Rinse and Repeat

 

I haven’t looked at my shampoo bottle lately, but I remember sometime back in my youth, I looked at the label for instructions. One thing that it said was to “rinse and repeat.” Does anybody shampoo their hair twice? Once seemed like it did the job very nicely so I never did rinse and repeat. My hair would get dirty and greasy very quickly, and so I’d have to shampoo the next day anyway. Maybe I should have followed the directions to rinse and repeat and my hair would have stayed clean longer.

Orthodox piety is a lot about “rinse and repeat.” Let me set the stage.

Long ago, the Church faced a major decision. Should those who deny Christ during times of persecution be allowed back into the Church? After all, there were the martyrs-those who had shed their blood and died rather than deny Christ. Then, sitting in the Church were men and women with no tongue, blind, scarred, or missing an ear or a limb. They were the Confessors and though they were not killed, they had been tortured but refused to deny Christ. Why should those who denied Jesus be allowed to enter the door even if they were sorry for what they had done? Those who took the hard line were called “Donatists.” Those who had denied Christ were called the “lapsi.” Fortunately, the Church decided against the Donatists, and for mercy for those who had lapsed.

Most of us will never face the kind of severe persecution that could result in our death or disfigurement, yet, every day we find ourselves denying Christ in one way or another. After all, habitual sin is a denial of the healing power of the death and resurrection of the Lord. I am sure that most of us are painfully aware of sins that, at least to this point in time, simply will not go away. I begin to wonder if I should just stop going to confession because after all, I confessed last week and my soul is dirty and greasy again with the same old sins.

The reality of persistent and habitual sin can cause despair. I become more pessimistic about human nature than optimistic about God’s grace. Maybe it’s really true that a leopard can’t change his spots, or maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Since my sins won’t go away, I begin to believe that God has had enough of my weakness. I am a dirty lapsi and therefore, I shouldn’t sit next to the faithful Confessors of God.

Yet, I don’t despair because God directed the Church to proclaim His mercy to the lapsed. This mercy is to be repeated again and again and again. You see, I can wallow in a pig pen all day long and become so dirty and stinky that you wouldn’t want to be within 50 feet of me. Yet, if I jump in the ocean, the ocean cleans me and I don’t change the ocean at all. So it is with the mercy of God. No matter how dirty I become, God’s mercy is infinite.

Do you realize that the Lord made a wonderful covenant with us at our baptism? He promised that He would never leave or forsake us. He promised that the waters of baptism would wash away all sins and that whenever we come to confession, our baptism is renewed and our sins are forgiven. The Lord puts his seal upon this by giving us his Body and Blood after we go to confession. This is truly “rinse and repeat.”

Think about it. Every sin that we confess will not be mentioned or remembered on the Day of Judgment because our baptism has washed them away. The Lord God said so in the Old Testament when he said that we would be made whiter than snow and our sins would no longer be remembered. With such a wonderful promise of so much mercy, it makes you wonder why the Church is empty at every Saturday night Vigil, the time when many confessions are heard. You would think that such an expression of love would pack the Church. I wonder what we will say to the Lord when we try to explain why we refused to use this grace because other things were of greater value. Actually, I do more than wonder; I tremble at scene.

This explains why there is so much pressure from the devil and world to stay away from confession. The devil tempts us to sin and then shames us for the sin, hoping that shame will keep us away from God’ s mercy.The world keeps us away by making sure that we are always too busy or too tired to make it to confession. By allowing ourselves to be absent, our soul only becomes dirtier and greasier until we are convinced that God doesn’t want us in the House!

I also believe that deep down inside, we like to believe that we are basically good people and good people don’t have to confess very often. While we might get a little angry at times, or have a lustful thought or two, such things are only human. We believe that what we deal with is not mortal sin, but just a few personality quirks and kinks that a loving God would surely never notice. This is why it shocks us when read of the death scene of some great saint and we hear him or her say that they are not ready to die because they have not repented enough. If they think this way, then my belief that I am basically all right is a lie.

Then, I think we are playing a lottery with God. There’s a story about this. The devil was worried because hell (kind of like church these days) was poorly attended. So he called in his three best demons and told them to go into the world and get recruits. The first went out and later a few new souls appeared in hell. When the demon returned, the devil asked what temptation he had used. The demon replied that he had told people not to worry because there is no God. The devil laughed and said that the demon was a fool. Few would believe such a lie and the demon was dismissed. The second demon went up and this time more souls came to hell but not enough. The devil asked the second demon what temptation he had used. The demon replied that he told people that their sins didn’t matter because after all, God was love, so why worry. The devil said that it was a good thought but not good enough and so the second demon was dismissed. The third demon went up and this time great multitudes of damned souls came to hell. The devil was thrilled and so He asked the third demon what temptation he had used. He replied that he told people to not worry because they had plenty of time to repent. “Wait until tomorrow” was his simple plea. This slogan became the new theme of demons everywhere.

Are you sure you know what tomorrow will bring? If not, are you playing the lottery with God? You don’t have to. Why go about with a dirty soul?Rinse and repeat – baptism and confession –and there’s no waiting because usually the line to confession is not very long.

Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. It’s the way to keep your soul squeaky clean. Shampoo anyone? It’s specially formulated for the lapsi.

5 Responses to “Rinse and Repeat”

  1. Moses Says:

    Wow! Thank you for that Father! Despair seems to get the best of us.

  2. Peter Says:

    Thank you Father for words that really struck home.

  3. Betsy Says:

    I just need to STAY in the bath.;-)

  4. Lincoln Says:

    Thanks Father, I’ve read many of your blogs. Hailing from Penn State, they are as true up there as they are in rural Virginia.

    I am plagued by habitual sins. I grew up Protestant and hoped that my conversion to Orthodoxy would be the end of my habitual sins. What a surprise I was in for! My sins keep me both from the cup and from confession. I fear my priest’s reaction when yet again I have failed to live up to his advice, failed once again to fight off temptation.

    May the Lord have mercy on me and grant you strength to continue writing, for it is a great benefit. Pray for me, Father.

  5. Fr. John Says:

    Dear Brother,

    As Fr. Seraphim of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross said, we are like men in a dark closet. We believe that we are clean and dressed well. But when we open the door and the light floods in, we see that our clothes are dirty and tattered. So it is when we come to Holy Orthodoxy. The light of Christ floods in and we begin to see how we really are.

    The realization of the reality of where we are is the beginning of transformation. Despair not, my brother. Rinse and repeat! And then go to the chalice. The Lord doesn’t call the pure to his table, but sinners, harlots, tax collectors, and thieves who have come to know that they are in fact sinners, harlots, tax collectors and thieves. The ill need the medicine of heaven, but only those who know they are ill will seek therapy. Those who believe themselves to be well don’t seek a doctor.
    Don’t let Satan deceive you that persistent sins make you unworthy to take communion. Confess and commune. Rinse and repeat!

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