Saturday, June 29, 2019

Holy Confession - English Orthodox Web 4


ORTHODOX WEB


Holy Confession

English Orthodox Web 4

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY – MULTILINGUAL ORTHODOXY – EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH – ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑ – ​SIMBAHANG ORTODOKSO NG SILANGAN – 东正教在中国 – ORTODOXIA – 日本正教会 – ORTODOSSIA – อีสเทิร์นออร์ทอดอกซ์ – ORTHODOXIE – 동방 정교회 – PRAWOSŁAWIE – ORTHODOXE KERK -​​ නැගෙනහිර ඕර්තඩොක්ස් සභාව​ – ​СРЦЕ ПРАВОСЛАВНО – BISERICA ORTODOXĂ –​ ​GEREJA ORTODOKS – ORTODOKSI – ПРАВОСЛАВИЕ – ORTODOKSE KIRKE – CHÍNH THỐNG GIÁO ĐÔNG PHƯƠNG​ – ​EAGLAIS CHEARTCHREIDMHEACH​ – ​ ՈՒՂՂԱՓԱՌ ԵԿԵՂԵՑԻՆ​​

ORTHODOX WEB: http://orthodoxweb.blogspot.com - Abel-Tasos Gkiouzelis - Email: gkiouz.abel@gmail.com

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Holy Confession: 
Christ sent Apostle Paul to a Spiritual Father

Fr. John Costoff

Fr. John Costoff, Greece:

An Elder (Spiritual Father) from Holy Mount Athos in Greece, said: “The most superior art is how to save yourself for eternity and you need a teacher for this art. You can’t just learn any kind of art by books alone. That’s why Christ, as soon as He appeared in front of Apostle Paul, He sent him to a Spiritual Father, Apostle Ananias, to teach him and advise him”.

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Saint Seraphim of Sarov 
and Saint Nektarios of Aegina Island 
on Holy Confession

"I pray, and the first thought that comes to my heart I accept it as God's Word, and that is what I say. It is God who knows your life and the mystery of your heart. I am only a spiritual father."
—Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Russia

"What is the essence of the mystery of Repentance and Confession? The consciousness of the repentant as a transgressor of the divine commandments, and the willingness to return to God and keep the divine commandments."
—Saint Nektarios of Aegina Island, Greece

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Why are there so few good Spiritual Fathers?

A young man asked St Silouan the Athonite (+1938) this tragic question: 

"Why are there so few good spiritual fathers?". And St Silouan gave an answer perhaps incomprehensible: "There are no good spiritual fathers because there are no good submissives".


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Find a Spiritual Father, 
to confess, to trust and to consult him 

Saint Paisios 
of Mount Athos, Greece (+1994)

Today, the most essential thing is for people to find a spiritual father, to confess, to trust and to consult him. If they have a spiritual father and set up a program with prayer and a little study, go to church, take communion, then they have nothing to fear in this life. The soul must be watched by the spiritual father, so it won't go off course. The spiritual study, for instance, can help in this effort; but if someone doesn't have a spiritual guide, he may come up with his own interpretations on what he reads and be deluded.

    You see, when someone goes somewhere driving his car and he doesn't know the way, he can consult the map, but he also stops and asks so he does not take the wrong way... One will chose the spiritual guide, of course, and won't trust his soul to anyone. Just like for the health of the body he looks to find a good doctor, so for the health of the soul he will also look to find a good spiritual father, and he will be going to him, the doctor of the soul, regularly.

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Advice about Confession

Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Greece (+1994)

We all know the importance of Confession, but yet so few take advantage of it. Here Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Greece (+1994) shows us why it is so important.

A young man went to see the Elder. I arrived the moment he was ringing the bell, and waited behind him. After a while, Father Paisios opened the door and came to the fence.

-What’s up, young man, what do you want? asked the Elder.

-Father, I would like to see you and get your advice on something.

-Have you gone to confession? Do you have a spiritual father?

-No, Father, I don’t have a spiritual father and I haven’t gone to confession.

-Well, then you better go to confession and then come to see me.

-Why can’t I see you, Father?

-I will explain to you, so you can understand. Your mind is confused and troubled by the sins you have fallen into; as a result, you cannot realize the situation you are in. So, you will not be able to give me a clear picture of your problem. However, if you confess your sins, your mind will clear up and you will see things very differently.

Note how he relates confession to a clearing of the mind. So often we think of it as having our names taken off the list for breaking some kind of law. Elder Paisios is lifting this sacrament to its true value, one of clearing our mind so we can more clearly see God, receive His grace, follow His commandments and understand the spiritual nature of our life.

The story continues as the young man does not take heed of the Elder’s advice.

-Father, maybe I am confused and troubled and unable to tell you what exactly is wrong with me, but you yourself can understand the nature of my problem and tell me what to do.

-Listen, even if I can see with a certain clarity what is wrong with you, you still have the problem inside you. Since your mind is troubled, you will neither understand, nor remember what I will say to you. If you go to confession and you are tuned in the same spiritual frequency with us, then we will be ale to communicate. So, go to a spiritual father for confession and I will wait for your visit.

Without the cleansing that comes with confession, all the counseling we receive will fall on deaf ears and without the right understanding. We also need to take responsibility for our troubles and be willing to take them to our spiritual father and to offer them to God seeking forgiveness and direction about how to change our lives. Only then will we be able to listen and do something with the advice we receive. In this way the Holy Spirit works to cleanse our mind. It is only when the mind is cleared of our troubles are we able to be open to hear the wisdom of an Elder like Paisios.

From the Book: Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, p 120

Source:



ST. JOHN THE FORERUNNER

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Confession hours in Greece, Cyprus, England, Germany and USA

In all Eastern Orthodox Churches there are Spiritual Fathers appointed to perform the Holy Confession. Here is only some of them:

ATHENS, GREECE

Fr. John Kostof, tel. 2108220542

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THESSALONICA, GREECE

Fr. George Kougioumtzoglou

St George Orthodox Church

Rotonta 5, Thessalonica

Tel. 2310218720

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CYPRUS

Fr. Athanasios, Fr. Sabbas

Stavrovouni Monastery, Larnaca

Tel. 22533630

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ENGLAND

St. John the Baptist Monastery Old Rectory,

Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex CM9 8EZ United Kingdom


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ARIZONA, USA

Fr. Ephraim Filotheitis & others Spiritual Fathers



St Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona

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GERMANY

Fr. Philotheos Maroudas

Griechisch-Orthodoxe Kirche Dortmund “Heilige Apostel”

Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Apostles in Dortmund

Address: Luisenstraße 17, 44137 Dortmund, Germany

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For more Orthodox Churches in all over the world for Holy Confession please send me email:

gkiouz.abel@gmail.com


Abel-Tasos Gkiouzelis

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Saint Patrick of Ireland (+461) and Saint Basil the Great (+379) on Holy Confession

"The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelieving heart, so that I should recall my sins".
—Saint Patrick of Ireland (+461)

"There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside".
—Saint Basil the Great (+379)

"If someone has repented once of a sin, and again does the same sin, this is a sign that he has not been cleansed of the causes of the sin, wherefrom, as from a root, the shoots spring forth again".
—Saint Basil the Great (+379)

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“In Confession, 
One Should Not Seek to Justify Himself”

From the Talk by St. Paisios of Mt Athos, Greece (+1994)

–Why do we sometimes fail to engage in the battle needed to correct ourselves, despite the fact that our conscience accuses us?

–This can happen because of some kind of spiritual breakdown. If a person is seized with panic because of some temptation that befalls him, he wants to take up a spiritual struggle, but has neither the necessary disposition nor the spiritual powers to do so. In such a case, he needs to internally put himself in order with the help of Confession. With the help of Confession, one receives consolation, bolsters his powers, and through the grace of God, once again finds the determination to do battle. If one does not appropriately put himself in order, some other temptation may come crashing down upon him. As a result, finding himself in such a sorrowfully oppressed condition, he breaks down even more, is smothered by ideas, becomes despondent, and cannot take up the struggle at all. Moreover, in Confession, try to be specific. It is not enough to list your sins during confession – e.g. “I envy, become angry,” etc. In order to receive help, you need to confess your specific failings. In failing to make a concrete/specific confession, one laughs at Christ. If one does not confess the truth to his spiritual director, does not reveal his sin to him so that the spiritual director might be able to help him, he does himself serious harm, like unto a sick person who does his health great harm by hiding his illness from his physician. Moreover, one who has acted unjustly toward someone else, or by his behavior has wounded someone, must first of all go to the one he has offended and humbly ask his forgiveness, be reconciled with him, and afterwards must confess before his spiritual director in order to receive absolution. In this way, God’s grace comes to him. If one should confess such a sin to his spiritual director without first having asked forgiveness of the one he has wounded, it will be impossible for his soul to be at peace, for in such a case the [sinner] does not humble himself.

–Elder, if you have committed some grave sin, is it permissible to put off confessing it until later?

–You need to go as soon as possible. If we have an open wound, should we wait for a month, and only then treat it? No. In such a case, one should not wait for a moment when the spiritual director will have more time or a better opportunity to devote more attention to us. It does not take a lot of time to describe our condition to the spiritual director. If the conscience is working properly, one can describe his condition in a few words. However, if there is interior turmoil, he can say many words and yet not give the spiritual director an impression of his state.

–Elder if during Confession, the penitent does not feel the pain he experienced while committing the sin, does it mean that he is not actually repentant?

– If some time has passed since he committed that sin, the wound begins to close, and that is why he does not feel such great pain. But here is what one should be careful to keep in mind: in Confession, one should not seek to justify himself. Someone who during Confession indulges in self-justification does not receive internal consolation, no matter how much he might trample upon his conscience. The self-justifications with which he hides himself during Confession become a burden lying upon his conscience.

– Elder, I read somewhere that in the life to come, the demons will torment us for even one evil thought that we have not confessed.

– Look, when someone confesses without the intent to hide anything, and tells his spiritual director what he remembers, the subject is closed, and demons have no power over him. However, if he consciously fails to confess some of his sins, he will be tormented for those sins in the life to come.

– Elder, if someone has confessed the sins of his youth, but again thinks about them and is tormented by them, is his attitude toward them correct?

– If, having felt great compunction over the sins of his youth, someone has confessed them, there is no reason to agonize over them, for from the moment he has told of his sins during his Confession, God has forgiven him. After that, there is no need to pick open his old sins, especially his sins of the flesh; in doing so, he may cause himself harm.

Source:


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Be ashamed when you sin, 
not when you repent

Saint John Chrysostom (+407)

Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.

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ORTHODOX CHURCH QUOTES

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The Holy Confession and the poison

Fr. George Paulidis, 
Bishop of Nicea, Piraeus, Greece (+1990)

Some Holy Tuesday [Tuesday before Sunday Easter] after a sermon in a church of Lamia, Greece, appeared at the end of his short sermon a young man asking insistently to confess that very evening.

Fr. George was jaded and suggested the next day. But the young were kind and insisted on pressing to receive him that very night.

The heart of Fr. George could not refuse such a persistent. And we can imagine the surprised of Fr.George, when the young man pulled from the pocket and enecheirise a small bottle, telling him:

“My father, I wanted to deliver this bottle contained poison because tonight I was thinking about killing myself. Afterward preaching change my mind…”.

Such was his influence.

Source, Greek Book: Fr. John Costoff, From Atheism to Christ, Publications: St. John Damascene, Athens 2011

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Saints quotes on Holy Confession

"The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works."
—St. Augustine

"In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You."
—Saint Augustine

"Confession is like a bridle that keeps the soul which reflects on it from committing sin, but anything left unconfessed we continue to do without fear as if in the dark."
—Saint John Climacus

"After confession", says St. Chrysostom, "a crown is given to
penitents".

"If you excuse yourself in confession, you shut up sin within your soul, and
shut out pardon".
—St. Augustine

"Just as an animal becomes a stronger beast of burden and more beautiful to behold the more often and better it is fed, so too confession - the more often it is used and the more carefully it is made as to both lesser and greater sins - conveys the soul increasingly forward and is so pleasing to God that it leads the soul to God's very heart".
—Revelations of St. Bridget

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Guide to Confession - PDF


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Let us never loose hope!

Elder Ephraim of Arizona, USA

The mystery of repentance is the greatest and most blessed mystery, which prepares us perfectly beforehand for Heaven...

There is no sin on earth which is unforgivable for the person who will repent, and for the God of love Who receives him.

God is pleased and takes rest in the man who repents, no matter how great a sinner he is. Repentance is always open to every sinful person. God desires only the confession of the error. From there forward, all things are perfected. Through humility comes confession, and confession brings purification, and purification brings the vision of God.

The tears of the repenting soul purify the heart, the nous, the soul, the body, the life, the word, and purify more than every expression of man.

Let us never loose home. Even if we fall and are traumatized, let us not loose hope. As long as God grants us life, let this become an approach towards God, for He waits for us. If God were not incomparably merciful, no one would be saved. Our Christ waits for us, we should not procrastinate and put it off.
  
Amateur translation of text from the book: "Tested spiritual instructions", Elder Ephraim, former Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Philotheou, now Arizona, published by Orthodox Kypseli

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FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH

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Repentance, as I learned it from contemporary Saints and Elders

Part 1

Andreas Christoforou, Greece

I was fortunate enough to know personally quite a few of the contemporary Saints and Elders at the time when I was exploring the way of the spiritual life.

What, in practice, is the path to being cured of our sins and passions, so that we ask for love for God and our neighbour?

I’d heard and read that, in order to love God with all our heart, we have to pass through the stages of purification, enlightenment and deification, as these are taught by the Gospels, the Fathers and the sacred Tradition of our Orthodox Church.

I read many Lives of the saints, but really needed to be taught by the contemporary holy fathers who were well-known at that time: Saint Porfyrios, Saint Païsios, the holy Elder Iakovos Tsalikis, Elder Amvrosios of the Monastery of Dadi in Amfikleia, Elder Iosif Vatopaidinos, Papa-Markos Manolis, the holy Elder Antonios Ghizas and so many others.

I’ll speak about each of them in turn, about the conversations I had with these Holy Fathers and what they told me, in simple and practical terms, about the sacrament of repentance.

The necessity arose from particular problems which took me, with the blessing of my spiritual guide, to Saint Porfyrios, in Milesi, in 1982, before the buildings were constructed as they are today. The meeting took place in a shack where the Saint was living and hearing confessions.

As soon as I saw him, I felt I was standing before God, I thought I was seeing him ‘with the fear of God, faith and love’.

‘Elder, I have a problem’, I told him.

‘I know’, he replied and told me what it was. (It had to do with my infancy and my family).

I’d married and just had a child. Through the relations within the home I realized that I would have to correct a serious problem in myself, which I also understood would be impossible to solve if I relied on my own powers, because it had started in my own infancy.
The Saint related the problem to me in detail, the time when it happened and how old I was then.

My feeling of weakness increased after the revelation and I asked:

‘What do I have to do to be healed?’.

‘Go to confession’, he told me.

‘But I confess. To my spiritual guide. Very often’, I answered.

‘What you’re doing isn’t enough’, he replied. ‘Confession isn’t just going to your spiritual guide and telling him your sins. Confession means that first of all you really repent, before you go. You’ve seen the Prodigal? First he recovered his senses, he became aware of his hunger and poverty, he felt that he’d lost the love of his father and wanted to return home, determined to live as one of the servants of his father. He arose and gladly and humbly returned, certain that his father would receive him with love.

The father forgave him, dressed him in fine clothes, gave him his ring and a fatted calf. In other words, he healed him. He forgave him and healed him.

This is what you do: When you get up in the morning, after you’ve said your prayers, either matins or your prayer-rope, tell Christ whatever sins you’ve committed before God and any hurt you’ve done to other people and ask for forgiveness.

‘How will I know I’ve been forgiven?’

‘Doesn’t Saint Paul say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace and faith? If you feel these when you repent, you’ve received the first dose of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. In other words, you’ll be forgiven and you’ll feel the presence of God within you.

But we don’t stop there. So far we’ve said “Forgive us our debts”.

But Christ wants us also to say: “As we forgive our debtors”, doesn’t He?’.

‘Yes, He does’.

‘In fact, He says that unless we genuinely forgive those who’ve harmed us, He won’t forgive us. So first repent of your sins and, as soon as you’ve received forgiveness and feel the peace of the Holy Spirit, then you can, in turn, forgive others.

This is the “fatted calf”, the remission of sins and life everlasting, which the Prodigal received from his father- after he’d first repented- and which he later shared with his friends. That is to say, he gave them it with love, making them friends in his heart rather than the enemies they had been.

All this is in accordance with what Saint Symeon the New Theologian has to say on repentance. He writes:

“After your formal prayer, kneel and tell God your sins, and if Christ doesn’t remit your sins, may I lose my salvation!”.

So this is how you should confess. Repent in your morning prayers and be on guard the whole day long, so that you see if you’re transgressing Christ’s commandments: first in your desires, then in your words and finally in your actions. This is what Christ means when He says: “Watch and pray”.

Source:


PEMPTOUSIA

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Repentance, as I learned it from contemporary Saints and Elders

Part 2

Andreas Christoforou, Greece

Then you can forgive others, as we said above.

So you receive the remission of sins in prayer first and this is necessary so that you can go to your spiritual guide for confession and to receive forgiveness from the Church.

Then you’ll also receive it from holy communion. In this way the remission of sins is completed: repentance in prayer, confession and holy communion

You’ll receive it in prayer because you’re baptized and repent. Don’t we say: ‘I confess one baptism for the remission of sins?’

In confession you receive it from the priest and at holy communion you receive it from Christ, Who is united with you through His Body and Blood.

The remission of sins is given with baptism, confession and holy communion, but is activated only by conscious repentance. Without repentance, there’s no activation of the sacraments of the Church, which cure people and sanctify them, since they unite them to Christ.

The sacraments of baptism, confession and holy communion offer us remission, that is liberation from enslavement to sin, and give us the opportunity for purification, enlightenment and glorification. With repentance in prayer which is said carefully and continually, without ceasing, there comes purification, enlightenment and deification, because repentance is the activation of our freedom towards the love of God by the rejection of sin.

The unceasing prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me’ means unceasing recollection of sin and an unceasing quest for remission from Christ.

There’s a spiritual child of the holy Elder Antonios Ghikiza, the spiritual father of Saint Porfyrios, who has preserved for us the central focus of the latter’s life: repentance. The saint’s love of repentance is evident in the will he left for his spiritual children.

The following story has to do with the holy Elder Iakovos Tsalikis. Some time around 1983, I went to the Holy Monastery of Saint David, because I felt the need to confess to Elder Iakovos. When he’d read the prayer of forgiveness over me, all by himself, without any prompting at all from me, he told me: ‘Andreas, most people come to the monastery without having repented. Of course, the spiritual guide has his job to do in confession, to help the faithful to repent, then to confess and have the prayer of forgiveness read over them. At holy communion, though, they’re by themselves, before Christ and they have to come forward with contrition and repentance over their sins. God gave me the gift of seeing those coming for communion without repenting as being black, while those who repent are shining.

So one time I saw a young man coming forward for communion and he was completely black. When he reached the chalice, I said to myself: “Iakovos, who are you to judge him?”.
I made a mistake and gave him communion. When I was putting the spoon into his mouth, I saw a spark leaving the spoon and returning to the chalice.

I was speechless. He hadn’t repented and didn’t get communion!

God taught me that without repentance not even the faithful should come to communion. Nor should the priest allow them to, if he knows, of course. The first responsibility of spiritual guides is to teach repentance and to give the sacraments of remission of sins and holy communion only to those who have repented’.

Source:


PEMPTOUSIA

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Repentance, as I learned it from contemporary Saints and Elders

Part 3

Andreas Christoforou, Greece

I saw Saint Païsios on a good number of occasions between 1979 and 1994, when he departed this life. Except for one time, I never asked him a question, but he always spoke to me and taught me.

In 1990, Yorgos and I arrived at the Panagouda [Saint Païsios’ kelli, dedicated to Our Lady]. He welcomed us hospitably and took me by the arm, pulling me gently to the side, away from my friend.

He looked me in the eye and said:

‘Listen, Andreas. First comes your relationship with God, Whom you should love with all your heart, which means keeping His commandments within you.

Then you should love your wife as Christ loved the Church.

To love means to repent and to forgive.

As a married man, always bear in mind what Saint Paul teaches in the sacrament of Marriage. Men should sacrifice themselves for their wives, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for the Church and presented it pure to His Father.

Sacrifice means repentance. Take pleasure in finding your own error, the beam, as Christ calls it, and then you’ll see clearly- you’ll see as Christ does- the error committed by your wife. But you’ll feel empathy and you’ll forgive her wholeheartedly. Then the love your wife’s waiting for will come from God. That’s the love a wife expects from her husband, the love God gives to a man who repents. If there’s no conscious repentance, then the husband simply has authority over the wife and the wife reacts against this.

When the husband’s in a state of repentance, the wife becomes gentle and does whatever he asks. Do you understand? This is what’s meant when it’s said that a wife should submit to her husband- to a husband who sacrifices himself in repentance’.

I was speechless. Because back then in 1990 and every time I was with one of the Holy Elders, my mind was stilled, my heart opened and they saw what I wanted, but also what I needed to hear. Not so much so that I could pass it on, as I’m doing today, but so that I could apply it and regain my health, so that I could be cured.

Source:


PEMPTOUSIA

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Pure and absolute Confession

Take great care to clean yourself with pure and absolute Confession. Do not leave any sin inside of you, so the enemy cannot find a way to throw you down again.

—Saint Joseph the Hesychast
Holy Mount Athos, Greece (+1959)

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ORTHDOX PATH

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Are we ready for Christmas?

Elder Augoustine Kantiotes, 
Bishop of Florina, Greece (+2010)

Beloved in Christ, I would like to ask you a question; I ask it of myself and I ask it of you. Are we prepared to celebrate the great feast of Christmas?
   
There are two kinds of preparation; material and spiritual. Our material preparation is more or less finished. Housewives have cleaned their houses, husbands have finished – or have almost finished – their shopping, and children await their presents. Everyone has written their Christmas cards, signing them with the customary, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’. This is worldly preparation; I am not interested in this. What I am interested in is spiritual preparation, the kind of preparation which makes us ready to celebrate the great event of the Incarnation of the Divine Word as is proper. Only a small number have properly prepared themselves. Of a thousand Christians, I doubt if even one celebrates Christmas truly. Does my estimate seem exaggerated? Let us see.
  
How is Christmas celebrated today? A portion of Christians will celebrate it ‘typically’, let us say. Hearing the bells on Christmas Eve, they will go and take part in the service out of habit. This is certainly better than being absent altogether; it is something at least.
  
Others will imitate foreign customs and practices, forgetting the ecclesiastical celebration altogether; in other words, they will pass Christmas Eve without the scent of Christ. For Orthodox Christians, Christmas is meaningless if it is celebrated without church services, without prayer, without confession, without Holy Communion, without forgiveness, without almsgiving. Indeed, the devil has sown a new seed in our homeland, and it is sprouting up everywhere like mushrooms grow in manure. On Christmas Eve people put on these reveillon – a foreign custom and a foreign word – they put on parties in luxurious hotels and other such places, far from the Church, far from hymns, far from the Divine Liturgy, where people gather and amuse themselves with worldly music, with food, with drink and whatever follows from these things. Such a practice is a thorn in the field of our homeland. If it continues to spread, the spirit of secularization will overtake the Christian feast altogether.
  
Some, then, celebrate Christmas ‘typically’, others put on these reveillon and trade in the Church feast for something altogether worldly. And still others, what do they do? They leave. They are not satisfied here. Greece is not enough for them. They have money to spare so they take trips and go on tours. On Christmas Eve when the bells are ringing, these people will be far from their homes in different places, and not only in our country. They aren’t satisfied here, so they hop on an airplane and go celebrate Christmas in Rome, in London, in Paris, in different places.
  
These, beloved, and anyone else who has openly denied the faith, have cast Christmas out of their hearts. For a large number of people, then, Christmas is nothing but another chance to dull their boredom; the actual content of the feast holds no appeal for them. Yes! That day you will have it all! You will have your great salons, your ornate rugs, your curtains, your fancy cutlery, your drinks, your meals, your music, your trips. You will have everything! You will be missing one thing, however. Your will be missing the most valuable thing; the thing which gives the feast meaning! Lacking this thing, what kind of Christmas can you expect to have? Your Christmas will be a Christmas without Christ!
  
But why? How did this happen? How did things get to this point? This is the age which the Prophet Isaiah foresaw. There will come a day, he said, when men will be drunk without wine. This day has arrived. Contemporary man is, “…drunk, but not with wine.” (Isaiah 29:9) For one to be drunk with wine during these days in undoubtedly a sin, for, drunkards shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:10) There is, however, a worse kind of drunkenness: woe to those who are drunk without wine, says Isaiah.
  
What, then, is contemporary man drunk on? One is drunk on the love of glory. Another is drunk on the love of money; another is drunk on women and indecent sights; another is drunk on card playing, on games of chance; another on an obsession with sports teams; another on plays and films; another on enjoyments and luxuries. I have particularly noticed that a good many are drunk on politics, something which has become a passion only for us in Greece alone. I say this as one who keeps himself out of party politics. Were you to open my heart you would find nothing but my homeland and my Christ. Here in Greece there is a pathological attachment to politics. Even on Christmas Eve, the feast will be overshadowed by discussions of politics. Nowhere else can one find such a phenomenon.
  
I have also noticed of late that many have become drunk on that strong wine described in the Apocalypse; that wine which the noetic Babylon will give the rulers and the people to drink. This wine, the commentators say, is the pagan spirit, the moral depravity of the world. This wine is so strong that if you were to drink just a few drops, it will cause you to lose your faith, you will forget everything. The strongest wine, then, is not money, or women, or shameful lusts, or other sensual pleasures; it is the cosmopolitan spirit of modern life, it is the emancipation from devotion, knowledge infused with pride, the science of the atheist, the atheistic rebellion, the denial of God and the divinization of man. It is this wine which has made many in our age drunk.
  
Men are drunk, then, on various wines offered to him by the ruler of this age in his golden cup. Do you know what these men are like? I will show you by means of an example.
  
I try, with God’s help, to be a teacher. So I travel to a village where I find someone and try to teach him something about Christ, about the faith, about the mysteries. He listens, but the others tell me, “Don’t waste your time, he’s drunk! Don’t bother sitting with him and taking to him!” This is how the world is today…it is drunk without wine! Is it worth speaking to such men?
  
But I appeal to you, my brothers. I am not speaking to drunks, to those made dizzy by the idols. It is my hope that I speak to the faithful who know but one kind of drunkenness, that holy drunkenness described by the Psalmist who exhorts us to, “…taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 33:8) I hope that you have you ears open for, “Blessed is he that speaketh in the ears of them that will hear.” (Sirach 25:9)

by Metropolitan Avgoustinos (Kantiotes) of Florina,

Translated by fr. John Palmer

Source:



FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH

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Confession takes away the devil's power over a person - Saint Paisios of Holy Mount Athos, Greece (+1994)

The devil does not possess any power or authority over a person who believes in God and goes to church, goes to Holy Confession and Holy Communion. The devil can only bark like a toothless dog at such a person. However, he has great power over a person who does not believe in God, a person who gave up his rights and gave them to the devil. Such a man can be eaten alive by the devil - in this case he(the devil) has teeth, and he uses them to torture the poor man. In essence, the devil has power over a soul in accordance with the rights that it gives him.

When a person who has led a pious and spiritual life passes away, the ascent of his soul into Heaven is comparable to a racing train. Barking dogs can only run after the train, choking up on their own breath, they try to run ahead, but the train simply continues to pick up speed. On the other hand if a person  whose spiritual condition is poor and leaves something to be desired passes away, then his soul ends up in a slow moving train. The train can not go faster because of faulty wheels . This allows the dogs to jump into the open doors of the train cars and bite people.

In the event that the devil has acquired even greater rights over a person, has possessed him, it is important to find the reason for this, so that the devil is deprived of these rights. Otherwise, even the prayers of others will not push the devil away and he will not leave as he continuously delivers new wounds to the person. Priests can try to exorcise that person over and over, but in the end the poor soul becomes even worse, because the devil tortures him with a greater force than before.

A person must repent, confess and finally deprive the devil of those rights that he himself passed over to the evil one. Only after this the devil will leave. Otherwise, the person will suffer greatly. Some can attempt to exorcise the person for days, months, even years, but the devil will continue to torture the long suffering soul and will not leave.

The devil enters into a man who has an impure and stained heart. The devil will not approach someone who is pure in the eyes of God. If the human heart is cleansed of dirt, then the enemy runs away, and Christ returns. The devil is like a pig, who will grunt and leave if it doesnt find the dirt it is looking for. Henceforth just like a pig the devil will not touch a soul that is pure. What did he forget in the hearts of the pure and humble, anyways?

Finally, if we begin to see that our house - the heart - has become a home to the enemy, a hut on chicken legs so to say, then we must immediately destroy it, so that the enemy could leave. After all, if sin lives in man for a long time, the devil naturally acquires greater rights over this person.

– Geronda, and what if a person used to live a wayward life and thereby gave the evil one rights to his soul, but now wants to change, begin to live anew, how does he fight the devil?

– When you return to God you receive power and strength from Him. He give a person enlightenment and comfort which is required at the beginning of the righteous journey. But as soon as a person begins a spiritual struggle, the enemy will not rest and begin a severe assault against him. That's when you need to show some restraint. Otherwise, how will passions be eradicated? How will the “old man” be healed? How will pride go away? And so a person realizes that he, himself, can not do anything. He humbly asks for the mercy of God, and humility comes to him. The same thing happens when a person wants to quit a bad habit. For example, quit smoking, drugs, drunkenness. At first, he feels joy and abandons this habit. Then he sees how others smoke, use drugs or drink, and begins to suffer. If a person overcomes this internal struggle, then it is no longer difficult for him to give up this passion, and turn his back on it. It is important to have a spiritual struggle, a battle, in order to succeed.

From the book “ The Calendar of Mount Athos, 2010” Book 1
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds

Source:


THE CATALOG OF GOOD DEEDS

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What is necessary for a saving Confession?

Saint Innocent of Moscow, 

Enlightener of Alaska and Siberia (+1879)

What is Confession? Confession is the oral avowal of one’s sins which lie heavy upon the conscience. Repentance cleanses the soul and makes it ready to receive the Holy Spirit, but confession, so to speak, only empties the soul of sins.

Let us present a simple analogy and comparison to confession. For example, suppose you had only one vessel of some kind, which you through negligence or laziness let reach a stage where little by little it accumulated all sorts of dirt so that your vessel became not only unuseable but even unbearable to look at without repugnance. But what if a king wanted to give you as a gift some sort of fragrant and precious balm, one drop of which could heal all infirmities and protect—what then? Would you refuse such a valuable gift only because you had no other clean vessel in which to put it? No! It would be very natural for you to accept such a gift and you would try to clean your vessel. How would you begin to clean your vessel? No doubt, before anything else, you would rid it of all uncleanness; you would begin by washing it with water and, perhaps would even burn it out so that it no longer retained any of its former odors. Isn’t that so?

Now let the vessel represent the soul given to you by God, which you have brought to such a state that it has been filled with all kinds of transgression and iniquities; let the sweet-smelling balm, given by the king, signify the Holy Spirit, Who heals all infirmities and afflictions, Whom the King of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ, freely bestows upon us. To examine your vessel signifies feeling your guilt before God and recalling all sins which have stolen into your heart. To clean out the vessel typifies the confession of your sins before your spiritual father, and washing with water and burning with fire signifies a sincere and even tearful repentance and a voluntary resolve to endure all unpleasantness, needs, afflictions, misfortunes, and even calamities that befall us.

Now tell me: Is Confession profitable or needful? Certainly it is profitable and even essential; because, just as it is impossible to cleanse a vessel without ridding it of all uncleanness, so it is impossible to purge your soul of sins without confession. But tell me, is confession alone enough for the reception of the Holy Spirit? Certainly not, because in order to receive the sweet-smelling and precious balm into a defiled vessel it is not enough to just empty it, but it is necessary to wash it with water and refine it with fire. Just so, in order to receive the Holy Spirit, it is not enough just to confess or recite your sins before a spiritual father, but it is necessary together with this to purge your soul with repentance or contrition and grief of soul, and burn it out with voluntary endurance of afflictions. So then, this is what confession and repentance mean!

What does a true and correct confession consist of? When we wish to cleanse our conscience of sins in the Mystery of Repentance, 1) before everything else it is necessary to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and firmly hope that He is ready to forgive all sins, no matter of what magnitude, if only the sinner repents open-heartedly; it is necessary to believe and hope that the God of all wants and seeks our return. Of this He assures us through the prophet thus: As I live, saith the Lord, i. e., I assure and swear by My life, In desiring I do not desire, i e., I do not at all desire the death of a sinner, but entirely desire his conversion.

2) It is necessary to have a broken heart. Who is God? and who are we? God is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth; He is the awful and righteous Judge. And we? We are weak and insignificant mortals. All people, even the greatest people, are less than dust before God, and we can never imagine how disgusting to God is any sin and how any transgression offends Him. And we, insignificant and weak, we mortals endlessly benefited by our God, dare to offend Him—the All-Good One? Oh! This is so horrible! We are such debtors before God, such transgressors, that not only should we not dare to call ourselves His children, but are not even worthy of being His lowliest servants.

Therefore, picturing all this, you see what contriteness, what lamentation it is necessary to have then, when we want to purge ourselves of sins. And such a feeling must be had not only before confession and during confession, but also after confession. And even more important, do you want to offer a sacrifice to God such as will be acceptable to Him? Naturally we all gladly want this and as far as possible we offer it. But what can we offer Him really acceptable.?—a broken heart. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled, here is an offering to God more priceless than all offerings and oblations!

3) It is necessary to forgive all our enemies and offenders all the harmful and offensive things they have done to us. Forgiveness—what does it mean to forgive? To forgive means never to avenge, neither secretly nor openly; never to recall wrongs but rather to forget them and, above all, to love your enemy as a friend, a brother, as a comrade; to protect his honor and to treat him right-mindedly in all things. This is what it means to forgive. And who agrees that this is difficult? So, it is a hard matter to forgive wrongs, but he who can forgive wrongs is for this reason great—truly great, both before God and before man,—Yes, it is a hard matter to forgive your enemies; but to do nothing, it is necessary to forgive, otherwise God Himself will not forgive. Jesus Christ said: If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your trespasses. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses. On the contrary to this, though you pray to God every hour, though you have such faith that you can move mountains, even though you give away all of your belongings to the needy, and give your body to be burned,—if you do not practice forgiveness and do not wish to forgive your enemy, then all is in vain, for in such circumstances neither prayer, nor faith, nor charity, will save you, in short, nothing will save you.

But if it is needful to forgive our enemies, so likewise it is indispensable to ask also forgiveness of those people whom we have offended. Thus, if you have offended anyone by word, ask forgiveness of him, come and bow down at his feet and say, “Forgive me.” Have you offended by deed? Endeavor to expiate your guilt and offenses and recompense his damage, then be certain that all of your sins, no matter how heavy they be, will be forgiven you.

4) It is necessary to reveal your sins properly and without any concealment. Some say, “For what reason should I reveal my sins to Him Who knows all of our secrets?” Certainly God knows all of our sins, but the Church, which has the power from God to forgive and absolve sins, cannot know them, and for this reason She cannot, without confession, pronounce Her absolution.

Finally, it is necessary to set forth a firm intention to live prudently in the future. If you want to be in the kingdom of heaven, if you want God to forgive your sins—then stop sinning! Only on this condition does the Church absolve the penitent of his sins. And he who does not think at all about correcting himself confesses in vain, labors in vain, for even if the priest says, “I forgive and absolve,” the Holy Spirit does not forgive and absolve him!

From Orthodox Life, vol. 38, no. 4 (July-August, 1988), pp. 20-22.

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About the Spiritual Father

Saint Silouan the Athonite (+1931) and Saint Nikon of Optina, Russia (+1938)

Consider that the Holy Spirit lives in the spiritual father, and He will tell you what to do. But if you think that the spiritual father live negligently, and that the Holy Spirit can’t live in him, you will suffer mightily for such a thought, and the Lord will humble you, and you will straightway fall into delusion.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, II.1)

If a man does not tell everything to his spiritual father, then his path is crooked and does not lead to the Kingdom of Heaven. But the path of one who tells everything leads directly to the Kingdom of Heaven.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, XIII.9)

Tell everything to your spiritual father, and the Lord will have mercy on you and you will escape delusion. But if you think that you know more about the spiritual life than your spiritual father, and you stop telling him everything about yourself in confession, then you will immediately be allowed to fall into some sort of delusion, in order that you may be corrected.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, XVII.13)

The Holy Spirit acts mystically through the spiritual father, and then when you go out from your spiritual father, the soul feels her renewal. But if you leave your spiritual father in a state of confusion, this means that you did not confess purely and did not forgive your brother all of his sins from your heart.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, XIII.11)

The Lord loves us so much that He suffered for us on the Cross; and His suffering was so great that we can’t comprehend it. In the same way our spiritual pastors suffer for us, although we often don’t see their suffering. The greater the love of the pastor, the greater his suffering; and we, the sheep, should understand this, and love and honor our pastors.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, XIII.2)

The spiritual father only shows to way, like a signpost, but we have to traverse it ourselves. If the spiritual father shows the way and the disciple doesn’t move himself, then he won’t get anywhere, and will rot near the signpost.
(St. Nikon of Optina, Russia)

Source:


ORTHODOXY IN CHINA

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Find your nearest Eastern Orthodox Parish in USA and Canada for Holy Confession


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Prayers for Holy Confession

Saint Nikodemos 
of the Holy Mountain, Greece (+1809)

A prayer before Holy Confession

O Father of mercies before the ages, and God of all entreaty, I the wretched one, desiring to try my conscience regarding my offenses, fear greatly and tremble, because the condition of my life is so utterly clear, where no deed or single thought could be hidden from before Your eyes. Therefore, I ask with all my lowliness, through the mercies of Your Only-begotten Son, that you grant me the grace to come to know well, and to hate and to correct all of my sins. Give to me, O Father of lights, Your All-holy Spirit, to bring to me the remembrance of sins that I have forgotten, and to crush my heart towards contrition, and to bring repentance over these, that I might come to hate them, and to distance myself from every sin that comes. And you, O Virgin Theotokos, the Mother of mercy, and Refuge of sinners, nourish me, I entreat you, and help me at the Judgment seat of the compassion and righteousness of God, that I might come to know, and hate from my heart and to confess all of my sins. And similarly, O Holy Angel, the guardian of my soul, I entreat you to help me in this work, which is so necessary for my eternal salvation. Amen.

A prayer following Holy Confession

I thank You greatly, my Redeemer, and Most-philanthropic Physician of the human race, for with the most-precious balsam of Your life-creating Blood, You heal the wounds of my soul, and You cleans me from the leprosy of my sins. I know Your divine compassion, with which you brought me to repentance, I, the thrice-wretched sinner, while so many others are being tortured currently in the wrath of Your righteousness in Hades. Receive, therefore, I entreat You, my Lord, through the intercessions of Your Ever-virgin Mother and Theotokos Mary, and all of Your Saints, this my confession, and if anything stands missing or incomplete in any instance, complete this through Your divine compassion and love for man, and through this I entreat You that I be totally forgiven, and correct my moral life, bringing forth worthy fruits of repentance, and thus, remaining steadfast in goodness in this present life, may I be made worthy to partake of the glory of Your divine glory in Heaven. Amen.

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The Sacrament of Confession in the Eastern Orthodox Church

As it says in John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the signs of any, they are retained.” This is the power of the presbyter or bishop to remit sins on behalf of God. He mediates for us to God, but only God forgives us our sins. This sacrament is an often misunderstood practice in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Many Protestants and Evangelicals protest that you can only have “God forgive your sins.” But there is a very good reason why we confess our sins to others apart from God: it’s called accountability. One feels more ashamed to commit a sin again, if another knows about it. If one confesses only to God, but no one else, then you can not be helped in fighting your sins properly. You will continue making the same errors, and will have no shame, since it is just your secret you keep to yourself. This means that you are more likely to commit this sin again! God would onto want that. He wants us to be as holy as possible.

This holy sacrament is even prefigured in the Old Dispensation. In Leviticus 5:4-6, it says “… that unrighteous soul, which determineth with his lips to do evil, or to do good, according to whatsoever a man may determine with an oath, and it shall have escaped his notice (or her) , and he shall know, and he sin in some one of these things, then he shall show his sin in the things wherein he hath sinned by that sin. And he shall bring for his transgressions against the Lord, for his sin, an ewe lamb of the sheep, or a kid of the goats, for a sin offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for him for his sin, which he hath sinned, and his sin shall be forgiven him.” Though we no longer make sin offerings of ewe lambs, we offer our lives and our hearts instead. We do this at the sacrament of confession, just as it was done in the sacrifices of Ancient Israel. The priest today also makes atonement for our sins before God, as well.

Indeed, one can see confession is important, since “whosoever covereth his own ungodliness shall not prosper: but he that blame to himself shall be loved.” (Proverb 28:13) All shall “prosper” from this holy sacrament, since it cleanses one’s conscience and way of life.

Saint Maximos the Confessor says that “Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God.” (Philokalia. Saint Maximo’s the Confessor was born in Constantinople 580 A.D, and died in Tsageri, Georgia, on 13th of August 662 A.D, while he was in exile.) We all know we have been delivered by God when we are forgiven our sins, and we are eased of our burdens and defilement before God. It illuminates the soul, and leads towards the process of our deification.

All can see that human intercession is needed with several verses written in the Bible, “… he shall confess his sin which he hath done, and recompense in full for his trespass…” (Numbers 5:7) There is another instance like this in Nehemiah 9:2-3, “And the sons of Israel separated themselves from every stranger, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers… and they confessed their sins unto the Lord, and worshipped The Lord their God.” From this we can see confessing their sins to each other made them more of a unified community, and they helped each other overcome their temptations. Indeed, we must “… make declaration in the house of the Lord…” (Baruch 1:14) If we confess our sins, one to another, we are admitting our faults, and humbling ourselves, giving God all the glory. We also go away in peace, realizing we are all sinners, and that no one is better than another. In Acts 19:18, it says, “Some believers, too, came forward to admit in detail how they had used spells…” This was a putting away of their former wickedness in Christ our Savior. In 1 John 1:9, it says that if we “… aknowledge our sins, He is trustworthy and upright, so that He will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil.”

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, we make confession in the main part of the Church, in front of an Analogion, where a Gospel book and a cross are placed. This is usually near the Iconostasis. The penitent will venerate the Book and Cross, and then kneel before it, while holding his or her right hand in the sign of the cross, and touches the foot of the Cross while making his or her confession. We have to place our thumb and first two fingers of our right hand on the feet of Christ as he is depicted on the Cross. This confession is made before an icon of Christ. The Confessor will warn you not to hold any of your secrets back, and read the Gospel to you. Once you are finished, the priest or bishop will drape his Epitrachelion (stole) on your head, and then read the prescribed prayer of Absolution, asking God to forgive us our sins.

One does not have to be a priest to hear confessions, but only a priest can give absolution. A staret can be one’s spiritual guide, too, which is an old holy man from a Monastery. The one you confess to is your “spiritual father” or “spiritual mother.” An Orthodox Christian tends to confess to one person only, to create a bond with each other. Some people, just confess to their spiritual guide, but ask the priest too read the prayer of Absolution, before receiving Holy Communion.

we must confess our sins at least 4 times a year:

Great Lent

Nativity Fast

Apostle’s Fast

Dormition Fast

But it is preferable if we do it more often [every 2 weeks or every month]. Indeed, all should have this sacrament performed before they receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In the Holy Monasteries, Confession is done every day!

For the clergy, confession is made in the sanctuary, at the Holy Table or Altar. The one difference between lay confession is that, when a priest hears a bishop’s confession, he kneels. This is a sign of humility and reverence before a holy man in authority.

We also perform Mutual Forgiveness, much like it was done in Ancient Israel. The priest does prostrations before e laity three times, and ask their forgiveness for all sins done in deed, thought, word and act. Those that are participating in the Liturgy ask God to forgive the priest’s sins, and then ask that God can do the same for them. On the Vespers of Great Lent, this Liturgy is performed on the Sunday of Forgiveness, which starts the Lenten season.

We must not be ashamed of ourselves in front of others. We all have sinned. Indeed, it says in Wisdom of Sirach 4:26, “Be not ashamed to confess thy sins, and force not the course of the river.” Without a doubt, our tongues must be like rivers when we confess our sins to others, for the edification of one’s self. We must be like the humble tax collector, and not like the arrogant and hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisee, who lifted his head to Heaven, and thanked the Lord for not making him like the tax collector, where as the tax collector did not even lift up his eyes to Heaven, and asked God to forgive him, a sinner! He even hit his chest, which is a sign of humility, and sadness for one’s sins.

One can see in the Orthodox Church that we were given Apostolic authority to forgive and remit sins. In Matthew 18:18, it says, “In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven; whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.” Apostolic authority does not stop at the Apostles, but is hand down to all of the Order of Melchizedek, the Royal Priesthood. The Apostles were, after all, the men who instituted the Church, and were bishops themselves. They chose 7 deacons to go out, as well. A bishop is episkopos in Greek. This means Overseer. A deacon is diakonos in Greek. It means “servant,” “waiting-man,” “minister” and “messenger.” St Stephen was one of the these deacons of the Church. Indeed, one can see that Confession is biblical from, “It is all God’s work; He reconciled us to Himself through Christ and He gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18) This is from God Himself, and we are being reconciled to God through His holy clergy.

In James 5:15-16, it says, “The prayer of faith will save the sick person and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another to be cured; the heartfelt prayer of someone upright works very powerfully.” Indeed, we are all sick from sin, and need to be forgiven and cured. This sacrament is indeed powerful, and is from the apostles themselves.

But we must remember that “… there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and humanity, Himself a human being, (in His created human nature and will) Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5) This just means that we are forgiven by God ultimately, but humans do intervene to make that possible. God makes their authority possible, after all.

Also, another thing that many Protestants and Evangelicals do not understand about sin is the differentiation between venial and mortal sins. Many of these denominations do not believe in a distinction at all! They argue that all sins are the same, and everyone is equally guilty. But this doctrine has no true biblical precedence. In Luke 12:47-48, it says, “The servant who knows what his master wants, but has got nothing ready and done nothing in accord with those wishes, will be given a great many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but has acted in such a way that he deserves a beating, will be given fewer strokes. When someone is given a great deal, a great deal will be demanded of that person; when someone is entrusted with a great deal, of that person even more will be expected.” This means that those who realized that they have sinned, are more guilty, since they “see.” They do wrong, and realize this, but continue doing it. This would, of course, be logically more censured by God. But those who do not realize they have sinned, are guilty, but not as guilty as those who know the consequences of their actions. Their punishment is lighter.

Venial sins are sins that do not go directly against God with knowledge, but are done with some lack of consent, though not fully. They still have accountability.It does not destroy one’s relationship with God, though, but, with time, if one is not careful about avoiding genial sin, they shall end up committing mortal sin.Mortal sin is when one turns on purpose against God, even though they know what they do is wrong, and begin sinning. This sort of sin is hard to repent from, and leads to arrogance and self-love. There is even this distinction in 1 John 5:16-17, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that is not a deadly sin, he has only to pray, and God will give life to his brother — provided that it is not a deadly sin. There is a sin that leads to death and I am not saying you must pray about that. Every kind of wickedness is sin, but not all sin leads to death.” This proves there is sin which leads to Hell, and sins which can easily be repented of. Mortal sin is forgivable, but people who commit mortal sin are usually to arrogant to admit their faults, ask forgiveness, and be healed.

Jesus Christ even said that, “… anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but the person who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) This shows that we are rewarded differently, according to our varying levels of righteousness, and that sinners will be condemned and punished according to their varying levels of wickedness. Redemption, salvation and deification are living, moving things that we attain and obtain over time. It is not a static process. We will never stop growing in the Lord, even after death.

Many Orthodox saints have talked about the Sacrament of Confession.

St John of Kronstadt said: “Let no one think that sin is unimportant – no, sin is a terrible evil, that destroys the soul, both now and in the future life. The sinner in the future life will be bound hand and foot (meaning the soul) and cast into outer darkness… To this must be added the terrible torment arising from the very sins themselves, from the consciousness of our own foolishness during the Earthly life, and from the image of the angry Creator. Even in this present life sin binds and destroys the soul. What God-fearing man does not know what sorrow and oppression strike his soul, what torturing, burning fire rages in his breast when he has sinned. But besides binding and destroying the soul as it does temporarily, sin also destroys it eternally if we do not repent here of our sins… from our whole heart… If it happens to any God-fearing person to go to sleep without having repented of the whole sin, or the sins, he has committed during the day, and which have tormented his soul, these torments will accompany him the whole night, until he has heartily repented of his sin, and washed his heart with tears… The torments of sin will wake him up from sweet sleep, because his soul will be oppressed, bound a prisoner of sin. Now, suppose that the man who has gone to sleep in any sin and is tormented by it, is overtaken during the night by death: is it not clear that his soul will go into the other life in torment, and that as after death there is no place for repentance, he will be tormented there according to the measure of his sins.” (19th Century, in Russia, by the holy Staret John, in his ‘My Life in Christ.’

Our sins are a foreshadowing of the type of tortures in Hell we will receive if we do not receive Confession, and repent of our former sins and way of life. Death comes in so many ways, and we can die at anytime. We must prepare for this. Indeed, in Hell, one is burned by one’s own sin and the love of God, which we can not stand in sin. We bring it upon ourselves. But our virtues are a foreshadowing of what sort of joy and bliss one will have in Heaven, since Heaven is of the Righteous, where one perceives and sees God’s Heavenly Nature in a more clear way than one would on Earth.

Saint Basil the Great said in Rules Briefly Treated, number 288, “It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mystery is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints…” God’s saints hear our confessions in church! This is sure proof, that even a holy saint, a Father of the the Church, attests to the fact that Confession is biblical, and has precedence!

Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, in On the Priesthood, Book 3, 5, (386 A.D) says, “…For they who inhabit the Earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels… they who rule on Earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the Heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of His servants.” (NPNF1, volume 9, page 47.) God has given us great authority to do this, and He has greatly blessed us with this sacrament, even though we are all sinners in His eyes. It is a symbol of His Divine Trust in us, as well as His mercifulness and great love for us.

We must remember our sins. In Romans 3:23-26, it says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is non Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood… that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” This means that only God is truly perfect. Even the angels who have not rebelled against God, who have not sinned, and are perfect, are considered almost imperfect in comparison to His great glory. And we must not forget that Satan used to be Lucifer Star, a holy and beautiful Archangel, who was one of the heads of the Angels, Dominions, Principalities and Powers, but forfeited his place through pride and arrogance, and tempting Adam and Eve to sin by eating from the Tree of Good and Evil. And he had no real reason to sin, since God gave him everything and more! This is why demons, or fallen angels, sin only with spiritual sins, but not the carnal sins, since they are spirits. Only humans sin by carnal sins, as well as spiritual. If the demons, who are spirits, fell, with the temptation of spiritual sins only, how much more us, who are both spiritual and carnal, and have material bodies?

Not that anything material is evil, but that the misuse of things created by God are evil. We Orthodox must not repeat the errors of the Gnostics and the Manichees. For example, sex is good, if used to procreate children, within wedlock between a man and woman. But adultery, pornography, masturbation, homosexualita drape, and other sins, are the misuse of this very good thing. The same goes for the misuse of food, anger, love, etc. The passions are good, but must not be perverted.

So let us Orthodox Christians pray that God will purify us, and make us more like Him, and let us go to Confession as often as possible.

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Preparing for Confession

Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, Russia (+1934)

“This day is good, it is the day of purification.” This is a time when we can set aside the heavy days of sin, break the chains of iniquity: “to raise the tabernacle that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof” within our souls, and see it renewed and bright. But the path to this blessed purification is not easy.

We have not yet approached confession, and our soul already hears voices of temptation: “Should I wait instead? Am I well-enough prepared, don’t I partake of Communion too often?” We must firmly reject such doubts. “If you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal” (Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 2:1). If you have decided to make confession and partake of Communion, many obstacles will arise, internal and external: but they will vanish as soon as you express firmness in your intention.

In particular, the question of making confession too frequently: One must make confession much more often than is customary; at least once during each of the Lenten periods. We who are possessed by “dreams of sloth” and clumsy in our repentance, must time and time again learn to repent. Secondly: it is necessary to draw a thread from one confession to the next, so that the period in between is filled with a spiritual struggle, with efforts fed by the impressions of our last Communion and inspired by the expectation of our next confession.

Another concern is about our father-confessor: to whom should we go? Should we go to the same one, time and again, no matter what? Can I go to a different priest? If so, under what circumstances? Priests experienced in spiritual matters will say that one should not change priests, even if it is only your spiritual guide, but not your spiritual father, the guide of your conscience. At times, it is true, after a wonderful confession made to a certain priest, the subsequent ones with the same priest are less inspiring, and not as heartfelt, and then one might think to change father-confessors. But this is an insufficient reason for a switch. Setting aside even the fact that our personal sensations during confession do not touch upon the essence of this Mystery—spiritual inspiration during confession is often a sign of our own spiritual ailment. Fr John of Kronstadt said the following: “Repentance must be utterly free and completely unforced by the father-confessor.”

For a person who truly suffers the pain of his sin does not care whom he confesses it through; he just wants to confess it as soon as possible and receive relief. Another problem is when we set aside the essence of the Mystery of repentance and go to confession for a simple chat. It is important to discern between confession and a spiritual discussion, which can take place outside of the Mystery, and it is better to take place separately, since a discussion, even on a spiritual matter, can distract a person, dishearten him from repentance, lead to a theological debate, to weaken the desire of the penitent to confess.

Confession is not an admission of your faults, your doubts, but is the revealing of yourself to your father-confessor, and not simply a “pious custom.” Confession is the fervent repentance of the heart, the expression of thirst for cleansing, stemming from the sense of sanctity, of dying to sin and coming alive in holiness. Full repentance is already a level of holiness, while disinterest, disbelief, is outside of holiness, alienated from God.

Let us make sense of what our attitude should be towards the Mystery of repentance, what is required of the one making confession, how one should prepare, what the most important moment is (the part of the Mystery which touches the penitent).

Of course, the first act must be to test the heart. The preceding days of preparation are customary. “To see ones sins in their multitude and all their foulness is truly a gift from God,” said Fr John of Kronstadt. Usually, people inexperienced in the spiritual life do not see the multitude of their sins, nor their foulness. “Nothing unusual,” “Like everybody else,” “Just little sins,” “I didn’t steal or kill,” is how many people begin their confession. Meanwhile, self-love, rejection of criticism, hardness of heart, flattery, weakness in faith and love, cowardice, spiritual sloth—are these not all important sins? Can we honestly declare that we love God enough, that our faith is vigorous and fervent? That we love every person as a brother in Christ? That we have achieved meekness, tenderness, humility?

If not, then wherein lies our Christianity? How are we to explain our self-confidence during confession, how are we to avoid hard insensitivity if not through a dead heart, deadened soul, which foreshadow physical death? Why do the Holy Fathers, handing down prayers of repentance to us, deem themselves the chiefs among sinners, with earnest conviction crying out to Jesus the Most-Sweet: “None from the ages has sinned as have I, the condemned and wayward, sinned!” Yet we are convinced that everything is alright in our lives! But the brighter the light of Christ shines upon our hearts, the clearer all of our failings, our ulcerations and sores become. And conversely, people immersed in the darkness of sin see nothing inside their own hearts: and if they do, they have no fear, since they have nothing to compare it to.

The straightforward path to knowing one’s own sin is approaching the light and prayer for this light, which is the condemnation and all that is temporal within ourselves (John 3:19). So far as there is no proximity to Christ, during which we are in a perpetual state of repentance, therefore we must test our conscience as we approach confession, according to the commandments, certain prayers (for instance, the 3rd evening prayer, the fourth prayer before Communion), specific passages in the Gospel (for instance, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, James, especially 3).

In tending to our spiritual life, we must try to discern our fundamental sins from those that flow out of them, symptoms from their root causes. For instance, very important are inattentiveness during prayer, daydreaming and wandering thoughts during church services, a lack of interest in what is read from Holy Scripture; but do not these sins stem from lack of believe and a feeble love for God? We must notice within ourselves our self-will, our disobedience, self-justification, impatience with criticism, intransigence and stubbornness; but it is more important to reveal their connection with self-love and pride. If we notice within ourselves the urge for company, talkativeness, mockery, excessive care for our own appearance and that of others, how others dress and how they live, we must carefully consider if these are merely forms of conceit. If we too closely take earthly failures to heart, if we cannot bear the burden of separation, if we grieve too much for those who have departed from us, then doesn’t this reveal within us a lack of faith in Divine Providence?

There is another method of helping to lead us to knowledge of our own sinfulness: we must remember what others often accuse us of, especially our neighbors, our loved ones: their accusations, their criticism and attacks almost always have some foundation.

We must also ask forgiveness of all whom we have wronged before going to confession, so as to approach this Mystery with a clear conscience.

While investigating our hearts in this way, we must take care not to fall into extreme suspicion and petty nitpicking for every movement of the heart; embarking upon this path, we could lose a sense of what is important and what is unimportant, we can become mired in trifles. In such cases one must temporarily set aside examining your soul, and, taking up a “spiritual” diet, simplify and clarify our souls with prayer and good deeds.

Preparing for confession does not mean fully remembering and recording every sin, but to attain the state of concentration, seriousness and prayer, which will reveal our sins when exposed to light. There is no need to bring to your father-confessor a list of sins, but the devotion to repentance, not a detailed dissertation, but a humble heart.

But to simply know one’s sins does not mean to repent of them. True, the Lord accepts confession—earnest, open-hearted confession—when it is not accompanied by a powerful feeling of repentance (if we courageously confess even this sin—that of being hard of heart). Yet a humble heart, sorrow for our sins, is the greatest thing we can bring to confession. But what are we to do if our hearts, “parched from the fires of sin,” is not sprinkled by the invigorating moisture of tears? What if an “unwilling spirit and weak flesh” are so powerful that we are unable to bring genuine repentance? This is still no reason to delay confession—God can touch our hearts even during confession itself: the act of confession, the listing of our sins alone can soften our hearts, sharpen our spiritual vision, heighten our sense of repentance.

Most effective of all in overcoming our spiritual feebleness are preparation for confession, fasting—which weakens our body, disrupting our bodily well-being and placidity—prayer, nightly thoughts of death, the reading of the Gospel, the Lives of Saints, the works of the Holy Fathers, increased struggle against our desires, exercises in good deeds. Our numbness during confession is usually rooted in the lack of fear of God and our hidden disbelief. All of our efforts must be aimed in this direction. That is why tears are so important during confession. They soften our hard hearts, they shake us from head to toe, they simplify everything, they grant us a blessed abandonment of ourselves, they reject the main obstacle to repentance, our “ego.” The proud and self-loving never weep. Once you cry, it means you have softened, melted, humbled yourself. That is why after such tears we experience meekness, calm, softness, kindheartedness, spiritual peace, we are granted by the Lord to weep with joy. One should not be ashamed of tears during confession, one must allow them to flow freely, washing away our iniquities. “Grant me clouds of tears, o Christ, that I may weep and wash away the filth of my desire for sweet things and appear before you as one who is clean” (matins on the First Monday of Great Lent).

The third element of confession is the verbal confession of sin. One must not wait for questions, one must make the effort; confession is a podvig and an act of forcing oneself. One must speak concisely, not obscuring the ugliness of sin with general expressions (for instance, “guilty of violating the 7th commandment”). It is very difficult while confessing to avoid the habit of self-justification, to attempt to explain to the father-confessor the “mitigating circumstances,” references to third parties who may have led us astray. Any such attempts are evidence of self-love, the lack of profound repentance, the continued contact with sin. Sometimes during confession, people blame a bad memory, which prevents them from remembering their sins. Indeed, at times it happens that we forget our fall into sin; but is this because of a poor memory? For events that hurt our self-love, or on the other hand, which flatter our vainglory, our successes, praises we earn we remember for many years. Everything that has a profound effect on us we remember clearly for a long time, yet if we forget our sins, doesn’t this mean that we don’t think them very important?

A sign of true repentance is a lightness of heart, of purity, of unspeakable happiness, when sin seems to us as burdensome and impossible as this happiness seemed not long before.

Our repentance will not be complete if, when we make confession, we do not resolve not to return to the same repented sins. But, one might ask, how is this possible? How can I promise to myself and to my father-confessor that I will not repeat this sin? For through experience, we all know that after some time, we will always return to the same sins; as we observe ourselves year after year, we see no improvement, “we jump up, and fall right back down.” It would be horrible if it were so. But fortunately that’s not the case. It doesn’t happen that when someone makes confession with a willing heart and partakes of the Holy Gifts, some good changes do not occur in the soul. But the problem is, first and foremost, that we are not our own judges; a man cannot properly judge himself, whether he has become better or not, since he would be both the judge and the one standing trial. A greater strictness towards oneself, a better view of ones soul, heightened fear of sin may give the illusion that one’s sins have increased and strengthened: they may even have weakened, but we had not noticed them as much before.

Also, God, by His Divine Providence, often closes our eyes to our successes in order to protect us from worse sins—those of vainglory and pride. It often happens that the sin remains, but frequent confession and partaking of the Holy Gifts could shake and weaken their roots. The very battle with sin, suffering from one’s sins—is that not a victory?

“Fear not,” said St John of the Ladder, “though you fall every day, yet strayed not from the path of God; stand courageously, and the Angel protecting you will honor your patience.”

If there is no sense of relief, of rebirth, one must have the strength to return once again to confession, to rid oneself finally of the impurity, to wash its darkness and filth away with tears. Whoever strives for this will find what they seek.

Let us not ascribe to ourselves our successes, relying on our own powers, hope for our own efforts. This would mean the destruction of all that was achieved. “Gather my scattered mind, O Lord, and purify my hardened heart; like Peter, grant me repentance, like the tax-collector, grant me lamentation, like the harlot, grant me tears.”

Source:

Diary Russian Priest Alexander Elchaninov

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Holy Confession: Confidentiality

From “Guidelines for Clergy” (Orthodox Church in America):

“The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest.

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception.”

In St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite’s Exomologitarion, he writes:

“Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you” (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: “Trust not in friends… beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her” (Mic. 7:5).

For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out. Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman. The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things.”

St. John of the Ladder writes:

“At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick.”

The Byzantine Nomocanon states, in Canon 120:

“”A spiritual father, if he reveals to anyone a sin of one who had confessed receives a penance: he shall be suspended [from serving] for three years, being able to receive Communion only once a month, and must do 100 prostrations every day.”

Source:

Orthodox Wiki

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Confession: The Healing Sacrament

by

Jim Forest, USA & the Netherlands

A young monk said to the great ascetic Abba Sisoes: “Abba, what should I do? I fell.” The elder answered: “Get up!” The monk said: “I got up and I fell again!” The elder replied: “Get up again!” But the young monk asked: “For how long should I get up when I fall?” “Until your death,” answered Abba Sisoes. —Sayings of the Desert Fathers

“When I went to my first confession,” a friend told me, “tears took the place of the sins I meant to utter. The priest simply told me that it wasn’t necessary to enumerate everything and that it was just vanity to suppose that our personal sins are worse than everyone else’s. Which, by the way, was something of a relief, since it wasn’t possible for me to remember all the sins of my first thirty-odd years of life. It made me think of the way the father received his prodigal son—he didn’t even let his son finish his carefully rehearsed speech. It’s truly amazing.”

Another friend told me that he was so worried about all he had to confess that he decided to write it down. “So I made a list of my sins and brought it with me. The priest saw the paper in my hand, took it, looked through the list, tore it up, and gave it back to me. Then he said ‘Kneel down,’ and he absolved me. That was my confession, even though I never said a word! But I felt truly my sins had been torn up and that I was free of them.”

The very word confession makes us nervous, touching as it does all that is hidden in ourselves: lies told, injuries caused, things stolen, friends deceived, people betrayed, promises broken, faith denied—these plus all the smaller actions that reveal the beginnings of sins.

Confession is painful, yet a Christian life without confession is impossible.

Confession is a major theme of the Gospels. Even before Christ began His public ministry, we read in Matthew’s Gospel that John required confession of those who came to him for baptism in the River Jordan for a symbolic act of washing away their sins: “And [they] were baptized by [John] in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6).

Then there are those amazing words of Christ to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The keys of binding and loosing sins were given not only to one apostle but to all Christ’s disciples, and—in a sacramental sense—to any priest who has his bishop’s blessing to hear confessions.

The Gospel author John warns us not to deceive ourselves: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:8, 9).

The sacrament of baptism, the rite of entrance into the Church, has always been linked with repentance. “Repent, and . . . be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Saint Peter preached in Jerusalem, “and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the same book we read that “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18).

The Prodigal Son

One Gospel story in which we encounter confession is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Here Christ describes a young man so impatient to come into his inheritance and be independent that, in effect, he says to his father, “As far as I’m concerned, you have already died. Give me now what would have come to me after your funeral. I want nothing more to do with you or with this house.”

With Godlike generosity, the father gives what his son asks, though he knows his son well enough to realize that all the boy receives might as well be burned in a stove. The boy takes his inheritance and leaves, at last free of parents, free of morals and good behavior, free to do as he pleases.

After wasting his money, he finds himself reduced to feeding the pigs as a farmhand. People he had thought of as friends now sneer. He knows he has renounced the claim to be anyone’s son, yet in his desperation he dares hope his father might at least allow him to return home as a servant. Full of dismay for what he said to his father and what he did with his inheritance, he walks home in his rags, ready to confess his sins, to beg for work and a corner to sleep in. The son cannot imagine the love his father has for him or the fact that, despite all the trouble he caused, he has been desperately missed. Far from being glad to be rid of the boy, the father has gazed day after day in prayer toward the horizon in hope of his son’s return.

“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v. 20). Had he not been watching, he would not have noticed his child in the distance and realized who it was. Instead of simply standing and waiting for his son to reach the door, he ran to meet him, embracing him, pouring out words of joy and welcome rather than reproof or condemnation.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (v. 21). Here we have the son’s confession compacted into a single sentence. It is the essence of any confession: our return to our Father, who made us and constantly awaits our homecoming.

What Is Sin?

There are countless essays and books that deal with human failings under various labels without once using the three-letter word sin. Actions traditionally regarded as sinful have instead been seen as natural stages in the process of growing up, a result of bad parenting, a consequence of mental illness, an inevitable response to unjust social conditions, or pathological behavior brought on by addiction.

But what if I am more than a robot programmed by my past or my society or my economic status and actually can take a certain amount of credit—or blame—for my actions and inactions? Have I not done things I am deeply ashamed of, would not do again if I could go back in time, and would prefer no one to know about? What makes me so reluctant to call those actions “sins”? Is the word really out of date? Or is the problem that it has too sharp an edge?

The Hebrew verb chata’, “to sin,” like the Greek word hamartia, simply means straying off the path, getting lost, missing the mark. Sin—going off course—can be intentional or unintentional.

The author of the Book of Proverbs lists seven things God hates: “A proud look, / A lying tongue, / Hands that shed innocent blood, / A heart that devises wicked plans, / Feet that are swift in running to evil, / A false witness who speaks lies, / And one who sows discord among brethren” (6:17–19).

Pride is given first place. “Pride goes before destruction, / And a haughty spirit before a fall” is another insight in the Book of Proverbs (16:18). In the Garden of Eden, Satan seeks to animate pride in his dialogue with Eve. Eat the forbidden fruit, he tells her, and “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

The craving to be ahead of others, to be more valued than others, to be more highly rewarded than others, to be able to keep others in a state of fear, the inability to admit mistakes or apologize—these are among the symptoms of pride. Pride opens the way for countless other sins: deceit, lies, theft, violence, and all those other actions that destroy community with God and with those around us.

Yet we spend a great deal of our lives trying to convince ourselves and others that what we did really wasn’t that bad or could even be seen as almost good, given the circumstances. Even in confession, many people explain what they did rather than simply admit they did things that require forgiveness. “When I recently happened to confess about fifty people in a typical Orthodox parish in Pennsylvania,” Fr. Alexander Schmemann wrote, “not one admitted to having committed any sin whatsoever!”

“We’re capable of doing some rotten things,” the Minnesota storyteller Garrison Keillor notes, “and not all of these things are the result of poor communication. Some are the result of rottenness. People do bad, horrible things. They lie and they cheat and they corrupt the government. They poison the world around us. And when they’re caught they don’t feel remorse—they just go into treatment. They had a nutritional problem or something. They explain what they did—they don’t feel bad about it. There’s no guilt. There’s just psychology.”

For the person who has committed a serious sin, there are two vivid signs—the hope that what one did may never become known, and a gnawing sense of guilt. At least this is the case before the conscience becomes completely numb—which is what happens when patterns of sin become the structure of one’s life to the extent that hell, far from being a possible next-life experience, is where one finds oneself in this life.

It is a striking fact about basic human architecture that we want certain actions to remain secret, not because of modesty, but because there is an unarguable sense of having violated a law more basic than that in any law book—the “law written in [our] hearts” to which St. Paul refers (Romans 2:15). It isn’t simply that we fear punishment. It is that we don’t want to be thought of by others as a person who commits such deeds. One of the main obstacles to going to confession is dismay that someone else will know what I want no one to know.

One of the oddest things about the age we live in is that we are made to feel guilty about feeling guilty. There is a cartoon tacked up in our house in which one prisoner says to another, “Just remember—it’s okay to be guilty, but not okay to feel guilty.”

A sense of guilt—the painful awareness of having committed sins—can be life-renewing. Guilt provides a foothold for contrition, which in turn can motivate confession and repentance. Without guilt, there is no remorse; without remorse, there is no possibility of becoming free of habitual sins.

Yet there are forms of guilt that are dead-end streets. If I feel guilty that I have not managed to become the ideal person I occasionally want to be, or that I imagine others want me to be, that is guilt without a divine reference point. It is simply an irritated me contemplating an irritating me. Christianity is not centered on performance, laws, principles, or the achievement of flawless behavior, but on Christ Himself and on participation in God’s transforming love.

When Christ says, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), He’s not speaking of getting a perfect score on a test, but of being whole, being in a state of communion, participating fully in God’s love.

This condition of being is suggested by St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: those three angelic figures silently inclined toward each other around a chalice on a small altar. They symbolize the Holy Trinity: the communion that exists within God—not a closed communion restricted to themselves alone, but an open communion of love, in which we are not only invited but intended to participate.

A blessed guilt is the pain we feel when we realize we have cut ourselves off from that divine communion that irradiates all creation. It is impossible to live in a Godless universe, but easy to be unaware of God’s presence or even to resent it.

It’s a common delusion that one’s sins are private or affect only a few other people. To think our sins, however hidden, don’t affect others is like imagining that a stone thrown into the water won’t generate ripples. As Bishop Kallistos Ware has observed: “There are no entirely private sins. All sins are sins against my neighbor, as well as against God and against myself. Even my most secret thoughts are, in fact, making it more difficult for those around me to follow Christ.”

Far from being hidden, each sin is another crack in the world.

One of the most widely used Orthodox prayers, the Jesus Prayer, is only one sentence long: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Short as it is, many people drawn to it are put off by the last two words. Those who teach the prayer are often asked, “But must I call myself a sinner?” In fact, the ending isn’t essential—the only essential word is “Jesus”—but my difficulty in identifying myself as a sinner reveals a lot. What makes me so reluctant to speak of myself in such plain words? Don’t I do a pretty good job of hiding rather than revealing Christ in my life? Am I not a sinner? To admit that I am provides a starting point.

There are only two possible responses to sin: to justify it, or to repent. Between these two, there is no middle ground.

Justification may be verbal, but mainly it takes the form of repetition: I do again and again the same thing as a way of demonstrating to myself and others that it’s not really a sin, but rather something normal or human or necessary or even good. “Commit a sin twice and it will not seem a crime,” notes a Jewish proverb.

Repentance, on the other hand, is the recognition that I cannot live any more as I have been living, because in living that way I wall myself apart from others and from God. Repentance is a change in direction. Repentance is the door of communion. It is also a sine qua non of forgiveness. Absolution is impossible where there is no repentance.

As St. John Chrysostom said sixteen centuries ago in Antioch:

Repentance opens the heavens, takes us to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned? Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses. In the same way, you should reason for yourself: If today you have defiled yourself with sin, immediately cleanse yourself with repentance.

Confession as a Social Action

It is impossible to imagine a healthy marriage or deep friendship without confession and forgiveness. If we have done something that damages a relationship, confession is essential to its restoration. For the sake of that bond, we confess what we’ve done, we apologize, and we promise not to do it again; then we do everything in our power to keep that promise.

In the context of religious life, confession is what we do to safeguard and renew our relationship with God whenever it is damaged. Confession restores our communion with God and with each other.

It is never easy to admit to doing something we regret and are ashamed of, an act we attempted to keep secret or denied doing or tried to blame on someone else, perhaps arguing—to ourselves as much as to others—that it wasn’t actually a sin at all, or wasn’t nearly as bad as some people might claim. In the hard labor of growing up, one of the most agonizing tasks is becoming capable of saying, “I’m sorry.”

Yet we are designed for confession. Secrets in general are hard to keep, but unconfessed sins not only never go away, but have a way of becoming heavier as time passes—the greater the sin, the heavier the burden. Confession is the only solution.

To understand confession in its sacramental sense, one first has to grapple with a few basic questions: Why is the Church involved in forgiving sins? Is priest-witnessed confession really needed? Why confess at all to any human being? In fact, why bother confessing to God, even without a human witness? If God is really all-knowing, then He knows everything about me already. My sins are known before it even crosses my mind to confess them. Why bother telling God what God already knows?

Yes, truly God knows. My confession can never be as complete or revealing as God’s knowledge of me and of all that needs repairing in my life.

A related question we need to consider has to do with our basic design as social beings. Why am I so willing to connect with others in every other area of life, yet not in this? Why is it that I look so hard for excuses, even for theological rationales, not to confess? Why do I try so hard to explain away my sins, until I’ve decided either that they’re not so bad, or even that they might be seen as acts of virtue? Why is it that I find it so easy to commit sins, yet am so reluctant, in the presence of another, to admit to having done so?

We are social beings. The individual as autonomous unit is a delusion. The Marlboro Man—the person without community, parents, spouse, or children—exists only on billboards. The individual is someone who has lost a sense of connection to others or attempts to exist in opposition to others—while the person exists in communion with other persons. At a conference of Orthodox Christians in France a few years ago, in a discussion of the problem of individualism, a theologian confessed, “When I am in my car, I am an individual, but when I get out, I am a person again.”

We are social beings. The language we speak connects us to those around us. The food I eat was grown by others. The skills passed on to me have slowly been developed in the course of hundreds of generations. The air I breathe and the water I drink is not for my exclusive use, but has been in many bodies before mine. The place I live, the tools I use, and the paper I write on were made by many hands. I am not my own doctor or dentist or banker. To the extent that I disconnect myself from others, I am in danger. Alone, I die, and soon. To be in communion with others is life.

Because we are social beings, confession in church does not take the place of confession to those we have sinned against. An essential element of confession is doing all I can to set right what I did wrong. If I stole something, it must be returned or paid for. If I lied to anyone, I must tell that person the truth. If I was angry without good reason, I must apologize. I must seek forgiveness not only from God, but from those whom I have wronged or harmed.

We are also verbal beings. Words provide a way of communicating, not only with others, but even with ourselves. The fact that confession is witnessed forces me to put into words all those ways, minor and major, in which I live as if there were no God and no commandment to love. A thought that is concealed has great power over us.

Confessing sins, or even temptations, makes us better able to resist. The underlying principle is described in one of the collections of sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If impure thoughts trouble you, do not hide them, but tell them at once to your spiritual father and condemn them. The more a person conceals his thoughts, the more they multiply and gain strength. But an evil thought, when revealed, is immediately destroyed. If you hide things, they have great power over you, but if you could only speak of them before God, in the presence of another, then they will often wither away, and lose their power.

Confessing to anyone, even a stranger, renews rather than contracts my humanity, even if all I get in return for my confession is the well-worn remark, “Oh, that’s not so bad. After all, you’re only human.” But if I can confess to anyone anywhere, why confess in church in the presence of a priest? It’s not a small question in societies in which the phrase “institutionalized religion” is so often used, the implicit message being that religious institutions necessarily undermine spiritual life.

Confession is a Christian ritual with a communal character. Confession in the church differs from confession in your living room in the same way that getting married in church differs from simply living together. The communal aspect of the event tends to safeguard it, solidify it, and call everyone to account—those doing the ritual, and those witnessing it.

In the social structure of the Church, a huge network of local communities is held together in unity, each community helping the others and all sharing a common task, while each provides a specific place to recognize and bless the main events in life, from birth to burial. Confession is an essential part of that continuum. My confession is an act of reconnection with God and with all the people and creatures who depend on me and have been harmed by my failings, and from whom I have distanced myself through acts of non-communion. The community is represented by the person hearing my confession, an ordained priest delegated to serve as Christ’s witness, who provides guidance and wisdom that helps each penitent overcome attitudes and habits that take us off course, who declares forgiveness and restores us to communion. In this way our repentance is brought into the community that has been damaged by our sins—a private event in a public context.

“It’s a fact,” writes Fr. Thomas Hopko, rector of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, “that we cannot see the true ugliness and hideousness of our sins until we see them in the mind and heart of the other to whom we have confessed.”

A Communion-Centered Life

Attending the liturgy and receiving Communion on Sundays and principal feast days has always been at the heart of Christian life, the event that gives life a eucharistic dimension and center point. But Communion—receiving Christ into ourselves—can never be routine, never something we deserve, no matter what the condition of our life may be. For example, Christ solemnly warns us against approaching the altar if we are in a state of enmity with anyone. He tells us, “Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24). In one of the parables, He describes a person who is ejected from the wedding feast because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment. Tattered clothing is a metaphor for living a life that reduces conscience to rags (Matthew 22:1–14).

Receiving Christ in Communion during the liturgy is the keystone of living in communion—with God, with people, and with creation. Christ teaches us that love of God and love of neighbor sum up the Law. One way of describing a serious sin is to say it is any act which breaks our communion with God and with our neighbor.

It is for this reason that examination of conscience—if necessary, going to confession—is part of preparation for Communion. This is an ongoing proc-ess of trying to see my life and actions with clarity and honesty—to look at myself, my choices, and my direction as known by God. The examination of conscience is an occasion to recall not only any serious sins committed since my last confession, but even the beginnings of sins.

The word conscience derives from a Greek verb meaning “to have common knowledge” or “to know with” someone, a concept that led to the idea of bearing witness concerning someone, especially oneself. Conscience is an inner faculty that guides us in making choices that align us with God’s will, and that accuses us when we break communion with God and with our neighbor. Conscience is a reflection of the divine image at the core of each person. In The Sacred Gift of Life, Fr. John Breck points out that “the education of conscience is acquired in large measure through immersing ourselves in the ascetic tradition of the Church: its life of prayer, sacramental and liturgical celebration, and scripture study. The education of our conscience also depends upon our acquiring wisdom from those who are more advanced than we are in faith, love, and knowledge of God.”

Conscience is God’s whispering voice within us calling us to a way of life that reveals God’s presence and urges us to refuse actions that destroy community and communion.

Key Elements in Confession

Fr. Alexander Schmemann provided this summary of the three key areas of confession:

Relationship to God: Questions on faith itself, possible doubts or deviations, inattention to prayer, neglect of liturgical life, fasting, etc.

Relationship to one’s neighbor: Basic attitudes of selfishness and self-centeredness, indifference to others, lack of attention, interest, love. All acts of actual offense—envy, gossip, cruelty, etc.—must be mentioned and, if needed, their sinfulness shown to the penitent.

Relationship to one’s self: Sins of the flesh with, as their counterpart, the Christian vision of purity and wholesomeness, respect for the body as an icon of Christ, etc. Abuse of one’s life and resources; absence of any real effort to deepen life; abuse of alcohol or other drugs; cheap idea of “fun,” a life centered on amusement, irresponsibility, neglect of family relations, etc.

Tools of Self-Examination

In the struggle to examine conscience, we have tools that can assist us, resources that help both in the formation and the examination of conscience. Among these are the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and various prayers, as well as lists of questions written by experienced confessors. In this small booklet, we will look at only one of these, the Beatitudes, which provide a brief summary of the Gospel. Each Beatitude reveals an aspect of being in union with God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Poverty of spirit is my awareness that I need God’s help and mercy more than anything else. It is knowing that I cannot save myself, that neither money nor power will spare me from suffering and death, and that no matter what I achieve and acquire in this life, it will be far less than I want if I let my acquisitive capacity get the upper hand. This is the blessing of knowing that even what I have is not mine. It is living free of the domination of fear. While the exterior forms of poverty vary from person to person and even from year to year in a particular life, depending on one’s vocation and special circumstances, all who live this Beatitude are seeking with heart and soul to live God’s will rather than their own. Christ’s mother is the paradigm of poverty of spirit in her unconditional assent to the will of God: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Similarly, at the marriage feast at Cana, she says to those waiting on the tables: “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5). Whoever lives by these words is poor in spirit.

Questions to consider: We are bombarded by advertisements, constantly reminded of the possibility of having things and of indulging all sorts of curiosities and temptations. The simple goal of poverty of spirit seems more remote than the moons of Neptune. Am I regularly praying that God will give me poverty of spirit? When tempted to buy things I don’t need, do I pray for strength to resist? Do I keep the Church fasts that would help strengthen my capacity to live this Beatitude? Do I really seek to know and embrace God’s will in my life? Am I willing to be seen as odd or stupid by those whose lives are dominated by values that oppose the Beatitudes?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Mourning is cut from the same cloth as poverty of spirit. Without poverty of spirit, I am forever on guard to keep what I have for myself, and to keep me for myself, or for that small circle of people whom I regard as mine. A consequence of poverty of spirit is becoming vulnerable to the pain and losses of others, not only those whom I happen to know and care for, but also those who are strangers to me. “When we die,” said Saint John Climacus, the seventh-century abbot of Saint Catherine’s Monastery near Mount Sinai, “we will not be criticized for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have to explain to God why we did not mourn unceasingly.”

Questions to consider: Do I weep with those who weep? Have I mourned those in my own family who have died? Do I open my thoughts and feelings to the suffering and losses of others? Do I try to make space in my mind and heart for the calamities in the lives of others who may be far away and neither speak my language nor share my faith?

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Meekness is often confused with weakness, yet a meek person is neither spineless nor cowardly. Understood biblically, meekness is making choices and exercising power with a divine rather than social reference point. Meekness is the essential quality of the human being in relationship to God. Without meekness, we cannot align ourselves with God’s will. In place of humility, we prefer pride—pride in who we are, pride in doing as we please, pride in what we’ve achieved, pride in the national or ethnic group to which we happen to belong. Meekness has nothing to do with blind obedience or social conformity. Meek Christians do not allow themselves to be dragged along by the tides of political power. Such rudderless persons have cut themselves off from their own conscience, God’s voice in their hearts, and thrown away their God-given freedom. Meekness is an attribute of following Christ, no matter what risks are involved.

Questions to consider: When I read the Bible or writings of the saints, do I consider the implications for my own life? When I find what I read at odds with the way I live, do I allow the text to challenge me? Do I pray for God’s guidance? Do I seek help with urgent questions in confession? Do I tend to make choices and adopt ideas that will help me fit into the group I want to be part of? Do I fear the criticism or ridicule of others for my efforts to live a Gospel-centered life? Do I listen to others? Do I tell the truth even in difficult circumstances?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. In his teaching about the Last Judgment, Christ speaks of hunger and thirst: “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink” (Matthew 25:35). Our salvation hinges on our caring for the least person as we would for Christ Himself. To hunger and thirst for something is not a mild desire, but a desperate craving. To hunger and thirst for righteousness means urgently to desire that which is honorable, right, and true. A righteous person is a right-living person, living a moral, blameless life, right with both God and neighbor. A righteous social order would be one in which no one is abandoned or thrown away, in which people live in peace with God, with each other, and with the world God has given us.

Questions to consider: Does it disturb me that I live in a world that in many ways is the opposite of the Kingdom of heaven? When I pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” am I praying that my own life might better reflect God’s priorities? Who is “the least” in my day-to-day world? Do I try to see Christ’s face in him or her?

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. One of the perils of pursuing righteousness is that one can become self-righteous. Thus, the next rung of the ladder of the Beatitudes is the commandment of mercy. This is the quality of self-giving love, of gracious deeds done for those in need. Twice in the Gospels Christ makes His own the words of the Prophet Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13; 12:7). We witness mercy in event after event in the New Testament account of Christ’s life—forgiving, healing, freeing, correcting, even repairing the wound of a man injured by Peter in his effort to protect Christ, and promising Paradise to the criminal being crucified next to Him.

Again and again Christ declares that those who seek God’s mercy must pardon others. The principle is included in the only prayer Christ taught His disciples: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). He calls on His followers to love their enemies and to pray for them. The moral of the parable of the Good Samaritan is that a neighbor is a person who comes to the aid of a stranger in need (Luke 10:29–37). While He denounces hypocrisy and warns the merciless that they are condemning themselves to hell, in no passage in the Gospel do we hear Christ advocating anyone’s death. At the Last Judgment, Christ receives into the Kingdom of heaven those who were merciful. He is Mercy itself.

Questions to consider: When I see a stranger in need, how do I respond? Is Christ’s mercy evident in my life? Am I willing to extend forgiveness to those who seek it? Am I generous in sharing my time and material possessions with those in need? Do I pray for my enemies? Do I try to assist them if they are in need? Have I been an enemy to anyone?

Mercy is more and more absent even in societies with Christian roots. In the United States, the death penalty has been reinstated in the majority of states and has the fervent support of many Christians. Even in the many countries that have abolished executions, the death penalty is often imposed on unborn children—abortion is hardly regarded as a moral issue. Concerning the sick, aged, and severely handicapped, “mercy killing” and “assisted suicide” are now phrases much in use. To what extent have I been influenced by slogans and ideologies that promote death as a solution and disguise killing as mercy? What am I doing to make my society more welcoming, more caring, more life-protecting?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The brain has come up in the world, while the heart has been demoted. The heart used to be widely recognized as the locus of God’s activity within us, the hub of human identity and conscience, linked with our capacity to love, the core not only of physical but also of spiritual life—the ground zero of the human soul. In our brain-centered society, we ought to be surprised that Christ didn’t say, “Blessed are the brilliant in mind.” Instead, He blessed purity of heart.

The Greek word for purity, katharos, means spotless, stainless; intact, unbroken, perfect; free from adulteration or anything that defiles or corrupts. What, then, is a pure heart? A heart free of possessiveness, a heart capable of mourning, a heart that thirsts for what is right, a merciful heart, a loving heart, a heart not ruled by passions, an undivided heart, a heart aware of the image of God in others, a heart drawn to beauty, a heart conscious of God’s presence in creation. A pure heart is a heart without contempt for others. “A person is truly pure of heart when he considers all human beings as good and no created thing appears impure or defiled to him,” wrote Saint Isaac of Syria.

Opposing purity of heart is lust of any kind—for wealth, for recognition, for power, for vengeance, for sexual exploits—whether indulged through action or imagination. Spiritual virtues that defend the heart are memory, awareness, watchfulness, wakefulness, attention, hope, faith, and love. A rule of prayer in daily life helps heal, guard, and unify the heart. “Always keep your mind collected in your heart,” instructed the great teacher of prayer, Saint Theophan the Recluse. The Jesus Prayer—the prayer of the heart—is part of a tradition of spiritual life that helps move the center of consciousness from the mind to the heart. Purification of the heart is the striving to place under the rule of the heart the mind, which represents the analytic and organizational aspect of consciousness. It is the moment-to-moment prayerful discipline of seeking to be so aware of God’s presence that no space is left in the heart for hatred, greed, lust, or vengeance. Purification of the heart is the lifelong struggle of seeking a more God-centered life, a heart illuminated with the presence of the Holy Trinity.

Questions to consider: Do I take care not to read or look at things that stir up lust? Do I avoid using words that soil my mouth? Am I attentive to beauty in people, nature, and the arts? Am I sarcastic about others? Is a rhythm of prayer part of my daily life? Do I prepare carefully for Communion, never taking it for granted? Do I observe fasting days and seasons? Am I aware of and grateful for God’s gifts?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Christ is often called the Prince of Peace. His peace is not a passive condition—He blesses the makers of peace. The peacemaker is a person who helps heal damaged relationships. Throughout the Gospel, we see Christ bestowing peace. In His final discourse before His arrest, He says to the Apostles: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). After the Resurrection, He greets His followers with the words, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). He instructs His followers that, on entering a house, their first action should be the blessing, “Peace to this house” (Luke 10:5).

Christ is at His most paradoxical when He says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34; note that a similar passage, Luke 12:51, uses the word “division” rather than “sword”). Those who try to live Christ’s peace may find themselves in trouble, as all those who have died a martyr’s death bear witness. Sadly, for most of us the peace we long for is not the Kingdom of God, but a slightly improved version of the world we already have. We would like to get rid of conflict without eliminating the spiritual and material factors that draw us into conflict. The peacemaker is a person aware that ends never stand apart from means: figs do not grow from thistles; neither is community brought into being by hatred and violence. A peacemaker is aware that all persons, even those who seem to be ruled by evil spirits, are made in the image of God and are capable of change and conversion.

Questions to consider: In my family, in my parish, and among my coworkers, am I guilty of sins which cause or deepen division and conflict? Do I ask forgiveness when I realize I am in the wrong? Or am I always justifying what I do, no matter what pain or harm it causes others? Do I regard it as a waste of time to communicate with opponents? Do I listen with care and respect to those who irritate me? Do I pray for the well-being and salvation of adversaries and enemies? Do I allow what others say or what the press reports to define my attitude toward those whom I have never met? Do I take positive steps to overcome division? Are there people I regard as not bearing God’s image and therefore innately evil?

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. The last rung is where the Beatitudes reach and pass beyond the Cross. “We must carry Christ’s Cross as a crown of glory,” wrote Saint John Chrysostom in the fourth century, “for it is by it that everything that is achieved among us is gained. . . . Whenever you make the sign of the cross on your body, think of what the Cross means and put aside anger and every other passion. Take courage and be free in the soul.”

In the ancient world, Christians were persecuted chiefly because they were regarded as undermining the social order, even though in most respects they were models of civil obedience and good conduct. But Christians abstained from the cult of the deified emperor, would not sacrifice to gods their neighbors venerated, and were notable for their objection to war or bloodshed in any form. It is easy to imagine that a community that lived by such values, however well-behaved, would be regarded as a threat by the government. “Both the Emperor’s commands and those of others in authority must be obeyed if they are not contrary to the God of heaven,” said Saint Euphemia in the year 303, during the reign of Diocletian. “If they are, they must not only be disobeyed; they must be resisted.” Following torture, Saint Euphemia was killed by a bear—the kind of death endured by thousands of Christians well into the fourth century, though the greatest number of Christian martyrs belongs to the twentieth century. In many countries religious persecution continues.

Questions to consider: Does fear play a bigger role in my life than love? Do I hide my faith or live it in a timid, half-hearted way? When I am ordered to do something that conflicts with Christ’s teaching, whom do I obey? Am I aware of those who are suffering for righteousness’ sake in my own country and elsewhere in the world? Am I praying for them? Am I doing anything to help them?

Finding a Confessor

Just as not every doctor is a good physician, not every priest is a good confessor. Sometimes it happens that a priest, however good his qualities in other respects, is a person not well suited for witnessing confessions. While abusive priests are the exception, their existence must be noted. God has given us freedom and provided each person with a conscience. It is not the role of a priest to take the place of conscience or to become anyone’s drill sergeant. A good confessor will help us become better at hearing the voice of conscience and become more free in an increasingly God-centered life.

Fortunately, good confessors are not hard to find. Usually your confessor is the priest who is closest, sees you most often, knows you and the circumstances of your life best: a priest of your parish. Do not be put off by your awareness of what you perceive as his relative youth, his personal shortcomings, or the probability that he possesses no rare spiritual gifts. Keep in mind that each priest goes to confession himself and may have more to confess than you do. You confess, not to him, but to Christ in his presence. He is the witness of your confession. You do not require and will never find a sinless person to be that witness. (The Orthodox Church tries to make this clear by having the penitent face, not the priest, but an icon of Christ.)

What your confessor says by way of advice can be remarkably insightful, or brusque, or seem to you a cliché and not very relevant, yet almost always there will be something helpful if only you are willing to hear it. Sometimes there is a suggestion or insight that becomes a turning point in your life. If he imposes a penance—normally increased prayer, fasting, and acts of mercy—it should be accepted meekly, unless there is something in the penance which seems to you a violation of your conscience or of the teaching of the Church as you understand it.

Don’t imagine that a priest will respect you less for what you reveal to Christ in his presence, or imagine that he is carefully remembering all your sins. “Even a recently ordained priest will quickly find that he cannot remember 99 percent of what people tell him in confession,” one priest told me. He said it is embarrassing to him that people expect him to remember what they told him in an earlier confession. “When they remind me, then sometimes I remember, but without a reminder, usually my mind is a blank. I let the words I listen to pass through me. Also, so much that I hear in one confession is similar to what I hear in other confessions—the confessions blur together. The only sins I easily remember are my own.”

One priest told me of his difficulties meeting the expectations that sometimes become evident in confession. “I am not a psychologist. I have no special gifts. I am just a fellow sinner trying to stay on the path.”

A Russian priest who is spiritual father to many people once told me about the joy he often feels hearing confessions. “It is not that I am glad anyone has sins to confess, but when you come to confession it means these sins are in your past, not your future. Confession marks a turning point, and I am the lucky one who gets to watch people making that turn!”

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Jim Forest is the author of Praying with Icons, Ladder of the Beatitudes, Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness and a forthcoming book—Resurrection—about the Orthodox Church in Albania. He is secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (www.incommunion.org) and editor of its quarterly journal, In Communion. His home is in Alkmaar, the Netherlands. He and his wife Nancy are members of St. Nicholas of Myra Orthodox Church in Amsterdam.

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