For the past 2 nights I have been in the Church to hear confessions before Christmas. This seems to be one of the two times that most people come to confession. I was reflecting on the Sacrament of Confession last night and after the celebration of the Eucharist this is the Sacrament that I celebrate the most but is the most miss understood I think. Last night I made the reference that confession is like going to the dentist. We don’t like to go but at least 2 times a year we haul ourselves there. We should not look at it that way.

For the Orthodox Christian, confession is a very important part of our Spiritual Life. It is never easy to admit out faults but again it is part of our spiritual journey to admit these faults and receive a little counsel from our spiritual father and forgiveness from Our Lord. We really should call this reconciliation because that is what we are doing, we are reconciling ourselves to God and yes in some way to our fellow man.

Penance is another story all together and although it is part of reconciliation it seems to have fallen out of practice in the Orthodox Church. I grew up Roman Catholic and remember confession in the little box and getting some form of penance to perform after confession. These were things like say 5 Our Fathers or 3 Hail Mary’s. Not used as such in the OC it is not beyond the pale to have it imposed on you. Sometimes your spiritual father will ask you to exempt yourself from communion for a period of time or make some form of restitution. Will do some research on the Orthodox practice of penance and write another post on that. Perhaps one of the priest readers of this blog might comment on penance and their practice of it.

The other misconception of confession is the secret of it all. Yes the priest is prohibited from revealing what is said in confession. In fact I was taught that we are not even to say if someone has come to confession. We are not even supposed to speak to the person after their confession about what they said in their confession.

Here are two quotes from the Orthodoxwiki article on confession regarding secrecy:

The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest.

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception.

There are many different translations of the order of confession and I use the one from the Priest’s Service Book by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides mainly because it was the translation available in the bookstore at the seminary but I do like the English.

There is a prayer for the penitent after their confession and then the prayer of absolution itself:

My spiritual child, who have made your confession to my humble person: I, a humble sinner, have no power to forgive sins on earth; only God can to that; but trusting in the divinely spoken words that were addressed to the Apostles after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which said: “If you pronounce forgiven the sins of any, they are forgiven to them; and if you pronounce unforgiven the sins of any, they remain unforgiven”, we are bold to say: whatever you have related to my humble and lowly person, and whatever you have failed to say either from ignorance or from forgetfulness, whatever it may be, may God forgive you in this present age and in the age to come.

May God who, through Nathan the Prophet forgave David when he confessed his sins, and Peter, when he wept bitterly for his denial; and the harlot who shed tears upon his feet; and the Publican; and the Prodigal; may this same God forgive you, through me a sinner, everything, both in this present age and in the age to come, and may he make you stand uncondemned before his dread Judgement Seat. As for the sins that you have confessed, have no further anxiety about them; go in peace.

The grace of the Holy Spirit, through my insignificance, has you loosened and forgiven.

Through the prayers of our holy Father, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Notice the words, “May God forgive you, Through me…” it is not me the priest that forgives you it is God who forgives. I am the instrument that He uses to perform the actual function but forgiveness comes only from God. This is a departure from the Roman absolution when the priest says I absolve you or even the Russian Orthodox practice where the words are the same. The priest has no power to forgive, only God can to that!

This prayer is also used at the end of the funeral liturgy and is the most beautiful part of the funeral in my opinion.

So do not fear confession. Go, and go often. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia said in a recent lecture that we need to go at least four times a year for confession. I would agree with this. You need to work out with your spiritual father how often you need to go, but go! You will be amazed how you feel after.

1 Comment

  1. I have a friend who is a 7 days adventist.she can not undrstand why we do confession.she is taught that you ask God for forgiveness and do not need a middle man unless you need counciling.
    I explained confession this way to her,We can ask God for forgiveness and he will forgive us,but when you have to say something out loud and ask for forgiveness then it helps us to realize what we have done wrong.linda

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