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Mystery of Confession

The Tragedy of Sin
While people complain of their various sorrows, it must be remembered that they are not our main misfortunes. The foremost evil are our sins! Indeed, while sin destroys a person permanently, sorrows and misfortunes accepted as Godís will bring spiritual salvation. Our sins are chains and bonds that enslave and drag us down into the netherworld, and unless we free ourselves from them, we will be unable to inherit life eternal.

Just like physical afflictions, sins are distinguished by the magnitude of their evil and destructiveness.

Mortal sins are gross violations of the laws that impact upon the soul in the most destructive manner, denying it communion with God. These deathly sins include: Godlessness, engage in occult teachings (Hinduism, Theosophy etc.), deviation from the true Faith, mocking sacred things, blasphemy, sorcery, spiritism, murder, adultery, robbery, debauchery, calumny, perjury... Having committed a mortal sin and fallen away from God, the individual succumbs to the influence of evil spirits, who lead him still further into greater sins. Unless that person realises his sorry plight and turns to God for help, his soul will be damned forever.

Daily sins, similar to ordinary rubbish, are those that are accumulated on the surface of our souls. These include foolish thoughts, feelings and deeds that a person commits, not because of evil intentions but through spiritual weakness and carelessness toward spiritual life. These daily sins are also damaging to the moral state of the person. While in relatively small numbers they do not deprive the soul of Godís grace, they nevertheless weaken its love for God and spawn feelings of indifference toward Christian living. This, in turn, inclines a person toward new and sometimes more serious transgressions. Just as a significant number of grains of sand can outweigh a brick, so can an accumulation of "minor" sins become more damaging than a single mortal sin. Especially destructive sins are those committed through habit, eg: swearing, smoking, over-drinking, indulging in mental, erotic fantasies, viewing pornographic films and photographs, self-defilement, judging your relatives, gossip etc.

Christianity in general and preparation for the Sacraments specifically, release us from degradation of sin and assist us to become righteous and blessed children of God. Confession and Holy Communion serve as very effective modes toward achieving this, especially when the person approaches them with the necessary preparation and zealousness. The whole time (consisting of penance at home, prayer, spiritual thoughts, fasting and confession in church) spent before partaking of the Sacraments is called the Preparatory period.

Preparatory Period
Preparation for the partaking of the Sacraments usually covers a number of days and applies both to the physical as well as the spiritual life of the person. In the Mystery of Holy Communion, through the Consecration of the Gifts in the form of bread and wine, a person partakes of the blessed Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ, and through this Mystery, joins Him as He Himself said: "He that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him" (John 6:56). Through this mysterious union, the weak and sinful individual in effect subordinates himself to Divine living and as a consequence, is wholly transfigured and renovated internally.

Throughout this period, which usually takes place during the main fasts (Great, Christmas, Apostles and Dormition Fasts), it is necessary to refrain from eating opulent foods, physical pleasures and any other excesses, instead endeavouring to remain in prayerful communion with God. During fast periods, foods that are derived from animal meat, milk, butter, fat, eggs are excluded from the diet ó also fish during strict fasts. Bread, vegetables, grains, cereals and fruit should be consumed in moderation. The mind should not be distracted with idle and sinful thoughts. According to prevailing circumstances, one should attempt to attend church Services as often as possible.

When the preparatory period falls outside any of the Church established Lents, the Christian should at least observe the Fast days ó Wednesday and Friday ó and once again refrain from any excesses and physical pleasures for a few days. The Christian should augment his prayers, read spiritual books, meditate on God and endeavour to remain in communion with Him. Before Holy Communion, it is imperative to repent your sins by going to Confession to your spiritual father so that your soul would be worthy to receive the great Host ó your Lord and Saviour.

On the eve of Holy Communion, apart from reading your evening prayers, it is advisable to read the Canon before Holy Communion. The clergy and the more zealous individuals from the laity, additionally read the canons to the Holy Theotokos and the Guardian Angel. After midnight, you are not allowed to eat, drink and of course, smoke. In the morning of the day of Holy Communion, after concluding the morning prayers, it is advisable to read the Canon before Holy Communion. All these prayers can be found in the Prayerbook.

In the main, rules relating to the preparatory period apply to adult and healthy members of the Church. The infirm, aged and children that cannot fast stringently do not lose Godís mercy and can still partake of the Sacraments. Children under seven years of age do not have to fast or go to Confession. The elderly, ill, children under 14 years of age and pregnant women are also released from strict fasts.

How to Prepare for the Mystery of Repentance
This preparation consists in dwelling on the sins you have committed, feeling contrition and a firm determination not to repeat them, at the same time endeavour to make amends through commensurate good deeds.

In the Mystery of Repentance, Godís grace forgives the sinful guilt, heals and revitalises the soul and grants the strength to struggle with your weaknesses. Saint Theophan the Recluse advises: "Go into yourself mentally and begin sorting as to whatís happening there. The interference of any outside body into this exercise is totally inappropriate... In order to really examine yourself thoroughly, you need to pay attention to three sides of our active life ó on deeds, singular actions (thought, word, deed), complete in a specific place under specific circumstances, on your inner disposition and the inclinations of your character, under hidden actions, and on the general essence of your life."

If we wish to receive not only Godís forgiveness for the guilt of every single sinful action but also rejuvenation of the soul, we must basically focus our attention on our innermost disposition. Sometimes a person may do a good deed (or abstain from an evil one) not from a pious impulse but rather from false motives, eg. desire to receive praise from others, or from fear of punishment. Consequently, this type of good deed may hide from the person himself the sinful disposition of his heart, making a true confession difficult.

Likewise, an evil deed (or wicked words or thoughts) or abstention from doing a good deed may uncover the true disposition of the heart, making a true confession easier.

A person may be free from any conscious thoughts, condemning any of his specific sins, yet this absence does not necessarily show his revulsion for that sin, but rather his internal Pharisee-like feelings ó censoring his conscience so that the sin is not revealed.

In every person, thoughts-feelings and sins are bound among themselves as cause and effect, substance and emergence. Some sinful inclinations ó by their very nature ó are diametrically opposed to one another (sometimes both are present in a person), such as: laziness toward pleasing God yet being mindlessly zealous, hoarding and proclivity toward lavishness, outward humility and internal pride, etc. Some sins can attach themselves to good deeds, lust ó to love, self-serving ó serving others. Other sinful tendencies impede true repentance: these include self-justification, self-evaluation, egoism, false feeling of shame. For a deeper self-understanding, it would be very beneficial to connect these traits to oneself, thereby achieving a more complete atonement.

While we are not guilty of sin by having sinful thoughts, offered to us by the demons (not until we have agreed to them), it is better to refer them to your experienced spiritual father, so as to lighten your struggle with them. Preparing yourself for Confession and the confession itself is a difficult process.

It is very important for every person preparing for Confession to test oneself and experience remorse and shame. While an inattentive and superficial confession will not produce the necessary improvement, an overscrupulous self-examination can lead to fear and despair. Consequently, in the preparatory process, one has to beseech Godís help for enlightenment and protection.

During the preparatory period you need to:
- In the first instance, remember all the sinful acts and tendencies that your conscience has been gnawing at you.
- It would be good to examine your relationships with everyone close to you. In the absence of any existing obvious sins committed by us (arguments, misunderstandings, insults or hurts, anger) there could be sins that have not been recognised or perceived as such: rejoicing at the misfortune of others, envy, indifference, slyness, falsely ó covetously amiable, and other hidden dispositions, which structure a distorted picture of our close one. A confession would reveal this.
- It is imperative to elucidate your attitude toward the will of God, as expressed in the Gospelís decrees, as well as your feelings toward Christian acts of benevolence in general, eg: a) Directives of the Holy Scripture, which I love, even though I do not fulfil them as I want to; b) Directives, which I cannot understand their essence; c) Directives, which my heart does not accept. The last assertion is the most dangerous as it reflects an attachment to sin.

In order to determine how your sinful inclinations developed, it is desirable to go back to your early childhood days.

It is beneficial to recall the events of the day, of the week, month and past year. This assists your daily mindful confession to God after saying your prayers before retiring. Recollection of your sins is the basis of Repentance upon which Christian ethics revolve.

You can pay particular attention to your normal responses & internal feelings in times of illness, sorrows, temptations, misfortunes, & conversely, during your fortunate periods of your life.

After a repentant analysis of your individual sinful inclinations, you may ponder over the general spirit of your life. Church experience offers a slate of helpful measures in formulating a disciplinary approach to Confession. Primarily, this involves listing on paper all the sins that you have committed since your last confession. For people not used to going to confession systematically (often) and as a consequence, not having a developed sense of "sin recall," this is a very effective way of preparing yourself for Repentance.

Sometimes during a confession, people cite poor memory as the reason for not recollecting their sins. Indeed, we often and quickly forget our sinful acts. However, does this really occur through a weak memory alone? In instances when someone has hurt our pride, or when we are unjustly offended, or on the contrary, when someone flatters us ó we remember these things for many years. Everything that produces a strong impression upon us is remembered clearly and for a long time. Therefore, is it not true to say that we forget our sins because we do not accord them serious significance?

When and How is a Confession Performed?
Usually a confession is performed either in the evening during Vespers or before the beginning of Liturgy, during the reading of the Hours. If there are very many faithful that want to confess, it may be practical to have a general confessional. In this instance, the priest reads the sermon on Repentance, naming all the established sins outlined on a list. Those attending, repent their sins mentally before God. Afterwards, any person that has committed a sin outside those mentioned on the list, or one that is sufficiently grave to require an individual confession, approaches the priest and repents before him.

In reconciling the person with God through the prayer of Absolution, the priest performs this not through his personal authority, but through the command of our Lord, Jesus Christ (Matthew 18:18; John 20:23).

During confession, donít await questions from the priest and outline your sins: after all a confession is a great and self-enforcing deed. Speak concisely, avoiding the use of expressions that try to hide the ugliness of the sin (eg. "sinned against the 7th Commandment"). During a confession it is very difficult to avoid the temptation of self-justification, or refrain from attempting to explain to the spiritual father of the "mitigating circumstances," or blaming third parties for leading us into sin. All this stems from our egoism and false shame.

A sure indication that God had accepted a repentance, is when that person experiences a feeling of weightlessness and joy after confession.

The Spiritual Father and Obedience to Him
A spiritual father is a priest to whom a person regularly comes for confession and spiritual guidance. Just as a person frequents the same doctor for his illnesses, because being familiar with his ailments and physical background, the treatment would be more successful, so should he stay with the one priest for his spiritual therapy. The relationship with him should be built on sincerity, understanding and trust. Repentance should always be undertaken freely and not under duress.

A spiritual father should not offer uncalled for advice or assume the role of a sagacious "starets." The responsibility of the spiritual father is to help individuals realise their deficiencies, remember their sins and show genuine repentance. If the repentant, with prayer and reliance on God, asks his priest for spiritual advice, God (in recognition of the seekerís faith) would implant into the spiritual father as to what to say to that individual.

Although it is desirable to have the same spiritual father on an ongoing basis, it is certainly not essential condition for the act of repentance. In essence, God cures our spiritual sores, while the priest acts as a "guide" to His grace.

Some churches have special spiritual fathers that conduct Confessionals outside the church Services. Consequently, a confession should not be regarded as a precursor to partaking of the Sacraments. While during some feast periods it is permissible to have Holy communion for a number of days (after having the initial confession) without going to confession each time, contrary to this ruling, some spiritual fathers insist on a confession each time, alienating the worshipper from the Sacraments during those holy days.

Private Repentance
The Mystery of Repentance cleanses and rejuvenates a person. Together with the Mystery of Holy Communion, it joins us tightly with Christ, reconciles us with the Church and God, and reinstates us as worthy sons.

All these gifts are granted to a Christian as a result of his struggles (with Godís help and benevolence) against sin. Before retiring for the night and during the evening prayers, it is beneficial to repent your sins so that they do not accumulate in your soul and become a heavy burden. It is necessary to recall your words and deeds during the day that may have left an unpleasant residue on your soul.

During this penitent state, the person should unhurriedly focus on his sins when confessing them to God. One has to plead for help not to transgress. This type of wholehearted repentance between a person and his sins, produces Godís grace that strengthens the determination to free oneself from one or another type of sinful habits.

Daily solitary repentances at home (where the only active participants are a personís conscience and God) helps that person to restore within himself the image of God, accustoms him to self-control and timely assists him to delete sinful thoughts and desires. Once a person develops home repentance as a habit, he then knows exactly what to say to his spiritual father-priest during Confession. He is able to open his soul completely to God, even during a general Confession when the priest is not in a position to hear his sins individually. In these circumstances, standing in the middle of the church with the other repentants, he quietly confesses his sins immediately before God Himself, in the firm belief that he will be heard.

What to Confess?
Prayers for the Sacrament

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OFFSITE: Guidance to the Repentant - Original, unaltered article.
OFFSITE: Photography of Jovana Kabadajic