Two Different Ways to Make a Sincere Confession

St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) says there are two very different but equally acceptable ways to do a sincere and proper confession.  Though the two ways are very different, they both result in the same desired goal: one is humble before God.  Usually, today we think of confession as consisting of enumerating the sins we have committed.  St. Maximos says the other way is to list all the things in our lives for which we are thankful.

 

 “Every genuine confession humbles the soul. When it takes the form of thanksgiving, it teaches the soul that it has been delivered by the grace of God. When it takes the form of self-accusation, it teaches the soul that it is guilty of crimes through its own deliberate indolence.  

Confession takes two forms. According to the one, we give thanks for blessings received; according to the other, we bring to light and examine what we have done wrong. We use the term confession both for the grateful appreciation of the blessings we have received through divine favor, and for the admission of the evil actions of which we are guilty. Both forms produce humility. For he who thanks God for blessings and he who examines himself for his offences are both humbled. The first judges himself unworthy of what he has been given; the second implores forgiveness for his sins.”  

(THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 18272-80)

What Do I Have to Confess? I’ve Not Broken the 10 Commandments.

27115683561_ff3c6dacf6_mSometimes people ask what it is they might have to confess – they haven’t violated the 10 Commandments, so what else do people confess?

The 7th Century  martyr, St John of Damaskos , provides us with a list of vices which we might consider as we prepare for our confession.  For St. John, even some things we might consider to be normal human traits can be sinful or sins.  To uproot them from our own hearts requires us to admit to them so that we can overcome them.

“The passions of the soul are

forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance.

When the soul’s eye, the intellect, has been darkened by these three, the soul is dominated by all the other passions. These are

impiety, false teaching or every kind of heresy,

blasphemy, wrath, anger,

bitterness, irritability, inhumanity,

rancor, back-biting, censoriousness,

senseless dejection, fear, cowardice,

quarrelsomeness, jealousy, envy,

self-esteem, pride, hypocrisy,

falsehood, unbelief, greed,

love of material things, attachment to worldly concerns,

listlessness, faint-heartedness, ingratitude,

grumbling, vanity, conceit,

pomposity, boastfulness, love of power,

love of popularity, deceit, shamelessness,

insensibility, flattery,

treachery, pretence, indecision,

assent to sins arising from the soul’s passible aspect and dwelling on them continuously, wandering thoughts,

self-love: the mother of vices,

avarice: the root of all evil (cf. 1 Tim. 6:10),

and, finally, malice and guile.”

(THE PHILOKALIA , Kindle Loc. 22299-311)

Prepare for Confession: Examine Your Conscience

St. Tikhon of Moscow offers some thought on how to prepare for Confession by examining your own conscience.  These are questions we can ask ourselves to help us know what it is we have to confess at the sacrament.

“And that is why the Fathers of the Church persistently command Christians to be sober, attentive to themselves, to their thoughts, words, and deeds. ‘Every evening,’ says St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘enter your heart, reflect, and ask yourself,

“Have I offended God in any way?

Have I spoken an idle word?

Have I been negligent?

Have I offended my brother?

Have I judged someone?

When I opened my lips to glorify God, did my soul become dispersed among worldly things?

When sensuality awakened in me, did I take pleasure in it?

Was I carried away by earthly cares?”

If in all of these things you suffered failure, try to make up for it; sob, cry, in order not to suffer failure again.’”   (St. Tikhon of Moscow: Instructions and Teachings for the American Orthodox Faithful (1898-1907), Kindle Loc. 1154-1159)

What is True Repentance?

As we continue through the Nativity Fast, we know this season before Christmas, is a time for all of us to confess our sins before God and to acknowledge our need for God’s forgiveness.  Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos gives us a sense of the deep profoundness of confession.  It is not merely listing what commandments we have disobeyed.  He writes:

“Profound repentance is the entrance for the uncreated grace of God to man’s heart; it burns passions and makes man a bearer of Revelation.” (The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition, p 58)

True repentance is humbling our self before God, emptying our self to allow God to enter into our hearts.  It is the realization that I cannot save myself or make myself into God.  Only by cooperating with God, and recognizing God as Lord, can I attain theosis.    Deification is possible in this lifetime, on this earth, but I must completely open my heart to God to allow this to happen.  This is true repentance.

Enumerating sins in confession might lead to true repentance or might result from it, but it is not equivalent to it.

The Key to Evangelism: Repentance

“Today we call this cooperation with God in our lives in order to transform them synergia. The same teachings, practices, and sacraments that made new people out of pagan in the second century exist in the Church today, and they can accomplish the same thing. But for us to call others to this way, we have to be living transformed lives ourselves, or today’s pagans will not give us the time of day. As the author of the Second Epistle to Clement wrote: ‘For when the heathen hear from our mouth the oracles of God they wonder at their beauty and greatness; then discovering that our deeds are not worthy of the words we utter, they turn from their wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is all a myth and delusion.’ If we are going to evangelize successfully, we must stop making excuses for our own sins.” (Micheal Keiser, Spread the Word, p 680

 

The Sinful Neighbor

The Lenten Spring has come!

Even though we pray throughout Great Lent, “grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother/sister“, we often can’t help but notice when someone sins against us.  So what are we to do?

“It is better to pray devoutly for your neighbor than to rebuke him every time he sins.” (St. Mark the Ascetic in The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. 1, pg. 119)

And how many times should we forgive them?

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)

 

Committing and Confessing Sin

St. John Chrysostom taught that the failure to confess one’s sins in order to seek God’s forgiveness was a more grievous offense to God than sinning itself.  Living in the world of the Fall, we humans easily succumb to temptation and sin.  While this failure is an offense to God, even worse is to fail to acknowledge the sin and seek God’s mercy which God so readily offers to those who repent. Repentance is far more within our power than to resist temptation.  In sinning we may not intend to offend God, but in resisting repentance we are intentionally offending the God of love and mercy.

In one of the short wisdom sayings of the desert fathers, it is clear that in the very instant we sincerely repent, God forgives.  It is our reluctance to repent that is offensive to God. Chrysostom says:

“You see, confession is of the greatest efficacy for correction of faults. Thus, as proceeding to deny guilt after committing sin proves worse than the sins themselves – which was the condition of that man who killed his brother [i.e. Cain, see Genesis 4] and who when questioned by the loving God did not merely decline to confess his crime but even dared to lie to God.”

(St. John Chrysostom: Homilies on Genesis 18-45, p 39)

 

The Medicine of Repentance

 “Once we regard Confession as fundamentally Christ’s action rather than our own, then we shall begin to understand the sacrament of repentance in a far more positive way. It is an experience of God’s healing love and pardon, not merely of our own disintegration and weakness.

We are to see, not just the prodigal son, plodding slowly and painfully upon the long road home, but also the father, catching sight of him when he is still a long way off and running out to meet him (Lk 15:20). As Tito Colliander puts it, ‘If we take one step toward the Lord, He takes ten steps toward us.’ That is precisely what we experience in Confession. In common with all the sacraments, Confession involves a joint divine-human action, in which there is found a convergence and ‘cooperation’ (synergeia) between God’s grace and our free will. Both are necessary; but what God does is incomparably the more important.

Repentance and confession, then, are not just something that we do by ourselves or with the help of the priest, but above all something that God is doing with and in both of us. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, ‘Let us apply to ourselves the saving remedy (pharmakon) of repentance; let us accept from God the repentance that heals us. For it is not we who offer it to Him, be He who bestows it upon us.’ It should be remembered that in Greek the same word exomologesis means both confession of sins and thanksgiving for gifts received.  […]  Not that the penance should be regarded as a punishment; still less should it be viewed as a way of expiating an offence. Salvation is a free gift of grace. By our own efforts we can never wipe out our guilt; Christ the one mediator is our only atonement, and either we are freely forgiven by Him, or else we are not forgiven at all.

We do not acquire ‘merit’ by fulfilling a penance, for in our relation to God we can never claim any merit of our own. Here, as always, we should think primarily in therapeutic rather than juridical terms. A penance is not a punishment, nor yet a form of expiation, but a means of healing. It is a pharmakon or medicine.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, pp 51-53)

Flee Sexual Immorality

On the second of the three Pre-Lenten Sundays (the Sunday of the Prodigal Son), we read the following Epistle from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.  Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.  Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?  For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”  But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.  

Flee sexual immorality.  Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.  Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 

Saint Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) comments:

The apostle urges us once more, brethren, to flee fornication (1 Cor. 6:18). If Samsom had fled from it, he would not have fallen into Delilah’s hands after being deprived of the hair of his head and his strength. He would not have been blinded nor lost his life in such an unfortunate way alongside his enemies (Judg. 14:1). If they who were led by Moses and to whom he had given the law had fled from fornication they would not have made sacrifices to Baal-peor (Num. 25:3), nor eaten sacrifices of the dead (Num. 25:2-3, and cf Ps. 106:28, Hosea 9:10), nor fallen as often as they did. If Solomon had fled from it he would not have deserted God who made him king and gave him wisdom, nor would he have erected temples for idols (1 Kgs. 11:2-4).

You will observe that the passion of fornication pushes a person towards ungodliness. Susanna’s beauty would not have beguiled the senior judges in Babylon, triumphed over them and resulted in their being stoned, if from the beginning they had fled from defilement and had not watched her every day lasciviously beforehand (Sus. 5-62). The wretched Holofernes would not have died with his neck severed if Judith’s sandal had not previously, according to the Scripture, caught his eye and her beauty ensnared his soul (Judith 16:9). Job says, ‘I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid’ (Job 31:1), how much less upon a corrupt woman either divorced or married. Practice the single life as dear to God, or the married life as God’s gift. Drink water from your own wells or rather, chastely from your one well. Keep away completely from the adulterated draught, which is the water of the Styx, the stream of the river Acheron. It is full of murderous venom and has poisonous powers, and invariably drags those who drink it down through the trapdoor of hell into its innermost recesses. Flee from the honeyed lips of prostitutes which are skilled in spreading shameful death, namely, separation from God.

David said on the subject, ‘They that wantonly desert thee shall perish’ (Ps. 72:27 Lxx). We, whose bodies have become the temple of God through the Spirit, and in whom the Spirit dwells, must be clean, or at least be in the process of being cleansed, and remain always undefiled, contenting ourselves with permissible pleasures. We must make haste to attain purity and chastity and avoid fornication and every uncleanness, in order to rejoice throughout all ages with the pure bridegroom in the unsullied bridechambers. By the prayers of the ever –virgin, most pure, all-glorious Mother who bore Him in virginity for our salvation, now and for ever and unto the ages or ages. Amen.” (The Homilies, pp 40-41)