On the third Thursday of September, a new series of spiritual evenings began and was broadcasted live on the monastery’s YouTube channel. The title of the series this year is: “The Gospel Image of the Christian”, and its goal is to extract a small manual of Christian living from the teachings of the Savior in the Gospel. Or, in other words, we’d like to answer the question: “How does the Messiah-Christ want us?”
The first evening was dedicated to an introduction of Gospel terminology and gave an outline of the first strokes of the portrait of the Christian: repentance.
Some words of the Lord have sometimes been considered strong words. Other times, they were difficult to understand, and at the same time, some of His direct addresses toward us included other meanings than what we can identify from the first reading. For example, he tells the Pharisees, who were scandalized that Christ ate with the publicans and sinners: “I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance” (Mark 2.17) and “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick” (Luke 5.31). It seems, therefore, that there are both righteous and sinners, healthy and sick. But in fact, this is not the case. We know from Saint John the Evangelist that, “if we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1.8). It seems that the Lord’s response is not logical. However, we will see that this is His way of speaking, so as not to force the other’s freedom. The interpretation is given by the Holy Fathers: “I have not come to call to repentance those who consider themselves straight, but those who consider themselves sinners, as they are. I came for them because they receive me. Not that I would not have come for the others, but the others do not receive me.” Our Savior’s way of speaking is different from normal.
Another example of Gospel language is through parables. We know that “All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them” (Matthew 13.34). The word ‘parable’ comes from the Greek word παραβολή, which defines the process of throwing something alongside another thing. Hence the meaning of comparison. In Hebrew, the equivalent term, although with a broader meaning is mashal, this (mishle) being the Hebrew title of Solomon’s book of Proverbs.
Andrei Pleșu did an extraordinary work related to this topic:
“The parable works in the texts of the Lord as the rain, which falls over the good, and over the wicked.”
“Put yourself, a little – if you do not find it complicated – in the situation of Jesus: He speaks in front of an enormous audience, He has to deal with extraordinary human diversity. Because He can’t talk in groups – He speaks to everyone at a time –, He must produce a speech, He must find a process, a device to be heard by everyone, and to provoke an adequate reaction in every part of the public: to those that are open to Him, He attracts even more. Those that are closed off, He either provokes them or opens their taste, or leaves them in peace. He tempers the euphoric, He avoids those lacking common sense, all with a single speech. It seemed to Him that the optimal formula to attack this diversity of audience is through parables. Because the parable is a story that leaves some indifferent, some enlightened, others leave puzzled and throw it on their other thoughts… each of these reactions are possible within the communication of the parable. The parable is a paradoxical device that at the same time says and does not say, provokes and leaves cold, masks and reveals, communicates and does not communicate; it is an extraordinary invention. Handling such a device requires talent and it is best to be done by the Son of God.”
“The parable characterizes the delicate style of God, attentive and caring to our freedom, which He does not cut off, not even with one word of self-promotion.”
Therefore, the words of the Savior must be understood in His Spirit. They are not extracted, because otherwise you could wander through all the possible wrong paths. This correct understanding of His message is kept in the tradition of the Church, in the translation of the Holy Fathers. For example, Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou says: “Without a humble heart we will not understand the Gospel, nor the Prophets.”
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4.17). This is the word with which the Lord began His preaching. It is clearly an exhortation that addresses any Christian. Father Zacharias Zacharou observes: “These words continue the dialogue between God and man, which was interrupted in heaven by the disobedience of the first-created humans… These words are now spoken for a creation of a nation whose ancestor is the Creator Himself, Christ. Repentance, therefore, is the means by which sin is erased and, finally, God’s first word about man is fulfilled: ‘Let us make man in our image and like our likeness’ (Genesis 1.26).” “The man who repents and confesses his fall before God confesses a universal truth. Therefore, we can say that if there is a time when man becomes infallible before the eyes of the Lord, this is when he confesses his sinfulness. And when he sees the truth, he attracts the Spirit of Truth, which brings the believer to the deep feeling of his spiritual poverty and further leads him to repentance. The same Holy Spirit gives him healing and straightening at the same time.”
Repentance is a companion for the rest of our life: “Life lived in repentance is a dynamic one. It is not a work that we do today and then we neglect for a few days, and then to return to it. If we do not always keep the iron hot, say the Fathers, we will not be able to give it the shape we want. Our heart must be forever humbled by the divine commandments, by the grace of God, because as in the soft and warm wax an image can be imprinted, so in a warm heart the image of Christ can be imprinted.”