MEDITATION ON THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION
by Archpriest Jehad T. Michael
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according to the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions.”
So speaks the Holy Spirit to us through the mouth of that great Psalmist and Prophet David. The Spirit who would give to us fully from on high the gift and mystery of the Priesthood. The same Spirit which guides us now as we invoke Him to be in our meditations and deliberations. We strive here in these days to accomplish His will upon earth. So let us raise our thoughts from all earthly things.
I examined the Scriptures and found numerous reminders of God establishing the means whereby fallen man may be raised once again to the exalted heights of Heaven and renewed in the image and likeness of his Creator when I came upon this psalmic text. In these short verses God is portrayed with loving kindness and tender mercies toward us. He is ready to thoroughly wash away our sins and blot out our transgressions. He sets the path to repentance through the Sacrament of Confession. We need only to acknowledge our sins. Our love for Him is maintained and made integral and inseparable from our very being dependent directly upon the stirrings of our spirit. In other words, with stirrings, our soul knows victory. For as St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope. And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us,” (Romans 5:3-5).
When a Christian labors in the examination of his life, he comes to know in a significant way, the enormous joy of God’s philanthropic mercies by His ever-presence. For a Christian, the presence of Jesus through confession becomes a one-to-one, a face-to-face encounter, as you recall from the Confessional prayer of the Priest who says, “Remember my spiritual child that you come to Christ before whom you now stand. I am but a humble witness.” In this Sacrament the soul communes with Him and experiences the homeland of its heart’s desire.
In my reading of the chapters from the book entitled, Confession, A series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), I have gathered what I consider to be some of the characteristics of the striving of a Christian soul for Godly perfection. They are: conviction, boldness, willingness and perseverance. I believe that first and foremost, a repentant Christian holds in his heart the conviction that the Grace of God strengthens all weakness — “My Grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness,” (II Cor. 12:9). The second characteristic of the repentant one is boldness of spirit, for we are reminded by St. Paul, that “according to the eternal purpose which He proposed in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him,” (Eph. 3:11-12). The third characteristic of the penitent is willingness. For such an example, Exodus 35:5 tells us, “whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring an offering to the Lord”, an offering of the words, thoughts and deeds for examination by Christ Himself. And the last characteristic is perseverance. “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance”, (Eph. 6:18).
Such then are the characteristics: conviction, boldness, willingness and perseverance of a soul upon the path of repentance. How then may we as confessors aid them? We too must recall with conviction the unbounded Grace of God, our boldness to call down the Holy Spirit, that we may impart to the penitent His forgiveness. In such a manner we confessors, spiritual Fathers, make real the presence of Our Lord — “for where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in their midst,” (Matt. 18:20). As a reminder and caution, I say to you my beloved brothers in Christ, that the path of repentance for most will be set in the conditions of ordinary life. It is only too easy for us to tire of the ordinary and set up false expectations to hear extraordinary sins, in order to consider ourselves to be good Confessors. It is not so — for the weight of ordinary living carries with it many burdens which must be lifted. Furthermore, we must consider that the penitent Christian needs to reveal the secrets of his soul to God and us. Yet, more often than not, many will attempt to hide imperfections and to display often non-existent merits. We must be diligent upon this matter and encourage him to give up himself to God. “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, nor what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? — But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you,” (Matt. 6:25 & 33).
You and I, as spiritual fathers, may render life-giving help to the spiritual child who seeks to renounce former sins and burdens. Therefore, we are to accomplish our tasks with order, fear and careful prayer, and in the utmost of confidentiality, for Our Lord says to His Holy Apostles, “whatsoever ye shall lose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven, and whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven,” (Matt. 18:18).
The consequences of confession, this great mystery of repentance, for you and me, as well as those in our spiritual charge, will be multitudinous: sensibly, not surrounding oneself with transient vanities, concentration of thoughtful awareness of the Lord in our life, zeal which fills the soul to attain the Spirit of faith, and of course, communion with God.
The call of Confession is a claim which is ours and our loved ones. It is a conversion to a life which says, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” (Gal. 2:20).
We will do just as much good for our spiritual child as for our own self— for all labors are worth nothing in comparison with the return of one lost soul to God!
Father Michael is pastor of St. Mary Church in Omaha, Nebraska.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America