Confessing in Lent

To all the clergy, young, and faithful of our Archdiocese.

Greetings to all of you, invoking upon you the divine grace.

During this period of Great Lent, I would like to discuss with you in this pastoral letter the importance of the use of the Sacraments of Confession and Repentance. We will all agree that the sacrament of confession is forgotten almost, in the Church. There are some weak faithful who are even complaining that some priests are encouraging the faithful to have confession and repentance before communion. They are raising the question about the meaning of confessing sins to a human being like them (the priest). Their objection is that God alone has the authority to remit sins. These extreme (Protestant teachings) have led some of them to refrain from receiving Holy Communion, having the stole placed over their head and the reading of the Prayer of absolution because they say their only acceptable oath is toward the Holy Chalice.

Many of our faithful have felt the Truth of these divine words "unless you eat the Flesh of the son of man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). The collective receiving of the Eucharist does not justify our negligence of the sacrament of repentance. All the seven sacraments are integrated in one substance. But here, I will discuss the sacrament of repentance by itself, and try to pass its spirit to the reader, in order for you to understand its position in our pilgrimage to our salvation.

What is the Biblical foundation of the sacrament of repentance? There is a strong foundation for practicing canonical confession to the Priest, which is, the mutual reconciliation between the brethren according to the Lord's Teachings. " If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother … and if he refuses, to hear, tell it to the Church" (Matt. 18: 15-17).

This is a short and important introduction to canonical confession. If you do not reconcile with your brother you have no repentance. If your brother refuses the proposition of reconciliation, turn to other faithful for help. If he finally refuses to hear even from the Church, leave him alone and consider him like a stranger. If the brother will accept reconciliation, he will receives the peace of God in him. Who then is the one who forgives?

Saint Luke states  "the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, 'who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?' " (Luke 5:20).  Jesus answered "the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Luke 5:24). See also the miracle of healing the Paralytic. Christ alone has the power to forgive sins.

In both canonical and personal confession, God alone is the one who forgives sins. In the prayer of absolution the priest says " May God, who through Nathan the Prophet forgave David when he confessed his sins, and Peter when he wept bitterly for his denial' and the harlot who shed tears upon his feet… May the same God forgive you."

Here, at the end of reciting of the absolution, the forgiveness which comes from God, takes place. The Orthodox priest does not say "I absolve you" or, "I forgive you". When we talk about repentance, we do not mean a simple renunciations of some vile actions based on ethical criteria. It is a return to the face of God and an act of worshipping Him in Jesus Christ. It is a personal return to God, to a merciful and compassionate Father who embraces us, even after we have left Him, and followed other Gods, and worshipped our own passions.

As baptism is not only by water, but implies the change of mind by the Word and the Spirit, so instruction comes from the Word of God at the hand of the bishop or the priest. This makes confession complete and sound.

The same Word of God is for the renewal of mind and heart, and gives incentive not to fall again into the pit of sin. The prayer of reconciliation is a proclamation of reconciliation between our God and us. The priest says it in the name of the whole Church in whom the confessing person renews his sonship to God.

Here someone might ask "if I keep sinning should I confess after each sin?" This is not a legal and formal subject for which the church should enact laws. Repentance is a situation in which the faithful after committing sins against others will be forgiven, if asking forgiveness of them. It is not just formal confession in front of a priest. Confession is not a magic absolution of sins. Genuine sorrow for doing wrong is essential, as is genuine desire to reform and do right in future.

In the light of Church history, we confess, according to this teaching.

You might state each and every sin, which is burdening your conscience. You can examine your soul by the light of the Ten Commandments. You might also remember the biblical ruling guide "you shall love the Lord your God… and you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39). But you do not need to confess each and every sin to God through the priest, only those sins which are heavy on your heart.

We remind the faithful not to neglect the sacrament of confession, which reveals how good the Lord is. Our life in the Church is to taste and to know him as intimate and dwelling in us, so that we may be renewed through  knowledge of Him. May "we all come to the unity of the faith, and knowledge of the Son of God, forming the perfect Man, to the full maturity of the fullness of Christ Himself" (Ephesians 4:13).

When we are renewed by this knowledge, we will join in the journey of salvation, which He started by His Blood, and revealed by His Resurrection.

Amen

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