Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. James 5:15-16
Good morning Prayer Team!
I bet you’ve never thought of confession as a form of encouragement. The thought of going is so discouraging for some people that they rarely, if ever, go for this sacrament. As we’re discussing encouragement and the encouraging aspects of our faith, I want to attach the word “encouragement” to the sacrament of confession.
When Christ commissioned His Apostles to establish the early church, He knew that to be a faithful Christian was going to be difficult. He knew that despite people’s best efforts and intentions, they were still going to fall through sin on a daily basis. He knew that this would discourage some from continuing on in the Christian journey. After all, when we sin a lot, we feel like God is far away, and that we don’t deserve His love.
In John 20:21-23, Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, even so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And with this, He gave to them a gift and responsibility to loose and forgive sins.
Speaking now not as a priest, but as a struggling Orthodox Christian (who happens to be a priest), I am really glad that our church has a mechanism by which I can be loosed of sin, and the associated feelings of guilt and discouragement. Not only do I hear confessions as an Orthodox priest, but I go to confession as an Orthodox Christian. I don’t go to feel bad. I go to feel good, to feel cleansed, to feel renewed, and to hear what is among the most encouraging things a person can hear: “Have no further anxiety about the things you have confessed; go in peace. The grace of the Holy Spirit through my unworthy person has loosened and forgiven your sins.”
I can’t honestly say that I look forward to “going” to confession. I actually still get nervous, every time I go. It’s no fun to own up for sins. Actually, sometimes I feel embarrassed and ashamed. But when I finish and that priest offers the prayer, and I hear those words “go in peace,” that God still loves me, it always makes me glad that I went. It always makes me feel encouraged and empowered.
Our sins are not forgiven by a priest. They are forgiven by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. However, the priests are empowered by the Holy Spirit, to listen to confession and to offer the prayer of absolution, the words of encouragement that God still loves us despite our sins, and that whatever we have done can be washed away by His grace and mercy. And what could be more encouraging than that! So, when you need some spiritual encouragement because you are feeling guilty and discouraged over your sins, contact a priest and go to confession.
Lord, thank You for the many gifts that You have given us. Thank You for the church which You have given us as a spiritual home. Thank You for the sacraments that give us glimpses into heaven and sustain us through our life journeys. And thank You for the sacrament of confession that You have given us in order to encourage us when we have fallen through sin. Help me to always have the courage to come for this sacrament. Lead me to sincere repentance. And help me to feel encouraged through this sacrament that not only are my sins forgiven, but that You still love me as one of Your children. Empower me through this sacrament to live a more focused and committed Christian life. Amen.
When you need some spiritual encouragement, schedule an appointment for confession!
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