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.
FROM THE DIVINE LITURGY OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
Holy God, dwelling in Your Holy Sanctuary, praised by the Seraphim with the Thrice-Holy hymn, glorified by the Cherubim and adored by all the Heavenly Powers, You have brought all things into being out of nothing. You created us in Your Own Image and Likeness and adorned us with all Your gifts. To all who seek it You grant wisdom and understanding; You do not spurn the sinner, but have set repentance as the way of salvation. You have deemed us, Your lowly and undeserving servants, worthy to stand at this hour before the Glory of Your Holy Altar and to offer You fitting worship and praise. Will You accept, Lord, even from the lips of us sinners, the Thrice-Holy hymn. Look graciously on us, forgiving us our every offense, whether or not of our own free will, sanctifying us soul and body, and enabling us to worship You in holiness all the days of our life. This we ask through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos and of all the Saints who through the ages have pleased You well. For You, our God, are Holy and You we offer up glory; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
[The Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great is celebrated ten times during the year. It is celebrated in two forms: either in its entirety, as is that of Saint John Chrysostom, or as a Vesperal Liturgy. In its entirety (including the Liturgy of the Word, or of the Catechumens) it is celebrated on:
the 1st of January, Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord,
and the Commemoration of the Saint himself;
the five Sundays in Holy Lent (but not Palm Sunday);
the feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany, but only when these occur on a Sunday.
As a Vesperal Liturgy, that is, the continuation of the Office of Vespers, it is celebrated on:
the Vigil (Parmoni) of Christmas;
the Vigil of Theopania (Epiphany);
Great and Holy Thursday;
Great and Holy Saturday.
"To seek to learn exactly about the day when the end of the world will come and the Second Advent (Coming) of Christ will take place does not benefit us as much as to believe that the end is near, that we will die, that after death there is life eternal, that we shall give an account of our deeds and the each one will either glorified or disgraced by his works, and that the Second Coming will occur suddenly, as lightning; and that we must always be ready, as our Lord enjoins" (+ Geronda [Elder] Philotheos Zervakos).
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On March 29th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors, and entreats the holy intercessions (prayers) 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 Mark, Bishop of Arethusa, and with him Saint Cyril the Deacon of Heliopolis, and others; Saint Diadochus, Bishop of Photiki; Holy Martyrs Jonas and Varachesius of Persia, and Nine Confessors; Holy New Martyrs Priest Paul Voinarsky, and Paul and Alexis of Russia; Saint Efstathius, Bishop of Kios in Birthynia; Saints Jonah and Mark of the Pskov Caves; Saint Efstathios, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Luxeuil; Saints Gwynllw and Gwladys, parents of Saint Cadoc.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Deacons, Holy Confessors, Holy Priests, Holy Egoumenoi, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT THE CHURCH COMMEMORATES SAINT JOHN CLIMACUS
Saint John Climacus, Egoumenos (Abbot) of Saint Catherine's Monastery of Sinai (6th-7the century), who is assigned a special Sunday in Holy Lent because, by virtue of his writings and his own virtues and holy life, he forms a pattern of the true Christian ascetic. Saint John is the author of "The Ladder of Paradise," one of the spiritual texts appointed to be read in church during Lent. His memorial, like that of Saint Theodore, has been transferred to the movable from the fixed calendar, where he is remembered on March 30th. The first Canon at Orthros (Matins) on this Sunday is based on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (St. Luke 10:30-5): the repentant Christian is likened to the man who fell among thieves.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS TAKEN FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT ARE:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 6:9-12
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. Mark 7:31-37
SAYINGS FROM THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF OUR CHURCH:
"The fire which man will experience in the next life will be different from the fire of the present life. The fire of this life is extinguished in various ways, whereas the fire of the next life remains unextinguished." (Saint Gregory of Nyssa)
PREPARING FOR CONFESSION: A BASIC INTRODUCTION
by L. Joseph Letendre
Reading helps us to "discern errors". In particular it can provide the right standard by which we must measure ourselves. This right standard is not the world around us or what we see others doing. We are not good Christians if we are at least no worse than other people. Nor does the standard of perfection consist of our own goals and aspirations. As we said above, the standard and measuring stick is the Divine Person of Jesus Christ. It is Christ Who tells us, in the middle of a dog-eat-dog-world, "Blessed are the meek". He is the One Who asks us, "Are you the kind of person I Am? The person my Father wants you to be?"
For this reason reading from the Holy Scripture is most important. The Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew 5-7) and 1 Corinthians 13 are good places to start. By following a rule of daily Scripture readings, we will find other passages we can return to when preparing for confession. In addition, reading from Father Thomas Hopko's booklet "If We Confess Our Sins" or the confession from "The Way of the Pilgrim" can help us focus and apply the Holy Scripture to our own sins.
The last thing to say about reading is that this will not be the time to gather ammunition to use on the Jehovah's Witness when he comes to the door or the "Pharisee" who sits with us on the parish council. What we read we must apply to ourselves, not to our neighbor.
Finally, we must actively take what we gather from our silence, prayer and reading and examine ourselves. To do this successfully we must have an attitude of self-blame or self-accusation. This is a very hard attitude to cultivate. We naturally want to see ourselves in the best light, and want others think well of us. Self-accusation goes against our nature. It means refusing to make excuses or to compare ourselves with others. It means playing the role of prosecutor instead of defense attorney.
Saint Dorotheos of Gaza, a 6th century Father and monk, tells us a story that may help us understand:
"There once came to me two brothers who were always arguing, and the elder was saying about the younger, 'I arrange for him to do something and he gets distressed, and so I get distressed, thinking if he had the faith and love towards me he would accept what I tell him with complete confidence'. And the younger was saying,'...but he does not speak to me with fear of God, but rather as someone who wants to give orders...'
Impress on your minds that each blames the other and neither blames himself...What they really ought to do is just the opposite. The first ought to say: I speak with presumption and therefore God does not give my brother confidence in me. And the other ought to be thinking: My brother gives me commands with humility and love but I am unruly and have no fear of God...Each considers himself right and excuses himself, as I was saying, all the while keeping none of the Commandments yet expecting his neighbor to keep the lot!...Ought we not rather to examine ourselves about the Commandments and blame ourselves for not keeping them?
In our actual preparation silence, prayer, and reflection will not follow one after another, but will be mixed. Our silence may lead to reading, our reading to prayer, or more silence, etc. What order we do these is not important: this will vary from person to person and even from confession to confession. What is important is that we include all these ingredients. Let me give some examples of how this might work for you.
We are silent before God, and frankly, bored. We pray, but cannot pay attention to prayer. This can lead us to reflect on how little must truly love God, for we find His company so dull. Or, our silence and prayer is distracted by worry and anxiety about money. Then we read in the Gospel the command of Jesus not to worry about these things (St. Matthew 6:25-34). We can reflect on our lack of trust in our Heavenly Father.
By all means, write down these reflections and bring the list to confession if you think you might forget.
Life Prepares Us
So far we have been talking about particular preparation for confession. But there is also a "general" preparation. Since all of the Christian life is a struggle with sin and temptation and an ongoing effort of repentance, all of life can prepare us for confession.
This is obviously true of the "spiritual" aspects of our lives: prayer, the Divine Liturgy and sermons, spiritual reading, fasting-all of these can give us insights into ourselves that we should bring to Christ in Sacramental Confession.
But there is more.
If we cultivate the attitude of self-accusation, God can use practically anything in our life, to reveal hidden sins to us.
Pambo, a 4th century Desert Holy Father, once went into the city of Alexandria. He happened to see a prostitute and began to weep. Those who were with him asked why he wept. "Two things make me weep: one, the loss of this woman; and the other, that I am not as concerned to please God as she is to please wicked men."
In the last century, Saint Macarius, an Elder in the Russian monastery of Optino, once wrote to a correspondent:
"You say your maid annoys and irritates you so much that, in order not to fly into a rage, you have taken to telling her--whenever you feel a paroxysm coming on--that she must not lead you into temptation, after which you hurriedly leave the room. This seems to me a remarkably weak way of combating the root of the evil.
Consider her, in this connection, as being used by God to show you your greatest weakness: this rage which slumbers in you at all times but lies hidden until she, the hand of God, discloses it."
For Saints Pambo and Macarius the prostitute and the maid were ways that God used to lead them to see their sins and to repent more deeply. If we are alert and listening for God Who speaks to us in a gentle whisper (I Kings 19:12-13), there will be many moments of our life that God will use to show us where we need to change.
If we have said much about preparing for confession, it is because I am convinced that what we actually say before the priest in the Sacrament of Repentance and Confession, is only to the tip of the iceberg; it is the fruit of our preparation.
What Not to Say
Now I must admit that I cannot tell you what to say in Confession. Prepare, and what you must say will be made clear to you. But I can tell you six things not say if you wish to make a good confession.
1. "I Have No Sins"
This is very frustrating for a priest to hear. How is he to "absolve" in Christ sins of someone who "doesn't have any?" How can he give that person the Body and Blood of Christ "for the remission of sins?" But it is even more serious. In the New Testament it is written: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…If we claimed we have not sinned we make [God] out to be a liar and His word has not place in our lives" (1 John 1:8,10).
If this is all we can say in confession, hard questions must be asked; How seriously do we take Jesus' call to repentance? How seriously did we prepare for it? It is far better to tell our priest: "I don't know what my sins are. Will you help me, Father?"
2. "I Am a Sinner"
I do not mean that we should not say this, but that we should not stop there. Confession must not become a ritual formality we go through to fulfill a religious obligation. It must be real and personal. When we approach confession, we should be able to echo the words of David the king and prophet: "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise" (Psalm 50:17).
3. "I've God a Problem"
Too often we let confession become a counseling session where we tell the priest our problems and hope for advice, help or encouragement. We can and should discuss our problems with our priest, but the place is in the office in a special counseling session. The Sacrament of Repentance and Confession deals with sins.
There is much truth in the notion that the root of every problem is sin: our own and/or someone else's. It is our own sinfulness that underlies our problems. This is what we must unearth in our preparation and bring to confession.
Excuses such as: "Sure I drink, Father, but if you knew my wife/husband..." have no place in confession. We come to confession to be forgiven, not give excuses.
5. Our Neighbors' Sins
Excuses such as: "My husband drinks too much", are out, too. We must confess our sins, not those of our neighbors, friends, or relatives. We may need to confess our sinful reaction to our neighbor's failings. Have we become self-righteous? Judging? Unforgiving? Wanting revenge? Only after repenting of such sins can we begin to seek a Christian solution to the problems created for us by another's sins. These we are free to discuss with the priest (Father Confessor or Spiritual Father) at another time, of course.
6. "I Try To Be Good"
Priests find this one frustrating, too. It's like saying, "I try not to murder anyone." The obvious response is: "Have you succeeded?" It is important to remember that everyone is good--made in the image and likeness of God. But good people still say, do, think, and feel things. Also, if you are coming to confession, the priest assumes you are "trying to be good." The question is: where are you failing?
Let us end this section on a positive note. There is one thing you can say: the same sins you confessed last time. Do not be afraid to repeat yourself in confession after confession. And do not become cynical about confession because it always seems to consist of "the same old sins." Why?
First, the Church Holy Fathers teach that there are some sins and passions that we will have to wrestle with for most, if not all, of our lives. And second, we can be encouraged that we are at least holding our own. To confess one time that we covet our neighbor's goods and the next time that we have become a burglar is not spiritual progress, but the opposite behavior may well be a sign of spiritual growth.
...we can say that the two great obstacles to confessing well are laziness and fear. Laziness prevents us from taking the time and making the effort to prepare well. Fear prevents us from being open and honest with ourselves and our God before another Christian, our priest. We should confess these sins, as well.
When we move beyond our laziness and fear, we will discover that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has become our Father, as well, is very much like the father of the Prodigal Son. He stands on the high place watching for us. When He sees we have taken the smallest step to return to Him, He forgets His dignity and reserve and runs to meet us. He opens his arms to embrace us, and takes us with Him to the place where He dwells.
The priest or Father Confessor is not as a judge but as witness to the sincerity of one's repentance. That is why in the Orthodox practice of confession the priest does not face the penitent, but both priest and penitent face an icon of Christ. To show that the forgiveness comes not from the priest but from Christ, the priest does not say, "I forgive you..." but, "May God forgive you..."
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware writes, "The priest is simply God's usher, introducing him (the penitent) into the Divine presence; to pursue the medical analogy, he is the receptionist in the waiting room. It is to Christ, not to the priest, that the confession is made...and it is from Christ, not from the priest, that the forgiveness comes..."
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God