The Mysterion of Holy Confession and Repentance According to Our Holy Orthodox Church

St. Zephaniah

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


+In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory to You, our God, glory to You.

Come, let us bow down and worship God our King. Come, let us bow down and worship Christ our God and King. Come, let us bow down and worship Christ Himself, our King and our God.

As on the sixth day and hour, O Christ our God, You nailed upon the Cross the sin of Adam, Which he had dared to commit in Paradise, Tear up also the written accusation of our transgressions And save us.

O Christ our God, When You stretched out Your pure arms upon the Cross, you accomplished the salvation of mankind upon the earth, And gathered all the nations into unity That confess and say: "Glory to You."

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We bow in reverence before Your holy Icon, O Benevolent Lord, Seeking forgiveness of our transgressions, From You, O Christ our God. For You willed voluntarily to be lifted up to the Cross, And to redeem from the slavery of the enemy, those whom you Yourself had created. Thus we thankfully cry out and say: Our Savior, You filled all things with joy, When You came to save the world.

Now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

(Monday, Tuesday, Thursday)

O Theotokos, You are the source of compassion, Make us worthy to have sympathy for others. Look upon a people that has sinned, Show Your power as always, For we have placed our hope in You, And to You we say, Rejoice, As did Gabriel of old, the Archangel of the bodiless Angelic Hosts.


On December 3rd Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Holy Prophet Zephaniah; Saint John the Hesychast; Saint Theodore, Archbishop of Alexandria; Saint Theodoulos of Cyprus; New holy Martyr Angelos of Chios (1813); Monk-Martyr Cosmas of Saint Anne's Skete, Mt. Athos; holy Martyrs Mamas, Selfkos, and Agapios, Bishop of Ganos; Righteous Savvas of Zvenigorod.

RIGHTEOUS SAVVAS OF ZVENIGOROD. Saint Savvas was tonsured a monk at a young age and became one of the first disciples of Abbot Sergie of Radonezh. He was drawn to the quiet life, kept the remembrance of the judgment of God, and he grieved over the poverty of his soul. He only ate plants, slept on the ground, and wore coarse clothing. Saint Savvas became the confessor to all the brothers at the Monastery. He was later named the Abbot of a new Monastery that Great Prince Dimitrii Donskoy built in gratitude for a military victory. When the Abbot of the Sergiev Lavra left to live alone in the wilderness, the brethren besought Saint Savvas to lead them. Prince Yuri later chose Saint Savvas as his spiritual father and invited him to visit Moscow to bless his entire household. However, once Saint Savvas was there, Yuri imposed upon him to stay and he set in place a new Monastery. Saint Savvas labored much at the building up of this Monastery and he even dug out a well and carried his own water. He also blessed Yuri's military campaign, which was victorious. Saint Savvas died peacefully in old age and miracle healing began to occur at his grave. He also appeared often to an Abbot of the Savvinsk Monastery, the one he had founded, and told him to write his face on an icon. Tsar Alexei would often go on foot to venerate at the Monastery of Saint Savvas. It was said that Saint Savvas once saved Alexei from the attack of a vicious bear. 

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Holy Epistle Lesson: 1 Timothy 5:1-10
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Luke 20:27-44


"Exercise patience out of love for your fellow man. Exercise patience in order to benefit your soul. For if you do not take your soul into consideration, you lose your patience." [Saint Raphael of Lesvos]


The Meaning of the Holy Mysteria (Sacraments)

The Holy Mysteria or Sacraments of our Holy Orthodox Church are the means and channels of Grace, i.e., the sacred services and ceremonies through which divine Grace and power are communicated to sinful man and cleanse him and sanctify him, making him righteous before God.

And the Mysteria are the divine and God-given powers with which the Church both cleanses man from sin and lifts from him the burden of the curse and of guilt, and bestows upon him remission of sins, feeds him spiritually and trains him in the holy life of the Spirit. And because man is composed of two elements: spirit and matter, the soul which is invisible and the body which is visible, so, too, do the Holy Mysteria have visible and invisible elements. The invisible element is the divine Grace and the visible is that which man perceives during the performance of the Mysteria (Sacrament), e.g. water during Baptism, the water and the triple immersion, the oil and the anointment with the holy oil in the Mysterion of Holy Unction, the prayer of absolution in Holy Confession, etc.

Thus behind the visible and sensible are hidden the invisible and the supersensible, divine and spiritual, grace itself which sanctifies, the Holy Spirit which enlightens, saves and regenerates. Thus the visible and the sensible become channels of divine strength and grace.

Saint John Chrysostom says the same thing: "It is called Mystery because we believe not that which we see; for we see one thing and believe another".


According to our Holy Tradition the Mysterion (Sacrament) of Repentance and Confession is a God-instituted Mysterion, established by our Lord out of extreme goodness and love for man, so that man's sins committed after Baptism might be remitted. For this reason the Mysterion is called a "Second Baptism". Even before repentance was instituted as a Mysterion, both Saint John the Baptist and our Lord, and later His holy Apostles, called men to repentance. "Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand", "Repent ye, and believe the gospel". "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (St. Matt. 3:2; 4, 17; St. Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38). It is also called repentance, confession, divulging. From these names every one of us can understand the essential and necessary conditions for this Mysterion of the remission of sins.

It is called repentance, i.e., the inner change of thought, mind and disposition. A complete recognition of responsibility and blame for all the evil that a sinner has committed; i.e., a sense of his sinfulness and a deep sorrow and contrition of heart even to pain and tears for his sins and iniquities.

It is called confession, i.e., the revealing, before the Spiritual Father, the Priest and celebrant of the Mysterion, of his soul's inner repentance, compunction and contrition, and his tearful and humble acknowledgment and confession of his guilt, and the seeking of divine mercy and of the remission of sins.

It is called divulging of his sins; this does not differ from confession; it signifies that one does not hid his sins either because he is ashamed and for this reason he hesitates and avoids enumerating them one by one, or because he is afraid that his sins will be exposed and that he will suffer painful consequences because of them. The enumeration of one's deviations or moral transgressions and falls one by one and with deep contrition and compunction is necessary. Then the confession and acknowledgment of one's guilt for all the evil that he has committed--he and no one else--and the seeking of God's forgiveness for each of his sins, and the seeking of direction, advice and instruction from his/her Spiritual Father Confessor so that he will not fall again into the same sins and transgressions, are elements which will ensure his further progress in the spiritual life, a life of continuous repentance and progress in virtue. Then does the sinner indeed repent. Then--providing he subjects himself to the three prerequisites of true repentance--he receives from God through his confessor "forgiveness and remission of sins" and his conscience is relieved, and his soul is at peace; the burden and agony of guilt which weighted upon him disappears, and he feels completely at peace and at rest, experiencing the blessings and grace of God in his life.

Confession must take place before a Priest, the Spiritual Father, because he is the minister appointed for this Mysterion--he and no one else. Our Lord established and found this Mysterion when He said to Saint Peter: "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (St. Matthew 16:19). And chiefly after his Resurrection when granting the Holy Spirit to all His disciples, He said: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose so ever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (St. John 20:22-23). The divine words of our Lord constitute the founding act of the divine Mysterion. With these words He gives to the holy Apostles the authority to bind and loose men's sins. The forgiveness of sins is His power alone.

Priests are only the visible instruments at the performance of the Mysterion, which is performed invisibly through them by God Himself. Saint John Chrysostom, having in mind the Divine institution of the authority of the pastors of the Church to loose and bind, says: "The priests decree below, God confirms above, and the Master agrees with the opinion of His slaves." The priest is here the instrument of God's mercy and remits sins not on his own authority, but in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The very uttering aloud of one's spiritual afflictions and falls before a spiritual father--the confession of sins---has the significance that by means of it there are overcome (a) pride, the chief source of sins, and (b) the despondency of hopelessness in one's correction and salvation. The manifestation of the sin brings one already near to casting it away from oneself.

Those who approach the Mysterion of Repentance and Confession prepare themselves for it by an effort or prayer, fasting, and repenting deeply within themselves, with the aim of uncovering and acknowledging their sinfulness.

The mercy of God goes out to meet the repenting Christian, testifying, through the lips of the spiritual father, that the Heavenly Father does not reject one who comes to Him, just as He did not reject the prodigal son and the repentant publican. This testimony consists in the words of the special prayer and the special words of remission which are pronounced by the priest.

The permission and even the direct demand to repeat the Mysterion of Repentance is clear from the words of the Gospel: "Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance" (St. Luke 15:7). In the Apocalypse (Revelation) of Saint John the Theologian we read: "Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write: ...I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:1, 5).


By Epitimia is to be understood as an interdiction or punishment (II Cor. 2:6) which, according to Church canons, the priest as a spiritual physician decrees for certain repenting Christians in order to treat their moral diseases. Such penances, for example, are: a special fast, above that which is set for everyone; prayers of repentance together with a definite number of prostrations; and others. The basic form of Epitimia which existed in the practice of the ancient Church was excommunication from Communion of the Holy Mysteria for a greater or lesser period.

In the ancient Church there existed a rite of public repentance for the "fallen," and in particular for those who had not held firm in the faith during the persecutions. According to this rite, the penitents were divided into four classes: (a) the "weepers," who did not have the right to be present at the public Divine services and, stretching out their hands off the church porch, with weeping would beg those who entered the church to pray for them; (b) the "hearers," for whom it was permitted to be in the narthex of the church all the way to the end of the liturgy of the Catechumens (c) the "prostrators," who entered the church itself but also did not participate in the Liturgy of the Faithful (after the Liturgy, on bended knees, they were vouchsafed the pastoral blessing); and (d) the class of those who "stood together" with the faithful for the whole Liturgy, but could not receive Communion of the Holy Mysteria.

Penances are given not to everyone, but only to certain repenting Christians: to those who, either from the seriousness or the quality of their sins, or because of the character of their repentance, have need of these spiritual treatments. Such an interdiction was laid by the holy Apostle Paul upon the Corinthian Christian who had committed incest, when in order to treat him he commanded that he be excommunicated from the Church and from contact with the faithful and that he be "deliver(ed) unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved" (I Cor. 5:1-5). And then, after his sincere contrition, he commanded him again to be received into Church communion (II Cor. 2:6-8).

A holy Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council says: "It behooves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but various and multiform, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is checked by the power of the physician.

One must distinguish from the Mysterion of Confession and Repentance the moral guidance of a spiritual father, something widespread in antiquity and now in use especially among the monastics. Often this is fulfilled by persons who are not consecrated, that is, who do not have the priestly rank, when upon them lies the duty of guiding their spiritual children. The confession of one's thoughts and acts before a spiritual guide has an immense psychological significance in the sense of moral upbringing, for the correction of evil inclinations and habits, the overcoming of doubts and wavering, and so forth. But such spiritual guidance does not have the significance of a Mysterion of Grace-giving sacred action.

"Deeper reflection on the Mysterion of forgiveness among the elect supplied the understanding that the gift of reconciliation could be administered among itself in continuing that the gift of Apostolic charisma. And so the promise of the Lord came more and more to be understood to refer to the Mysterion of Repentance: 'Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.' The power of 'judgment' in a sense an anticipation of the great Judgment of the Lord, was thus conferred among the Apostles, and their successors the bishops.


O God our Savior, Who through Your Prophet Nathan granted forgiveness of sin to penitent David, and received Manasseh's prayer of repentance; now Yourself in Your accustomed kindness receive your servant (Name) who repents of all the sins (s)he has committed, and overlook all that (s)he has done. You Who forgive offences and pass over transgressions. For You O Lord have said: I do not desire the death of a sinner, rather that (s)he should turn from wickedness and live; and also have said that sins should be forgiven even seventy times seven. For as Your Majesty is incomparable so too Your mercy is immeasurable. But if You should mark our iniquity who could ever stand? But You are the God of the penitent, and to You we ascribe glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Then (in the Slavonic service books) the priest invites the person to confess their heart's troubles with the following encouragement:

Behold my child, Christ stands here invisibly to receive your confession. So do not be ashamed, and to not conceal anything from me. Tell without hesitation all that you have done, and thus you shall have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ. See His holy icon is before us, and I am but a witness, bearing testimony before Him of all the things which you have to say to me. But if you conceal from me, you shall have the greater sin. So take heed that having come to a physician you do not depart unhealed.

Penitents will then confess the sins and failings that trouble their hearts, and will also take the opportunity to speak of the whole range of their life in the perspective of the problems they have in living out the Gospel spirit. The priests, well aware of their own fallibility, listen with compassion and supportive pastoral care, and offer the best advice for all the problems their parishioners lay before them and suggestions for spiritual practices that might help them make progress.

The priest offers a prayer of absolution over the penitent, who now kneels down and accepts the stole of the priest as it is laid upon his or her head. In the Slavonic liturgical tradition the priest lays his hand on the penitent's head while saying this solemn prayer of blessing that confers the grace of reconciliation:

May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, through the grace and compassion of His love for mankind, forgive you my child [Name] all your transgressions. And I, an unworthy priest, through the power given to me by Him, do forgive and absolve you from all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Greek ritual has an older, depreciative, formula of absolution that reads as follows:

May God Who pardoned David through the Prophet Nathan when he confessed his sins, and also Peter when he wept bitterly for his denial, and also the sinful woman weeping at his feet, and the publican as well as the prodigal son, may this same God, through me a sinner, forgive you all things both in this world and in the world to come, and cause you to stand uncondemned before His awesome Judgment Seat. Have no further care for the sins which you have confessed. Depart in peace. May Christ our true God through the prayers of His Most Holy Mother, and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us, for He is Gracious and loves mankind.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George