The sacrament of Confession/S.of penance.
- Hi, this is Samuel Achen from N.Y. This is a continuation on our topic.
the sacrament of Confession.
The word 'Confession' has several connotations.1)Confessing Christ as son of
God (Rom.10:9) 2) a denomination such as the Lutheren or the Anglican .
3)The Sacrament of forgiveness of sins,whereby the repentant sinner
confesses sins to CHRIST in the presence of the priest, who pronounces
God's absolution of those sins. We are discussing the third topic. This
sacrament is known by some other names also. Saramnet of penence, S.of
reeconciliation, s. of tears/Second baptism. etc. depending upon the
emphasis given. It is supposed to bring about reconciliation between God and
the sinner and the sinner and the community. It is called "second baptism".
We have baptism only once in our life as we declare in the N.Creed "one
baptism(once) for the remission of sins).This is second baptism in the sense
that the first one has washed away the sins up to the time of baptism
including "original sin" The sins committed after are washed away by the
tears shed in contrition or by repentance. This is repeatable as often as
one becomes conscious of sins committed.
What is sin? It has been already described as "broken relationship" leading
to alienation and discord. It has another meaning from its Gk word
"hamartia" "missing the mark" It is a word taken from archery "one who
fails to hit the target" All humans are sinners who miss the mark of
perfection that God has set for them. This results in our alienation or
estrangement from God which results in death, because God is the source of
life. Remember Adam and Eve.
What is absolution ? Absolution is the prayer offered by a priest or bishop
for the forgiveness of sins The gift or authority to offer this prayer is
based on the promise made by the risen Christ to his desciples(Apostles) as
recorded in St.John's gospel .20:22-23. "Receive the Holy Spirit, if you
forgive the sins of any,they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins of
any, they are retained." This authority or gift remains for ever in the
Church. It is exercised in the sacraments of baptism, ( "once, for the
remission of sins"), in the Holy Qurbana( "From God may we receive parden of
oursins and remission of our debts") and in the sacrament of penance
bringing about reconciliation of the sinner who has repented and
demonstrated contrition to the Church.(christian brothern)
Penance is the sacrament of reconciliation by which the penetant is
reconciled with God and the Church through the forgiveness of sins It is a
part of the Church's healing ministry as commanded by our Lord.It begins
with penance, contrition, conversion and confession. History of the
development and evolution of this sacrament from the time of the Apostles to
the modern times is quite elaborate. we don't attempt a full and detailed
study. here we are attempting only a short review.
During the Apostolic period we see references about confession. According to
St.PauL (1 Cor.8:12-)- "But when you thus sin against the brothern, and
wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ"
Sin has thus serious and evil consequence. The prodigal son says "I have
sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no loonger worthy to be
called you son."(Lk.11:21) He had sinned against God and his father and the
household.So the sin of one person affects every one in some way. So the
promise was "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, to forgive our
sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".(1John 1:9) The Christians
are to bring their sins to God in repentance and receive cleansing and
forgiveness. So, early Christians would stand and confess their sins to God
in the presence of the whole congregation. (in public). In St. Mathew's
gospel, a disciplinary problem is discussed in dealing with someone who sins
against his brother. How was it to be resolved? Please read Mt.18:15-20.
There are three stages described in this passage. In verse 18, the Church is
given the authority " to bind and to loose" Think how far away we have gone
from these words of our Lord. Verses 21-25 the forgiveness is unlimited
.This is the way reconciliation is to be brought about leading to true
healing in the Church by God's grace.
We are so hypocritical, we are not willing to forgive (fore-give:.give
before asking)and so the sin continues and the Church of God suffers. St.
James writes in his epistle (5:16) "Confess your sins to one another." But
as time went on and the Church grew in membership (from a close knit family
to a large group of strangers)public confession became difficult and
scandelous. Private confession became common and naturally those who have
been entrusted with the curing of the souls (pastors,the healers)
became the ones who began to witness private confession on behalf of the
Church. This is a historic development. This is how the presbyter(priest)
began to play a role in confession. Now, What is the priest's role? St.
Chrysostome (Mar. Ivanios of Constantinople) says that the Church is the
hospital(the INN in the story of the good samaritan,Lk.15)and the
priests/bishops are the healers. the chief physician being our Lord Jesus
Christ. The Orthodox Church has from the very beginning understood that the
grace of ordination endowed the pastor or the shepherd of the flock with
discernment and compassion to speak rhe words of absolution on behalf of
Christ regarding the sins of those who have repented, confessed and turned
away from sin.
Christ in his discourse as given in the 15th chapter of St.John's
gospel,says to the Apostles"You didnot choose Me, but I chose you and
appointed(ordained) you"(v.16) In Mark's gospel He says to the Twelve" It is
not you who speak but the Holy Spirit "(13:11) St.Paul tells Themotheos
"Stir up the gift of God which is in you ,through the laying on of my
hands(ordination) (2nd Thimothy 1:6) It is the grace of the Holy Spirit that
enables the priest to serve God and His people ,including pronouncing the
absolution. The Apostolic Church has encouraged the early christians to
search their conscience and confess their sins, before coming to receive
Holy Communion. St.Paul writes to the Corinthian Church "Let a man examine
The question now is do we really need a priest, "can't I confess to God
privately and directly?" Certainly we can pray to God and receive the
cleansing. Don't We repeat though often without thinking about the
implication, when we pray "Forgive us our trspasses as we forgive those who
trespass against us!" Many of us may not be fully assured of
forgiveness(?),there may be a doubt whether one is forgiven. Some one who
knows us fairly intimately and be with us when we communicate with God in
His all knowing presence, we are much more assured of forgiveness and of
cleansing. The priest DOESNOT FORGINVE OUR SINS.(he is nort God)It is Christ
who is present and forgives our sins. It has been found from experience of
saintly persons and other ordinary Christians that it is far more effective
to confess aloud to God before a priest and benifit from his guidance and
counsel. This is not as easy as we think. It takes courage, humility and
openness to confess so that God may bring about the cleansing and accept us
into His glorious embrace restoring our sonship and the devine image in us.
There are two kinds of confessions in the Orthodox Church., private
confession by communing with God (praying and uttering "Lord jesus,Son of
God have mercy on me a sinner." and any other form of prayer, and the second
is the sacramental confession. In the Roman Catholic Church there is only
the sacramental confession, (There may also be 'general confession') Among
the Protestants there is confession by prayer (public or private); The
Orthodox Church has both.and thus avoids extremes. In the case of grave sins
(adultery, apostacy, disobedience, murder etc) private prayer has to be
supplemented by sacramental confession. The Orthodox Church stipulates that
even lighter sins have to be confessed before a priest winess at least once
a year. Now a days Orthodox Christians have abused this previlege and 'go to
confession' not for cleansing of the soul but for other reasons(attending
the general body meeting is one important reason) The most terrible abuse
that has crept in the life of the orthodox Christian is the demand for
absolution, without contrition, repentance and with out a tinge of
tears;just a mechanical means of being forgiven. Either this practice has to
be stopped or the faithful have to be taught how to prepare for receiving
the Holy Communion as this includes confession. Because of these abuses, as
St.paul tells the Corinthian Church, " many are sick, some are dead" and
there is no life in us. This is the most serious illness that has befallen
on the Orthodox Church and we see the result in our present day church life.
Allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and warm us and wake us up. and do as
the Ninevites did.in olden times. Then we will shine as lamps lit by the
Light that lightens the whole universe. Now brothers can not forgive
brothers. Prospect of reconciliation has almost dried up. Woe unto us
Malankara Christians esp the Orhtodox members.( forgive me for digressing)
The priest as the leader of the community of the faithful, helps to bring
about reconciliation with our brothern while private prayer may bring
reconciliation with God. What ever way we get inner cleanliness (purity of
heart) it must be followed up by receiving the Holy Communion "for the
remission of debts and the forgiveness of sins" Listen next time you attend
the Holy Qurbana, and note how many times the priest uses this formula,
since this is the Sacrament by which our sins are forgiven and we are washed
in the presious blood of the Lamb.
The beauty of the sacramental confession is expressed in a Russian prayer
of absolution It portrays the role of the priest as that of a witness rather
than that of a judge. "Behold, my child, Christ stands here invisibly and
receives your confession., therefore do not be ashamed or afraid, and hide
nothing from me,but tell me without hesitation all the things yoiu have done
and so you will have pardon from our Lord Jesus Christ; see his holy image
is before us, and I am only a witness, bearing testimony before him of all
the things you have to say to me. But if you hide anything from me , you
will have greater sin; Take care then, lest having come to a physician, you
depart un healed."
NOTE) This portion has become too long. I apologise and would like to say
that I am no authority and I will be extremely happy to be corrected or
advised. Thanks, God bless. Samuel Achen .N.Y.