Restoring the Years

“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.” (Joel 2:25-27)

The lonely hours of bedtime, when the desolation of the lives we had built and lost presses down on us, are sometimes hard to bear. If one has endured these hours over the course of months and years, one can achieve something like a resignation, which dulls the pain that once was sharp and dries the tears that once flowed more freely. As time passes, the righteous indignation gives way to a seed of humility. The threads of choices and responsibilities, actions and reactions, are not easily untangled. Choices made in innocence can still be far from wise, and actions follow reactions down the corridors of the years, the flow of human freedom channeling rivers whose force leads us down through a countryside we had no intention of ever visiting. And in these quiet and solitary hours of nighttime in the far country, we feel the locust plague.

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The Anchor of Confession

It is a commonplace in the Orthodox way of life that repentance is a constant. We continue to sin. We continue to repent of those sins. Stories of the desert fathers are replete with these great men of God who, on their deathbeds, having lived lives of exemplary virtue, nonetheless lament that they have no more time in which to learn the art of living repentance. For those sensitive to whiffs of works righteousness, of earning our salvation by our efforts, let’s be clear: these men were not lamenting that they had no more time to “earn” their salvation, but rather that the experience of God’s grace purifying them and preparing them for eternal life was coming to a close; they wished to be made more pure by the Holy Spirit knowing that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

In light of this centrality of repentance to the Orthodox way of life, I had some dialog in a couple of different settings over the past couple of weeks about the Sacrament of Confession in the Orthodox Church and the role it has played in my life and the lives of those I was communicating with (all of us having come from other Christian groups prior to becoming Orthodox). The few individuals with whom I was talking and I were convinced that if there were one thing that kept us anchored in and returning to the Orthodox Church it was our experience of confession.

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