Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Letters to My Children - Letter 11: Confession

My dear children, I hope you have kept up with me on these letters. I know there will come a time, as it did for me, when you will have an intense desire to know God and to have communion with Him.  Then, you will surely find these letters useful. This one is about confession.

Let’s start with the idea of sin. This was a word that I did not want to hear for many years because it had a negative connotation. I saw sin as something to be punished for. But this is an error in thinking. Sin is when we have failed to live up to the teaching and example of Christ. Christ loves us and only wants us to love Him. He is not in the business of handing out punishments to hurt us. The word “sin’’ literally means, in Greek, missing the mark. In this sense it is a positive thing, because when you discover sin in your life, you have recognized an event or pattern of action that does not conform with your faith and separates you from God. When you know your sin, you can improve and come closer to Him. Beware if you think you are not a sinner. Everyone is a sinner, and the closer you come to being united with God the more sinful actions you will recognize.

Confession is a process of overcoming our sinful nature. You begin by asking God for his forgiveness, making a commitment to change in how you think and act, and seeking the help of the Holy Spirt to do so.

Every night in your prayers you should review what happened during the day and acknowledge where you missed the mark. Then ask God for forgiveness and for His help to change how you act in the future. In addition to this daily activity there is a sacramental act that Christ has given us to totally cleanse our soul and conscience and erase any heavenly record of errant actions. It is the sacrament of Confession. It is like the renewal of our baptism. The Greek Orthodox Church teaches that you should participate in this sacrament whenever you feel burdened by your sinfulness and at least once or twice each year.

The sacrament is normally done in the church, or a chapel of the church, with a priest who has been given the office of confessor by the bishop. When the time appointed comes to do this with a priest, you will meet with him in the church and stand in front of an icon of Christ, often on the solea facing the iconostasis and in front of the icon of Christ to the right of the royal doors. The priest is by your side as your witness, and it is with joy that he hears your confession. He knows how important this is for your spiritual progress. He is not there to punish you, reprimand you, or judge you. He is there to help you become reconciled with God. He will ask you, while facing the icon of Christ, to say out loud looking while at the icon of Christ, "what is the sin you have committed that you want to eliminate from your life?" Then, after you have made a sincere confession, if moved by the Holy Spirit, the priest will ask you to kneel, place his stole over your head, and read the Prayer of Absolution. Afterward he may give you some guidance to help you overcome this type of sin. Remember he is doing this with love, all for your benefit. 

When you are finished he will remind you that God has forgiven you these sins and will help you in your efforts to change. You must then be sure to forgive yourself. If you don’t, you are making another error, because you are taking upon yourself the role of God. If you brought a paper with notes to assist you, he will ask you to respectfully burn it. Walking out of the Church, you are at that moment sinless. But you must remember that you still harbor passions and desires that give you the tendency to miss the mark again. Remembering this will help you stay focused on the work you need to do with God’s help.

Repentance through confession is central for life as an Orthodox Christian. When the time comes for us to leave this world we may not be perfect, but if we have sincerely and continually sought, through repentance and confession, to become more like Christ, we will be embraced by a merciful and loving God. This process must be more than a ritual or obligation. It must be done out of our love of God and combined with a dedicated effort to follow everything He has taught.

If it’s been a while since you have participated in this sacrament, talk with your priest or spiritual father, and arrange for a time to do this. You will be surprised how it will benefit you.

With much love,

Your Father 

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