June 12, 2012

On Personal and Collective Repentance

From an interview with Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos:

Question: Furthermore, remembering that the Gospel starts with the message of repentance, a question could be asked whether repentance is only a personal experience or is there such a thing as collective repentance where an internal transformation of entire peoples could take place? Can we find examples of this in the history of the Church?

Answer: Repentance is the basic prerequisite for experiencing the Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ began His teaching with repentance, because He continued the dialogue with man which was interrupted in Paradise. There, Adam with his sin discontinued his dialogue with God and now Christ with repentance started the dialogue for the reestablishment of man’s relationship with God.

In Greek the word repentance (“metanoia”) denotes the change of the nous. According to the Orthodox teaching, the nous is the eye of the soul and is not identified with the reasonable faculty. The nous is distinguished from reason. With sin, man’s nous is darkened, so with repentance his illumination begins. This is why the Orthodox neptic teaching of the Church maintains that the road to God is marked by these three words: purification, illumination and deification. The heart is purified from the passions with purification, the nous is illumined and begins to pray unceasingly with illumination, and in deification one beholds the glory of God.

Therefore, in principle, repentance is a personal experience. But it is also a collective experience, because when entire local Churches lose the truth and their pastoral mission they must repent. This is why we talk about theological and ecclesiological sins. This is how we should interpret God’s epistles to the angels of the Church, as described in the first chapters of the Revelation of John.

For this reason we attach great importance to heresy and schism. Because through heresy we are cut off from the truth revealed by Christ and through schism we break apart the Church of Christ, with terrible consequences for our life, because, as Saint John Chrysostom says, not even the martyrdom of blood can save a man who molests the Church of Christ.

Therefore, collective repentance is the return to the doctrinal truth of the Church and our reintegration with the unity of the local Churches.

From Sobornost, September 2006.