Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Am a Good Christian - Why Do I Need Confession?

... I am a steward of the Church, I help with the Greek Festival, I come to Church regularly, I am a good Christian overall, this is definitely not for me. I would have nothing to say.”

This way of thinking is not uncommon for a lot of the people. People are afraid of Confession because they don’t understand it. This is why a fair percentage of them just toss it on the same dusty shelf along with fasting, regular prayer schedule and church attendance. It is just something that they don’t want to deal with.

Part of the problem is a gross misconception about this sacrament: Confession is only for grave sins like murder, adultery, grand theft auto and the sort. The other sins are just normal, regular “stuff” that everybody does therefore they don’t need to be confessed. So if I don’t have anything big to confess then I don’t go to Confession.

Regarding our life with such lenience makes us to overlook many faults and shortcomings that are important for our spiritual progress. We glance at our lives through a distorted mirror, and we construct a false mental idea about who we really are. Having a skewed image about ourselves, thinking that we are actually better that we are in reality is a huge stumbling block in our path toward salvation.

Often people consider that overcoming the big sins is actually the final destination and once they reach a comfortable stage many loose the drive to go further, to be “perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:48), to reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

The spiritual life is about reaching this very perfection in Christ. If our final goal is to achieve the likeness of God, then our spiritual journey has no end. Stopping at any point on the way and thinking that we’ve reached the destination is only foolishness and deception. The moment I think I’ve reached the end, the ascent is over, and, without realizing it I am actually going down, starting to loose what I have accomplished so far.

The image taken from the vision of Jacob, the ladder going from earth unto to heaven is the perfect depiction of our spiritual ascent. In the classical iconographic representation some people are climbing the ladder; others are falling down from it, some falling even when they had only a few steps till the end. This is because our struggle for salvation does not end after passing one or two big steps but only after reaching all the stages, after living not just some of our life but all our life. We can still loose everything in a heartbeat if we loose our focus.

From this perspective every aspect of our spiritual life is important. Obviously the big things are central but many times one does not get there overnight but often after a period filled with the “petty” stuff that pile up and lead to greater things. We don’t have to wait until something big happens, but we should maintain our spiritual health by regularly checking our vital spiritual signs.

The true nature of Confession is deeply therapeutic. Confession is not a tribunal but is a hospital for the sick. The priest is not a judge that analyzes the facts and then gives you a sentence; he is rather a doctor that tries to diagnose the state of your soul and helps you improve its spiritual shape. If there is disease he applies treatment, if there is health he assists you reach the next stage in your heavenly ascent.

If we expect help from the Church on our spiritual life, we cannot contend ourselves with general advice: be good, don’t kill, don’t steal etc. In Church we are part of a shared support system that can apply personalized training to every one of us. Confession is at the foundation of this institution, because through Confession we can receive honest feedback about our real spiritual stage and recommendations for development. Missing on this important sacrament is to reject a big part of our spiritual experience and slap on the helping hand extended to us all the way from heaven.

by Fr. Vasile

in Gladsome Light Dialogues – An Orthodox Blog


  1. Very well written article. Thank You Father!

    Fr. George L. Livanos
    All Saints GOA, Canonsburg, PA

  2. My problem is quite different. I often become so obsessed with my confession that every mistake seems worthy of confession (like when I looked down and noticed I was speeding, I confessed that I wasn't mindful of the safety and well-being of others, being selfish). I've seriously considered carrying a notebook so I could remember all the things I need to for my next confession.

  3. A thought to consider:
    Saint Theophan the Recluse suggests the following routine each evening. Before your evening prayer time review the day and how you were able to deal with all the negative forces or not deal with them. Observe you weakness and then ask for God's help in the coming day to overcome them. Don't condemn yourself. Each morning then before you go about your daily activity think about all the situations you will face where you might be attached and think how you will deal with them.

    "Our Lord is like a mother who leads her child by the hand and does not abandon her, even if the child often trips and falls." St. Theophan

    Remember, God is merciful and understanding of our condition.
    There is no need to carry a note book around. In addition to this daily routine Saint Theophan tells us that it is important to figure out you main weakness and work on that. Some may be more important that others. Seek the pattern of your sinfulness and identify the main cause.

  4. “St Basil the Great, mouthpiece of Christ and pillar of the Church, says that a great help towards not sinning and not committing daily the same faults is for us to review in our conscience at the end of each day what we have done wrong and what we have done right. Job did this with regard both to himself and to his children (cf. Job 1.5). These daily reckonings illumine a man’s hour-by-hour behavior.”- St. Hesychios

  5. These quotes are good medicine indeed. I am not worthy of them, but I will try as they suggest.