CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE
(Sermon delivered by Bishop Job (presently of Chicago and the Midwest Diocese, O.C.A.) at the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy celebrated during the Liturgical Institute held at St. Vladimir's Seminary, June 29, 1984)
The theme of this year's Institute is one that has needed serious reflection for quite some time. In fact, we must be realistic in confessing that no genuine theological, liturgical and spiritual renewal can take place in our Church sojourning in North America and throughout the world without understanding and practicing repentance.
Over the past thirty-five years our small Church has undergone various positive evolutionary stages. The most obvious and decisive stages have affected our approach to theology and liturgy. We are witnessing to the integration of theology and liturgy which has culminated in what has been called our Church's eucharistic revival. Consequently, we are a Church which on the one hand is becoming more and more capable of articulating and proclaiming its ethos, while on the other hand it is more actively manifesting itself as the Body of Christ which gathers to give thanks to God the Father in the celebration of the Eucharist. Let no one doubt that this organic evolution has strengthened our links with the Church's past, while at the same time opening up numerous and exciting vistas for the future.
Much has been accomplished. The organic evolution of our Church which sojourns in time and space continues. Nevertheless, in spite of what may be considered or termed "renewal," the Church, the Body of the faithful, must continually purify itself; it must continually repent if renewal is to continue. Without repentance, without this purification, the "newness," the youth of the Church will disappear and the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit will be indiscernible or simply denied. Without this fundamental act of repentance, the qualitative growth of the Church will never be realized. Yes, we are in the midst of a theological and eucharistic revival; however, such a re-birth can only be sustained and strengthened if the Church is repentant.
It is not an exaggeration to say that if the Church fails to repent, our mission in North America will also fail. It will fail not because we will have empty churches. It is quite possible that the churches will be full. We will have failed, however, because of our own infidelity to that which we have received and to what we have been called by Christ to be. Only through repentance is the Church continually renewed by the Holy Spirit. Only by cleansing ourselves will the vision of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church be kept clear. Only by repenting will our theological and eucharistic revival be meaningful and saving.
Without repentance the Church, comprised of hierarchs, priests and faithful, will be unable to sustain the blows of a pluralistic and secularistic society — a society which can be accurately termed as post-Christian and even overtly anti-Christian. As a living Church, we are confronted with many temptations and delusions. Every day, the faith of the Church, the faith of the believers, is put to the test. The greatest and most dangerous temptation is the world's continual and violent attempt to change the very nature and vision of the Church. Our enemy, especially in this country, is not comprised of flesh and blood. Our enemy, the enemy, is invisible and manages to infest the body of believers, beginning with the hierarchs, by corrupting the Church's fundamental vision and mission which is to proclaim Christ crucified and risen, and to make disciples of all nations. By our Baptism and Chrismation, we, the Church, are commanded to go out and to change the world in the same spirit as that of the Holy Apostles whose memory we celebrate today. The transfiguration of the world is only possible through repentance, and repentance must begin within the Church. We talk repeatedly of Church growth, yet this is too commonly understood in terms of numbers, also with various preoccupations such as more and more complex bureaucracy, budgets, appearances, committees and subcommittees, all of which somehow indicate that we have "arrived" — that we "have come a long way." Continuing to be lured, or rather seduced by the world, there is the frightening possibility of total disaster - that the Church, while retaining the correct dogmatic formulas and liturgical forms, can be reduced to a clanging bell — a mere shell with little or no content and life.
The re-birth of Orthodox theology has directed the Church back to its liturgical, biblical and patristic roots, while simultaneously exposing and exorcising a "foreign" theology and piety. This return to the sources is nothing less than repentance, a repentance which has led to the conversion and restoration of the Orthodox mind, heart and soul. It is this repentance which has provided the foundation for spiritual renewal not only in this country but throughout the world.
As we stand together today as the Church gathered around Christ's Altar let us open our hearts and repent. Let us confess not only our personal sins, but also the sins which we commit as a body gathered together to celebrate the Lord's mystical banquet. As I stand before all of you this morning, I realize that I am placing myself in a very vulnerable position.
Nevertheless, in light of what has taken place here this week, if a confession is to be made, I have no other position to assume.
As the Church, let us confess that we are seduced by the powers of darkness into becoming a Church which is more and more preoccupied with creating an image of respectability so that it will be accepted by the standards of the world. Let us confess that we sometimes doubt that the Church has the power of the Holy Spirit to change the world. Let us confess that we are often too ready to accept aspects of our American culture or lack of culture, which are not beneficial, not edifying, and are even spiritually destructive, forgetting that the Church has the responsibility to influence and direct the culture of the society in which it finds itself. Let us confess that we are prone to selfishly withholding the Church from the world, forgetting that it is given by God for the life of the world. Let us confess that in spite of the Orthodox renaissance taking place during this century we continue to "politely" rationalize an un-Orthodox ecclesiology ranging from congregationalism and clericalism to a plurality of jurisdictions existing in the same territory. As for the latter, it has become the custom and norm simply to cease speaking the truth by concealing it under the bushel basket of diplomatic rhetoric. Let us confess that in spite of the theological and sacramental renaissance of our time, our Church which is hierarchical by nature, is quickly becoming hierarchical in appearance only. Theological and sacramental renewal cannot be divorced from or viewed apart from a correct ecclesiology. More specifically, the bishop and priest must re-assume the position not only of "president" over the Eucharist, but as father, elder, teacher and servant. If all of us as the people of God are to recover a correct place in the make-up of the Church, this recovery must first be achieved by the hierarchy.
By confessing our weaknesses and shortcomings, all which comprise sin, and repenting of them, the vision of one local American Church will not fade away into the ivory tower of the academic theologian or canonical theoretician. Growing continually in the experience of the Church we will understand that not only must we all repent, but that all of us must be involved in the Sacrament of reconciliation. Sacramental reconciliation by bishop or priest does not occur in a vacuum. The entire community must again gradually become involved in the Sacrament of repentance and reconciliation in spite of the pragmatic aspects of so-called private confession.
Soon we will place our offerings upon the Altar of God. Before this is accomplished, let us recognize and confess our sins by submitting our hardened hearts to the grace of God. Let us be renewed as persons and as Church. Let us ask forgiveness of each other — a difficult act — so that as the living Body of Christ we may as community manifest the most perfect icon of His presence in the world. As Christ's Church, as those called by God to be His people, let us with fear of God and with love draw near to the one High Priest receiving Him as our offering, as our sustenance, as Life Itself. Amen.
(Originally published in the September, 1984 issue of the Orthodox Church newspaper.)
From The Dawn
Publication of the Diocese of the South
Orthodox Church in America