Sunday, April 2, 2017

Early Christian Reception of Penitents

Repentance by believers who fell into sin in the early church looked a bit different than what we think of as repentance today. Today a person is said to have repented by simply praying a prayer of repentance and- viola!- they repented. The early church, however, required more on the part of the penitent. Repentance requires a sustained correction of course, not just a prayer and somehow it is a done deal. Depending on the severity of the sin, a penitent was to remain a penitent for 2, 3, 5 or 7 weeks, proving by both word and deed that they are truly sorry for their sins and have made a substantive change of life, after which, they were admitted back to full fellowship by a bishop or presbyter who blessed them with the following prayer:

Presbyter: Let us pray. If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? With you there is propitiation. This is declared in the Book of Genesis to Cain; You have sinned, be quiet; that is, do not continue in sin. The sinner should be ashamed of their sin; that oracle of God given to Moses concerning Miriam is sufficient proof, when he prayed that she might be forgiven. You, Heavenly Father, said to him, "If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back." So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.”

Thus we separate those who have sinned for a period of time, as you have directed. And now, as a Father to your children, receive back ____________ upon his/her repentance. Amen.

Then he says as he lays hands upon the penitent's head:

Your sins are forgiven you; your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be restored to the tranquility of the church of Christ.

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