Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 7

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 24 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

Many people understand confession also as a singular and sometimes rare event.  Some in the Russian Orthodox tradition only go to confession once a year.  Others may confess more often and even more or less regularly…  But let us replace the word ‘confession’ with the word ‘repentance.’  What is the difference?  Imagine a thief who proudly tells his friend about all the things he has stolen, and then goes and steals some more.  He has just confessed his sins—undoubtedly.  But has he repented?  Now imagine a Christian who goes to confession, names all his sins—he is well aware of them—and then goes and continues to live in sin without any intent to change his life.  Can this be considered a sacrament? Obviously not. While God is ready to erase the sins from this person’s life, the person does not want them erased, he wants to keep them.  He confesses them without any resolve to change his life, that is to say, without repentance. Jesus did not urge people to confess, but but to repent: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17). In other words, repentance, even without the rite of confession, is transformative and, thus, sacramental. Confession without repentance, on the other hand, is not sacramental insofar as it is not transformative.

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Repentance is transformational not only in the immediate sense associated with the rite of confession, but in the most profound and mystical return to the Tree of Knowledge. Adam sought divine knowledge, but his lust blinded him to the large sign at the entrance: γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Repentant man stands before the Tree, having learned both good and evil; through repentance he finally achieved the knowledge of who he truly is. He no longer treats the Gift as an object–good for food, a delight to the eyes, and advantageous to his personal success. Instead, he offers a “broken and contrite heart” to God, born out of the waters of the tears of repentance (Ps. 51:17), offers it as a priest bringing a sacrifice to the holy table; and by thus entering into the fullness of the likeness of his Creator, he participates in the fullness of communion with his God by becoming His Body. And so, it is no longer, “It is good for food” (Gen. 3:6), but, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

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The main sacrament, the sacramentum sacramentorum, is not what happens to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, awesome as that transformation is, but what happens to us when we unite so intimately with our God, when He enters into us even physically, when we carry Him in our bellies. The sacrament does not end when the church service is finished; at that time, it only begins.

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In order for there to be a good fruit of this union of man and God, in order that the two become one flesh, one Body, we must become what we eat, we must be transformed into the likeness of the self-sacrificial God. Thus, we must repeat that which we had said concerning every other sacrament and act that we have examined: communion is not when we get something, receive something, it is not an act of a consumer; rather, communion is when we give and sacrifice, when we become God’s priesthood, the “sacrificers” in the cosmic Liturgy. And it is ourselves that we are called to bring to the holy altar of God.

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