Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Please note: The Mysterion (Sacrament) of Repentance and Confession is the most neglected sacrament of our Holy Church. The majority of our Orthodox faithful have never been to Confession and many of them believe that this was and is a Roman Catholic practice and not Orthodox. I had one of my parishioners who was 85 years old who told me: "Father it isn't that I don't want to participate in this Sacrament but I and my fellow parishioners were never informed by any of our previous priests." Another parishioner mentioned to me that when she approached her home parish priest of a different Metropolis and asked to go to confession, his response was, "Why? What did you do?"
Unfortunately we, your priests, have been negligent of informing all of you of the necessity and importance of this sacrament. It is our responsibility to educate all of you and to explain why one must participate in this sacrament as often as possible.
In the early church, confession was made publicly during the holy assembly of the faithful, where the clergy and the bishop were present too, who would grant remission of sin. "All who repent, the Lord forgives them if they repent in unity of God and in the presence of a bishop" (St. Ignatius). Holy Communion is not allowed to anyone "if the bishop and the clergy do not place their hand on him beforehand" writes Saint Cyprian.
Saint Basil the Great refers to confession in the Apostolic church (Acts 19:18) and concludes that "it is necessary that we confess our sins to those entrusted with the care-taking of the mysteries (sacraments) of God" (1 Corinthians 4:1) since even the first Christians "were confessing to the Apostles, who also baptized everyone".
Holy Confession was a familiar act in the Old Testament (Lev. 5:5-6; Num 5:5-7; Prov. 28:13). That is why people would come to Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner and confess their sins while he would confirm their repentance with baptism (St. Matthew 3:5-6; St. Mark 1:4-5).
By Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain
[The excerpt has been taken from the book titled "Repentance and Confession", By Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain, "Orthodox Kypseli" Publications, Thessaloniki].
Confession is a God-given Commandment, and it is one of the Sacraments of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual ("to be on the safe side", or, "in view of upcoming feast-days"), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder (Geronda) used to say: "Many confess, but few repent" (Elder Aemilianos of the Simonopetra Monastery, Holy Mountain).
Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our "ego" being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame-a thing that it cannot tolerate. Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin. Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence and a desire, a willingness and strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the grace of the Almighty Holy Spirit. Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the Sacrament of Divine and Sacred Confession.
During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the Father Confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the Confessor. No icon-not even the most miracle-working one-can provide what the Confessor's stole can: the absolution of sins. The confessor takes the person under his care; he adopts him/her and ensures he/she is reborn spiritually, which is why he is called "spiritual father."
The Confessor's responsibility is not just the superficial hearing of a person's sins and the reciting of the prayer of absolution afterwards. Nor is it restricted to the hour of confession. Like a good father, the Confessor continuously cares for his spiritual child; he listens to it and observes it carefully, he counsels it appropriately, he guides it along the lines of the Gospel, he highlights its talents, he does not place unnecessary burdens on it, he imposes canons with leniency only when he must, he consoles it when it is disheartened, weighed down, resentful, exhausted, and he heals it accordingly, without ever discouraging it, but constantly pursuing the struggle for the eradication of its passions and the harvesting of virtues; constantly shaping its eternal soul to be Christ-like. This ever-developing paternal and filial relationship between confessor and spiritual child eventually culminates in a feeling of comfort, trust, respect, sanctity and elation.
Our Holy Mother the Orthodox Church is the Body of the Resurrected Christ; She is a vast infirmary, for the healing of frail, sinning faithful from the traumas, the wounds and the illnesses of sin; from pathogenic demons and from the venomous demonic traps and the influences of demonically-driven passions.
Our Holy Church is not a branch office of the Ministry of Social Services, nor does She compete against the various societies for social welfare-without this meaning that She does not acknowledge this significant and well-meaning responsibility, or that She Herself does not offer such services bounteously, admirably and wondrously; it is because the Church is mainly a provider of a meaning to life, of redemption and salvation of the faithful "for the sake of whom Christ died," through the participation in the Sacraments (Mysteria) of the Church. "The priest's stole is a planing instrument"--as the Geronda [Elder] Paisios of the Holy Mountain used to say--"that planes and straightens out a person; it is a therapeutic scalpel that excises passions, ministering to people, for providing therapy and salvation."
God uses the priest for the forgiveness of His creature. It is plainly stated in the absolution blessing: "May God forgive you-through me the sinner-everything, both in the present age and in the future age, and may he render you blameless, before His awesome seat of judgment; having no longer any worry for the crimes that have been confessed, may you go forth in peace." Sins that have not been confessed will continue to burden a person, even in the life to come. Confessed sins should not be re-confessed; it would be as though one doesn't believe in the grace of the Sacrament.
According to Saint Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, "Confession is a willed, verbal revealing of one's evil deeds and words and thoughts; solemn, accusatory, direct without shame, decisive, to be executed before a legitimate spiritual father." It should be with solemnity, in other words, with an awareness of the sorrow that he caused God with his/her sin, and not with sentimental, hypocritical, fainthearted tears.
Genuine "solemnity" implies an inner collapsing, remorse, a hatred towards sin, a love of virtue, and a feeling of gratitude to the Gift-Giver God. "Accusatory" implies a responsible confession, without attempts of justification, subterfuge, chicanery, irresponsibility and scapegoating; with sincere self-reproach and genuine self-humiliation that carries the so-called "happy-sorrow" and the "joyous bereavement" defined by the Church. "Direct" implies a confession with all sincerity, directness and precision, valor and courage, severity and bravery. A confession "without shame" implies a portrayal of our true, deplorable self. Shame is a good thing to have, prior to sin, and not afterwards, and in the presence of the Confessor. The shame felt during confession they say will free us from sin during the Ultimate Judgment, given that whatever the Confessor absolves will not be judged again. A "direct" confession implies that it should be clean, specific, sincere, and accompanied by the decision that the faithful will never repeat the sins he has confessed to. Furthermore, confession should be continuous (not once in a lifetime or once a year), so that the "willingly recurring" passions (according to Saint John of the Ladder) are not strengthened, but rather, are cured sooner. Thus, old sins will not be entirely blotted out from memory, there will be a regular self-monitoring, self-observation, self-awareness and self-reproach; Divine Grace will not abandon; demonic entrapment will be averted much more easily, and reminiscence of death will not seem as horrid and terrible.
According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, the greatest of evils is pride; it is the mother of all passions according to Saint John of The Ladder (Climacus). It is the mother of many offspring, the first ones being vainglory and self-vindication. Pride is a form of denial of God; it is an invention of wicked-demons, the result of too much flattery and praise, which in turn results in a debilitation and exhaustion of man, God-despised censure, anger, rage, hypocrisy, the lack of compassion, misanthropy, and blasphemy. Pride is a passion that is formidable, difficult, powerful and hard to cure. Pride is also strong in many ways, and with presumptuousness, swell-headedness, insolence, self-importance, megalomania, ambition, self-love, vanity, avarice, flesh-loving, a love for leadership, accusations and arguments. Also as smugness, obstinacy, disobedience, sarcasm, stubbornness, disregard, indignity, perfectionism, and hypersensitivity. Finally, pride can lead to impenitence.
Out of the seven deadly sins many other passions spring forth. Having mentioned the offspring of Pride, we then have Avarice, which gives birth to the love of money, greed, stinginess, lack of charity, hardheartedness, fraud, usury, injustice, deceitfulness, simony, bribery, gambling. Fornication manifests itself in myriads of ways, for example, envy-with its underhanded and evil spite, insatiable gluttony, anger, as well as suspect negligence and lack of care.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Confessor's stole (Epitrachilion) can be a miraculous scalpel for the removal of malignant tumors; it can raise the dead, renew and transform the indecorous world, and bring joy to earth and heaven. Our Church has entrusted this grand ministry, this sacred service, to our priests and not to the Angels, so that we might be able to approach them with ease and without fear, as fellow-sufferers and corporeal counterparts. All the above have been deposited with sincerity and not at all pretentiously, by a co-sinner, who did not aspire to play the teacher, but a co-struggling, co-student, together with you. It was merely his desire to remind you with simple and inartistic words the Tradition of our Holy Mother, the Church, on the ever-opportune matter of divinely-spun and divinely-blessed Repentance and the divinely-delivered and God-favored, blessed Sacrament of Confession.
Personal note: It is not the penitent that determines how often he/she should participate in the sacrament of holy Confession or Holy Communion but his/her Father Confessor or Spiritual Father. It is no different than going to your physician. After your physician diagnoses your ailment then it is he who will prescribe the therapy or medicine not you. And of course you follow his instructions obediently.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God