“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and righteous, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His Word is not in us.” – 1 John 1:8-10
What is sin?
Before we discuss the sacrament of Confession, we need to understand what sin means according to Orthodox theology. Unlike the legalistic approach of Western Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox Church views “sin” more naturally…more organically…in terms of setting us on a path other than that for which we were created…and away from what makes us truly whole. Everything in life was created to fall within a proper order, in a hierarchy of values…a hierarchy of worth-ship. “Sin” is a distortion or a disordering of that intended order in Christ. In other words, “sin” is what we might call “displaced love.” “Sin” is anything that “takes us off course” from our destination in Christ, or causes us to “miss our target” of Christ-likeness (right-ordered love). Likewise, anything that subverts the fruitful life God wants us to live in Him is regarded as a kind of spiritual sickness. When we turn away from unity with God in His works, and we instead allow ourselves to become passive to our own self-absorbed desires, we dis-integrate our relationship with God, which also creates a detriment to relationship with other members of His Body…the Church, and thus we do damage to what it means for us to be truly human.
Overall, this type of spiritual illness ultimately works to alienate ourselves away from God, from our fellow human beings, and from our own true selves. The Church Fathers call that, “the way of death.”
The Sacrament Of Confession:
Confession is one of the Great Sacraments, or Mysteries, of the Church…one of the ways in which we can have an actual experience of Christ in His fullness here on earth. It helps to reconcile us to God; restore healthy relationship with those around us; and helps heal the wounds of our brokenness.
During Confession, we acknowledge our sins out loud to God in the presence of the priest. The ancient Christian community had a specific practice in this regard: people would stand and confess their sins to God in the presence of the whole congregation. Indeed, Jesus encouraged His followers to walk in the light together, to confront problems as a group, to “tell it to the Church” (Mt. 18:17). Thus, James writes, “Confess your sins to one another” (5:16). But as time went on and the Church grew in numbers, strangers came to visit and public confession became more difficult. Out of mercy, priests began to witness confessions of sin privately on behalf of the Church.
Concerning our confession of sins, God’s Word gives a marvelous promise. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thus, when we bring our sins to God in repentance, we receive cleansing, forgiveness and healing.
Why Confess To A Priest?
The Scriptures clearly illustrate the authority Christ gave His disciples – and their successors via the laying on of hands (2 Timothy 1:6) – “to forgive sins” (John 20:23; see also Mt. 16:19). From the beginning, Christians understood that the grace of ordination endowed the shepherd of the flock with the discernment and compassion to offer guidance and remit confessed sins on behalf of Christ.
One clarification: we do not confess to the priest himself; we confess to God in the presence of the priest. You might ask, “But can’t I just confess to God privately? Why do I need a priest?” You most certainly can confess to God in personal prayer; however, there is no clear biblical basis for this practice. Even general confession occurs within the context of the Body of the Church. In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession to give us deliverance from our denial of specific sins. It’s easy for us to pray in isolation, yet never discern within ourselves about the root of what’s causing our continued spiritual illness, nor attempt the self-discipline of maturing in Christ. It is far more effective to confess aloud to God before a priest and to benefit from his guidance and help.
When the priest was ordained, by God’s grace, he became a kind of spiritual physician. The priest is well-versed in the sicknesses of both soul and body that sin can cause. We look to him to guide us, to diagnose our sickness and to help us to live a life that’s more unified with the works of God. He draws on the knowledge of the Orthodox Church and the Holy Fathers to provide you with a “treatment” for your sins, so you can walk away from Confession free from your guilt, absolved of the damage you’ve done to yourself and to those around you. And then, by God’s grace, you can strive to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11), to flourish in greater unity with God’s works.
Why Do We Need To Confess At All?
1. Confession reconciles us with the Body of Christ.
When we sin, we distance ourselves from others emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically. After we confess to God, He wipes those sins away and allows us to draw closer to the family we have in Christ, the Church.
2. Confession is cathartic.
Sometimes, when we need to get something off our chests, we go to a trusted friend, a parent, or a sibling. And after we say everything out loud to that person, suddenly we feel better about whatever it was that troubled us. Orthodox Confession works in the same way. After admitting our sins to God in the presence of the priest, we experience that relief that comes from “getting it off our chest.”
3. Confession provides us with a diagnosis.
Sometimes we might not even realize how sick we are, unless we go to a doctor regularly to ensure that we’re not missing something. Consistent confession allows us to identify the very poisons that are making us ill, or the things that are inflicting us with mortal wounds, and leaving us for dead. The longer we stay away from the Great Physician in this regard, the higher our chances of it becoming an untreatable illness that spreads to our loved ones.
How often should I go to confession?
There’s no cut and dry answer to this question. Of course, we should engage in the sacrament of confession whenever there is serious spiritual illness in our lives. Aside from that, most Orthodox choose to go to Confession during the four fasting periods (during Great Lent before Pascha; the Advent Fast before Christmas; the Apostles Fast in June; and the fast to honor the Theotokos during the first two weeks of August), as these are customary times when we focus on spiritual renewal, almsgiving, and repentance. At the very minimum, an Orthodox Christian should participate in the sacrament of confession at least once a year. Think of it as a yearly check-up.
How to prepare for confession?
It’s important for us to set aside time to properly prepare for the Mystery of Confession. We do this through fasting, prayer, and reading & reflecting upon the Holy Scriptures and other spiritual writings/books. A common way to prepare for confessing our sins is by reflecting upon the Ten Commandments, and the Beatitudes. Click here to download a PDF that will help guide you in using these two significant ways of reflection while preparing for communion.
The great philosopher Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The collective wisdom of our timeless Orthodox Christian faith would concur, since the unexamined life leads only to a life of spiritual illness. As Orthodox Christians, we must always examine ourselves. Thus, the Church has always taught that the Sacrament of Confession is crucial for our salvation! We should partake in the Life of the Church as frequently as possible, as it is our way of communing with God in this fallen world. When Orthodox faithful confess our sins, we receive forgiveness from God Himself through the Mystery of Confession. We receive His mercy and His love, and we receive yet another chance to grow into the person God wants us to be in Him.
Please make your appointment with Father Allan for the Sacrament of Confession by calling his cell phone at 408-375-8998.