Friday, November 30, 2012

Elder Sergei of Vanves on Repentance



Elder Sergei was born in the Netherlands in 1903. Most of his life was spent in France. His is a spiritual Child of Igumen Chariton the last abbot of Valaam before it was closed by the Communists. He spent his life in a country where there were few Orthodox Christians. His views are most helpful as he spent most of his life counseling spiritual children who lived in our secular Western society.

He taught that repentance was the “beginning, middle, and end of spiritual life.” He distinguished between two kinds of repentance: a) for a specific sin, b) for a general sinful state.

The first kind is most vital. he writes:
“There are three stage towards repentance for specific sins.    1) Repenting of the sin in your mind as soon as it is committed.   2) At the end of the day, when you are doing your examination of conscience, recall the sin and ask God for forgiveness again.   3) Confess the sin and repenting of it when you receive the sacrament of Confession.”
The first stage allows us to obtain forgiveness from God when dealing with our lesser sins and impure thoughts. He says,
 “If you have wicked thought and repent it by desiring to think and act otherwise, this sin is erased immediately.”
Elder Sergei put great emphasis on the second stage. We need to make sure to set aside the time to concentrate on repentance at the end of each day. At this time we should undertake a spiritual critique of all that we did during the day reviewing both the evil as well as the good we have not done. After this examination of our conscience we then seek forgiveness from God with sincerity and contrition for all the ways we have been unfaithful to Him. He says,
“We must have a sharp conscience, so that every night we can examine ourselves and what we did during the course of the day and see what we did wrong, what good we failed to do, and what we did poorly. then, we should ask God’s forgiveness for all these things.”“Always keep repenting, not because you have necessarily done something, but because our nature is weak. We must repent for what we are. When we repent, we must consider not just what we have cone wrong, but all the good we have failed to do.”
The third stage, confession before God in the front of a priest, is imperative  as it “allows us to avoid remaining psychologically and spiritually burdened by the sins we have committed in the past.”

The second kind of repentance involves our ongoing character. There are many sins were are unaware of. They have become part of our nature. In Confession we must ask God: “Forgive me my sins which I do not know, for all my unconscious sins.” He writes:
” We must also repent of all our failures and insufficiencies. We should not allow ourselves any excuses as there are no external circumstances that can justify our weaknesses.” 
Repentance is necessary fro everyone as there is no one without sin. Whoever does not think they are sinful is living in delusion. Repentance is an “inner stance” of the fear of God, remembrance of death, and above all, humility. It is “the key to the spiritual life.” He advises:
“God prefers someone who sins and repents for it to someone who think that he never sins and never repents.”
For those who have not repented in a long time they must ask God for forgiveness for their lack of repentance. God knows our sinful struggle, our condition of mortality, and is forgiving with infinite mercy for those who continually repent. Elder Sergei writes:
“Our attitude towards the Kingdom of Heaven should be like that of a traveler who must not become panicked about all the things he has to do once he arrives at his destination, but must continue on, planning for his current journey. We must realize that we do not know when the train will come that will take us to the Kingdom. to be ready when it comes, we should be like the wise virgins and always have oil in our lamps.”“We must never believe that our sinful state is beyond repair. We must be confident that there is always forgiveness for us. All we need to do to be forgiven is to ask.”
According to Elder Sergei, “repentance as a permanent state is the normal state of the Christian, and is the state of all the saints. We must then strive toward this goal with all our might and all our prayer. It will then reveal itself to us as a might force of spiritual progress. He says,
“Repentance is the key to spiritual life. It allows us to have the wedding garment without which we are cast out of he wedding feast.”

Reference: Elder Sergei of Vanves: Life and Teachings, pp 29-34

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