The Puzzle Continues: 5th Sunday of Lent – St. Mary of Egypt

When we look in a mirror, who do we see? We obviously see ourselves. Is that really all we see? Do we see our REAL selves or what we want others to see? If we looked at our REAL selves, would we like what we see or would we want to change the image? Our 7th Puzzle piece is about metanoia or repentance. Metanoia is not referring to a physical change, but a much deeper change; a spiritual change. A change of attitude. We stop looking at ourselves as “perfect” in our eyes or that of our peers, and start looking at being perfect in Jesus’ eyes.

We say we are Orthodox Christians. That must mean we agree to abide by Christ’s teachings and the teachings of Orthodoxy. “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:28) This is the teaching of Jesus Christ, taught simply and clearly in the Gospel. This is our goal: to be perfect in imitation of God. We fail to fulfill this Commandment of Christ, to be perfect as God. Understandable, because we accept that we will never achieve God’s perfection. However, many refuse to put forth the effort; to even try. It is much easier to be like everyone else.

Our failure lies not in achieving perfection; that’s not a sin. Our failure is that, as Baptized, Chrismated Orthodox Christians we hardly even realize our goal! We hardly pay attention to our goal! We hardly desire to know our goal! We hardly work at our goal! Ignoring our goal is our sin. Not only is our life not the steady and faithful growth to perfection via metanoia, but our sin is that we are not really aware of our “higher calling” as Orthodox Christians. Much of our speech and actions are in the exact opposite direction. We say one thing and do another. We have to stop. Reassess what we are doing wrong and repent; change ourselves, our ways and our attitude, and our direction. We must admit we are wrong and confess our sins. Our life in the Church must be incessant change towards God. This means, frequent confession and repentance.

We must prepare ourselves for confession properly. The preparation for confession has one proper goal; we must see ourselves in God’s eyes. In order to confess our sins, we must look at ourselves honestly. Be aware of who we are; examine our lives. Here lies the problem; how do we objectively measure ourselves. We are soft hearted and judge ourselves by what we “believe” are the “true” standards. These “standards” may in fact be as far from Orthodox Christianity as Heaven is from earth. Inaccurately, we may judge ourselves:

  • By what we perceive is an ordinary, typical person; “we are average, like others, but not worse”;
  • By society’s standards; “we are upright citizens, law abiding, hardworking, thrifty.”

The point is that self-examination of repentance is a deep and serious look at ourselves. We must, with honesty, courage and desire, see who we really are according to God’s standards, not ours or society’s. The best preparation for confession is self-examination on the basis of the Lords teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, which commences with the Beatitudes. The following, situated in that perspective may assist us in our preparation for repentance and confession:

  • Do we realize that all is God’s and from God?
  • Do we take our opinions from God?
  • Do we acknowledge our spiritual and intellectual poverty before God, accepting His wisdom and truth?
  • Are we selfish?
  • Do we lust after status, authority, wealth, position?
  • Do we lament over the suffering of men?
  • Do we weep over tragedy and death?
  • Are we sad over the sins and faults of others, or do we laugh, gloat and mock;
  • Do we use force, intimidation, coercion, to accomplish our goals?
  • Do we love our enemies and forgive our offenders?
  • Do we take pleasure in judging and condemning?
  • Do we talk about others, revel in gossip, and slander?
  • Are we polluted by filthy words and actions?
  • Do we connive and deceive, cheat and lie, are we hypocritical?
  • Are we angry, do we look for arguments, do we provoke others to be angry, do we worship aggression and power?
  • Do we go along with things which are wrong from cowardice or laziness?
  • Are we ashamed of Christ?
  • Is our joy and gladness in God or is it in this world with its passions, powers, possessions, and praises?

The 5th Sunday of Lent commemorated St. Mary of Egypt, the Saint of repentance. St. Mary of Egypt was forced to assess herself. Her self-evaluation brought her to the realization of how spiritually poor she actually had become. Her self-evaluation, brought her to the understanding of how spiritually dead she was. In order to save herself, St. Mary turned her life around. St. Mary saved her soul through Metanoia, repentance.

This puzzle piece, Metanoia, is the most frightful of all. It forces us to look into ourselves. It makes us see who we truly are in the eyes of God. It is the one puzzle piece that is extremely difficult to fit into the overall puzzle. It calls for a brutally truthful strength. As we enter the period of the Holiest of Seasons. We should ask ourselves some very simple questions to assist us in fitting this piece into the puzzle:

  • Are we really who we claim to be in the eyes of God?
  • Are we truthful with ourselves?
  • Is our truthfulness worthy for His sacrifice on the Cross?

The full benefit of the imagery of this final puzzle piece, is a greater awareness of the importance of repentance and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. Holy Week and Easter approach. Repentance and confession are the greatest preparation to genuinely embrace the Passion of Christ, His Death and glorious Resurrection.

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