Multifarious Trials of Repentance

IsaacTheSyrian-headerThrough repentance a person receives back that knowledge which was given to him as a pledge in baptism…. Repentance arises in a person through the activity of divine grace in the soul. It begins when God bestows on us a consciousness of our own sins. This consciousness penetrates into our thoughts as God sees to it that we suffer multifarious trials. Perceiving one’s own sins, Isaac claims, is more important than performing miracles or having supernatural mystical visions, for with this awareness the way of repentance begins. And repentance itself is higher than many other virtues.

Met. Hilarion Alfevev writing in The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





10 responses to “Multifarious Trials of Repentance”

  1. Mom Avatar

    I really liked this. It is an encouragement for me when I pray. Thank You

  2. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you. As one who is undergoing “multifarious trials” that have intensified recently and which indeed serve to confront me with my wretched sinfulness, I needed to hear this. I am also very thankful for your prayers. I need those and those of all who pray for us very much. Thanks for reminding us also of this in today’s post–it is a comfort.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar


    “A broken and contrite heart God will not despise…”

    Repentance is the proper natural state of the human heart. It is not a legal response to a legal problem, but itself part of what the cure looks like from the disease of sin (which hardens the heart). Thus repentance is to be constant, a proper attitude to God at all times. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

    It ultimately is not a response to our sin, but a response to our God. A major difference. If you or I met God face to face, the proper response would be to fall down in worship and repentance – regardless of our “legal” status (of which there is no such thing).

  4. Damaris Avatar


    If I may add a comment . . .

    I came across a “hyper-Calvinist” group when I was working as a missionary overseas. They insisted that believers must never ask for forgiveness more than once. They said that once enables you to be saved, but subsequent pleas are attempts at “works,” at earning your salvation, and prove that you hadn’t really believed to begin with. The only way I could counter them to my friends who asked me was to give an analogy. My husband married me one time. I believe he is faithful and will never desert me, even if I sin against him. In that sense I do not “need” to repent to keep him from divorcing me. However, our relationship would be damaged by my sin and needs to be restored by my repentence. In the same way God is always loving to me, whether I ask for forgiveness or not, but I would no longer be in right relationship with Him if I sin against Him.

    This is just saying more lengthily what Father Stephen explained. May God guide us all as we work these things out.

  5. Damaris Avatar

    Darlene —

    I tried posting this once and don’t see it showing up anywhere, so I’ll try again! Forgive me, everyone, if I repeat myself.

    When I was a missionary, I came across a “hyper-Calvinist” group that said you could only repent one time ever. If you asked forgiveness more than once, you were not accepting God’s grace and were trying by your “works” to earn salvation. Many young believers I knew were disturbed by this. I tried to counter this argument by drawing an analogy from marriage. I truly believed my husband’s marriage vows and have faith he will never leave me. However, from time to time I sin against him and need to ask for forgiveness. I don’t do so in order to forestall his leaving me, or because I don’t have faith in him; I repent in order to restore our relationship, because I’m unhappy when we aren’t on good terms. In the same way I know while I was yet a sinner, God loved me and loves me still. I repent not to try to earn His grace but to restore my relationship with Him, because through Him I live and move and have my being.

    Father Stephen really said the same thing in fewer words.

  6. Darlene Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you ever so much for this blog addition. Indeed, I am finding myself increasingly addicted to this site, which is far better than being addicted to ordinary activities that contribute little to one’s spiritual growth.

    I have a few questions. First, regarding this,”Through repentence a person receives back that knowledge which was given to him as a pledge in baptism.”

    When I repented of my sins, I had not been previously baptized. I was raised in an atheist/agnostic home and wasn’t even sure if God existed. When I first prayed to repent of my sins, I knew next to nothing of the Christian faith. I prayed, more than anything, to discover if God existed. My prayer really and truly was one in which I had no idea of His presence, but was trusting that if He did exist, He would answer me. So how does this fit into the above paradigm? I had nothing to receive back from baptism, for I had never been baptized. And from what I have observed, many who are baptized go through life living wickedly sinful lives.

    “Perceiving one’s own sins, Issac claims, is more important than performing miracles or having supernatural visions, for with this awareness the way of repentance begins.”

    How true! The problem within the Reformed tradition from which I come, says that in regeneration Christ forgives our sins “past, present, and future.” So, I often wondered why one must repent of any sin after they have been born-again? And I’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer on this one. Thankfully, the Wesleyan-Methodist teaching stuck with me, which is far closer to the Orthodox way. Yet, in practice, many who insist upon the Reformed understanding will still ask for forgiveness of sins AFTER they have received Christ.

    So how does one reconcile this Reformed teaching (forgiven of sins past, present, future), with the need for the Christian to practice on-going repentance? If one were to actually take for face value what this belief is saying, they would never have a need to repent for anything after they have initially repented (regardless of what sins they have committed). Thus it is that there are disagreements among evangelical Protestants. Some actually believe that repentance after salvation is grieving the Holy Spirit because the Christian is doubting what Christ has already done, that is, forgiven all sins -past, present, future.

    I know at times I may be redundant. It is because I must work out and process those things which were “hammered” into me as a Protestant, especially when I attended a Reformed Calvinist Church. And family and friends still remind me of my former Protestant beliefs, so I want to be prepared and informed how to answer them.

    I look forward to anyone who cares to comment on these matters.

    In Christ’s Immeasurable Love,


  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Great analogy. I repent constantly in my marriage (or should).

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    It got hung up in the spam filter, sorry.

    It’s been a great afternoon with the youth at the monastery. Our retreat topic has been “The Rocks Will Sing,” in which we’re looking creation in Scripture and an Orthodox understanding. My favorite quote of the afternoon: “Rocks rock.” That works for me.

  9. zoe Avatar

    Father Bless,

    Darlene raise a very important question. One that was also part of my confusion as an Evangelical Christian. The Evangelical teaching that Christ forgives once and for all past, present and future sins and therefore, there is no need to ask forgiveness for sins committed after baptism and or after “accepting Christ as personal savior” caused me to be blind to my sins and errors committed after baptism in an Evangelical Church. It is indeed through constant state of repentance that I see the “new creation” in me.

    I always pondered about this verse, 2 Cor. 5:17: Therefore, if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.

    As a Protestant, I did not see any change in me after baptism, and now I know the reason is that I did not have a repentant heart. The above teaching only caused me to further engaged in self justification because after all “Jesus paid it all” so all the daily errors and sins committed was not acknowledged at all and thus pride grew and its cascades of related sins followed.

    I thank God for leading me to Orthodoxy for in this Church and its teachings I’m truly experiencing the “newness” that St Paul preaches.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen for this post and your answer to Darlene’s question. Repentance must indeed be a constant state of our hearts for without this, I know it will be very easy for me to be on the side of the pharisee instead of on the side of the publican when praying to God.

  10. Dn Charles Avatar

    This really clarifies where our priorities need to be. For me I find too often myself judging others, not in a mean way, but in a way that makes me feel superior in some way. When I do this I realize I am ignoring this important message. Thanks for the positing.

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