As Orthodox Christians, our spiritual journey in the life of the Church
begins with the Sacrament of Baptism. It is during this 'mystery' that
we are cleansed of the original sin of man and made pure through the
purifying waters of the Baptismal Font. It is during this service that
we also receive the Sacrament of Chrismation, 'the seal of the gift
of the Holy Spirit,' and the Eucharist, 'Holy Communion.' We begin our
spiritual journey clothed in a garment of righteousness whose whiteness
reflects the purity of our soul.
Throughout our lives, we strive to follow the teachings of Christ
and the Church. We are called to be 'God-like,' to follow the example
that Jesus set before us, and live a pure and blameless life. Yet, sadly,
we fall short. Quite often we find ourselves giving into temptation
and falling into sin. It is this 'missing the mark' that threatens to
cause a separation in our relationship with God.
Confession, too, takes place within the Church. It is not a private
procedure, a treatment of some guilt-ridden individual on an analyst's
couch. It is not based on an admission of guilt and certainly cannot
be reduced to a feeling of guilt, of liability for conduct contrary
to norms and laws which render a person subject to punishment. It is
related to what is deepest in man, to what constitutes his being and
his relation with other human beings as well as with God. It is a sacrament
- "the visible for of an invisible grace" (Saint Augustine),
re-establishing a bond of union between God and man, between man and
man. This is why confession also takes place within prayer because it
is there that a personal relationship in all its intensity is realized
both with God and the entire world. As such, confession and prayer are
not merely technical terms but means and opportunities offered by the
Church for overcoming sin and death. Repentance is indeed the cause
and consequence of prayer, being the highest and fullest foundation
for and form of prayer. "True prayer," according to Saint
Anthony, "is that in which one forgets that one is praying,"
and genuine repentance enables one to forget oneself and simply long
for God, who is present in the very depth of repentance. For it is "before
Him alone that one sins" (Psalm 50:3-4) - that is the personal
or relational aspect of both sin and repentance.
The Role of the Spiritual Father
As Christians, we have many ways to make sure that our relationship
with God continues to grow; the first of which is prayer. Both a strong
personal prayer life and participation in the sacramental life of the
Church are vital to keeping our spiritual tank full of fuel. The Church
in her wisdom also provides us with a guide - a Spiritual Father, who
will serve as our navigator assisting us along the way.
In the United States, it is usually the parish priest who fulfills
this role. It is from him that we receive the sacraments of the Church
and spiritual direction. The sacrament of penance is our formal act
of reconciliation with God and exists in the Church to allow for the
repentance and reconversion of Christians who have fallen away from
the life of faith.
Three Main Elements
There are three main elements to the act of formal repentance. The
first is our need to have sincere sorrow for our sins and for breaking
our communion with God. The second is our open and heartfelt confession
of sins. The third element is the formal prayer of absolution through
which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentally bestowed
on us as repented sinners. The fulfillment of the Sacrament of Confession
is the reception of Holy Communion and the genuine reconciliation of
the repentant sinner with God and all men according to the commandments
The Orthodox Church strictly adheres to the teaching of the Bible
that only God can forgive sins, that he does so through Christ in the
Church, that his conditions are genuine repentance and the promise of
change which are witnessed by confession; and that confession, by definition,
is the open and public acknowledgement of sin before God and all mankind.
It is important to remember that through confession God does not wish
to harm us, but rather help us turn away from sin and once again live
our lives according to His Teachings. In order to do this however, we
must take the time and prepare ourselves by praying to God to grant
us the wisdom to thoroughly examine our conscience, courage to make
a sincere and complete confession and strength to amend our ways.
The following is a prayerful examination of our feelings, thoughts,
words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction
and way of life. This self-examination includes not only our personal
religious life, but also our relationship with parents and families,
our social activities, work or school conduct, even our hobbies and
extra-curricular pursuits. That is because our entire existence, not
just our life in the Church, should be lived in Christ. The goal of
this sincere search of conscience under the light of the Holy Spirit
is not to condemn ourselves, but to know our true selves in Christ who
has given us access to God's mercy and forgiveness, and who has taught
us to live for God's glory.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: A SELF EXAMINATION
1. I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE
Have I believed in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Have
I failed to trust in God and His mercy? Have I complained to God when
faced with adversity? Have I been thankful for God's blessings? Have
I doubted the Christian faith and the teachings of the Church? Have
I tried to serve God and keep His commandments? Have I given way to
superstition? Have I neglected my duties to God through fear of ridicule
or persecution? Have I failed to pray to God faithfully? Have I put
myself before God?
2. YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FOR YOURSELF A GRAVEN IMAGE IN ORDER TO
Have I given to anyone the worship that is due to God alone? Have I
made an idol of any person or thing? Have I set before myself the holy
life of Jesus and tried to imitate Him? Have I read the Holy Scriptures
regularly? Have I been irreverent during Church Services, let my attention
wander, or been insecure? Have I neglected to receive Holy Communion
regularly or without due preparation?
3. YOU SHALL NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD YOUR GOD IN VAIN.
Have I profaned the holy name of God in any way? Have I cursed anyone
or anything, or sworn a false oath? Have I failed to give proper reverence
to holy, persons and things? Have I had due respect for the clergy of
the Church or hindered them in performing God's work? Have I broken
any solemn vow or promise? Have I entered into any unlawful contract
or made an unlawful promise?
4. REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY TO KEEP IT HOLY.
Have I stayed away from Church on Sundays or prevented others from
going? Have I done unnecessary work on Sundays? Have I spent the day
in an unwholesome fashion or profaned it by improper conduct? If I could
not go to Church because of illness or other grave cause, have I prayed
at home? Have I caused anyone else to profane the Lord's Day? Have I
kept the Fasts and Festivals prescribed by the Church?
5. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
Have I respected my parents and been ob-edient to them? Have I been
guilty of de-ception, or caused them pain by my words or actions? Have
I neglected them or failed to help them? Have I done my duty towards
my family? Have I been wanting in love or kindness towards my husband
(or wife), or harmed him (or her) in any way? Have I set my children
a good example and tried to bring them up properly? Have I corrected
their faults with patience and not with anger? Have I over-indulged
or spoiled them? Have I neglected my god-children and failed in my obligations
towards them? Have I worked for my employers honestly and diligently?
Have I treated fairly all those who have worked for me? Have I honored
God as my Heavenly Father by treating others as my brothers, and have
I honored the Church as my spiritual Mother by honoring and practicing
my religion in accordance with her teachings?
6. YOU SHALL NOT KILL.
Have I caused the injury or death of anyone, or wished that I were
dead? Have I done anything to shorten my own life or that of someone
else by injuring them, or through evil and intemperate living? Have
I given way to anger or harmed others with words or action? Have I defamed
others who needed help, or failed to stand up for those unjustly treated?
Have I been cruel to anyone? Have I mistreated animals or destroyed
any life unnecessarily? Have I failed to forgive anyone or harbored
evil thoughts against them?
7. YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
Have I given way to impure thoughts, words, or deeds? Have I committed
any un-worthy actions alone or with others? Have I degraded myself in
any way, or forgotten human dignity? Have I read immoral books or magazines,
or delighted in obscenity of any kind? Have I associated with bad companions
or frequented unsavory places? Have I eaten or drunk or smoked too much?
Have I been lazy, idle, or wasted my time? Have I led others to commit
sinful acts? Have I been unfaithful to any trust confided in me?
8. YOU SHALL NOT STEAL.
Have I stolen anything or wished to do so? Have I kept anything that
did not belong to me? Have I tried honestly to find owners of lost articles
I have found? Have I cheated anyone? Have I paid my debts? Have I lived
within my income, and not wastefully and extravagantly? Have I contributed
a fair percentage of my income to the Church as a steward? Have I given
to charitable causes in proportion to my means? Have I been honest and
9. YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS.
Have I told lies, or added to or subtracted from the truth? Have I
made careless state-ments or spoken evil of anyone? Have I told any
secrets entrusted to me, or betrayed any-one? Have I gossiped about
anyone or harmed their reputation? Have I concealed the truth, assisted
in carrying out a lie, or pretended to commit a sin of which I was not
guilty? Have I tried to see the good in others rather than their shortcomings?
10. YOU SHALL NOT COVET.
Have I envied anything good that has come to others? Have I been jealous
of another's good fortune? Have I wished for anything that was another's?
Have I damaged or destroyed the property of others? Have I wished for
things God has not given me, or been discontented with my lot? Have
I been stingy? Have I held back anything due another? Have I hoped for
the downfall of anyone so that I might gain by it? Have I failed to
be gracious and generous to anyone? Have I expected God to give me that
which I would refuse one of my fellow men?
After careful review of the self examination with regard to its relevance
in your daily life, your next step is to call Father Peter and schedule
an appointment for Confession. Please note that you are not confessing
your sins to the priest but to our Lord, in whose presence you stand.
'The most significant effect of confession is indeed due neither to
the penitent nor to the priest, but to God who heals our infirmities
and wounds. It is not a matter of a let-off, a clearance; it has the
force of healing, of making the penitent whole. As such it is a gift
from God which man must be open to receive, and learn to receive: "Let
us apply to ourselves the saving medicine of repentance; let us accept
from God the repentance that heals us. For it is not we who offer it
to Him, but He who bestows it upon us." It is significant that
the Greek for confession, exomologesis, implies not only confession
but also thanksgiving (cf. Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21): "I shall
confess/give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, and tell of all
His wonders" (Psalm 9:1).'
'Through the forgiveness of sins in confession, the past is no longer
an intolerable burden but rather an encouragement for what lies ahead.
Life acquires an attitude of expectation, not of despondency; and confession
becomes the way out of the impasse caused by sin. In this respect, repentance
is also an eschatological act, realizing in our very midst, here and
now, the promises of the age to come. Looking backwards would seem to
imply the fate of Lot's wife (Genesis 19:26) "No one who puts his
hand to the plow and looks back is fir for the kingdom of God"
(Luke 9:62). God Himself is revealed before us and walks in front of
us. "One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining
forward to what lies ahead." (Phil. 3:13).'