Preparing for Holy Confession
The Mystery of Holy Confession
Why do we Confess?
God is the source of all life and joy. Our separation from His life, from the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, inevitably leads us to corruption, despair and death. In coming into this world and becoming one of us, God the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, defeats death through His own death and resurrection and offers to all who believe in Him and join themselves to Him the possibility of eternal life.
In the sacrament of Baptism we are mystically, yet really, joined to Christ and to His Living Body – the Church – through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit working in the baptismal waters. In Christ’s own words ‘…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ (John 3:5) Unfortunately in our everyday life, even after Baptism, we continue to reject God’s gift of life and His values in so many ways. As we come to terms with this fact and see how often we ‘miss the mark’, we understand that sin still has a hold over us and places a barrier between ourselves and God. ‘If we say that we have no sin,’ writes St John, ‘we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8)
The sacrament of Holy Confession then becomes for us the means by which we renew the saving work of Baptism in our lives and allows the healing power of God to restore the broken relationship between us and Him caused by our sin. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9)
Why is it important?
All sin disrupts our relationship both with God and with our neighbour. There is no such thing as a ‘private’ sin. Even our innermost thoughts ultimately have an impact on the way we behave and relate to others and God. It was understood by the Church from the earliest times that the only way to reconcile us once again with God and with those whom we have hurt, either directly or indirectly, was to have a public confession of sin. And so St James writes in his epistle: ‘Confess your trespasses to one another.’ (James 5:16) In this way sin is exposed and uprooted and is not allowed to spread either within the life of the individual or the Church like a spiritual cancer silently eating away at whatever is good and healthy.
In the early Church confession was made before the whole congregation but over the centuries the priest remained the sole witness of the Church before whom we make our confession to Christ. This maintained the ‘public’ nature of the sacrament while at the same time preserving the integrity of the act from people who might not show it due respect. The priest then exercises, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the authority which Christ bestowed on His apostles to proclaim God’s forgiveness on the one who has truly repented and confessed openly. ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20:23)
How to prepare for Confession?
The Sacrament itself is the final act in a process of self-examination and repentance before God. It cannot be done mechanically and without any spiritual preparation for we can only be forgiven for those things which we truly seek to put behind us. Before we go to Confession we need to spend some time alone in prayer and reflection so that we can come to terms not only with our actions but with who we are and what we are becoming. In silence we must ask God to reveal to us those things in our life which have become a barrier to our relationship with Him. If it is our first confession it is a good idea to look over our whole life so far and note down on a piece of paper those major incidents over the years for which we feel guilty or which in some way still occupy our conscience. Then we will look over our more recent life – the last few months, weeks and days – more closely. As a guide to prompt us it is good to read the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) and our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). These passages act as a spiritual mirror in which we can see a reflection of our inner self. As God brings things to mind we note them down and can then take this ‘list’ with us to confession. In this way we can make sure that actually say everything we had intended and avoid skipping those sins which may cause us most embarrassment or shame.
What happens at Confession?
Every priest may conduct Confession slightly differently but generally the priest (wearing an epitrachilion or stole) will say an introductory prayer and then invite us to sit facing an icon of Christ and make our confession. Sometimes the priest may ask questions to prompt us or to clarify a point but generally we should approach the meeting as we would a visit to the doctor. We come to describe to the priest our sins which are the symptoms of our spiritual disease as honestly and as openly as we can so that he can pray to God for our forgiveness and also advise us as to how to tackle and overcome these sins in everyday life. Our confession therefore has to be clear, without excuses and without discussion of the sins of others. We must trust that God knows all of our circumstances and He will excuse us if need be. We have to take to Him and ask forgiveness for the inexcusable part which is the sin. At the end of our confession the priest may advise us and sometimes give us an epitimio or penance which is not a punishment, rather a ‘medicine’ to help eradicate sin from our life. He will then ask us to kneel while he places the epitrachilion over our head and reads the prayer of forgiveness encouraging us to be confident in God’s mercy and love for us. For every Orthodox Christian a heartfelt confession is an opportunity cleanse our inner life and to make a new beginning in our relationship with God – an opportunity to enter once again into the life and joy of God’s Kingdom.
Where do I go for Confession?
Rev. Anastasios Bozikis
Assistant Parish Priest of St.Geroge Brisbane (QLD).
Examine yourself with the following:
The Ten Commandments
I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.
Has God been the source, center and hope of my life? Have I put myself, others or things before God? Have I failed to trust in God’s existence, love and mercy? Have I failed to pray to God, to worship Him and to thank Him for His blessings? Have I tried to serve God and keep His commandments faithfully? Have I murmured or complained against God in adversity? Have I praised and glorified God through my words and deeds?
You shall not make for yourself a graven image in order to worship it.
Have I valued anyone or anything above God? Have I given to anyone or anything the love, honor and worship that belongs to God alone? Have I made and idol of any person, idea, occupation, or thing?
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Have I blasphemed God’s holy name in any way? Have I sworn a false oath? Have I broken any solemn vow or promise? Have I entered into an agreement, promise or contract against God’s law? Have I cursed or used foul language?
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
Have I worshiped regularly on Sundays and major feast days and have I helped others to do the same? Have I worked unnecessarily on Sundays or major feast days or caused others to do so? Have I spent the Lord’s Day in a wholesome and edifying ways?
Honour your father and mother
Have I loved and respected my parent s as I should? Have I neglected them or failed to help them? Have I disobeyed them, deceived them or caused them pain by my words or deeds? Have I treated all my family members with patience and love?
You shall not kill.
Have I caused the harm, injury or death of anyone? Have I wished my own or anyone’s harm or death? Have I been cruel to animals or destroyed any life unnecessarily?
You shall not commit adultery.
Have I committed any immoral acts alone or with others? Have I caused others to commit immoral acts? Have I committed immoral acts in my heart?
You shall not steal.
Have I taken anything that was not mine from anyone or from anywhere? Have I cheated anyone? Have I caused others to steal or cheat? Have I tried to find the owners of lost things I have found? Have I damaged or destroyed anything that belonged to another? Have I defrauded anyone of rightful wages? Have I paid my debts? Have I given to the poor and to philanthropic causes in proportion to my means?
You shall not bear false witness.
Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?
You shall not covet.
Have I looked with envy jealousy or hatred toward the possession talents or achievements of others? Have I desired the downfall or loss of others out of evil intent that I might benefit? Have I grieved that God has bestowed greater blessings on others than on me?
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Have I truly recognized my complete dependence on God? Have I been proud arrogant and self-righteous in my ways? Have I been selfish, possessive and self-seeking? Have I sought after status power and wealth?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Have I endured difficulties and afflictions with faith and patience? Have I felt sadness for the sufferings of the poor, the hungry, and addicted; the sick, the lonely and the sinful of the world? Have I truly been sorrowful for my sins and faults?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Have I tried to serve or rather to dominate others at home, school, work, office, Church and elsewhere? Have I nursed against anyone? Have I been resentful, bitter, unforgiving or insulting and abusive to others? Have I loved my enemies?
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Have I truly yearned for God’s will to be done in all things? Have I worked for justice in my family, society and the world in ways with in my reach? Have I tried to cultivate a righteous life through prayer, fasting, worship, receiving Holy Communion and deeds of love toward others?
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Have I shown compassion and help toward the poor, hungry, lonely and needy around me? Have I tried to understand and forgive others? Have I been indifferent judgmental or legalistic?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Have I loved goodness, purity and holiness? Have I succumbed to evil motives and intentions? Have I given way to impure thoughts, words or deeds? Have I been guilty of bias and prejudice? Have I been hypocritical, pretentious or self-indulgent to sinful passions?
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
Do I have God’s peace in my heart? Have I been unfairly angry, aggressive or impatient? Have I worked for peace at home, work, Church and in society? Have I been irritable, polemical, or divisive?
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Have I complained when persecuted for God’s sake? Have I prayed for my persecutors? Have I failed to defend anyone in the truth for fear of humiliation or persecution? Have I had the courage to stand up for what is right despite criticism, ridicule or persecution?
Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you on my account; rejoice and be clad, for your reward is great in heaven
Is the joy of Christ in my heart even in trying moments? Have I been pessimistic despondent or despairing? Have I truly delighted in the promise of God’s treasures in heaven?