"The fear of God, sustained by the consciousness of a sinful life, leads both to repentance for past sins, and to the avoidance, by self-control of future ones."
What is repentance? Here is how Fr. Dimitru Staniloae describes it:
It is the shovel brought out to clean man from the sins accumulated after Baptism, so that the new man can keep on fighting, by the power of Baptism, with the temptations which confront him.Repentance is more than action. It is also thoughts. Our thoughts lead us to action, so we must also rid ourselves from sinful thoughts. It also is about having endurance of many troubles.
John Climacus says,
Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of the virtues in opposition to sins... Repentance is the endurance of all troubles.Saint Isaac the Syrian talks of three attributes of repentance.
1. Highest of virtues
2. It never ends as long as we live
3. Is the means for our continual perfectionWe must accept that every virtuous act is done with some impure element. No matter how good we feel we are, there is always room for improvement. Repentance involves this element of continual disatisfaction It is a critical act of conscience. There is no virtue that stands above repentance.
Fr. Staniloae says,
Repentance is the road to love; it serves love. It leads from an insufficient love to more love.He warns that this cannot be confused with discouraging dissatisfaction.
"It must not be a doubt in our greater possibilities, but a recognition of the insufficiencies of our achievements up to now... repentance is borne by a faith in something better."Christ gave us a vision of what is possible for us. It, for sure, is a very high standard. As we progress we will see this ideal as ever more perfect. So, the gap, between how we see ourselves currently and this vision of what we are called to be, will ever increase. Repentance is a self-judgment against a standard that seems to be always beyond our realization.
Repentance is the main means we have for our continual perfection.
Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp135 - 140