The Spiritual Life of an Orthodox Christian (Part V)

Hieromartyr Paphnutius of Jerusalem

Hieromartyr Paphnutius of Jerusalem

My beloved spiritual children 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.

THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN (Part V)
(Source: The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it by Saint Theophan the Recluse

Final Counsels Before Confession and Communion

The time for Confession has already approached, and after that the most sweet moment of Communion of Christ's Mysteries! May the Lord bless you to carry out both in a fitting way. Both the toils of governing and everything conceived by you are toward this end; it is here that they are impressed with the Divine imprint.

Why, then, do you write that you are afraid to go for Confession? Many people have such a fear, but why you? Allow me to clear up the matter for you. The confessor is merely a witness, the Lord accepts the sins. It is He Who commands the confessor to give absolution to the person who confesses. It is the Lord Who is merciful. He is just waiting for a person to confess his sins, and as soon as he does, He immediately forgives him. What is there to fear from such a Lord?

This misgiving comes about partly because it is not clear what should be said at Confession. But when you do everything as prescribed, everything will be clear for you, and there will not be anything to fear.

The misgiving also comes about because we rarely confess. If we were to confess more often, we would not be so afraid. Maybe God will grant that from this time forth you will come to the Lord's Supper more often, and, consequently, go to Confession more often.

Here is what you should do in the meantime. Write down everything you find you need to say at confession, and when you go to the priest tell him everything with the help of your notes. A true confession must indeed be your own: that is, the person who confesses must himself tell everything in which he has sinned without expecting the priest to ask him. That is what Confession has become for us; it is rarely conducted as it was intended. The confessor, out of necessity, asks much that does not apply to the person who is confessing, but that which does apply, he does not ask. Thus, these things go unconfessed. You yourself are to tell everything that is on your conscience. It is possible to remember everything without notes; just make sure that you yourself tell everything. May the Lord bless you to confess with a spirit of contrition and with the firm conviction to be diligent in everything afterward, without any fear. Such fear is quite unnecessary, and hinders the matter.

I had to put this letter aside for a little while, and my train of thought was interrupted.

When fear comes before Confession, drive it away. Reverential fear of God is something that is very valuable, but the childish fear you have is harmful. It has nothing at all to do with the matter; it is something the Adversary (Satan) causes. Go to the Lord calmly, but with a contrite heart; go as the prodigal son went to his father in the parable. The father of the returning son did not rebuke or scold him; rather, he reached out to embrace and kiss him. The same thing is waiting for you. The arms of the Lord are already reaching out toward you. The arms of the Lord are already reaching out toward you. All that remains for you to do is to rush into them. Do this with reverential love.

The main thing in repentance is the anguish of the heart over being deficient in the Lord's eyes and the firm resolution to try to be diligent in everything in the future. You have already expressed your own decision to perform God-pleasing work for the Lord, and the Lord, seeing everything, has already accepted it, of course. But do you have anguish in your heart over being incorrigible? Work a little at stirring up this anguish. No matter how few your sins are and how minor they are, all the same they are sins and come under Divine disfavor. How ashamed we are in front other people on account of some frivolous, careless word or deed! We are not talking about doing frivolous things in front of the Lord, but sins. Learn from this to be contrite in everything and to grieve before the Lord. The result of such contrition will be a stronghold against shortcomings.

You were planning to reexamine everything in detail and make readjustments. Perhaps you have not managed to do everything or you have not done everything as completely as you planned; do not be embarrassed by this. The most important thing to the Lord is your intention and decision to be diligent in everything before Him. It is because of this that there is forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of mercy. Go to the Lord with the firm intention of being diligent, with the intention of having discernment instead of all these shortcoming, and of knowing how to be discerning. Bring to the Lord the firm intention of steadfastly carrying out everything you’re your conscience considers necessary for you now and whatever else it finds later on; do not be confused by additional things.

It is best to go to Confession the evening before communion so that the night and morning be filled with only the thought of receiving the Lord. During this period before Holy Communion, read the homilies in the book I gave you. Sit and think about the Lord, praying thus in your heart: Lord, as Thou wilt, so put things right within me, and do not deprive me of Thy Communion. Pray with a short prayer like this, adding prostrations (Metanoies) to it. If you put off your Confession until morning, your thought will not be focused in the evening; instead, it will turn out confused.

When going to the Holy Mysteries, go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence toward this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave to the Lord Himself. Many desire ahead of time to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him--to strengthen you in every kind of good so that you will be acceptable to Him. The fruit of Holy Communion most often has a taste of sweet peace in the heart; sometimes it brings enlightenment to though and inspiration in one's devotion to the Lord; sometimes almost nothing apparent, but afterward in one's affairs there is noted a great strength and steadfastness in the diligence one has promised. I will mention here that we do not see tangible fruits from Holy Communion because we rarely take Holy Communion. Make it a rule for yourself that you will take Holy Communion as often as possible, and you will see the comforting fruits of this Mystery (Sacrament).

I pray all the time and will continue to pray that the Lord help you to approach these two Mysteries (Sacraments) in full renewal of your spirit. I wish your soul good in all things. May the Lord be your helper!

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Personal note: Saint Theophan the Recluse presents the true picture of the Orthodox Christian spiritual life and how it can be achieved. As you can see clearly there is much more to the understanding and conduct of an Orthodox Christian. The genuine and true Orthodox Christian is not a secular and worldly individual. The local parish is not there to provide social and secular programs or to entertain. It is there to guide and direct you to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so that you may find salvation and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Greek word for sin is amartia. "Amartia" means 'missing the target'. The target for all Orthodox Christians is Christ. Therefore, if you 'a member' or a 'steward' of the Greek Orthodox parish and have not found Christ, you have committed an amartia. In other words you have missed the target entirely. You have failed as an Orthodox Christian.

Do not attempt to bring the secular world into the Church and to transform the Church into a social or secular institution and club. The Church of Christ was established by Him so as to transform the world!

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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

+Father George