Season of Repentance is a collection of the Lenten homilies of St. John of Kronstadt (1829-1908), one of the best known and loved Russian Orthodox saints of modern times. Translated by Sergio Tancredo Sette Câmara e Silvia, and published by Holy Trinity Publications, the collection is a harvest of Lenten wisdom worth reading at any time before or during Lent, and even year round.
Included in the book are thirty-eight homilies that cover the pre-Lenten Sundays of preparation in the Eastern churches, the Sundays of Lent, Wednesday of the first week of Lent, and Holy Week. A homily for Thomas Sunday, the first Sunday after Pascha, or Easter in the Western tradition, is included as an epilogue.
Humility and Mercy
The collection opens with Fr. John’s homilies on the Publican and the Pharisee, the first of the Sundays of preparation. In these homilies, St. John turns our attention to our own pridefulness and sinfulness, and our need for God’s mercy. He writes:
— “Without a shadow of a doubt we must appreciate the example of humility of the publican . . . as he represents all of us, repentant sinners . . . especially because we have seen how he was pardoned by God for his humility. . . . Let us try to emulate this example of humility . . . the publican, beating himself on the chest and humbly asking for forgiveness, God, be merciful to me a sinner (Luke 18:13).”
In one of his homilies for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the second of the preparation Sundays, St. John considers how each of us becomes like the dissolute and wayward son through sin:
— “Behold the ambitious man, for whom earthly honors are the goal of his life. Instead of striving for the eternal honor of the lofty calling in Jesus Christ, he exhausts all efforts to achieve as much acclaim as he can from people.”
— “Behold the lover of money, through whose hands already have passed many earthly coins, and who desires to gather them, the more the better. Silver and gold, those are his idols.”
— “And what about the miserable victim of his insatiable belly? The man who out of immoderate love for delectable food and drink consumes it in excess, is always physically and spiritually ill.”
Unfortunately, many of us fall into these categories and never come to the realization that we have gone astray; through God’s mercy, however, there is still time in this life for us to come to our senses and to repent, especially during Lent.
Fasting and Forgiveness
In the Eastern tradition, one does not simply jump into fasting for Lent. Following the Sundays of the Publican and the Pharisee and the Prodigal Son are Meatfare and Cheesefare. On the Monday following Meatfare, Eastern Christians begin abstaining from meat until Pascha. On the next Sunday, Cheesefare, we give up cheese until Pascha. The following day, Lent officially begins.
To St. John, Cheesefare Sunday is a day of careful self-examination of our sins and our need for forgiveness. This is most apt, since the day is also called Forgiveness Sunday. St. John writes:
— “Therefore, let us take to heart the advice of our Saviour, offered to us in today’s Gospel [Mt 6: 14-21] regarding the forgiveness of offenses, regarding a God-pleasing fast, the detachment of our hearts from earthly treasures and loving incorruptible, heavenly blessings.”
True Repentance and Confession
St. John’s short homily “On Repentance,” for the first week of Lent, teaches us what it means to be a repentant person and how such a person should approach the holy mystery or sacrament of confession:
— “The intention to correct his life is also required of the repentant person; pay attention to this. On your way to confession, tell yourself: after confession I will try with all my strength to correct my life from all the sins of which I wish to repent. I will deceive myself no more; I will not lie to God, nor will I insult again the mystery of repentance.”
— “Finally, a repentant person also must have faith in Christ and hope in His mercy. Every person who approaches confession must believe that during the Mystery Christ Himself stands invisibly and receives his confession . . . and that He, according to His mercy, is always ready to forgive our every sin, if only we confess them with heartfelt compunction and have the intention to be better from now on, and to have faith in Him in our hearts.”
For Eastern Christians, Season of Repentance offers a compact collection of a holy saint’s writings perfect for meditation and reflection during the entire season of Lent. For Western Christians, the book serves as an excellent introduction to how Lent is observed in the Eastern tradition, while offering new insights into the Lenten season that should enliven their prayer and reflection.
For Further Reading
My Life in Christ, which collects extracts from St. John of Kronstadt’s diary in a translation sanctioned by the saint and first published in 1897, is also published by Holy Trinity Publications. A revised edition in paperback recently was released.