What does penthos mean ?


'Penthos' is an ancient Greek word ...

which can be translated as 'remorse', 'repentance', 'compunction', 'contrition', 'grief for sin'. Used in religious circles, it is seen as a gift - the gift of tears - and denotes the paradoxical 'joybearing grief' of a sinner who repents, or grieves for their sin, and in so doing begins to demolish the metaphorical wall that sin had placed between them and God. They feel grief at their misdoing and, at the same time, joy at the prospect of being brought closer to, and into a more authentic relationship with God and their fellow humans. It is a concept at the heart of the salvation theories of the Eastern Christian Church (sometimes also referred to as the Orthodox Church). 

Penthos is articulated through tears of penitent grief, through a sense of contrition and remorse and a desire to return to God's way for humanity. It is sometimes translated as 'contrition', and St Paul refers to the pricking of conscience which prompts a change of heart.

The idea is found in the New Testament. When Jesus declares in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:4) 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted', the Greek word usually translated as 'mourn' is a form of the word penthos. The story of the 'sinful woman' in St Luke's Gospel (Ch 7) was also seen by the Syrian monks as a story about penthos.

Penthos can be both individual and communal: as a communal response to a shared failing, it is a particularly pertinent vehicle for reflecting on the ongoing place of war in our own times as we remember together the 'war to end all wars'. 

Further reading:

What is sin ?

From The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology: Ch 3: The Gift of Tears

OK, so I'm not religious and don't believe in God - what has penthos got for me ?