Alexander Schmemann: On Confession and Repentance

. . . [T]he very word sin–in the biblical and Christian tradition–has a depth, a density which “modern” man is simply unable to comprehend and which makes his confession of sins something very different from true Christian repentance. The culture in which we live and which shapes our world view excludes in fact the concept of sin. For if sin is, first of all, man’s fall from an incredibly high altitude, the rejection by man of his “high calling,” what can all this mean within a culture which ignores and denies that “high altitude” and that “calling,” and defines man not from “above” but from “below”–a culture which even when it does not openly deny God is in fact materialistic from the top to the bottom, which thinks of man’s life only in terms of material goods and ignores his trascendental vocation? Sin here is thought of primarily as a natural “weakness” due usually to a “maladjustment” which has in turn social roots and, therefore, can be eliminated by a better social and economic organization. For this reason even when he confesses his sins, the “modern” man no longer repents; depending upon his understanding of religion, he either formally enumerates formal transgressions of formal rules, or shares his “problems” with the confessor–expecting from religion some therapeutic treatment which will make him happy again and well-adjusted. In neither case do we have repentance as the shock of man who, seeing in himself the “image of the ineffable glory,” realizes that he has defiled, betrayed, and rejected it in his life; repentance as regret coming from the ultimate depth of man’s consciousness; as the desire to return; a surrender to God’s love and mercy.

[Great Lent, p. 65]