On Hope and Repentance | Why we Should Not Despair - Part 2

If we are told that God will save us if we repent, we will respond: God will condemn me even more. He will put me deeper in hell because if, now that I have sinned, I ask for His grace; now that I have committed everything without considering Him; then, even though He will condescend and show humility, but this condescension will be my greatest condemnation.

People are afraid. A person comes to confession and is embarrassed to speak. Why? The problem is not how to reveal his sin because we all sin and everyone knows their own sins. But he is ashamed of some detail, a particular weakness, something that he has not told anyone; something specific. He does not dare to say, and is embarrassed to say, that this person has done something to me or I have done something to him. He confesses and, although the spiritual father can see that his repentance is fake, the confessor tries to find a solution and takes on the responsibility and says to him: I forgive you. But the person feels unforgiven because he knows that he is not doing well inside. Although as a spiritual father you assure him of the forgiveness, he insists that God’s condescension, His humility, and the fact that He has assigned to you, the spiritual father, the ability to forgive this great sinner, yet this will condemn him even more. But the saint says: No, “repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son and the prostitute.”

The prodigal son was accepted by the father before he changed his life; while he was still living in sin. His father laid out a magnificent banquet, he wore a ring on him, in fact, he placed a crown on his head and granted him life eternal.[1]

And God forgave the prostitute. He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”, and then they all left, because they were all sinners. But the Gospel does not tell us whether or not the prostitute repented. Nevertheless, the Lord told her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”[2] That is, ‘I grant you My forgiveness; you can move on.’ Therefore, the phrase, “repent; and He will receive your repentance” means – return to your father and tell him your injury. But say it in such a manner that you are censured even more by revealing that which you did not even admit to God or to yourself. From that moment, it will be counted as repentance and the spiritual father will grant you forgiveness, “as the prodigal son and the prostitute.” Therefore, you are required to advance to real repentance and, one day, you will be among the saints.

The same thing happened with the publican. The Gospel does not tell us that he repented but that he said: ‘God, be merciful to me.’ He did not say, ‘I will change this or that or the other’. He said, ‘God, show your mercy to me’. And with this, he “went down to his house justified”.[3] From that moment, a new life began for him, which reached the heavens.

“But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican: this is enough to ensure your salvation.”

God bends deeper into the cliff, to grab his sheep, which went there on its own accord and got stuck by the thorns.[4] The meaning is: I know that you want to repent but you realise that you are not able to change your way of life and you are not able to repent, not even like the prodigal or the prostitute. Then, if there are things that you can immediately reverse – I would steal, I will no longer steal; I would do this, I will no longer do that –you have to make this change. But if “you sin out of habit”, if there are weaknesses that have resulted in frightening habits, which are not easily cured, then since you do not have repentance, you do not have light, you do not have joy, “show humility like the publican: this is enough to ensure your salvation.”

“For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone.”

Do you see the abyss of God’s love? God pursues us even at the time of our spiritual death, but people consider God to be revengeful and, for this reason, they torment themselves, they are scared, become depressed and think that it will all come to nothing. On the contrary, the ascetic Fathers spoke from experience. Because they were saints, they considered themselves to be the greatest of sinners. That is why they would say: Since God accepts me, a sinner, won’t He accept those who only have certain passions and cannot curb them?

The saint continues: “For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair”.

There are people who sin and yet do not repent. Will they be saved? We who feel justified would think: You wretch! You sin but do not repent and you want to be saved? But what does “yet does not despair” mean? It means that I do not doubt; I am not afraid; I do not believe that God will not receive me. Why do some people doubt their salvation? Why this uncertainty? It is because they feel they are lost because they do not repent and they continue sinning. But the one who “does not despair” is not fooled. He knows God’s mercy as the Psalmist says; “your mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”.[5] He “knows”. He knows who God is; he knows God’s love. He accepts that he is fit for hell but, despite this, he believes that even if he goes to hell, God will take him out and he will be saved. He cultivates gratitude, which becomes a source of strength and changes his life. When I doubt, I do so because I do not know God’s love and mercy. “I despair” and distance myself from hope. I remain in the darkness of my soul because I have not understood God. This is why the saint says: Do not doubt. Only learn that God loves you.

Whoever acts in this manner, “must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone”.

When, then, can a person who both sins and does not repent, be saved and reach a state of holiness? When, seeing his sin and considering that there is no worse person than himself, he puts himself below all creation. On the contrary, we usually say: The other person sins, therefore, he is much lower than I am. We consider everyone beneath us. Whoever wants to be saved, must consider everyone to be in a higher state. Out of “necessity”, sin forces him to understand the love of God. In this manner, he begins to understand God, to accept that he is a sinner and then he does not dare judge or criticise any person. When we judge someone, we are condemned to hell and they are immediately higher than us because God will look after him. With the measure that we judge, we will be judged. If I say, oh my, what has he done in his life! Then, whatever bad he has done, I will do it doubly. I will fall into the same sin or in something even worse because God’s word cannot be refuted. “One iota or one title”[6] will not pass away. “With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you”.[7] Have you been harsh with your judgement? God says, I will also be harsh in the manner that I judge you and then you will see where you will find yourself.

[1] Luke 15:22-23. [2] John 8: 7-11. [3] Luke 18: 13-14. [4] Matt. 18:12.