Paths of Repentance
Saint John Chrysostom (4th c.)
“The devil always flees from this sword of repentance. Have you sinned? Enter the Church and wipe away your sin! Is it not true that as many times as you fall walking down the road, that many times you get up? Do the same whenever you sin; repent for the sin. Do not despair! You have sinned a second time, repent a second time, lest, on account of idleness, you completely fall away from the hope of the goodness standing before you. If you are in deep old age and sin, enter the Church, repent! The Church is a hospital, not a court! It does not punish you for your sins, but forgives your sins!” (Homilies on Repentance)
“Do you want me to tell you the paths of repentance as well? They are many, diverse, distinct! And all lead to heaven! The first way of repentance is condemning sins. Therefore the prophet also says: I said: ‘I will confess my iniquity to the Lord‘; And Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 31: 6). Therefore, condemn your sins too! This defense is sufficient before the Master! He who condemns his sins falls does not fall into the same sins as easily. Let your conscience punish you within yourself, so that you may not have it as an accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord! This is repentance! The best form.
But there is another way, not lesser than this: to bear no hatred for enemies, to control your anger, to forgive the sins of your fellows. We too will be forgiven in this way for what we have done wrong before the Lord. This is the second means of cleansing sins. If you forgive men their trespasses, says the Lord, your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14).
Do you want to learn the third way of repentance? It is fervent prayer, done correctly, coming from the depth of your heart. Do you not remember the widow, how she subdued the unjust Judge (Luke 18, 2-8)? You, however, have a gentle, kind, loving Lord. The widow prayed against her enemies; you, however, do not pray against your enemies, but for their salvation.
And if you want to know the fourth way of repentance, I will speak to you of almsgiving. Almsgiving has great and unspeakable power! Nebuchadnezzar had committed all manner of sins, all iniquities. Daniel says to him: Redeem your sins through righteousness and your injustices through mercy to the poor (Daniel 4:24). Nothing can match this love of others! After committing thousands and thousands of sins, after committing so many transgressions, he is promised reconciliation with Him Whom he had offended, if he has mercy on his fellow humans.
Humility, then, is another way that erases sins just as well, as are all the ways mentioned above. The publican is our witness; he could not speak of any good deed. Instead of this, he showed humility and the heavy burden of his sins was lifted.
Behold, I have shown you five ways of repentance: first, the condemnation of sins; second, the forgiveness of the sins of our fellows; third, prayer; fourth, almsgiving; fifth, humility.
Do not be lazy! Walk on all these paths every day! The paths are easy! Do not give poverty as a pretext! Even if you were the poorest of the poor, you can forget anger, you can be humble, you can pray persistently, you can condemn your sins; poverty is not at all a hindrance. But why do I say that poverty is not a hindrance to all these things, when neither on the path of repentance in which you must give money—that is, almsgiving—poverty is not a hindrance to the fulfillment of the commandment! The two coins given by the widow show us this (Mark 12:42-44).” (On the Limited Power of the Devil)
“Be familiar with the good deed of the Ninevites, who, in so few days, repented of so many sins and erased them. At the same time, one must marvel at the mercy of God, for Whom such short repentance was enough for so many sins (Jonah 3). Therefore, you must not fall into despair, even if you have committed thousands of sins.” (Homily on Cheesefare Sunday)
“Your sin has a limit; but the cure has no limit. Your sin, however it may be, is a sin committed by a man; but God’s love for mankind is unspeakable. Take courage! Repentance overcomes sin! Imagine a spark that falls into the ocean! Can it stay lit? Can it be seen? No! Well, what the spark is in comparison to the ocean, that is sin in comparison to God’s love for men. But, better said, not even that. The ocean, no matter how big it is, still has limits. God’s goodness, however, is beyond limits.
I say this not to make you idle, but to make you more diligent.” (Homilies on Repentance)