THE MEANING OF CONFESSION

by V. Rev. Sergius Chetverikov

 

THE PERIOD OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT is a time when we are invited to come to confession and receive Holy Communion.

We are now in this period. All too often we receive no benefit from it. This lack of progress is caused by a careless attitude to Lent. A serious attitude demands our understanding of Confession and Communion and why these Sacraments exist in the Orthodox Church.

In order to understand clearly the meaning of confession, let us look at our inner, spiritual life.

Two principles are always struggling within us — good and evil. True Christian life begins for us only when we consciously take the side of good and try to vanquish evil.

We are not leading a Christian life so long as we are careless in our spiritual life, so long as we do not distinguish good from evil and passively hand ourselves over to our desires and inclinations. Only when we become acutely aware of our inadequacy, condemn ourselves and seek renewal — only then do we begin Christian life.

Let us look at the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee goes to the temple, he does many good deeds — but we still cannot say that he has true life. Why? He is completely satisfied with himself. He has no experience of his impurity. He boasts about his righteousness. he has not yet seen the abyss of his sinfulness. The Publican, on the contrary, cannot boast of any good deeds. But he has seen clearly the abyss of his sinfulness, and this vision has made him sorrowful. He asks only one thing of God — mercy, salvation. This is true Christianity!

It sometimes happens that a person does not pay attention to his inadequacies and even his sins and lives thoughtlessly for a long time — and when the time comes his eyes are opened. The eyes of some are opened suddenly, unexpectedly; in the lives of others this can take place slowly and with much difficulty.

Let us apply what has been said to ourselves. Observe some of your actions, intentions, and words. Yesterday you offended your neighbor with rude, harsh words, an insulting suspicion or poisonous mockery. The day before yesterday your spirit was pursued and muddied by a dirty, base desire, and you not only failed to drive it away, but even tried to take pleasure in it. You were given the opportunity to sacrifice your free time or your comfort in order to be of assistance to someone, but you did not do this. The list can go on.

If you are attentive and honest you will see that your life is a whole network, an enormous tissue of small and great abominations. This filth constitutes a considerable portion of your existence.

If we do not pay attention to all this, thinking that it is all normal and as it should be, we have not even begun to live as Christians.

Our Christian life will begin only when we say: No! I don’t want this to live in my soul! I want to be pure and good! I want to be a real Christian!

As soon as you try to start out on this road, you will see how difficult, painful and exhausting is the struggle with evil in yourself.

Sometimes it is only when you have already pronounced the harsh words or performed the evil actions that you begin to understand that you should not have said or done something. You realize that your whole inner life is defiled, corrupted by evil inclinations; your thoughts are confused, your desires are befouled, your will is enfeebled.

How can a person free himself from all this corruption? How can it be eliminated? Must we retain it against our will? Sometimes a person has a sense of liberation when he shares his sorrows with someone else. We only share our sorrow with others in this way, however, we are not liberated from it. Another and more certain means of salvation is required. This means is the grace of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confession.

We know that Jesus Christ brought holy life to this world. This holy life is given to men by the Church in the holy Sacraments. The Church is established so that through her we can cleanse ourselves from all sinful corruption.

In establishing the Sacrament of confession, Jesus Christ said to His disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23).

Priests, by the authority God gives them, forgive the sins of penitents, and the grace of the Holy Spirit purifies their hearts.

Confession, therefore, is not an incomprehensible custom which must be observed for some unknown reason. It is a tremendously important and necessary means of our moral recovery and correction.

A person who avoids confession can be compared to one who has a physical ailment and, while aware that there is medicine available for this ailment’s treatment, does not use the medicine out of laziness and carelessness and in this way allows his condition to deteriorate.

Our sins are a sickness of our souls. We are given a sure treatment for this sickness. Those who do not resort to this medicine retain their sin and increase their impurity.

From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
March 1970
p. 7

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