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(May 2006)

R e p e n t a n c e  a n d   C o n f e s s i o n

Source: From the Greek Orthodox periodical “Fountain of Life,” issue no. 95, July 3, 2005. Translated from Greek by the staff of the Greek Orthodox Brotherhood of St. Poimen.


Editors Note: the subject article is one of the many treasures which one may find in the web pages of what in our opinion is the finest Greek Orthodox web sites around, http://www.pigizois.gr/ for our readers who are knowledgeable in the Greek language, this website is a must; it also has an English section.

Among the many priceless gifts granted to us by our God and Savior is the soul-saving sacrament of Repentance, or, as we commonly refer to it, Holy Confession. It is through this sacrament that our sins are forgiven and swept away. Without Holy Confession, no human being can earn salvation, irrespective of his virtues, for it is impossible to find even a single person who is sinless.

A humble acknowledgement and confession of our sins is very pleasing to our Lord. If Adam, after his disobedience and subsequent fall, acknowledged in repentance his error, he would have surely received the forgiveness of our Most Gracious God. Even Cain who committed such an atrocious act, the willful and abominable murder of his own brother, could have also been forgiven through real repentance and acknowledgement. This is what King David did; although he was guilty of two deadly sins, murder and adultery; he was the recipient of God’s forgiveness and mercy because of his true repentance. I acknowledge my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sins. (Psalms 31:5)

In order to conduct a proper confession so that we cleanse all of the filth and dirt within our conscience and brighten and turn our soul “whiter than snow,” we must neither improvise nor approach this Holy Sacrament without proper preparation. That is unfortunately how most of our Orthodox brethren confess. A mystery such as confession warrants the corresponding preparation and must be approached with the fitting state of our heart.

First, we ought to prepare at least two to three days before we go to confession. During this preparatory time period, we should minimize our contact with other people to as minimum of a level as it is practical, while at the same time we collect our thoughts and nous. We reflect on the length of time since our last confession—can we recall when we last confessed? Or, is this our first time. In this manner, we attempt to recall from that time until now the type and number of times we committed various sins. Either through word, deed or thought, and whether we intended or we did so through negligence and carelessness.

Second, when we go to a spiritual father, you will tell him all of your sins and exactly how they were committed. We will hide absolutely nothing, we will alter nothing and we will assign blame and fault for all of our sins to no other but our own selves. Furthermore, we will not be content with a “dry, catalog-type” enumeration of our sins but instead, we will also present, in general terms, the overall condition of our soul, our passions, inclinations, tendencies, vices, faults, and weaknesses. In this manner, the spiritual father, as a physician of souls, will be afforded the opportunity to diagnose and form a complete picture of our illness and thus decisively and effectively assign the correct therapy.

Third, the method through which we describe our sins must be especially careful so that it combines exactness with decency. In other words, on one hand we must state concisely and with few words the conditions and corresponding elements of each sin – the what, how, when, etc. -- so that the spiritual father assesses its proper “weight.” On the other hand, again, we must avoid detailed and wordy descriptions which are tiresome and at times even scandalous. The latter serves no benefit to either us or the spiritual father. It should be especially noted that if a sin was committed with one or more persons (i.e., we stole with some of our friends or committed adultery with a person we know), it is best to not reveal their identity. Let us truly repent for our own sin and leave all others to our Lord’s judgment and mercy.

Fourth, among all various factors, the most important is that we find a spiritual father that is experienced, discrete, wise, prudent, sensible, and capable of healing, through our cooperation and by Gods grace, the sores and wounds of our soul. In the same manner by which we search for a good medical doctor that can heal our physical ailments, it is likewise and even more persistently that we ought to search and discover a spiritual father who is capable of contributing towards our spiritual help. That is because “if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into a ditch.” (Matt. 15:14) When, however, you find this spiritual father, keep him as your spiritual father for life and do not change him. Those who go around from spiritual father to spiritual father find no benefit or profit with any one of them, whether they do this because of ignorance or ego. It is only when a spiritual father follows us systematically and gets to know us well that he can substantially aid in our spiritual struggles for the cleansing of our soul and the path towards our salvation.

A good confession is characterized by the following attributions:

1) It is brief but substantive. In other words, it is conducted with no omissions and without superfluous and empty talk, useless repetitions, oblique presentations or even stories and fables.

2) It is humble. In other words, it is conducted with the full realization of our sinfulness and guilt a realization which is also reflected both in our words as well as our posture as Christians.

3) It is honest. It thus contains nothing more and nothing less then the pure truth, and is fully absent pretenses and excuses. It further assigns zero blame to anybody else, even to the demons or Satan himself!

4) It is immediate and it thus takes place without any delay or postponement. At the very moment our conscious censures and reproves us, we must run to our spiritual father for confession as we are always unaware when death will visit us without any warning.

5) It is discreet. In other words, it is characterized by good judgment, common sense, and prudence. It is also formulated clearly, plainly, explicitly, carefully, and orderly.

6) It is complete and it therefore contains all of our sins and omits nothing with the intent of confessing it to a different spiritual father.

7) It is Publican like; in other words, it is conducted with extreme devoutness, piety, and contrition of the heart. It is no different than what we read in the Gospel, “And the Publican standing afar off, would not so much as lift us his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying , ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’.” (Luke 18:13)

8) It is private. Thus, other than the priest who is the spiritual father and the confessing Christian, nobody learns and nobody should learn the content of one’s confession. If someone should hear one’s confession—an unlikely and highly improbable event—he must absolutely never reveal it to nobody whatsoever but to take whatever he heard with him to his grave. This is even more applicable to the priest himself who in no instance is allowed to reveal sins confessed to him, even when his own life is at stake.

9) It is the beginning of a new life. Along with our confession we make a solid decision consciously to engage in our personal spiritual struggle and warfare. We thus decide not only never to repeat the sins we just confessed, but to also make good whatever we can from the sins that we committed in the past. Thus, we compensate a person whom we wronged, return something we stole, ask forgiveness from anybody that we insulted, etc. If we do not do so our repentance is not real!

10) It is accompanied by our acceptance of whatever penance or kanona that may be possibly assigned by our spiritual father (e.g., fasting, almsgiving, or whatever else he considers suitable). We also must fully comprehend and accept that such penance does not constitute a “sentence” or a “punishment,” but it is a therapeutic and pedagogical element of our spiritual healing and means by which our spirituality is increased.

May our Lord guide us all in the most fitting method for each one of us to receive the Holy Sacrament of Confession.