Throughout our lives we strive to follow the teachings of Christ and the Church. We are called to be ‘God-like’ and to follow the example that Jesus set before us. Yet so often we find ourselves giving into temptation and falling into sin which causes a separation in our relationship with God. The Church, in her wisdom, provides us a guide – a Spiritual Father to help us navigate our way back to God through the sacrament of Holy Confession with Repentance.
The gift of God’s forgiveness is given to us in the Sacrament of Confession. Christ gave his disciples authority when he said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) It is the action of the Holy Spirit which forgives, the priest acts only as the visible instrument of God’s mercy.
An Orthodox Christian will go to Confession regularly, especially during the fast periods leading up to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, Dormition of the Theotokos and the Feast of the Twelve Apostles. Additional to this is when a serious sin has been committed or when a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a re-examination of their life. We have the opportunity to choose a spiritual father with whom we are comfortable with to receive counsel and to be encouraged toward spiritual growth.
In order to make a good confession it is necessary to prepare carefully. We need to pray, to examine our conscience, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction, and way of life. This examination in all aspects of our life is not to condemn ourselves but to realise our true selves in Christ. We pray to God to give us courage to make a sincere and complete confession, and then also the strength to amend our way of life going forward. What type of ‘medicine’ will our spiritual father prescribe for us? This will depend on the nature and severity of our sins but will often involve increased prayer, fasting, almsgiving and a prescribed program of spiritual readings.
A prayer of absolution is read over us which allows us to reconciliate with God and partake of Holy Communion. God in His all-encompassing mercy and compassion forgives all who come to Him with humility and contrition. It should also be stated that confessing sins in front of an icon or some other approach does not result in forgiveness of sins. Holy Confession does not spare us from spiritual struggle. We need to be vigilant against evil and sin. It will bear fruit in the Spirit only when we choose to hate evil, reject sin and slowly cultivate positive habits of the life in Christ.
Source: Lychnos February/March 2020