O repentance, how great are your consolations: the joy that is rooted in grief, and the happiness that is born of tears. The fruits of repentance ripen fully in the strength of the Spirit. For even if he who repents keeps silent, the fruits of repentance show in his face. Beautiful are you, O repentance, in your soft gentleness, your quiet speech, and your appearance, which is a rebuke to all of us, for you are the one who has pointed out the way for all the saints to the contest and to suffering.
Come then, my beloved, and adorn repentance with the apparel of your fasting. Anoint her with the perfume of your prayers. Crown her with the humility of your tears, so that when all the other excellences besides see the beauty of the apparel in which you have decked her, they will then gather together and come and dance among those which are of the soul. Moreover, when these make their home in your midst, they will render you free from sin. Behold, where now are the body’s carelessness and burden? Or where are the disturbances of the passions? Or where are profane thoughts and everything that is evil? Or where are envy, hatred and disputes? Or where are anger and wickedness? Where are arrogance and indeed cruel words? Where are fornication, impurity, and adultery? Where are vanity and splendid apparel? Where are profligacy, eating, imbibing and drunkenness? Where are idleness and pampered living? Who is there who would not wish to be a companion of repentance, and make himself a stranger to all evil things, which blind the eyes of our hearts, making them incapable of seeing the marvellous light?
For through her excellences repentance endows us with wings like an eagle and makes us soar to the heights. A person who repents, and becomes practiced in enduring hunger and thirst, eagerly awaits the good things of heaven which will last for all eternity. Therefore, my beloved, let us subdue our bodies by fasting, prayer and nights of vigil, that we may share in his promises of heavenly things, in accordance with the text, ‘You are those who have endured with me in my trials; as my Father established a kingdom for me, so do I establish it for you that you may eat and drink with me at my table in my kingdom’ (Lk. 22:28-30). Moreover, brethren, let us realize how honourable is the condition of repentance, and appreciate the gifts of grace she has given us. It is repentance who is the food of those who suffer hunger and the fountain of the waters of life to those who are thirsty. It is repentance who is the consolation of those who spend their nights in vigil, consoling them with the fruits of their suffering. It is repentance whose tears are a perfumed delight to God’s angels. It is repentance who is the help of those who have despaired of themselves.
Let us consider the solidarity she showed with the people of Nineveh, when she invited them to embrace her out of her love for humanity, and when they hastened to open themselves to her in great abasement, and in tears and sackcloth (cf. Jon. 3:4-5). Now, it was not only the people who put on sackcloth, but also the domestic animals (cf. Jon. 3:8). And when the almighty, the good and merciful and compassionate God saw such great fruits as these in the hand of repentance, which she poured out before the throne of mercy, not only did he reverse his sentence of condemnation, but even made the prophet Jonah’s word false, since he did not destroy the city (cf. Jon. 3:10).
And now, my beloved, do not abandon repentance, for what will you find to adorn you in your sufferings like repentance? On the contrary, let us load her with honours in recompense for the good things she has brought us from on high. Of what kind are the good things she has brought us from on high? And again of what kind are the good things we shall give her? They are fasting and pure prayer with our hands stretched out and our hearts in the highest heaven. Give her humility and sighing, for through these the angels become companions of men. Give her tears, for these quench the threats of Gehenna. Give her faith and hope, for these make one draw near to God. Give her compassion and love for one another, and charity, for these qualities cover a multitude of sins completely and blot them out at the judgement. Moreover, after all the good things of this kind, let none of us be deceived and return again to the filthiness of sin after repentance, like the dog which returns to its vomit (cf. Prov. 26:11; 2 Pet. 2:22) and is therefore held in abomination.
But I entreat you, my beloved, to guard yourselves with the greatest care, and not omit anything which can augment our treasure. For our enemy takes counsel against us at all times; the thief and robbers are always conspiring against the place where our property is stored. Since this is so, my beloved, and since the Comforter, the Spirit is looking upon us with mercy, let us pour out our tears daily to God that they may go ahead of us as messengers before we depart from the body. Let us repent in the measure of our forgiveness, with the saints as our companions to act with us in supplication. Let us not be constrained, but seek repentance and not fail to find her.
Excerpt From: Russell, Norman. Theophilus of Alexandria. New York: Routledge, 2007.