Confession

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Confession (or repentance) is one of the holy mysteries (or sacraments) in the Orthodox Church, as well as many other Christian traditions. Through it, the penitent receives the divine forgiveness of Christ for any sins that are confessed. Confession is typically given to a Spiritual Father (usually a parish priest or monastic). Confession can be individual or general. The frequency of required confession (as well as whether or not general confession is permissible) can vary from parish to parish, and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

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Historical Development

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Confession In the Bible

Old Testament

"he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong." Num. 5:7


"Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and the guilt of their fathers. While they stood in their places, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day and spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship of the LORD their God." Nehemiah 9:2-3


"And read out publicly this scroll which we send you, in the house of the LORD, on the feast day and during the days of assembly: 'Justice is with the LORD, our God; and we today are flushed with shame, we men of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem, that we, with our kings and rulers and priests and prophets, and with our fathers, have sinned in the LORD'S sight and disobeyed him. We have neither heeded the voice of the LORD, our God, nor followed the precepts which the LORD set before us.'" Baruch 1:14-18


John the baptist

John the baptist practiced confession


"Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." Matthew 3:6


"And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins." Mark 1:5

The Church

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." James 5:16


"Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices." Acts 19:18


"Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses." 1 Timothy 6:12


"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Preparing for Confession

Reflection on the Ten Commandments is often recommended as part of an examination of conscience.

See also:

Frequency of Confession

Confidentiality

The secrecy of the Mystery of Penance is considered an unquestionable rule in the entire Orthodox Church. Theologically, the need to maintain the secrecy of confession comes from the fact that the priest is only a witness before God. One could not expect a sincere and complete confession if the penitent has doubts regarding the practice of confidentiality. Betrayal of the secrecy of confession will lead to canonical punishment of the priest.
St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite exhorts the Spiritual Father to keep confessions confidential, even under strong constraining influence. The author of the Pedalion (the Rudder), states that a priest who betrays the secrecy of confession is to be deposed. The Metropolitan of Kos, Emanuel, mentions in his handbook (Exomologeteke) for confessors that the secrecy of confession is a principle without exception.
From the Guidelines for Clergy (Orthodox Church in America)

In St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite's Exomologitarion, he writes:

"Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: "Have you heard a word? Let it die with you" (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: "Trust not in friends... beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her" (Mic. 7:5).
For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out. Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman. The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things."[1]

St. John of the Ladder writes:

"At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick."[2]

General Confession

Sources

Jurisdictional Resources

Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese

Greek Orthodox Resources

Orthodox Church in America

Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCOR)

Notes

  1. St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Exomologitarion: A Manual of Confession, trans. Fr. George Dokos (Greece: Uncut Mountain Press, 2006), p. 191f.
  2. St. John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Fr. Lazarus Moore (Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1979), p. 243.

Other Resources

  • Confession with Examination of Conscience and Common Prayers compiled and annotated by Paul N. Harrilchak (Reston, VA: Holy Trinity Church (OCA), 1996) ISBN 0930055012 (cloth) / ISBN 0930055020 (pbk.)

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