No, I didn’t rob a bank, pick up a hooker, or stab anyone. No, it is none of your business exactly what I am guilty of. But, I am a sinner and I did sin. The medication for this sickness is confession and repentance. In Orthodox Christianity, there is a process of coming forward to the icon of the Theotokos and the Christ child beside the priest in the presence of the church.
It is a bit intimidating of a process. Granted, with the chanting going on and speaking in a low voice with the priest, no one can hear your business. Only when the priest declares absolution does anyone hear anything during the sacrament and even then nothing is disclosed about what was done. Plus, the early fathers never demanded that everyone confess every sin in the church beside the priest before attending Divine Liturgy. There may (and probably should) be a spiritually reliable person in one’s life to confess to. Father does not need to hear every time you took an ink pen from work, drove over the speed limit, or fantasized over the new office intern. We don’t believe anyone should beat up themselves over every sin. Confession and repentance is an on-going process that we should be experiencing in our daily spiritual disciplines. A daily and frequent seeking of God’s mercy and salvation from evil should and must be pursued and is enough to absolve us from sin if done in sincerity.
But, there are some things we do because of severity, frequency, and the potential danger that going before God during Vespers, Matins, or completely in private with the priest is advisable for the sake of our souls. Such a confession can be the first act of recovery from an addiction or prevention of a bad situation from becoming worse. In some cases, it may be a preparation for one to confess to legal authorities and prepare for civil consequences. While such things as 12 step programs, anger management, and the like may be useful and effective in correcting outward behavior, sin is the illness of the soul and only the blessing of forgiveness from God can correct it.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9)
There was a time when I would have deemed such a practice as unnecessary. But, when I think about it, Protestants sometimes have similar practices of confession. At altar calls people can ask the preacher to pray for forgiveness. Certainly, a pastor keeps an open door and heart to anyone to confess privately. Many churches advocate prayer partners and spiritual mentors where one can go to when they can’t reach the pastor, or feel more comfortable spilling their guts with than with the pastor. And all Christians are encouraged to repent of sins in private as part of their daily prayers. So, why should anyone go before an icon, beside a priest, in a prayer service, and confess sins? Let me briefly name three:
- The ordained priesthood has the ability to forgive sins through the Holy Spirit and succession by the resurrected Christ and his Apostles (John 20:22,23).
- Confession is essential for repentance and cleansing from sin (Mark 1:4,5).
- We are a community of people who seek to live anew, not just individuals seeking personal salvation (Matthew 3:5).
I am called to be the salt of the earth. If I lose my savor to my sins, I am useless. I am called to be the light of the world. If I hide under the basket of my failures, I cannot fulfill my purpose to share the True Light (Matthew 5:13-16). I pray and believe that confession will heal my wounded soul, give me the ability to heal those whom I have harmed, strengthen my Christian journey, and unite me even closer with my fellow believers and humanity as a whole.