Fr Luke A Veronis

“Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” These are the first words of Saint John the Baptist and the first words of Jesus Christ as He begins His public ministry. Our journey of faith begins with Repentance. Yet, what does repentance mean?

Repentance. Change. Transformation. To Repent means to be open to Change. To Turn from one direction leading away from God and turn toward the direction of God. To repent means to begin to discover new life. Repentance is not a one moment act but a never ending transformation, where our turning toward God doesn’t end until the day that we die.

This past Friday we had our monthly Orthodoxy on Tap with 30 young adults, and our guest speaker, Dr. Philip Mamalakis, talked about relationships and how one finds their soul mate, or more so how one becomes a soul mate. A fundamental principle he highlighted was that when we marry, we are on a journey that leads into the kingdom of heaven. Marriage is not a static affair but an ongoing, changing relationship. On this journey, it is important to realize we are always growing and changing, learning how to love in new ways with divine love. “Even a couple that has been married for 50 years,” Dr Phil noted, “will still be learning and growing and changing in their understanding of love.”

Repentance, whether in marriage or generally in our spiritual journey throughout life, implies constantly turning away from our egocentric and fallen nature, turning away from our sins and failures and turning toward God. It implies constantly growing in the “mind of Christ.” Since God is infinite, none of us can ever say that we are good enough, that we have arrived. We are on a never ending journey toward God.

For one to truly repent, we have to know ourselves. And to know oneself is an extremely difficult thing. Most of us choose to live at a superficial level of self-knowledge. We see some good in ourselves. We know we’ve failed in some areas. Yet, we don’t want to look too closely because we might not like what we will see. We don’t want to really know ourselves because we’re scared about what we will discover. We have a past full of failures, of shortcomings, of brokenness, of unfulfilled dreams. None of us have lived up to our divine potential.

When we truly know ourselves, however, we will not see only the ugliness and darkness within but we will discover our God-given beauty, created in His image, and our unfulfilled divine potential. Unfortunately, we too often choose a path turning away from God, giving in to certain temptations and addictive behaviors. True self-knowledge reveals how often we have turned away from God and toward darkness. Yet, self-knowledge with repentance helps us discover beauty and light, the divine image of God in whom we were created.

To know yourself can scare us. Yet, to truly know yourself should give us hope. It all depends on which lens we choose to look at ourselves.

When we hear Jesus proclaim “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” He is calling us to this authentic self-awareness which will lead us to turn away from our fallen path and turn toward God. Every time we turn toward Him, we discover hope. Thus, repentance isn’t some gloomy, negative act but an exciting positive, life-transformative, act.

Some months ago, I preached a sermon where I emphasized that our church welcomes everyone. It doesn’t matter what anyone believes, what lifestyle one has, what mistakes or sins one has committed. That all doesn’t really matter. We warmly welcome you to find your home here with us in the Church. Yet, I also emphasized in the same sermon that just as we welcome everyone, we also expect everyone in this church to live a life a repentance, a life of constant, ongoing change. Starting with the life-long members who were baptized as babies in this church, to the newest visitors, the call and demand of repentance is the same. Each one of us is called to live a life of repentance, and thus a life of change, a life where we are open to Godly transformation.

We can never stay the way we are. When I meet some people who say, “I don’t need to change. If someone doesn’t love me the way I am, I don’t need them.” That’s not the attitude here in this Church. Yes, we love you where you’re at. But we want you to discover your God-given potential and we want you to become who God wants you to become. Thus, change is expected!

If we are not growing, we are stagnating. There is no status quo in the Christian life. Think about the icon of the Divine Ladder. We are on a journey climbing that ladder. We can’t reach the top if we are content where we are. No matter how high we climb, our goal isn’t to go high, it is to enter into the kingdom of heaven. We can never stop climbing until we reach out goal.

Repentance. Change. Transformation. That is what we hear our Lord Jesus say to us today. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent, for you are invited into the kingdom of heaven, to experience this kingdom starting today.

Let me conclude with these inspiring words of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania: “The unparalleled contribution of the Church is the giving of meaning to life, the transcendence of death…I believe that what the Church offers is the elevation of humanity, through purification, from the multifaceted nature of sin to something more refined, more genuine. The goal is to advance to another level, to what we call illumination, to deification by grace, which is our ultimate yearning. It is participation in God, who is love. It is a never-ending movement of limited humanity to the unlimited divine.”

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

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