Only the tears of repentance are able to cleanse the soul – St. Anthimos of Chios
A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things he said, ‘Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?’ He replied, ‘No, I mend it and use it again.’ The old man said to him, ‘If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?’
Abba Sarmatas said, ‘I prefer a sinful man who knows he has sinned and repents, to a man who has not sinned and considers himself to be righteous.’
St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
‘Tears are another way, a tangible way of addressing our pain and our panic,’ explains John Chryssavgis. So, on many occasions, tears are the very best prayer I can tell my loving Beloved Godde. Tears are a grace, and not just a sign, as some think, that I am feeling sorry for myself.
Tears are also a sign of repentance, helplessness, or complete surrender to an impossible solution; an indication that my wilfulness leads me nowhere.
But more than that, tears are the moment when I fall in the arms of the Beloved, admitting powerlessness and my inability at controlling the overwhelming challenges in my life. They are a blend of shame, confusion, repentance, call for help, end of the rope, cul-de-sac, – you name it.
A few years ago now, I wrote myself on this strange gift:
I am slowly coming to realise that my perennial soppiness, or brokenheartedness, is just exactly the way God wants me to be, and that's pretty much that.
What do I mean by "perennial brokenheartedness"? Well for me, it appears outwardly in the way that I cannot ignore suffering, real or fictional, human or animal, which gives rise to my rather antisocial inability to watch or read much in the way of TV, films or novels. Inwardly, it is an inability, especially in prayer, to turn my heart away from pain.
It gets embarrassing too. Once, years ago, appalled at my own hard-heartedness in prayer, I prayed for the gift of tears. Bad idea. That's the kind of prayer God seems to take a particular delight in answering. Now, of course, I can't stop my helpless tears when I pray, or get involved in certain sorts of conversations.
Of course I've often tried to minimise such things. Even these days, it's embarrassing enough for women to be this way. When men do it it's downright odd. Besides, the more I can minimise it to myself, the more I can insulate myself from the transferred suffering of others, as well as from whatever internal suffering of my own is going on.
This Lent God seems to be removing pretences from me like a shipwright scraping barnacles off an old trawler. It's most uncomfortable. It's also scary, since, accepting it, as I have to, as being from God, I have no alternative but to accept where it may lead. It's out of my hands.
You see, for me at any rate, this process seems to have a lot to do with what Jesus meant when he spoke of taking up one's cross to follow him. Jesus' accepting the way of the Cross is the original pattern. When we accept to follow where he leads, we cannot avoid this pain. It is the same as love. Naming evil as the absence of love, our only weapon against it is love, and love, confronting evil, is pain; ultimately, traced to its very root, it is the pain of the Cross.
I think this is even more true for me now than it was when I wrote it. Certainly what is clearer is the implication of my own repentance. It is not enough to grieve for, pray for, the sufferings of others. I need to repent also. I am of the same material as those who suffer, yes, but I am also of the same material as those responsible for their sufferings. I cannot stand aside and judge them, or even consider myself as separate from them. They breathe the same air, stand upon the same earth; if we are wounded, our blood flows equally red. What I pray for them, I pray for myself; if I pray for myself, shall I not pray for them also?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…