The mystery of repentance is performed first for such sinners and unbelievers as are outside of the Church whom the loving kindness of God calls to repentance and conversion from the life of sin to the life of faith and righteousness; forgiving their sins through faith in Christ, who died for all men. The first preacher of repentance was John the Baptist, who began with the preaching: “Repent; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:3.) And after John was put into prison, also Jesus began to preach and to say: “Repent; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The Apostle Peter, on the day of Pentecost, preached repentance to the multitude of the Jews saying: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38).
Repentance which precedes baptism and entrance into the church on the part of the wandering sheep who are outside of it is one, while that repentance is another which follows the two baptisms and the mystery of the holy communion. This second repentance was denied by the heresy of the Novations, who thought that for such as sinned after baptism there was no repentance; that is, right to repentance, or hope of salvation. But John the Theologian in his first general epistle writes concerning this second repentance after baptism and establishes the law for it thus: “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for our sins only, but also for the whole world,” (1 John 2:1-2). These words of the Theologian testify that there is repentance also after baptism for possible sins, because Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins. The same Theologian at the end of this epistle writes also thus: “If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask and he shall give him life for them that. sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that. he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death.” From these words also is confirmed that there is repentance after baptism except for unpardonable sins, which are not forgiven, either in this world, or in the world to come, according: to the word of Christ, (Matt. 12:31).
The Christian after baptism ought to live without sin, according: to the promise which he made before baptism to renounce Satan and to abstain from every evil thing. He ought to die to sin and live to God, working righteousness. But if from the inspiration and influence of the Evil One there come to him the malady of sin, repentance is a remedy for healing, effectual through the confession of sin and its forgiveness through the prayer of the priest; because Christ gave the authority to forgive sins to His disciples and Apostles, breathing upon them the Holy Spirit, and saying: “Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are remitted unto them,” (John 20:23). This authority has been transmitted from the Apostles to the hierarchy of the Church, which exercises it in the name of Christ the High Priest and through the meritoriousness of His sufferings in behalf of those who repent of those things wherein they have sinned and confess their sin. Wherefore also the Theologian says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9).
On the one hand, therefore, the confession of sin by a believer who has sinned, and, on the other, the forgiveness of the sin in the name of Christ the High Priest, who is the propitiation for our sins and for the sins of the whole world, constitute the mystery of repentance, which is a healing remedy for sins which might possibly arise after the cleansing of holy baptism. And as no one prefers disease in the place of health, and as no one chooses to be ill that he may be healed through remedies, so also no one ought to cherish sin or to sin voluntarily, that he may be healed through repentance; for concerning such as sin voluntarily the divine Paul said:
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, hut a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much soever punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, the Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” (Heb. 10:26-31).
These words of the Apostle Paul apply to those who wantonly sin even against the will of God plainly disclosed to such as are of the number of the disobedient. For the benefit of such characters the mystery of repentance has no application. The Lord knows who sin unpardonably and those who are worthy of forgiveness. The mystery avails according to the judgement and decision of God. But it is our duty to flee from sin as we would from the face of a serpent and neither to sin nor to be unduly bound to the remedy of repentance, But if at any time we sin unwillingly, we ought to hasten to the release and healing which come through repentance. We ought to repent in the same manner as David repented, who mourned, bewailing himself, and prayed with tears, moistening every night his couch with the tears which he shed, as his sixth psalm testifies: “I am weary with my groaning, I moisten every night my couch, I water my bed with my tears.”
Having said thus much concerning the mystery of repentance, we come now to the explanation of the fifth mystery, which is called that of marriage.