by Very Rev. Fr. Joseph C. Joseph Corepiscopa
"Come now, and let us reason together, said the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." - Isaiah 1: 18
This is the promise God made to mankind. When the topic of confession arises there are several issues that arise. Some of these are questions and others are doubts. The following is an attempt to clarify the misconceptions and provide a better understanding of the power of a true confession.
What is a confession?
Confession is an acknowledgement and disclosure of sins to a priest in order to acquire absolution. Most of the members of the Syrian Orthodox Church confess at least once a year as a requirement by the church. If a person confesses to satisfy the church constitution or bylaws in order to vote in the general body meetings, it is not a true confession for the remission of sins, but an act of contempt towards the sacrament of confession.
The first step in attaining a true confession is the ability of a person to accept that he or she is a sinner. The person must start by bringing repentance in the heart through prayers and meditation. (There are several prayers for confession and repentance in the prayer books of our church. The prayers are a good tool to enable one to acknowledge and accept our sins and are the first step in preparing for a true confession.)
The second is to disclose your sins to a priest, a representative of Christ. The sinner must implore forgiveness by proclaiming the sins in front of God Almighty in heaven, the Virgin Mary Mother of God, Michael and Gabriel (the head of the angels), Saint Peter and Saint Paul (the head of the Apostles), the seventy-two evangelists, and holy fathers that attended the three ecumenical synods of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus.
The priest is a spiritual father and is granted the power to bind or lose the sins of the world, which will be accepted in the kingdom of God. A priest will not disclose a sin heard in a confession to anyone for any reason. The priest must protect the secrecy of confession at any cost, even if he has to give up his own life. It is the oath of priesthood, the faith and tradition of our church.
The priest councils and requests the confessed to take a decision to turn from the path of sin. Then the priest will advise the confessed to do certain things for the remission of sins, such as to read a few chapters of the bible or pray certain prayers appropriate depending on the sins. The person must complete whatever the priest prescribes for the confessed, because the priest is the spiritual healer or doctor of the soul. If the confessed disobeys the priest’s commands, that is another sin and the confession will not be completed.
After the holy confession, the faithful must receive the Holy Eucharist, the body and blood of our saviour Jesus Christ. During the last supper, Jesus Christ took the bread and wine blessed it and gave it to the disciples and said take eat and drink of it, for this is my body and blood for you and many for the remission of sins and eternal life which was the establishment of the Holy Eucharist. Christ sacrificed himself on the cross for the salvation of the world. He gave his body and blood for the sins of the world and asks us to partake in it, the real food and drink, which will prepare us for the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life. Just as the heavenly bread of manna was given to the Israelites to eat in the wilderness during their journey to the promise land, the Holy Eucharist is given to us through our passage in the worldly life in order to receive the kingdom of God.
Saint Paul taught us that if anyone participates of the mysteries without proper preparation, (a true repentance and confession) they are eating and drinking of judgment, which is not acceptable to God. From Saint Paul’s teaching we can learn it is important to have a true confession before receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ (Holy Eucharist), which is why the church requires the faithful to have a confession and absolution before receiving Holy Communion. In our church, all the members above the age of fifteen must confess at least once a year.
Why do we have to confess to a priest?
Confession is a sacrament for the Orthodox and Catholic Church. A priest or bishop must administer the confession in the church because it is the sacrament of repentance. Jesus Christ gave the authority of priesthood to his disciples “He breathed on them and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. Whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained” John 20:22-23. This authority of priesthood was handed over by the disciples to the patriarch in turn to the archbishops to the bishops to the priests. The priest has the authority to remit or to retain the sins of those who come for a confession. In normal cases, the priest gives absolution to the faithful, after a truthful confession. If the priest knows that a person is not genuinely confessed, or purposely hides the sins during confession, then he can retain those sins and refuse absolution for the forgiveness.
Why do we have to confess?
As it is mentioned previously, confession is for remission of sins. According to the first epistle of John, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him (Jesus) a liar, and His word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10). When we live in this world, temptations from the world make us sin. For example, keep a burning coal outside for a short while, you will see the ash wrapping the outer part of the coal covering the brightness of the fire. When we blow off the ash from the coal, the bright fire on the coal will be visible. Likewise our hearts will be covered with the world’s sins until we confess and eliminate the sins from our hearts to a sinless stage. A clean heart is a place God can abide in us. Saint Paul teaches us that we have to keep our bodies an acceptable sacrifice to God.
We should be aware that we are the temples of God, and we must keep it pure and holy at all times. This is why we have to wash away our sins as often as we can acknowledge a sin in us. The birth sin (inherited from Adam) is washed away by the Holy Baptism and all other sins are cleansed by participating in a true repentance and confession. A true and heartfelt repentance about our sins is the key to a confession and remission of sins.
God is merciful and awaiting a sinner’s repentance. He will grant forgiveness to all who earnestly repent in front of Him. Jesus forgave all the sins of the woman that came in to the house of Simon, and washed his feet with her tears. This woman is a role model for repentance. She washed away all her sins with her tears, the real repentance. David is another person we can see crying to God and asking mercy and forgiveness for his sins. Peter also wept for denying Jesus to the servant during the trial of Christ. When we are committing sin, we are departing from the way of God. God always hates sin but He loves mankind and waits for his or her return to Him.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father was waiting for his son’s return since his departure (sin). When this young man acknowledged his sins, he repents and takes the decision to returned to his father and openly confess his sin “father I sinned against you and heaven, I am not worthy to be called your son, accept me as a servant in you home”. When the young man arrives the father receives him in his house, which shows the father’s forgiveness of his son’s sins. The father comments, my son was dead and now I received him back alive. When we live in sin we are spiritually dead, the payment of sin is death. Just as the father of the prodigal son anticipated the return of his son, God enthusiastically awaits the arrival of His children from the sins of the world.
Come you sinners and seek forgiveness from God, wash your sins with repentance and confess your debts. Live your lives without sin. We do not know when the Lord will come to take us with Him. Like the five wise virgins waited to receive the bridegroom, repent and confess your sins and be ever ready to receive him.
May God bless you.
Sin and its Confession
Holy Confession - Spiritual Therapy for the Soul
On Confession by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh Part 1
On Confession by Protopriest Valerian Krechetov, Russian Orthodox Church
Should I confess before a Priest?
A Question About Confession
Confession: Reflections of Saint Mother Teresa
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