Preparing for Confession: A Basic Introduction

Venerable Hilarion the New the Abbot of Pelecete

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


Almighty Lord, You have created all things in wisdom. In Your inexpressible Providence and great goodness You have brought us to these saving days, for the cleansing of our souls and bodies, for control of our passions, in the hope of the Resurrection. After the forty days You delivered into the hands of Your servant Moses, the tablets of the Law in characters divinely traced. Enable us also, O Benevolent One, to fight the good fight, to complete the course of the fast, to keep the faith inviolate, to crush underfoot the heads of unseen tempters, to emerge victors over sin and to come, without reproach, to the worship of Your Holy Resurrection. For Blessed and Glorified is Your Most Honorable and Majestic Name, of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.



"Woe to the world for malice! It harms everything and in every way...No one can hide from it anywhere. When it cannot harm a man any other way, then it injects its poison into a man through his tongue. However many misfortunes, calamities, and evils there may be in the world, malice is the cause of all. Woe, then, to the world for malice, but rather greater woe to those that are malicious! They harm the bodies of others, but also their own souls. They put the bodies of others to death, but also their own souls. They take the temporary life of others, and also their own eternal life. They destroy others temporarily and themselves also eternally. Malice leads to this terrible evil. If they do not wish to perish eternally the hateful ought to correct themselves and change their own hateful heart."



On March 28th 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: Saint Stefanos the Wonderworker of Tryglia; Saints Priscus, Malcus, and Alexander in Caesarea; Saint Hesychius the Theologian of Jerusalem; Saint Hilarion the New of Pelecete; Saint John, Bishop of Manglisi; Saint George, Bishop, and Parodus and Peter, Presbyters, and Prince Entravota-Boyan of Bulgaria; Saint Efstratius of the Caves of Kiev; Saint Hilarion of Pskov; Saint Apostle Herodion of the Seventy Apostles.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Fathers, Holy Mothers, Holy Bishops, Holy Presbyters, Holy Ascetics, Holy Apostles, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.


Isaiah 29:13-23; Genesis 12:1-7
Proverbs 14:15-26


"Blessed are all who believe in God, in the manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ showed God to the world. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus Christ and you will receive the answer. God is as Jesus Christ is. This means that God is All-Powerful, All-Gentle. His power cannot be resisted. His wisdom cannot be contradicted. All malice must submit to His gentleness. If you wish to be able to come running to God, if you desire wisdom, entrust yourself to God. If you desire the blessing of either wisdom or goodness or love, hold fast to God. Know and remember that only weakness, foolishness and malice rise up against God. But all rebellion against God is condemned in the end to defeat and destruction, while all that remains with God in the end is exalted and rejoices, living eternally. This is all shown by the Person and destiny of the Lord Jesus Christ, and also through the destinies of His followers and His enemies. And therefore we say: "Blessed are all who believe in God in the manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ showed God to the world." (Saint Nikolai Velimirovic).


by L. Joseph Letendre

Confession is an important, yet neglected sacrament of our Church.

This offering provides a practical and stimulating guide for Orthodox Christian in our age.-Reverend Stanly S. Harakas

In every Sacrament (Mystery) there is an act of offering. In the divine Eucharist, we offer bread and wine; in Baptism and Chrismation and at Ordination, human persons are offered; in marriage, the relationship that has flowered between two people; and in anointing, human sickness and suffering are offered. In the Sacrament of Repentance-Confession- it's our own sinfulness that we bring as an offering.

When we stand before the holy icon of Christ on the Cross and the Gospel with the priest beside us, what should we say?

What are the sins we must confess? What do we offer? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we discover what it is we should say? These are the questions we will try to answer here.

1. Sin is not just breaking the Ten Commandments.

We often think of confession as presenting a "shopping list" of the ways we've broken the Ten Commandments. But this approach often leads to confusion. I haven't robbed any banks or murdered anyone, I'm faithful to my spouse, and so far I've resisted the temptation to sacrifice my children to idols. Why then does the priest insist I am a sinner? And why does the Church insist that I go to confession when I haven't done anything?

The painful truth is that it is possible to keep all the Commandments and yet still be in sin. During the Sundays of Preparation before Great Lent we hear the Gospel of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee keeps the Commandments and more. He tells God, "I am not like all other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Yet Jesus says, he is not justified (St. Luke 18:9-14).

Even more frightening are the words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the Will of My Father Who is in Heaven." Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and in Your Name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from Me you evil doers!" (St. Matthew 8:21-23)

Saint Paul writes that "no one will be declared righteous in [God's] sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin" (Romans 3:20). The Commandments reveal that sin exists in the world and in our lives.

2. "Missing the Mark".

To understand more clearly what sin is, we must look at the word that the New Testament and many holy Fathers used for sin: amartia. This Greek word means "missing the mark." For the writers of the New Testament and those holy Fathers who wrote in Greek, sin was being off target, moving in the wrong direction, heading for the wrong goal. But what goal?

Saint Paul writes that we are to attain to "the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). This is the goal. Like Christ we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and always doing the Will of the Father. This means that the measuring stick we will use when confessing is not how well or how poorly we are keeping the guidelines. Nor will it be how better or worse we are when compared to our fellow men. The measuring means is the person of Jesus Christ. We will see later what this means practically for repentance and confession.

3. Spiritual Disease.

Some of the specific sins that trouble us may be symptoms of underlying sins that the holy Fathers call "passions." For example, we may confess losing our temper, but the root of this sin may be jealousy or pride. In this "medical model" of sin and repentance, the priest's task, as we shall see, is to diagnose and prescribe.

Finally, we must mention two broad types of sins: sin of commission and sins of omission. A sin of commission involves doing, saying, thinking or feeling something we shouldn't. The Ten Commandments deal with this kind of sin. A sin of omission occurs when we fail to do, say, or feel something we should. These are the hardest kind to recognize and to repent.

Preparing For Confession

A good confession happens before we even leave for church. In Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, when the young man finally comes to his senses he says, "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men" (St. Luke 15:18-19).

Before the son takes one step on the journey back to his father, he rehearses what he will say. In other words, he prepares. We must do the same. A good confession depends on good preparation.

How do we prepare for confession? First, we must set aside some time to prepare: a half hour, at least. This must be a period of time when we will be free from distractions and interruptions. We should not be shy about asking our family to help. One of the most loving things husbands and wives can do for each other is safeguard each other's time and place of prayer. This can mean taking the children out, answering the phone, turning off the TV.

Preparation should also have a place where we will not be disturbed. We can go to our room and close the door. We can sit before our holy icons. But we must be in a place where we can relax and be quiet for the duration of the time we have set aside to prepare.

Once we have entered the time and place to prepare for confession, we must fill it with four things: silence, prayer, reading and reflection.

Silence and Solitude

We begin simply by placing ourselves in God's presence. We say to Him, "Here I am." We remind ourselves that for the next half hour or so our time and thoughts will be His and His alone. And we keep silence.

Anyone who has tried this knows what soon happens. We forget about God quickly. We become bored, and then all sorts of thoughts flood our minds. Anger about what someone said or did to us weeks ago comes bubbling to the surface and we find ourselves fantasizing about what we should have said or could have done. Last night's TV show, a song we heard on the radio, a scene from the last movie we saw and played back in our minds. We get fidgety. We remember all the things we've put off for months and feel a sudden urgency to do them right now.

When we realize that our minds have wandered, we should bring our attention back to God and through prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner).


Prayer is the single most important thing to do in preparing for confession. Unless the Holy Spirit reveals our sins and sinfulness to us, we will not see them. In prayer we ask God to show us what He finds displeasing in us, what He wants to repent of. If we are concerned only with how we're disappointed in ourselves, repentance can become an exercise in self-improvement but not a return to the Father.

We discover our sins not by seeing how evil we are, but by seeing how Good God is. The more brightly lit a room is, the more clearly we see the dust and cobwebs. In the lives of the Saints we often see that the holier they became, the more they knew how sinful they were. In prayer we can begin to see our sins clearly as God sees them.

Through prayer we meet our God as the God of forgiveness and mercy, and see the sinfulness of our anger and judging of others; we find in Him the generous Giver of all good things, and we are convicted in our greed, jealousy, and material anxiety; we encounter the humble Lord of glory, and see the foolishness of our pride and conceit; we are embraced by the God of love, and so recognize our selfishness and lust for what they truly are.

In the end, we discover that even sins against our neighbor are ultimately sins against God. Like the Psalmist, we can then pray: "Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight" (Psalm 50[51]:4).

How should we pray? It is good to begin with the prayer "Heavenly King", (The Prayer to the Holy Spirit), and the Trisagion. In this way our prayer is united to the prayer of the entire Church. Then we are free to use other written prayers from an Orthodox Prayer Book, the Jesus Prayer, or to pray in our own words or to use prayers from the Holy Bible. The Psalms are especially good, particularly the Psalms 31[32], 37[38], 50[51], which are Psalms of Repentance. When using words it is important to pray slowly. Pause after words and phrases so they can sink in and touch the heart.

In preparing for confession, our prayer should echo the prayer of the Psalmist: "Who can discern errors? Forgive my hidden faults" (Psalm 18[19]:12).

(To be continued)

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

+Father George