I never know quite how these things work, but I awoke this morning with the tune and words of “Open to me the Gates of Repentance.” It invariably set the tone of my morning’s thought and the background for the better part of the day. It occurred to me, reflecting, that forgiveness, like repentance, is not automatic, or even the sort of thing we can “do,” in and of ourselves.
We may need to forgive someone desperately and yet not find it within ourselves to do so. In the words of Fr. Thomas Hopko, the most we can sometimes do is to “want to want to forgive.”
Neither is repentance a natural given. We are given the call to repentance – but at the heart of its meaning – a “change of the mind (nous)” repentance is no more within our own power than forgiveness. These are outright miracles – the working of grace in our lives.
I recall from somewhere the story of a young man who sought to enter one of the monasteries on the Holy Mountain for the purpose of becoming a monk. Instead of welcoming him in – the doors were locked. He slept in the doorway for days before it was opened to him.
I feel that this is a place where we begin our Lenten journey. “Open to me the gates of repentance,” though in reality the most we can do is to lie down and wait. Our work in the Lenten services is a sort of “lying down.” We put ourselves where the gates of repentance are – where they can open to us as God wills.
It is most certain that He wills our repentance and that we be able to forgive as He forgives – but both are themselves points and markers on the journey to union with Him. If they do not always come as easily as we would like, then we remain waiting, knocking, seeking, asking – with the assurance that those who do such things will in the end receive what they have sought.