Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok, the spiritual father of St. Elisabeth Convent, answers various questions of the parishioners.
How would you describe the joy that a priest feels when the person who comes for confession repents genuinely?
When a person opens his heart for God, grace of the Holy Spirit who cleanses the person’s soul of sin enters that person’s heart. This grace touches the priest who is a witness and a participant of this Sacrament, too. The joy that the priest feels resembles the joy after communion.
The Sacrament happens and people are visibly transformed, even their appearance changes. Their eyes start to radiate light. It can’t leave the priest indifferent.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not merely a discourse, an argument, or a counselling session, where a priest gives advice — no matter how good and wise that advice might be. This Sacrament is an act of God.
Why is it that every year the Great Lent feels different?
God always has everything new. He never repeats or copies himself. The cycle of divine services helps one’s soul to see God in a new light. You can never get accustomed to it.
That is why when we participate in a holiday, when we go through a certain ecclesiastical season, like the Lent, we change and our perception of God and understanding of his grace also changes. We discover new depths of prayer and chants — the innermost beauty that a Lenten service possesses. Perhaps, we will never fully comprehend this beauty but we do improve and grow spiritually. Some of the words that we have heard many times now acquire a new meaning. This is a source of great happiness when we explore the majesty of Orthodox worship and God’s love towards us sinners.
The Psalter is read many times during the Great Lent. There are a lot of Psalms that call for God’s wrath upon sinners. How should we interpret that?
It doesn’t show personal relationships, where people must forgive and love. It illustrates spiritual relationships where a sin is always evil. You have to struggle against evil.
The Old Testament gives us prototypes and indicates what we have to be aware of in order to understand what people before Christ were like and what kind of life and mentality they had. Their mentality was entirely different. That was why David could not preach love like Jesus did. Christ came to the earth when people had already been prepared by the Old Testament to accept God and his love. The Old Testament way of dealing with other people is eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The dreadful moments of bloodshed, curses, and brutal retaliation must not be viewed literally from the height of our contemporary morals. Look at it with the eyes of Old Testament people.
At the same time, we see in the Psalter the magnificent poetry of the Spirit. Enemies are a personification of the devil. They are the sin that we have to combat and to dash it against the rocks. Christ is our Rock. You must not negotiate and try to find compromise with sin. You must cut it off resolutely. Christ said that He had brought us a sword. The Gospel also says, If thy hand offend thee, cut it off (Mark 9:43). Sounds cruel, doesn’t it?
Your personal enemies and your relationships where you have to humble yourself down are one thing. The enemies of the Church or the Homeland who conspire to conquer your land and destroy its holy places are a different thing. You have the blessing to defend your Church and country. You mustn’t just sit around watching your enemies destroy and slaughter.
That is why we must not take everything literally. We should try to interpret the God-inspired words of Psalms as a battle cry calling us to fight the sin and the devil who does whatever he can to separate man from God completely.