The following is from Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Saint Gregory lived in the 1300s and is a very important Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is another patron Saint of Thessaloniki, the great city that has produced many Saints – most notably Saint Demetrios the Great Martyr. In future posts down the line, I hope to share more about Saint Gregory.
Given that Paul made the same confession of faith as Peter, and had the same zeal, humility and love, surely they received the same rewards from Him Who measures everything with completely just scales, yardstick and plumbline. Anything else would be unreasonable. That is why the Lord told Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18), whereas He said to Ananias of Paul, “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings” (Acts 9:15). Which name? Clearly the name we have been given, the name of Christ’s Church, which rests on the foundation stone of Peter. Notice that Peter and Paul are equal in prominence and glory, and both hold up the Church. Consequently the Church now bestows one and the same honour on both, and celebrates them together with equal esteem. As we consider the outcome of their lives, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance, even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. Amendment through repentance, however, is more appropriate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day, and unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source.
Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. “Have mercy upon me”, said the Psalmist and Prophet to God, “for I acknowledge my transgressions” (Ps. 5 1:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God’s compassion, and through his confession and self-condemnation he obtained complete forgiveness. “I said”, the Psalmist tells us, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart” (cf. Ps. 32:5), because acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally (Ps. 51:17), as does the promise to keep away from evil from now on. This is repentance.
This is how Manasseh escaped being punished for his sins, even though he had fallen into many great and serious transgressions, and wallowed in them for years on end (2 Chr. 33:1-20). As for David, the Lord set aside his sin because of his repentance, nor did he deprive him of his Prophetic gift. When Peter resorted to repentance, he not only recovered from his fall and obtained forgiveness, but was also appointed to protect Christ’s Church. As you see, Paul too was rewarded with this role after his conversion, once he had made progress and become more closely God’s own than the others. Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures, but to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self- controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces him to be merciful to those who wrong him, gracious to those who ask something of him, ready with all his heart to bend down and help in any way he can, whether by words, actions or money, all who seek his assistance, that through kindness to his fellow-man he might gain God’s love in return for loving his neighbour, draw the divine favour to himself, and attain to eternal mercy and God’s everlasting blessing and grace.
-“Homily Twenty-Eight” from The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Volume Two, translated by Christopher Veniamin (St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2004), from www.oca.org