True and False Repentance

by St. Clement of Alexandria

If someone is able to escape the excesses of riches, and is able to overcome the difficulties that riches cause in the way of life, he can enjoy eternal good things. But suppose that even though he is sealed ("sealing" refers to baptism) and redeemed, for some reason- because he doesn't know any better or because of circumstances he cannot control-he falls into sins and is quite carried away. What happens? This person is entirely rejected by God.

Everyone who has turned to God with his whole heart will find that the doors are open. The Father gladly receives his truly repentant son. And true repentance is to be no longer bound in the same sins for which the Saviour has denounced death against himself. Rather, it is to eradicate those sins completely from our souls. When those sins are pulled up by their roots, then God makes his home in you again.

It is said that the Father and the angels have great joy and celebration when one sinner turns and repents. (Luke 15:10) God tells us, "I prefer mercy, and not sacrifice" (Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13). And "I desire not the death, but the repentance of the sinner" (Ezek. 18:23). And He says, "Though your sins are like scarlet wool, I will make them as white as snow; though they are blacker than darkness, I will wash them and make them like white wool". (Isa. 1:18). Only God has the power to forgive our sins and pardon our transgressions. But he also commands us to daily forgive our brothers when they repent (Matt. 6:14). "And if we, being evil, know how to give good gifts" (Luke 11:13), then how much more it is the nature of the long-suffering Father of mercy and consolation to wait for those who have converted. But to convert means that we really do cease from our sins, and we no longer look behind.

So, God is the one who forgives our past sins. We do this by repenting, by condemning the past deeds, and begging the Father to totally forget them. The Father is the only one who is able to undo what has been done and to blot out our former sins by the dew of the Holy Spirit. He says, "I will judge you by the state in which I find you". So, there may be a person who has done incredibly good deeds during his life. But if he runs headlong into wickedness at the end of his life, then all his previous deeds will fail to profit him. At the conclusion of the drama, he has given up his role.

On the other hand, it is possible for the man who once led a wicked and immoral life to eventually repent During the remainder of his life after his repentance, he may overcome the evil conduct of a long time. But to do so requires great care, because he is like one who has suffered from a prolonged disease and needs to follow a certain regimen. He needs special attention. Thief, do you want to be forgiven? Steal, no more. Adulterer, burn no more [with lust]. Fornicator, lively purely in the future. You have robbed, give back - and give back more than you took. False witness, practice truth Perjurer, swear no more. All of you, get rid of the rest of your fleshly passions - wrath, lust, grief, fear. In doing so, at the end of your life, you may be found to have already been reconciled to the adversary during your stay in this world.

It is probably impossible to eradicate all your inbred passions at once. But by God's grace, by the help of the brothers, by sincere repentance, and by constant care, they will be corrected.

I want you to be even more confident that this kind of repentance brings you the certain hope of salvation. So I will tell you a story that has been handed down and committed to memory about the Apostle John.

When the tyrant [Domitian, who had exiled John] finally died, John left the island of Patmos and returned to Ephesus. He was then asked to travel throughout the surrounding provinces. In one place he would appoint overseers. In another, he would set whole churches in order. In still another, he would ordain those who were indicated by the Spirit.

Along the way, he stopped at one of the cities not far from Ephesus. Some have said this city was Smyrna. After he had settled some other matters, he noticed a strong, handsome young man who was enthusiastic and devoted. Looking at the newly appointed overseer, he said, "I commit this youth to you in all earnestness, in the presence of the church, and with Christ as witness". When the overseer accepted the charge and promised to fulfil his obligation, John gave him instructions and testimony. Then John returned to Ephesus.

The elder took the youth who had been committed to him to his own home. He reared him, cherished him, and finally baptised him. After this, he relaxed his stricter care and guardianship. He thought that the seal of the Lord he had set on the youth [i.e. baptism] gave him complete protection. But when the youth obtained this premature freedom, some other young men his age, who were idle, immoral, and adept at evil, corrupted him. First, they enticed him by providing expensive entertainment. Later, when they went out at night and robbed people on the highways, they took him along. Then they dared to pull off bigger things. By degrees, he came to accept their life. He had a strong nature, so once he had left the right path, he was like a hard mouthed and powerful horse. He had taken the bit between his teeth, and he rushed with all the more force down into the depths.

In time, he entirely despaired of his salvation in God. He no longer desired to do small acts of evil but great ones. Since he felt he was lost beyond all hope, he made up his mind to accept the same fate as the others. Taking them and forming a band of robbers, he quickly became the captain of the bandits - the fiercest, bloodiest, and cruelest of them all.

Time passed. Some necessity emerged in the church, so they sent for John to come to them again. When he had settled this other matter, John said, "Overseer, return the deposit which I and the Saviour committed to you in the presence of the church over which you preside". At first, the overseer was puzzled, thinking John was wrongly accusing him of mishandling money. He couldn't believe the allegation, but neither could he disbelieve John. Finally John clarified the matter, saying, "I demand the young man, and the soul of our brother entrusted to you".

The elderly overseer, groaning deeply, burst into tears and said, "He is dead".

"How did he die?"

"He is dead", the overseer said, "to God. He turned wicked and abandoned the faith. And at last he became a robber. Now he and his band have taken possession of the mountain across the church".

John tore his clothes and pounded his head with a great lament. "I left a fine guard in charge of this brother's soul!" he finally cried.

Recovering, he said, "Someone please bring me a horse. I need a guide to show me the way". He rode away, just as he was, straight from the church. As he approached the robbers' hideout, he was grabbed by their sentry. Neither fleeing nor begging, he cried out, "I came here so that you could waylay me. Lead me to your captain" Meanwhile, the captain, who was fully armed, was waiting. But as soon as he recognised John, he was overcome with shame. He quickly turned and fled. John followed him with all his strength, forgetting his age, and cried out, "Why, my son, do you flee from me, your old and unarmed father? Son, pity me. Do not fear. You still have hope of life. I will give and account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death, as the Lord endured death for us. For you I will surrender my life. Stop! Believe! Christ has sent me".

The youth finally stopped, and he stood looking down. He finally threw down his weapons. Then he trembled and began to weep bitterly. When the old man approached, he embraced him. Though the young man could hardly speak because he was crying so much, he expressed his regret for his actions. That day, he was baptised a second time with tears. John assured him an oath that he would find forgiveness from the Saviour. Begging him and falling on his knees, John kissed his right hand, purified by repentance. Then he led him back to the church.

There John prayed profusely, striving beside the young man in continual fasting. Through hours of instruction, he subdued the young man's mind. In fact, John did not depart until he restored the young man to the church. He presented the young man as a great example of true repentance. For at the end of the world, the angels, radiant with joy, singing hymns and opening the heavens will receive those who truly repent into the celestial abodes. On that day, in front of everyone, the Saviour himself will go to meet them and welcome them. Holding forth the eternal light that is without shadow, he will conduct them to the Father's bosom, to eternal life, to the kingdom of heaven.

So believe the prophecies, the gospels, and the apostolic words. By living in accordance with them, lending your ears, and practicing these deeds, when you die, you will see - the fulfilment of these truths. For anyone who welcomes the angel of repentance in this world will not need to repent when he dies. He will not be ashamed when he sees the Saviour approaching in His glory and with His angels. He will not fear the fire.

On the other hand, if you choose to continue to sin perpetually in pleasure - if you prefer to indulge yourself here rather than to seek eternal life, if you turn away from the Saviour who offers forgiveness - blame neither God, nor riches, nor the fallen flesh. Blame your own soul, which voluntarily perishes. For whoever desires salvation and asks for it vehemently and boldly, the good Father in heaven will grant true purification and the changeless life. To Him, by His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord of the living and the dead, and by the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, power, and eternal majesty, both now and forever, from generation to generation, and from eternity to eternity. Amen.

Return to homepage (framed) | Return to homepage (no frames) | Return to home page