"...for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor 3:6)
Up front I want to make clear that in no manner, shape or form is anything that I am writing meant to abrogate or ameliorate the commandments of God. In fact, just the opposite, my intent is to suggest a pastoral practice which would enhance keeping Christ's commandments. After all, we have it from Christ Himself: ". . . If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (Jn 14: 15).
What I am suggesting is that the best way to keep the commandments is to first focus on understanding their spirit, their meaning, and then make connections to the letter, that is to say, the written code. This approach is both psychologically and spiritually sound (Morelli, 2005). I am making the suggestion that this is an effective way to approach the commandments in workshops, catechesis and especially in pastoral aid given to penitents in the Holy Mystery of Confession.
by V. Rev. Sergius Chetverikov
from The Word, March1970
The period of Holy and Great Lent is a time when we are invited to come to confession and receive Holy Communion. We are now in this period. All too often we receive no benefit from it. This lack of progress is caused by a careless attitude to Lent. A serious attitude demands our understanding of Confession and Communion and why these Sacraments exist in the Orthodox Church. In order to understand clearly the meaning of confession, let us look at our inner, spiritual life.
Two principles are always struggling within us — good and evil. True Christian life begins for us only when we consciously take the side of good and try to vanquish evil.
We are not leading a Christian life so long as we are careless in our spiritual life, so long as we do not distinguish good from evil and passively hand ourselves over to our desires and inclinations. Only when we become acutely aware of our inadequacy, condemn ourselves and seek renewal—only then do we begin Christian life.
Let us look at the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee goes to the temple, he does many good deeds—but we still cannot say that he has true life. Why? He is completely satisfied with himself. He has no experience of his impurity. He boasts about his righteousness. He has not yet seen the abyss of his sinfulness. The Publican, on the contrary, cannot boast of any good deeds. But he has seen clearly the abyss of his sinfulness, and this vision has made him sorrowful. He asks only one thing of God—mercy, salvation. This is true Christianity!
In the first chapter of Genesis we read that man is made in God's image and called to be like Him. The image, the Church Fathers say, is mainly our intelligence and free will. God so loved us, He sent His only begotten Son for our salvation (John 3:16).
If we put on Christ at baptism and continue to wash ourselves through repentance, then we are able to reflect the light of Christ. Our constant prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner." We are creatures. We have no independent existence. We depend on God for all and by his mercy we can have the light of Christ indwell in us. This is a spiritual reality revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The value of this is unfathomable.
Bishop Hierotheos Vlachos (1994, 1998) refers to the worth human beings can have:
It is said that God has essence and energy and that this distinction does not destroy the divine simplicity. We confess and believe that 'uncreated and natural grace and illumination and energy always proceed inseparably from this divine energy' And since, according to the saints, created energy means created essence as well . . . God's energy is uncreated. Indeed the name of divinity is placed not only upon the divine essence, but 'also on thee divine energy no less'. This means that in the teachings of the holy Fathers, 'this (the essence) is completely incapable of being shared, but by divine grace the energy can be shared.
This is a reality and truth. Based on the illuminative teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Bishop Hierotheos tells us this is available to us "through God's benevolence towards those who have purified their nous." Bishop Hierotheos (1994) calls the Church a hospital that can cure our infirmities so our nous can be purified and this life in Christ can take place in us.