Do You Want Grace? Embrace Shame
+ Word Into Spirit + I. Do You Want Grace? Embrace Shame
*The following notes are taken from The Sacrament of Reconciliation by Archimandrite Zacharias Zacharou of Essex, compiled in Word into Spirit: Pastoral Perspectives on Confession. Becoming Aware of Personal Sin “In order for a person to repent and to be healed from sin, he must first become aware of his sinfulness…The gift of the grace of awareness of one’s sinfulness, which is of essential and fundamental value to the spiritual restoration of man, is bestowed according to the measure of that man’s faith in the word of Christ” (Archimandrite Zacharias). There is nothing secret about how you can share a deeper relationship with God. It requires your becoming more and more aware of your sin. The more aware you are of your sin the more fervently you can repent, the more radically you can turn towards God. However, this cannot be done on your own. This is impossible in any private setting. Awareness of sins comes from communion — from living within community — parish life, monasticism, marriage, day-to-day relationships, and most of all, from the Sacrament of Confession. Imagine living in a time without mirrors. You could never see your own face, and you could only know the blemishes on your face by someone else telling you. That is how sin works. We cannot know our own inner life without the aid of others, in particular, without the guidance of a spiritual father. In the Orthodox Church, we are urged to partake in the Sacrament of Confession as frequently as possible, ideally, on a monthly basis. To quote Metropolitan Joseph, “this is not an option.” Why? Because by not doing so, we end up living in a state delusion about our inner life. When confession is a way of life, we become aware of all our inner “stuff” and our need for repentance. The Greater the Shame, the Greater the Grace “The believer endures shame before a father-confessor…As soon as he becomes aware of his iniquity, he does not hide it. ‘He confesses his transgressions unto the Lord.’ For the shame that he endures through this act of repentance the Lord forgives him ‘the iniquity of his heart’ and renews him through the grace of eternal salvation. The greater the shame one experiences when one reveals one’s sins during confession, the more will be the power and the grace received for the renewal of one’s life” (Archimandrite Zacharias). Imagine you have gangrene. You are afraid to reveal it to your doctor because of shame. How could you possibly dare to show something so foul and putrid to another person? Nonetheless, the longer you go before revealing it, the deeper the gangrene sets until it is too late. In reality, anyone with sense would rush to the doctor to have the infection purified as quickly as possible. In the same way, all truly-spiritually minded people rush to their confessor with haste. To be Christian is to be a “health addict” in the truest sense. But the shame! We are embarrased by our sins. We want to be liked. We do not want others, let alone a priest, to see who we really are (or who we believe we are). We dread the feeling of shame. Yet, as Christians, we have to come to love the shame. We should hunger for it, knowing that the more honestly we confess, the more shame we feel when we face ourselves in the mirror of another person, the more thorough will be our healing and transformation. If it means getting God, bring on the shame. Shame Uproots Evil and Prepares the Soul for Holiness “Pain and shame because of one’s sins plough the fallow heart and uproot the dishonorable passions that are in it. They heal and unify the powers of the soul so that it may accomplish the divine commandment to love and be able to stand before the Lord ‘in spirit and in truth.’ If we remain attached to our own self-esteem and are afraid to be ashamed because of our sins, then we will not come to know the price of the blows the Lord endured for our salvation” (Archimandrite Zacharias). “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:12-13). How often do we remain attached, cling to, crave to protect our self-esteem? We are desperate to hide, as Adam and Eve were desperate to cower in the bushes. We are clinging to death. How silly. God simply wanted Adam and Eve to come out and fix the relationship. Paradise was a step away, but they preferred the hiding. It is time to be honest with ourselves. We pretend to be decent Christian people, good enough, comfortable as we are. Yet, if we truly believed we were good enough, why would we avoid confession as we do? In the gut, we know what lies within, and it burdens us day and night. All the while, Christ stands with open arms, ready to heal and to love. One last word: Most of the time, we cringe at the words: “shame,” “sin”, and “repentance.” Why is this? I believe it is because we have not yet experienced enough of God’s grace. The more we experience confession, the more we open our wounds to heaven and receive God’s profound washing, the more we come to long for shame and repentance. It becomes a joy to discover and admit one’s sins. It becomes the greatest happiness to tap into the shame, because we discover the grace. How beautiful it is to let go and be clean — to really know that we are clean! How wonderful to discover and dive into God’s infinite love!