Repentance is in good deeds
VIP-Premier proceeds with a series of articles devoted to principal aspects of various religious teachings. We know from readers’ responses to previous publications that there is a great demand for re-evaluation of simple and eternal principles and concepts of normal healthy society which help people maintain honest and friendly relationships between each other. Our correspondent Edda Zabavskikh turned to popular Orthodox preacher Hegumen Innokenty (Pavlov) to bring to light the concept of repentance, which plays a significant role in the Christian ideology and relationships between Christians. The record of their conversation follows.
- Today there is much talking about sacrificial, all-forgiving love. It is especially aspired by those who prefer to live at the expense of others and those who made fortune using apparently non-Christian means such as bribes and kickbacks. They often do penance for their sins. They stand through church services and from time to time even help the disabled. But praying and repenting, they continue to commit sins according to an old saying, “There can be no repentance without sin and there can be no salvation without repentance.” What is your attitude to such repentance?
– People, perhaps unconsciously, look for salvation from the deserved God’s just punishment in love and forgiveness. But repentance is not in a spate of words but in truly good deeds. To repent means to change, to become a new person, not to repeat past sins and to rectify the wrong done as far as possible. True repentance cannot be substituted by a hypocrite’s prayers (they are such if there is no true intention to change) or by the most generous offerings. We all will have to answer to God in the end. Offering shall not be measured by its volume. Primarily, it must be given with all one’s soul (he hasn’t much soul who gives what he otherwise would have thrown out) and what is given must be by no means disposable. The origin of the offering also matters: money stolen, misappropriated or tackled as well as employees’ arrears – from who are these offerings? Are they from those who brought them or from those who earned them? Who make good deeds in this case, those who robbed, grabbed or underpaid, or their victims? Unfortunately, people tend to over-exaggerate their own goodness and reproach of selfish meanness those at whose expense they can be “good.” Arrogance and hypocrisy… If you speak a lot about your own forgiveness it is hardly sincere.
– And what about Christ’s command to “love your enemies”? Great Princess Olga Romanova said inhuman efforts were needed to pray for enemies. However, Great Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna before her terrible execution prayed for salvation of her murderers “for they don’t know what they are doing.” Do criminals today know what they are doing?
– A call to “love your enemies” should not be interpreted too literally and too far. Nobody must love those who attacked you and your loved ones, those who killed, robbed, occupied or grabbed your land. Jesus did not speak about Romans, occupants who seized the alien soil. The point is that then Israel was divided into numerous sects and communities and everybody believed that only he serves the light whereas the other fellow creatures are captives to sin and enemies. Enmity reigned inside the nation and this inner enmity caused by ideological differences and personal dislike was to be stopped by love. Calling to love one’s enemy, Jesus was speaking about dissentients and those who fight each other for petty personal matters.
The call has nothing to do with self-defense and protection of Motherland. Christ did not speak about such enemies. Apostle Paul interprets this call in a yet wider sense: “owe no man anything and be guilty of any thing to no man.” It is a sin and guilt to be in debt. I often call on my students not to borrow as far as possible: they will give you a penny to help, take back (if have not already) thousands and make you sick with a million-dollar talking.
– However, St. Paul repeating Christ’s command to love your enemy said, “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Doesn’t such love seem like revenge?
– To “heap burning coals on one’s head” is tantamount to “sprinkle ashes upon one's head” in sign of repentance. For those unable to repent there is the state, which is to enforce the law on earth in the name of God. “There is no power but of God,” St. Paul said even when the cruel and unpredictable Nero ruled the Empire. Already at that time the mankind came to the conclusion: justice is priceless, it cannot be bought. But human laws often contradict fairness. The mischief is that the state apparatus operates not in conformity with the law that it itself established. It protects itself, the corrupted officials and businessmen stealing the national wealth.
– Do Christians have to forgive and love the people in power who violate laws established by them?
– Of course, they don’t have to. A state that does not implement justice is doomed like it happened with the Soviet Union. There was not such awful income gap in the USSR but there were another injustice: wage leveling. A loafer was guaranteed to receive the same or even more money than a talented and skilled worker. Unfortunately, today the same principles of distribution are effective – the leveling in the social sphere and fat jobs for the buddies, not for the most gifted, able to serve the nation and the society rather than their own pocket. It is typical for timeservers who hope to evade responsibility and God’s justice. So, they stand through church services, try to buy off those whom they robbed throwing small sops to them, and call for Christian love and forgiveness. Hence, we hear all that fuss and calls for mercy on die-hard criminals, serial killers, rapists and even terrorists.
– Today not only human rights activists but also government officials and lawmakers speak about forgiveness for die-hard criminals. They say that the government does not have the right to take the life given by God and that criminals could repent.
– Calls to “Christianly” forgive everybody everything are a typical Bolshevik trick of substitution of notions. Forgiveness is a strictly personal relation with a particular offender. It is not a duty but only a good will. Nobody has the right to forgive on behalf of another person. Neither the state nor the society may assume the right to forgive – they must implement justice. Jesus called not to create problems from petty household woes, to forgive personal offences committed against one another, but not real harm doing, and of course not murder or violence. Indiscriminative forgiveness is nothing but Tolstoyism, the teaching created by Leo Tolstoy who actually was a reformer of Christianity. Speaking to my students I often point to the main mistake in Tolstoy’s interpretation of “turning the other cheek.” Indeed, this saying of Jesus was included into the Teaching of Twelve Apostles. But unlike Tolstoy’s “non-resistance to evil by force,” Christ’s words mean only that you shall not respond with evil to an insult committed against you alone. Battering and maiming are quite another story. Jesus did not cancel the Biblical injunction to take “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” He only added a clarification to the ancient law that norms of the severe law concerning life and death shall not be applied to petty household matters. Murder and robbery must be punished adequately. Tolstoy and his followers did not have enough knowledge of the early Christianity to understand such nuances. “To turn the other cheek” means to try to excite the feeling of shame in the opponent (opponent, not the robber, rapist or killer!) to stop him and thus to prevent a bigger evil.
– But what if by turning the other cheek you fail to stop him and only inspire a new attack?
– If he does not become ashamed, does not stop – he will answer before God: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” But the man himself has the right and must fight for justice in the framework of the law. Over-exaggerated sympathy for criminals against the background of indifference for honest, law abiding people is an evidence of our savagery. The same savagery is to bury notorious criminals with honors befitting respectable and even merited citizens. This means we have inherited the Stalinist technique of presenting a topsy-turvy world. We must get rid of villains who plundered Russia’s wealth and now often stand with candles in cathedrals. Russia will become a normal state when a generation rises up that will forgive never and nobody the evil committed to the nation, the society and the man.
– The church condemned Tolstoy’s concepts. But why practically his words about all-forgiveness and love for enemies are still heard from churches?
– If a country prints money not secured by material wealth, the value of this money depreciates. It is the same in the spiritual realm. Too many different people engage in the publishing business that flourishes. In this situation the aggressive mediocrity dictates its approaches to publishers who see in their business just a source of income. Spiritual figures like Thomas Aquinas are out of demand. Heaps of theological and popular Christian books are printed. But there are extremely few books capable to awake man’s mind and make him think about true approximation to Christianity. Reprints and far-out ideas prevail. The depreciation of thought is obvious. Today it is very important to rediscover the original truths, biased in the course of time, to revive the true Christian teaching and sort out the pile of accretions. Unfortunately, the church, preoccupied by matters of everyday life, externally ordered rites and ceremonies, has no time and maybe nobody to tackle this issue. It’s far simpler to do what is requested by the society and the state. Looking for full comfort, many want Christian love and forgiveness from those whom they bereaved and at whose expense they got rich. Do they really need justice? Some of them are deluded with pride of forgiveness (though not quite sincere), the others – by a seemingly easy way to win grace of God's judgment. All in vain! Apostle Paul said, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law… Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” For all his lawless deeds “the man is responsible for himself before God.”
– But what about repentant sinners? What about that repented thief who was crucified next to Jesus and got salvation after he received God’s Son? Recalling this, the church does not deprive today’s criminals of the hope to receive salvation by generous offerings and fees for occasional offices as if they prove their churching.
– All such attempts to buy salvation prove nothing but their fear and cowardice. Every man has his sin inside himself, and every community too. It's good to be merciful. Universal experience shows that if you are without mercy you will be judged without mercy as well. Therefore the convicted to death had the right to receive a last absolution, which nevertheless did not cancel their execution. There are crimes where the most sincere repentance will not be enough. Every crime shall finally receive a punishment proportioned to the guilt. It is dangerous to forgive a criminal. A man, personally, may forgive a lot even a murder, like Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fyodorovna forgave terrorist Kalyayev, the murderer of her husband,. But the state did not forgive him and executed as a person dangerous for the whole society. And that thief on the Golgotha, he was atoning for the evils of his past by terrible suffering and crucifixion... People need a law-enforcing power in order not to turn into a horde of beasts. The society shall give criminals what they deserve not forgive them. And if it fails, God will repay those criminals and that society.
– So, you support a return to capital punishment in this country. Don’t you?
– Of course, I do not, but not because I believe that mercy on criminals will do no harm to the society. Simply our judiciary is in a sorry state and instead of killers and rapists innocent people could receive death penalty. We must live in sincere faith, obey God’s commandments and look for the Truth. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!” Christ was speaking about “a little flock” that will follow their shepherd and obtain salvation.
By Edda ZABAVSKIKH