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Repentance | St. Cyril of Jerusalem

St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Repentance
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem
(c. 313 – 386 AD)

Prologue

Repentance is the cornerstone of spiritual life:

The recognition of our sinfulness, pain because we embittered God, the decision for a change and taking refuge in confession comprises the beginning of our salvation.

The Precious Forerunner and the Lord Himself began their preaching calling to repentance. No one can be saved, if he doesn’t repent. Only with repentance a great thief “stole” even paradise.

So it is a demonic delusion for Christians to neglect repentance and confession.

Of course, we are not referring to the case of those, who maintain that they didn’t do anything sinful, or those, who make their own ways of confession,

because they don’t want to humble themselves and to bow under the stole of the spiritual father, as the divinely inspired ecclesiastical order appoints.

We are referring mainly to the case of many Christians, who settle for other “religious duties” or participation in missionary work or in cloudy discussions with Elders without any disposition to “keep harsh ways”. Thus they believe that they are overcoming peaks, while they are deceived in mortal swamps of unrepentance, senselessness, and narcissism.

Our indifference in a decisive repentance is proven very obviously by our occupation with the life and the faults of others.

May the many examples of repentance, which Saint Cyril of Jerusalem mentions further down, renew zeal for a real repentance!

May they help us to denote and confess without any reservation or covering up or justification all the secret sicknesses, the wounds and the passions which ravage our soul, for whose purity the Lord shed His blood!

May, finally, the small shame, which we experience before the spiritual father, deliver us from the vast shame before people and angels during the time of Judgment.

Repentance

Sin is a fearful evil and dangerous sickness of the soul. Sin weakens it sneakily and hands it paralyzed into eternal hell. It is however bad that it depends on our own will. It is a fruit of our own disposition.

Sin is a fearful evil, but not incurable. Repentance cures it easily.

For as long as one is holding fire in his hand, of course he is burned. As soon as he throws it down, he ceases being burned.

The same happens with sin because it also is a fire which burns man up. So for those who don’t feel this burning, the Scripture says:

Can one put fire in his vest, without burning his clothes?” (Prov. 6:27).

Sin is not any enemy which fights you from outside, but an evil which sprouts and develops within you.

Look with chastity” (Prov. 4:25) and you will not feel a foul desire:

Remember the future judgment, and neither fornication nor adultery nor murder nor another transgression will ever overcome you. When however you forget God, then you will begin thinking wickedly and you will act iniquitously.

The all-wicked devil pushes you to sin. He pushes you, but he can’t force you to sin, if you react. He can’t harm you, even if for years he scandalizes you, if you have your heart closed.

If however without reaction you accept some evil desire, which he sews in you, he will imprison you and will throw you into a pit of sins.

However you will probably say: “I am strong in faith and the foul desire will not overcome me, no matter how frequently I accept it.

You do not know, it seems that even the stone many times a root which is in the earth cuts it to pieces. So don’t accept the seed of sin, because it will dissolve your faith.

Uproot the evil before it blossoms, maybe, showing indolence in the beginning, later on you will be punished and will experience the axe and the fire.

Strive to be healed in time, when the eye’s harm is in the beginning, so that you don’t seek doctors in vain, when you will have gone blind.

The devil, who sinned first, created all the evils. I don’t say this, but the Lord: “the devil sinned in the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). No one had sinned before him.

The devil sinned without anything forcing him, because then God would have been responsible for sin. From Him he was made good.

He sinned however with his own disposition, and from his work, he was named “diavolos” devil. Because, whereas at first he was an archangel, he ended up later on slandering (diavallei in Greek), in other words slandering God to the first created humans.

Also, whereas in the beginning he was a faithful servant of God, later on he became Satan, in other words an enemy and opponent of His. Because the word “Satan” is interpreted “opponent”, that is he who is on the opposite side, the opponent.

The devil, after his fall, led many to apostasy. He sews sinful desires in whoever follows him. From him come adultery, fornication and every other evil.

He led the forefather to disobedience and to exile. On his account Adam, instead of paradise, which bore exceptional fruits, inherited the earth, which produced thorns.

What will happen now?

We were deceived and lost paradise. Is there salvation I wonder?
We were blinded. Will we see the light again, I wonder?
We became lame. Will we stand up again, I wonder, on our feet?

Brethren, doesn’t He who resurrected the righteous Lazarus from the tomb, have the power to resurrect you much more easily, who are still alive?

Won’t He who shed His blood for us, save us from sin?

Let us not despair. Let us not sink into despair. It is fearful for us to lose the hope of forgiveness. Whoever doesn’t await salvation, sins without thinking! Whoever however hopes in it, hastens to repent.

The snake abandons his own skin. Won’t we abandon sin? The fruitless earth, if it is cultivated diligently, becomes fruitful. Can’t we be corrected?

God is philanthropic, vastly philanthropic. For this reason don’t say:

I fornicated, I committed adultery, and I sinned and furthermore not once, but many times. I wonder will He forgive me? I wonder will He deliver me from condemnation?

Listen to what the psalmist says: “How great, O Lord, is your goodness!” (Ps. 30:20).

Your sins never defeat the magnitude of God’s compassion. Your wounds never surpass His healing power. Only hand yourself over to Him with faith. Confess your passion.

You also say together with the prophet David:
I will confess sincerely my iniquity to the Lord”.

Then what the same verse subsequently mentions will follow:
And you, O Lord, forgave the impiety of my heart” (Ps. 31:5).

Do you want to know God’s philanthropy and the magnitude of His longsuffering?

Listen to what happened with Adam: The first created man disobeyed. Couldn’t God hand him over immediately to death? Of course He could have.

What does the Philanthropic God do however?

He exiles him from paradise, since he was unworthy of remaining there now, He places him however to dwell across, so that he could see from where he fell and what he lost and where he ended up, so that he could repent and be saved.

Cain, the first man who was born, became a murderer of his brother, an inventor of evils, a forerunner of all those who are envious and of the murderers.

Whereas however, he killed his brother, to what was he condemned?

You will live henceforth, sighing and trembling” (Gen. 4:12).

The crime is fearful. The condemnation is small however.

Truly, great is the philanthropy which God showed to Cain. Greater however is this: Remember the age of Noah:

The giants’ sinned and excessive iniquity spread to the earth. Its punishment would have been the flood. With this God threatens. He sends it out however after 120 whole years (Gen. 6:3).

Do you see the magnitude of God’s philanthropy? What He fulfilled after 120 years, couldn’t He have done right away?

He extended however the time of punishment so much however, to give time for repentance. If sinners repented, God wouldn’t have sent the dreadful and just punishment.

Let’s come now also to examples of sinners who were saved with repentance.

Probably some of the women will say: “I defiled my soul and body with every type of lewdness. I wonder can I be saved?

Remember, o woman, Rahab the prostitute, and you also expect salvation:

Because if she, who sinned manifestly and before everyone, was saved with repentance, won’t you also be saved in the same manner?

Ask to learn how she was saved. She only said this: “Your God is the only true God in heaven and on earth (“Joshua Son of Nun 2:11).

From the deep feeling of her lewdness, she didn’t dare say: “My God”, but “your God”.

She has the witness of her salvation very manifestly in the Psalm verse: “I will remember Rahab and Babylon”, but he adds “who recognize me” in other words who know me and worship me.

So there exists salvation both for men and for women.
Salvation, which repentance causes.

But even if a whole people sinned, its sinfulness doesn’t exceed God’s philanthropy.

The Israelite people in the Sinai Desert worshipped the golden calf:

God however didn’t cease the expressions of His philanthropy. People denied Him. He himself did not deny Himself. Even though they worshipped the idol, He did not stop benefiting them.

And then it wasn’t only the people who sinned. Aaron, the high priest also sinned with them! The prophet Moses mentions:

The Lord was very angered against Aaron, so much so that He wanted to annihilate him. Then, in this difficult time, I prayed for Aaron and God forgave him” (see Deut. 9:20).

David was at fault. As he got up in the evening from bed and was walking to the room, he looked uncarefully and fell into sin. His good disposition to recognize his fault was not deadened however:

The prophet Nathan came, to censure him and to heal his wound. The subject told the king that he sinned gravely and that God was angered with him.

The purple wearing David did not get frustrated. He did not stand before the face of the prophet, but lifted his thought to Him who sent him.

The egotism of authority over such a multitude of soldiers that he had around him did not harden him, because he brought to his mind the angelic army of the Lord.

He experienced agony, feeling the Invisible One as visible. And he answered the prophet, or rather God Himself, who sent him: “I sinned to the Lord!” (2 Kings 12:13).

Do you see the humble-mindedness of the king? Do you see his confession? Maybe had he ever been censured before by anyone? Maybe had many people learned of his sin?

He sinned, and immediately the prophet appeared. As soon as he announced the accusation, the one at fault confessed his mistake. And because he confessed it with sincere repentance, the cure was also quickly manifested, forgiveness.

The prophet Nathan consoled David with the announcing of God’s forgiveness.

He however didn’t abandon the repentance. Instead of the royal purple robe, he put on the mournful slave sackcloth. Instead of a golden adorned throne, he sat on the ground and ashes.

And he did not sin only on ashes, but also ate the ashes, as he himself says: “I am eating ashes instead of bread and the water I’m drinking I’m mixing with my tears” (Ps. 101:10).

He melted from his tears his eyes, which became cause for him to conceive the lewd desire: “Every night I drench my bed and wet my mattress with my tears” (Ps. 6:7).

The rulers asked him to interrupt his fasting. He however would not yield. A whole week he fasted from every food. So if a king with such a way expressed his repentance, you the simple person, won’t you confess?

Later on again, when Absalom revolted, although many other escape roads existed, David preferred to escape leaving towards the Mount of Olives. As if he were praying thus to the Deliverer, who would from there ascend to the heavens.

In that difficult circumstance furthermore, Semi began swearing and cursing the king:

David however faced him with humility and longsuffering, saying:

Leave him! The Lord told him to curse me” (2 Kings 16:10). Because he knew that the sins of him who forgives others are forgiven.

Do you see the benefit of confession? Do you see that whoever repents is saved?

Ahab, the king of Samaria, was excessively lawless, an idolater, a prophet killer, impious and unjust:

When however with Queen Jezebel he killed Navouthai and the Prophet Elias came and threatened him, he immediately showed repentance. He ripped the royal garment and put on the mournful sackcloth.

What did the philanthropic God say then to Elias?

Do you see the repentance of Ahab? I will not punish him!” (See 3 Kings 20:29).

The philanthropic God forgives Ahab, even though he would continue his sins.

The Lord, of course, was not ignorant of his future, but now, at the time of repentance, He grants him analogous forgiveness. It is a characteristic of the just judge to respond appropriately to each circumstance which appears.

The King Jeroboam performed sacrifices at the altar of idols. Because he ordered them to capture the prophet, who condemned him for idolatry, his hand remained lame.

As soon as he experienced God’s punishment, he asked the prophet:
Pray to the Lord for me” (3 Kings 13:6).

A result of repentance was for his hand to be healed. If the prophet healed Jeroboam, can’t Christ save you, forgiving your sins?

Manasseh was also excessively sinful. He ordered and they sawed up Isaiah. He flooded Jerusalem with the blood of innocent people.

When however he was led captive to Babylon and experienced the punishment, he hastened to be healed with repentance. The Scripture says:

Manasseh was deeply humbled before the God of his fathers and asked for his mercy. The Lord heard his fervent prayer, brought him back to Jerusalem and granted him again his throne” (2 Paral. 33:12-13).

If he who sawed the prophet was saved with repentance, you, who certainly did not sin so dreadfully, won’t you be saved? Be careful, don’t doubt about the power of repentance.

Confession can both put out the fire and tame the beasts:

If you doubt, remember what happened with Ananias, Azarias and Misael in the furnace of Babylon. How many fountains could quench the flame which arose to a height of forty nine cubits?

Wherever however the huge flamed arose, there like a river the faith of the three youths poured out and there was heard the prayer of repentance: “You are just, O Lord, for all that you allowed us to suffer, because we sinned and transgressed’ (Dan. Azar: 3:5).

Repentance dissolved the flame! Be assured from this about its power to put out the flame of hell as well.

Probably however some careful reader will say: “God saved the three youths not for their repentance, but for their faith”. Because this possibility also exists, I will present to you another case:

What opinion do you have about Nebuchadnezzar?

Didn’t you learn from the Holy Scripture that he was wild, bloodthirsty, hard-hearted? Didn’t you hear that he destroyed tombs and dug up the relics of kings?

Didn’t you hear that he swayed a whole people into captivity? Didn’t you hear that he blinded the king, after first obligating him to see the slaughter of his children?

Didn’t you hear that he crushed the Cherubim? (I don’t mean of course the angels - let no one think something like this. I mean the sculptures which covered the Ark of the Covenant, from where the voice of God would be heard).

Nebuchadnezzar defiled even the curtain of the Temple. He took the holy censor and sent it to an idol temple. He grabbed all the sacred offerings. He set fire and burned the Temple from its foundations (2 Paral. 36:11-21).

With how many punishments he was who killed kings, burned altars, imprisoned the people, placed the holy vessels of the Temple among the idols, worthy of being punished? Wouldn’t he be worthy of being killed a thousand times?

You became familiar up till now with the multitude of crimes of Nebuchadnezzar. Come now to learn also God’s philanthropy:

The beastly king was punished to live like a wild beast in the wilderness. He was punished however in this way to be saved:

He produced nails and hairs like those a lion has, because before like a lion he grabbed the holy things and screamed. He ate greens like an ox, because before like an ox he lived, not knowing the true God, who had granted him the royal office.

When however with these chastising punishments he recognized the most high God and prayed and repented, then He granted him again his office (Dan. 4:26-34).

To Nebuchadnezzar who sinned so fearfully and repented, God granted forgiveness and the kingdom. So if you also repent and live in a Christian way, won’t He also grant you the remission of sins and the kingdom of the heavens?

The Lord is philanthropic. Quick to forgive. Slow to punish.
So let no one despair of his salvation.

Peter, the chief of apostles feared a slave girl and denied Christ three times. He regretted however and cried bitterly (Matt. 26:69-75).

The crying revealed his repentance with his whole soul. For this reason he did not only receive forgiveness for the denial, but also restoration to the apostolic office.

So having, brethren, so many examples of people who sinned and repented and were saved, you should also repent eagerly and confess:

Thus you will receive forgiveness of your sins and you will be granted to inherit the kingdom of the heavens together with all the saints.