeds.  They know our sorrows and hear our ardent prayers….

The Lord bestowed the Holy Spirit on the Saints, and in the Holy Spirit they love us.  The souls of the Saints know the Lord and His goodness toward man, wherefore their spirits burn with love for the peoples.  While they were still on earth they could not without sorrow hear tell of sinful men, and in their prayers shed tears for them. (ibid. pp. 394-6)

So if we repent in a true Orthodox manner, then at a certain point, when the old man has been crucified to a sufficient degree, the grace of God will bud for in the heart.  A man will be taught directly from God love for all mankind.  Perceiving the fall of man, he will experience universal repentance which is mourning for the race of man who has strayed from God and is headed towards perdition.  This is “living in depth the world sufferings”, and, “living the tragedy of the world” as Archmandrite Sophrony writes.   So let us end with the words of St. Silouan which appear on many of his icons: “I pray thee, O Merciful Lord, for all the people of the earth, that they may come to know Thee by Thy Holy Spirit”.