This is the fourth in a series on the Catechetical Letters of St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Confession plays a significant role in this selection from his second letter:
13. You see that it is good to make confession. You see that there is salvation for them that repent. Solomon also fell but what says he? Afterwards I repented. Ahab, too, the King of Samaria, became a most wicked idolater, an outrageous man, the murderer of the Prophets 1 Kings 18:4, a stranger to godliness, a coveter of other men’s fields and vineyards. Yet when by Jezebel’s means he had slain Naboth, and the Prophet Elias came and merely threatened him, he rent his garments, and put on sackcloth. And what says the merciful God to Elias? Hast than seen how Ahab is pricked in the heart before Me ? As if almost He would persuade the fiery zeal of the Prophet to condescend to the penitent. For He says, I will not bring the evil in his days. And though after this forgiveness he was sure not to depart from his wickedness, nevertheless the forgiving God forgave him, not as being ignorant of the future, but as granting a forgiveness corresponding to his present season of repentance. For it is the part of a righteous judge to give sentence according to each case that has occurred.
14. Again, Jeroboam was standing at the altar sacrificing to the idols: his hand became withered, because he commanded the Prophet who reproved him to be seized: but having by experience learned the power of the man before him, he says, Entreat the face of the Lord your God 1 Kings 13:6; and because of this saying his hand was restored again. If the Prophet healed Jeroboam, is Christ not able to heal and deliver you from your sins? Manasses also was utterly wicked, who sawed Isaiah asunder , and was defiled with all kinds of idolatries, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood 2 Chronicles 33:12-13; but having been led captive to Babylon he used his experience of misfortune for a healing course of repentance: for the Scripture says that Manasses humbled himself before the Lord, and prayed, and the Lord heard him, and brought him back to his kingdom. If He who sawed the Prophet asunder was saved by repentance, shall not thou then, having done no such great wickedness, be saved?
15. Take heed lest without reason you mistrust the power of repentance. Would you know what power repentance has? Would you know the strong weapon of salvation, and learn what the force of confession is? Hezekiah by means of confession routed a hundred and fourscore and five thousand of his enemies. A great thing verily was this, but still small in comparison with what remains to be told: the same king by repentance obtained the recall of a divine sentence which had already gone forth. For when he had fallen sick, Esaias said to him, Set your house in order; for you shall die, and not live. 2 Kings 20:1 What expectation remained, what hope of recovery, when the Prophet said, for you shall die? Yet Hezekiah did not desist from repentance; but remembering what is written, When you shall turn and lament, then shall you be saved Isaiah 30:15, he turned to the wall, and from his bed lifting his mind to heaven (for thickness of walls is no hindrance to prayers sent up with devotion), he said,Remember me, O Lord, for it is sufficient for my healing that You remember me. You are not subject to times, but art Yourself the giver of the law of life. For our life depends not on a nativity, nor on a conjunction of stars, as some idly talk; but both of life and its duration. Then art Yourself the Lawgiver according to Your Will.And he, who could not hope to live because of the prophetic sentence, had fifteen years added to his life, and for the sign the sun ran backward in his course. Well then, for Ezekias’ sake the sun turned back but for Christ the sun was eclipsed, not retracing his steps, but suffering eclipse Isaiah 38:8, and therefore showing the difference between them, I mean between Ezekias and Jesus. The former prevailed to the cancelling of God’s decree, and cannot Jesus grant remission of sins? Turn and bewail yourself, shut your door, and pray to be forgiven, pray that He may remove from you the burning flames. For confession has power to quench even fire, power to tame even lions.
16. But if you disbelieve, consider what befell Ananias and his companions. What streams did they pour out ? How many vessels of water could quench the flame that rose up forty-nine cubits high ? Nay, but where the flame mounted up a little too high, faith was there poured out as a river, and there spoke they the spell against all ills : Righteous are You, O Lord, in all the things that You have done to us: for we have sinned, and transgressed Your law. And their repentance quelled the flames. If you believe not that repentance is able to quench the fire of hell, learn it from what happened in regard to Ananias. But some keen hearer will say, Those men God rescued justly in that case: because they refused to commit idolatry, God gave them that power. And since this thought has occurred, I come next to a different example of penitence.
17. What do you think of Nabuchodonosor? Have you not heard out of the Scriptures that he was bloodthirsty, fierce , lion-like in disposition? Have you not heard that he brought out the bones of the kings from their graves into the light ? Have you not heard that he carried the people away captive? Have you not heard that he put out the eyes of the king, after he had already seen his children slain 2 Kings 25:7? Have you not heard that he broke in pieces the Cherubim? I do not mean the invisible beings—away with such a thought, O man —but the sculptured images, and the mercy-seat, in the midst of which God spoke with His voice. The veil of the Sanctuary he trampled under foot: the altar of incense he took and carried away to an idol-temple 2 Chronicles 36:7: all the offerings he took away: the Temple he burned from the foundations. How great punishments did he deserve, for slaying kings, for setting fire to the Sanctuary, for taking the people captive, for setting the sacred vessels in the house of idols? Did he not deserve ten thousand deaths?
18. You have seen the greatness of his evil deeds: come now to God’s loving-kindness. He was turned into a wild beast , he abode in the wilderness, he was scourged, that he might be saved. He had claws as a lion ; for he was a ravager of the Sanctuary. He had a lion’s mane: for he was a ravening and a roaring lion. He ate grass like an ox: for a brute beast he was, not knowing Him who had given him the kingdom. His body was wet from the dew; because after seeing the fire quenched by the dew he believed not. And what happened ? After this, says he, I, Nabuchodonosor, lifted up my eyes unto heaven, and I blessed the Most High, and to Him that lives for ever I gave praise and glory. Daniel 4:34 When, therefore, he recognised the Most High , and sent up these words of thankfulness to God, and repented himself for what he had done, and recognised his own weakness, then God gave back to him the honour of the kingdom.
19. What then ? When Nabuchodonosor, after having done such deeds, had made confession, did God give him pardon and the kingdom, and when you repent shall He not give you the remission of sins, and the kingdom of heaven, if you live a worthy life? The Lord is loving unto man, and swift to pardon, but slow to punish. Let no man therefore despair of his own salvation. Peter, the chiefest and foremost of the Apostles, denied the Lord thrice before a little maid: but he repented himself, and wept bitterly. Now weeping shows the repentance of the heart: and therefore he not only received forgiveness for his denial, but also held his Apostolic dignity unforfeited.
20. Having therefore, brethren, many examples of those who have sinned and repented and been saved, do ye also heartily make confession unto the Lord, that you may both receive the forgiveness of your former sins, and be counted worthy of the heavenly gift, and inherit the heavenly kingdom with all the saints in Christ Jesus; to Whom is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.