Monday, March 8, 2010

Objections to Confession

So frequently we here all the excuses about why people do not participate in Confession when this is one of the most loving and powerful sacraments of the Church.  Archimandrite Seraphim Alekslev examines some of these excuses in his beautiful book The Forgotten Medicine.


"HOW GREAT must be our wickedness! We do not turn to Confession not only because we forget about it, but we do not practice it even when we know about it. What can be more imprudent than this?

Confession is so important to us sinners that we must boldly say: there is no salvation for us without Confession. Abba Isaiah expresses the same thought: "If there were no repentance, nobody would be saved. just as Baptism cleanses us from original sin and from all sins committed prior to Baptism, so repentance, involving a confession of our sins, cleanses us from all lawlessness committed after Baptism."

We do not confess because we have objections to Confession. What are our objections usually?

Here are the main ones:

1) One says: "I am so sinful! Can God forgive my sins?
I do not believe this! That is why there is no use for me to go to Confession."

But if a man repents sincerely, any sin can be forgiven him. "The power of repentance is based on the power of God. The Doctor is all-powerful, and the Medicine given by Him is all-powerful" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).

St. John Chrysostom, pondering on the miraculous results of sincere repentance, says: "Repentance is a medicine which destroys sin. It is a heavenly gift, a marvelous force which through the grace of God conquers the might and strictness of the laws. It accepts all and transforms all…

Do not tell me: "I have sinned much, how can I save myself?" You cannot, but your God can, and He can do it so that all your sins will be destroyed….


Sin is to God's love for man what the spark is to the sea, not even that, but something much smaller! The sea, however big it may be, has an end, but God's love for man is limitless.

2) Another says: "Why should I go to Confession? I have no special sins.
Let those who have murdered, stolen, raped, or committed some other sin go to Confession."

This objection to Confession is the complete opposite of the first one... Here, there is a lack of any realization of wickedness….

Let those who say, "I have no special sins," answer whether they have Christ in their hearts. He likes to inhabit pure hearts. But are their hearts pure? Hardly! They imagine that they are pure, but imagination is not reality. lf we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). And where there is a lie, there Christ is not.

The Holy Fathers teach us that It Is very hard for a man to see his sins….

It turns out that those who think that they do not have any great sins are actually blind. They must pray to God to enable them to perceive their sins and to save themselves from the extremely fatal spiritual delusion that they do not have any particular sins. Even if their sins are as small as specks of dust, if they are not cleaned with constant Confession, they pile up and dirty the room of the heart so that the high heavenly Guest cannot enter there.

The small sins are often more dangerous than the greatest crimes, because the latter weigh heavily on the conscience and insist on being atoned for, confessed, settled, erased, while the small sins do not weigh too much on the soul, but they have that perilous property of making it insensitive to the grace of God and indifferent to salvation. ….

In order for man to restore his spiritual life, he needs to confess even the smallest of his sins.

3) A third man says: "All this is true. But why should I confess when I know that tomorrow I will sin again? Is there any point In such confession? I see that one should confess only if one would sin no more after that!"
This objection to Confession contains both something which is very true and something which is not. The right thing here is the desire not to sin any more after Confession. But we are feeble humans, and we cannot attain right away such a firmness which makes falling into voluntary sins impossible. If we cannot reach such steadfastness in virtue right away, should we surrender to vice? Or should we stop confessing? Which is better––to roll in the mud of the spiritual swamp, or to pick yourself up after each fall and go on with the hope that someday you may reach the solid and beautiful shore of virtue? If you do not confess, you remain in the mud. If you confess, you pick yourself up from the mud and clean yourself. "But why should I get up if tomorrow I will fall again?" you say. When you fall again, then get up again! Every day begin all over again! This is undoubtedly better than falling out of the habit of getting up….

Leave your house unswept, uncleaned, and unventilated for one year! Will it not turn into a pigsty? Now think about what the soul of a man is like when he has not cleaned it through Confession, not only for a year, but for twenty, forty, sixty, or seventy years!...

4) A fourth man says: "I am confessing before God. What need is there for me to go to the priest?"
... God has ordained the priest to administer the Holy Sacraments so that we can receive through them heavenly all-saving grace. Confession is a sacrament, too. If you confess before God, you are doing well, because you are moving your conscience, remembering your sins, and maybe even shedding tears for them. Yet you do not receive God's grace of forgiveness through all that. ...until you go to the priest to whom Jesus Christ Himself has given the power to bind and loose, no matter how much you confess before God, you do not receive forgiveness for your sins, because God Himself has condescended to say to the priest: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them (John 20:23).

Besides, Confession before a priest has an enormous instructive meaning. It humbles us. It cures our pride; it makes us blush savingly; It instills in us shame and fear and thus protects us from future sins.

"But how can the priest absolve sins?" you ask. He can, since God has ordered it so. "But is the priest himself not a sinful man?" If lie is sinful, what do you lose from that? He is sinful for himself and will answer before God for his sins. The Holy Sacraments administered by him do not cease to be active for you because of his sinfulness if you accept them with faith and humility. Does the sunray get dirty when it falls on mud? In the same way, God's grace does not lessen by being transmitted by a priest muddled with sins. He himself may be denied grace on Judgment Day because of his sinfulness, but you, accepting through him God's grace, will not deprive yourself of it if you show yourself to be worthy.

"But will the priest not give away the secret of my confessed sins?" No! No priest has the right to tell of that which he has heard during Confession. He has to take the secret of the Confession to his grave. So do not worry that the shame of your sinfulness may be announced to society.

But remember that if you avoid Confession because of zeal for your honor, you will shame yourself If you are ashamed to admit your weaknesses before one man, everyone will begin talking about them! Such is the spiritual law. People sense our weaknesses, no matter how diligently we hide them. If you confess them before one man, God, because of your humility before this single witness, will cover you with His grace before the many.

...Your confession will teach you to struggle with your passions; and if you are really fighting against them, the multitude of people will not find out about them. You, with God's help, will be healed before you have shamed yourself. But if you do not want to be healed through Confession, then you will both expose your name to abuse here and then be disgraced before the whole universe at the Last Judgment!"

From: The Forgotten Medicine, pp 29-39

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