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The Healing Mystery of Penance

“How often have we asked the ageless questions, ‘What have we done to deserve this? What do we have to do to make amends, to make ourselves right with God?’” In a November 16 lecture, Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel raised those questions in the context of the ongoing pandemic crisis, and the disruption it has brought to every human life.

The occasion was the Economos Orthodoxy in America Lecture: the prestigious annual event sponsored by Fordham University’s Orthodox Studies Center. Bishop Daniel joined a roster of distinguished scholars and churchmen who have been featured in that forum, when he delivered the 2021 lecture under the title, “Returning to Normalcy and the Sacrament of Penance.”

Speaking before a live audience at University Church on Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus, Bishop Daniel’s wide-ranging talk wove together strands from Scripture and liturgical practice, from contemporary social observation and the writings of Armenian Church fathers, in order to recover an ancient view of the sacrament of penance that could address the anxieties of the present day.

He laid special emphasis on the Armenian term for penance or repentance, abashkharoutiun, noting its precise meaning as “turning away from mourning,” “departing from grief and towards happiness and joy”—fundamentally “a turning away from death to life.”

This understanding, he suggested, stands in sharp contrast to the common definition of the sacrament of penance.

“True penance is not a penalty; it is a privilege,” the Primate explained. “It is not intended for religious failures, or religious fanatics, but for all who seek to grow in Christian faith: to come to know and to love the Son of God. Penance should not be an exceptional, occasional intervention, but a continuous journey of realigning one’s thought, action, and commitment to Jesus Christ.”

As he drew to a conclusion, Bishop Daniel offered these thoughts on the challenges of our time, and the timeless challenge of penance: “The time is right for a critical reassessment of the healing mystery of penance: penance as a continuous process, the living, throbbing heart of Christian life. Penance not perceived as a procedure or the means to a higher end, but the final reward itself. Not the medicine, but the cure.”

The lecture was simulcast over the Internet, and recorded for future viewing. Click the following link to watch the recording of Bishop Daniel’s lecture.

Learn about the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University on its website, fordham.edu/orthodoxy.

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