There are many kinds of tears, and it is important to discriminate between them.
So writes Bishop Kallistos Ware in The Inner Kingdom, in a chapter on “The Orthodox Experience of Repentance.” He has much to say about tears, which requires seven paragraphs, and I include this one sentence as a means of introducing the fact that in the Orthodox understanding, tears are a great and even necessary gift. Being reminded, I read the chapter’s closing paragraphs with a new perspective:
Filled with grief yet at the same time filled with joy, repentance expresses the creative tension found at all times in the Christian life on this earth, and described with such vividness by St. Paul: “…always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body…dying, and behold we live…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 4:10; 6:9-10).
As a life of continual repentance, our Christian discipleship is a sharing at one and the same time in Gethsemane and the Transfiguration, in the Cross and the Resurrection. St John Climacus sums the matter up by saying, “If you put on blessed and grace-filled mourning as a wedding robe, you will know the spiritual laughter of the soul.”
“The sweet work of repentance
that is set before us as followers of Christ,
is nothing other than the return to reality.”
“How we feel about many things has this same make-believe quality. We find certain styles of clothing and certain products (cars, houses, etc.) attractive and desirable, but often with little more than subjective reasons for our desires. The power of this make-believe is so great that it is well-known that many people “go shopping” to battle depression. It is a strange therapy.”
Read the rest of the article by Father Stephen Freeman here: “The Unreal Land” — about the real cause of so much of our grief and misery in everyday life, “a ceaseless struggle with things that have no true existence.”
When I look around his blog I always find plenty to provoke my thoughts in a good direction. His book Everywhere Present puts a lot of this food for the soul together in one nourishing bowl.
“Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope – not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light.
“In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, at initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life.”
I remember as a Protestant laughing at the prophet Jonah, because he seems to make himself ridiculous in his pouting conversation with God. Essentially, his emotions are all over the place, which I can relate to. Jonah is unhappy when God spares the people of Nineveh, because that means his prophecy of their destruction doesn’t come to pass, and it makes him look bad. Then he is “exceedingly glad” when God makes a gourd grow up to give him a little shade. When the gourd dies he is very displeased again. And God chastises him for having more pity on a gourd than on a whole city full of humans.
In the Orthodox Church we read the entire book of Jonah in church every Holy Saturday, along with a dozen other Old Testament passages. No one ever chuckles when we get to this part of the story; Jonah has a lot to teach us about our salvation, and we revere him for the fact that God made his life a picture of Christ’s death and Resurrection.
For the Prologue of Ohrid St. Nikolai has written a Hymn of Praise to God for how He worked in and through Jonah’s life, and for His forgiveness. I imagine that much of the poetry got lost in the translation from the Serbian language, but I appreciate the attitude toward the Holy Prophet Jonah, whom we commemorate on this day.
THE HOLY PROPHET JONAH
Nineveh! Nineveh resounds with sin,
And God sends Jonah to heal Nineveh.
Jonah does not want to, and flees from God!
Oh, where will you go, Jonah, to hide from the Most High?
Jonah sleeps; he sleeps and the tempest rises.
God moves slowly, but He will find you in time.
Hurled into the waves, swallowed by the whale,
“From whom did I flee?” Jonah asks himself.
“I fled from Him, from Whom one cannot hide!”
God chastises Jonah and yet delivers him,
And, by His providence, glorifies him forever.
Jonah, you do not want to speak to the Ninevites,
But through your punishment you will prophesy the immortal Christ.
You do not want to by words? Then you must, by deeds,
Prophesy Christ and the death and resurrection of the body!
Your deeds, Jonah, will not fade away,
And Christ the Lord will speak of you to men,
That, through you, the mercy of the Living God might be revealed,
By which you will be saved, as well as Nineveh.
Through you, the power of repentance shall be revealed–
The power of repentance and God’s forgiveness.
You pitied the gourd, and God pitied men.
Help us to repent, O God, and save us from condemnation.