Confession, and joy

Confession is the most wonderful gift. Not because there are rules we break and it wipes the slate clean, some judicial process, an impersonal law broken and as a transaction bartered. But because sin is such a ugly thing, which breaks our spirit and eclipses the gentle joy of God's Presence - confession heals and restores all that is lost. It restores the intimacy of love between God and ourselves.

When we glimpse something of the reality of how we have scarred and wounded the beauty of God's creation, not least in ourselves, we are granted the gift of contrition, if we are courageous enough to accept it.  It takes much courage to look at ourselves honestly, and the courage we need is a gift we need to pray for. Otherwise we hide too much of the reality, and our vanity casts a thick fog over it. Otherwise we excuse, prevaricate, minimise, even blame others. It is not easy to look honestly, and to weep not out of self-pity but out of longing for a beauty lost, and the wound which we have opened up in the goodness of the world God wills. St Silouan writes a beautiful poem which he puts in the mouth of Adam which expresses this well, though written on a cosmic scale, aware of how the life of one is bound up in the life of all created things.

               Adam wept bitterly because peace and love were lost to all men on account of his sin... 
               "My soul sorrows with a great sorrow,:
                 I have grieved God,
                And were the Lord to set me down in paradise again,
                There too would I sorrow and weep that I have grieved my beloved God."

To be contrite, to desire penance, is a fruit of humility, a gift of the Holy Spirit. St Silouan also writes, He who has the Holy Spirit in him, to however slight a degree, sorrows day and night for all mankind. His heart is filled with pity for all God’s creatures, more especially for those who do not know God, or who resist Him and therefore are bound for torment. For them, more than for himself, he prays day and night, that all may repent and know the Lord. 

And humility comes from either a gentle and meek spirit; such is the humility of the saint.  Or it comes from the realisation of how foolish we have been, how pathetic and weak having had the temerity to believe we can walk in our own strength, and that our actions have only trivial consequences. Such is the humility of the younger son who returns to his father having wasted his inheritance.

I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me.
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal:
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father;
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.

So joy dawns in the darkness, and hope flourishes once more.

And we should never doubt that God wills this joy to dawn in us, and His patience is eternal in dealing with us. So often we are granted these life filled gifts, moments of grace and goodness, our soul finds its equilibrium, we sense the world around us with a bright intensity, and resting in God's will it seems that even locked doors are no impediment. Life is a river, and we are borne along in perfect freedom. Then we seem so quick to throw it away, to lower our sights, to rapidly become haughty or careless or lacking in gratitude or whatever, and every pocket seems to then develop holes and these precious treasures tumble to the ground. But God... is totally un-phased, longs for our return, misses us, desires us, and his desire works on us... and with joy and generosity he welcomes us back...again and again and again.

We see something of this is the life of the holy elder Paisios, an Athonite monk who died just 19 yrs ago. One of his rather wayward disciples wrote a rather marvellous book, 'The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios' and in it he recalls: "Unfortunately I was very senseless, and I soon let these precious gifts be stolen...each time I left the Holy Mountain , I was enticed into sin and wasted the precious gifts that my father had given me... he neither go angry with me nor gave up on me. Every time I returned in repentance he took hold of me, lifted me up, cleaned me off, tended my wounds, dressed me like a prince, filled my purse with gold, and sen me back again, with honours, to the many times I behaved without sense or gratitude - and yet he never lessened or limited his spiritual gifts." p.80.

God is never outdone in generosity. As St Paul says, God's patience is our chance to be saved. That is not a tetchy, critical or dominating patience just waiting for us to be crushed and humiliated. It is a generous, life giving, joy filled, heart felt patience that is willing us into life, into light, into love, and wounded only in sorrow that we are separated from Him. For as He loves us, so He misses us (this is not that He needs us, just that His love is so complete and encompassing).

It is the same patience and generosity of spirit with which an iconographer should deal with his or her work, his or her own failings to create beauty as God wills it, with his or her inner thoughts about other iconographers, priests and those who commission his work, with students entrusted to his or her care. The icon thrives in an atmosphere of mercy, and patient compassion, as each icon is a 'missionary' which proclaims this merciful love. Indeed, as such it demands it most of all of those who dare to make them, for without this the bond between iconographer and icon is tenuous and fractured.


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