Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Repentance 1

We are sure that everyone knows that the English word repentance corresponds to the Greek word metanoia, μετάνοια, and that the Greek word means a ‘change of mind’. However, if we look at what the word nous, νος, really means, it might be more accurate to say that repentance means a ‘change of spirit’. We might go even further and say: a ‘change of heart’.

In the next few posts, we would like to discuss how we think people should repent. We want to take ‘spiritual snapshots’ from many different vantage points so that the reader might get some idea of the spiritual lay of the land. This is difficult and why we have delayed.

In a discussion with a young Romanian-American reader (Orthodox Monasticism 15D – Our Response Part 1 and Orthodox Monasticism 15D – Our Response Part 2) we discussed the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There we asserted that every soul had to reach the stage of the Jew in the parable herding pigs before it could truly repent. That is one snapshot of repentance.

Let us however turn to something closer to the ‘political posts’ we have made recently. How does a non-Orthodox, especially an Evangelical or Pentecostalist Protestant involved in right-wing Christianity, repent?

We received an email about a month ago:

I am discerning becoming Orthodox and would like to learn more about Orthodoxy and the worship services. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

We replied in part:

[We] wish you well in your search for Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is a matter of transformation: not of solving theological issues but of becoming a new creation. This is often a problem for Protestants with an Evangelical background because they think they have already been transformed and are merely seeking to bring the transformation to completion. In general it is even true for those who have made a personal conversion to Catholicism: in all these cases the person cannot comprehend that what is involved is a new creation, not an adjustment of what was previously there.

To put this into context, consider this saying of Our Lord:

And no one puts new wine into old wine-skins. Otherwise, the new wine will split the wine-skins and it will be spilled and the wine-skins are lost. But new wine must be put into new wine-skins. And no one drinking old wants new. For he says: ‘The old is good.’

(Luke 5, 37 – 9)

Essentially what we are saying, then, is that Orthodoxy is new wine. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.’ Persons with a previous religious commitment have drunk the old wine. They do not want the new wine that is the Holy Spirit found in the Orthodox Church. They encounter some deficiencies in the old wine of their previous religious commitment—a lack of a sense of completeness, say—and they think to complete the old wine with the new wine of the Orthodox Church, without however making a complete conversion to Orthodoxy, without undergoing a change of spirit or change of heart from their old religious commitment. They merely supplement their old wine with a dollop of the new, and this even if they make a formal conversion to the Orthodox Church.

We do not think that those Orthodox jurisdictions that facilitate this sort of conversion are doing these persons a favour: these persons make a ‘half-conversion’ to Orthodoxy while retaining the mind-set (nous) of their previous religious commitment.

This leads to two problems. On the one hand, these persons bring into Orthodoxy points of view that are historically foreign to the Orthodox Church, causing problems for the others around them. This is especially true when the persons have been involved in right-wing Christianity. On the other hand these persons have themselves been short-changed: they have not received the spiritual regeneration that is the heart of Orthodoxy.

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