This will be the third article in the series on Parish Revitalization. In the first article I provided an overview from several sources on revitalizing an Orthodox Parish. This was followed by an article on Daily Scripture Reading. This article will focus on the necessity of Confession in the Orthodox Church.
I could start simply by saying that in order for one to receive Communion in the Orthodox Church in a worthy manner, one must receive the Sacrament or Mystery of Confession on a regular, some would say weekly basis. As one who serves as a spiritual father I often advise my spiritual children to make use of the Sacrament as often as possible. I set time aside in the Church each week, following Vespers, for confession. Very often I spend that hour alone and in great distress because people are not availing themselves of this Sacrament.
If one is to receive Holy Communion rarely, less than once a month, then Confession should and must take place prior to the reception. If a person receives Communion on a more regular basis then Confession should be accomplished at least once a month. I will also say that it is vitally important that leaders in the Church avail themselves of Holy Communion and Confession on a regular basis. Lead by example is a good rule of thumb.
We are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. Confession enables us to repair the rift in our relationship with God. St. Maximos the Confessor said, “Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God. When it takes the form of self-accusation, it teaches the soul that it is guilty of crimes through its own deliberate indolence.” Confession is necessary for the soul.
It has been my experience, as one who hears confessions that the faithful are not necessarily prepared properly for Confession. We must try and bring to our minds all of our sins committed both voluntary and involuntary, we should try and recall not only new sins since our last confession but those we may not have confessed.
We must confess our sins openly. When confessing you are not telling these sins to the priest who is hearing your Confession but to God. Just before the Confession begins the priest uses these or similar words, “My brother/sister, do not be ashamed to relate to God, before me, all that you came to tell; because you are not telling these things to me but to God, before whom you now stand.” This is why Confessions are heard facing an Icon of Our Savior to remind us who we are Confessing to!
Confess all of your sins thoroughly and separately. St. John Chrysostom says, “One must not simply say ‘I sinned’ or ‘I am a sinner’ but must indicate the various forms of these sins.” In other words the sins must be spoken of. St. Basil the Great says, “The revelation of sins is subject to the same laws as the revelation of physical infirmities…” As sinners we are spiritually ill and the spiritual father needs to know what we are suffering with in order to aid in our spiritual healing.
We should make our Confession with sorrow and heartfelt contrition over what we have done. And we must confess our sins with faith in Jesus Christ and in the hope of His mercy.
Confession ends with the following prayers from the priest:
“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 do 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.”
The Priest continues with absolution:
“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 Judgment Seat. As for the sins that you have confessed, have no further anxiety about them; go in peace.”
It is with these words that faith teaches us we are forgiven of our sins and we should not fret over them any longer. We promise to attempt to do better and to live a life according to the example that Christ gave us in His Gospels. This is the aim of every Christian. Confession repairs the break in the relationship between us and God and sets us back on the road to eternal life. Confess as often as we can, one cannot abuse this Sacrament.
For an excellent list of questions to ask prior to Confession see this site.