What is repentance: An interview with Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok

What is repentance? Looking for an answer to this question we asked a well-known priest from Minsk Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok. Father Andrew is a very experienced pastor because he has to confess tens and hundreds of persons in various places daily.

Father Andrew, what is repentance?

Fr. Andrew: Repentance is a way one has to go to reach God. Repentance implies effort that a person makes to get closer to God. This is what distinguishes a soul that searches for God’s light and strives for God’s love.

Why should a person repent?

Fr. Andrew: If a person does not have anything to eat and cannot sleep, his strength will soon disappear. Apart from the body, each person has the soul, which needs food, heat and light. Each soul needs Love of Christ, she longs for the source of life. Everything a person sees in this world is unable to grant him immortality. Naturally, because one’s soul is created for the everlasting life, it should look for this source of life. Repentance is the only way to restore connection to God, to transform and to combat death, given that the world is infected with sin and that human nature is corrupted.

How are repentance and the Sacrament of Repentance correlated?

Fr. Andrew: The Sacrament of Repentance is one of the Sacraments of the Church. However, it is not always that true repentance, when a person reveals his soul to God, when light appears in his soul, when he is ashamed of the sins that he has done, happens during the confession. Obviously, for true repentance to happen, the grace of the Holy Spirit must act. The grace of the Holy Spirit must open one’s eyes to let him see the reality of his life and must give him an opportunity to believe in God’s merciful and saving love. The Sacrament of Repentance is a necessary preparation for the Sacrament of Communion but one should not be waiting for special inspiration or special state. We should work and make steps towards God. We ought to think about the time we have already left behind and about the mistakes we have already made and ask God for help and power to struggle and improve our lives. When this work accumulates, the Lord will give us true repentance, which is a step towards the new life.

We name our sins and repent during our evening prayers. Is repentance possible during private prayer?

Fr. Andrew: Yes, certainly, this is also a form of repentance. It even happens that when a person is alone, he sheds tears asking God to forgive him, and he has nothing like that when he comes to confession. This is not something one has to be afraid of. I think there are some moments when God acts but there also is permanent and regular work of the soul. I think that if a person has come in order to confess and he does not have anything to say and does not feel anything special inside his heart, but he makes effort to say something, to ask God to forgive him, this is also very important in the struggle for the sake of our immortality. One thing is to “fly” to the church, and another thing is to “crawl” when you do not want anything and do not expect anything but you simply crawl on and on towards God. Sometimes such kind of repentance is even more useful because this is the work that you do, not the gift from God, which you have received and which you often lose.

What can a person who repents but cannot help sinning again do?

Fr. Andrew: Falling down one thousand times, one must rise up again 1001 times. It is none of our business to guess when God heals us, when we will be able to stand up to sin. However, self-justification leads to a dead-end. That is why we should not be afraid when we repeat one and the same sin a hundred times, when we rebuke others and when we are inattentive. I think we should not be afraid of saying these words, we should ask God to help us to resist for one day or even for half a day without rebuking or saying bad things about anyone.

Can repentance change one’s life completely?

Fr. Andrew: There are various examples, which are different from one another. Sometimes a person comes to God for the first time, and his repentance marks the beginning of a new life for him. Sometimes years go by, and nothing changes, when at last the person starts to see his sin. Finally, the person feels God and His Love and wants to live without sin. There are people, who have nobody and nothing to hope for, but they are important to God and such people often come to our metochion. One of such people told me that when he was in the death row he started to pray and this was his way to God. We often come to God when our usual lifestyle is shattered and we need support, we have to live on, and this is the time when we need help. One receives this help when he enters the Church. One can only enter the Church through repentance and communion. I have a bitter feeling when I see that the majority of people come to God because of sorrows and hopelessness. For me, the best situation is when a person comes to confession and says how much he is grateful to God. This is the best situation because even though he does not have true repentance, he still does have a vibrant connection with God. This is also wonderful because such a person begins to see the better part of life and thanks God for everything, and this is also what repentance is about.

You mean that repentance can be full of joy, don’t you? Most people consider attrition to be an indispensable part of true repentance.

Fr. Andrew: Yes, it may be. Sometimes a person comes to confession and weeps but his tears are not because of his repentance but rather because of self-pity. One’s heart can be humble even when a person thanks God regardless of all his sorrows. It seems to me that repentance cannot be confined to certain frameworks because repentance is talking with God so a priest should not interfere with it. The priest can help in some way – yes, but he must never attempt to put himself in God’s place.

How often should one confess?

Fr. Andrew: Clean your room once in a year and see what happens. We wash our hands, we brush our teeth and take care of how we look. Why don’t we take care of our souls, which get dirty from the spiritual point of view every day? The Lord says, “Come to Me, all ye troubled.” It sounds arrogant when one says that he deserves communion because he has prepared properly. The more unworthy one feels, the closer he 
is to God.

Sometimes a person plans to go to confession and gets ready to it but then there appear dozens of reasons why he cannot go to church and come to confession. What would you advice in such situations?

Fr. Andrew: I would advice to go ahead, to go to church in spite of all the obstacles. One has to determine that it is time to care for his immortal soul. If one wants to live, he cannot think whether he is ready or not, he just has to make effort because the Heavenly Kingdom requires effort. If a person believes he can keep love without God, he deceives himself because he is infected by sin.