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 Journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Christ
If we confess our sons, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9
Good morning Prayer Team!
Yesterday we discussed the “why” of confession. Today’s reflection is on the mechanics of how to do it.
First, let’s discuss how often. There are varying thoughts on this. Some Orthodox jurisdictions encourage weekly or monthly confession. These encounters with the priest tend to be very brief. Others encourage people to go to confession four times per year, during the major fast periods—Nativity Fast, Great Lent, Dormition Fast, and Apostles Fast. I encourage people to go to confession at least once per year and during times of acute spiritual sickness. What does that mean? It means I believe we should treat confession the same way we treat our relationship with our doctor. We go when we are sick, and we go once a year for an annual checkup. I think people should go to confession once per year for a checkup, and in between checkups, if there is a period of acute spiritual sickness, then come again.
Second, you should go with a priest you feel comfortable going to confession with. This is a very personal and vulnerable experience. Some people would rather go to someone they know well, like their parish priest. Others would prefer to go to someone they do not know at all. If you’ve never been to confession, you can talk to the priest before making an appointment for confession to learn how he handles this sacrament, and also to build some rapport.
Third, once you make an appointment, make some preparations. Following today’s reflection is a list of “Ten Commandments in Preparation for Confession.” It examines all Ten Commandments and give examples of how we actually break all of them. Highlight the sins you have committed, and then make notes of the two or three of them that are “chronic” so that you can discuss those.
When I hear a confession, I hear them in the church sanctuary. I have two chairs set out on the solea in front of the icon screen. One faces Christ. And that is the chair the person going to confession sits in. The other chair is to the right and is turned 90 degrees. Before the confession begins, some prayers are offered. Then the person confessing makes their confession to Christ, with the priest there as a witness and guide. I always let people say whatever they wish to confess without interrupting them. You can begin with hard stuff and work your way to easy stuff, or you can begin with the small sins and work your way to the more significant ones. There may be an instance where you bring ONE specific sin to confession. Obviously, we all commit an innumerable amount of sins but it may be one or two that really weigh us down. So, then we’ll focus on those.
Be as specific as you need to be when confessing. If you drink too much, say that. You don’t have to be specific about drinking too much on a certain night, unless you feel the need to do that.
After all the sins have been confessed, the priest will usually give you words of guidance and encouragement. I may ask someone “what is the most significant sin on their list” and then discuss that.
The most important aspect of confession is not the confession itself. It is the two things that follow. Repentance is a making a plan to avoid the sins in the future. So, a conversation with the priest follows the confession so that you can make a plan going forward to change sinful behaviors and stay focused on faith.
The final aspect of confession is the actual sacrament, which is absolving you of your sins. You could theoretically confess your sins to anyone and you could make a plan to repent with anyone, but only an Orthodox priest (or a Catholic one if you are Catholic) can “absolve” you of the sins, meaning, to offer a prayer offering absolution of the sins. The priests that hear confessions have been given the grace of the Holy Spirit through ordination, as well as a blessing from their bishop to hear confessions, vouching for their maturity and discernment in carrying this burden.
As I mentioned before, I don’t remember the sins people confess. I sometimes don’t even remember the people who confess them. Whatever is offered in confession is confidential. It is not shared with anyone. I don’t ever lose respect for people who go to confession. To be honest, I generally grow in respect for them. In fact, the people I feel closest to are the ones who go to confession. Because love grows when we are vulnerable. And confession is one of the most vulnerable, yet beautiful things one can do as a Christian. If you have questions on confession, please contact your parish priest. But please take advantage of this gift that God has given to His church, the opportunity to confess, repent and be absolved of whatever you’ve done.
Have mercy on us, o God, according to Your great love, we pray to You, hear us and have mercy. Again we pray for mercy, life, peace, health, salvation, protection, for those who are reading this prayer team message, and for those that are coming to my mind (remember as many people as you wish) and for the forgiveness and remission of all of our sins, voluntary and involuntary. Amen.
Schedule an appointment for confession if you haven’t been in over a year!
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN PREPARATION FOR CONFESSION
I am the Lord your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.
Has God been the source, center and hope of my life? Have I put myself, others or things before God? Have I failed to trust in God’s existence, love and mercy? Have I failed to pray to God, to worship Him and to thank Him for His blessings? Have I tried to serve God and keep His commandments faithfully? Have I murmured or complained against God in adversity? Have I praised and glorified God through my words and deeds?
You shall not make for yourself a graven image in order to worship it.
Have I valued anyone or anything above God? Have I given to anyone or anything the love, honor and worship that belongs to God alone? Have I made and idol of any person, idea, occupation, or thing?
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Have I blasphemed God’s holy name in any way? Have I sworn a false oath? Have I broken any solemn vow or promise? Have I entered into an agreement, promise or contract against God’s law? Have I cursed or used foul language? Do I speak of God to other people? Have I spoken negatively about the church or the clergy with others?
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
Have I worshiped regularly on Sundays and major feast days and have I helped others to do the same? Do I come regularly late to the holy services? Does my attention wander during church? Have I worked unnecessarily on Sundays or major feast days or caused others to do so? Have I spent the Lord’s Day in a wholesome and edifying ways? Do I use my time wisely or do I waste a lot of it? Have I contributed a sacrificial share of my time, talent and treasure to the church? Have I discouraged others from attending church or participating in the sacraments? Have I kept the prescribed fasts of the church?
Honor your father and mother
Have I loved and respected my parents as I should? Have I neglected them or failed to help them? Have I disobeyed them, deceived them or caused them pain by my words or deeds? Have I treated all my family members with patience and love? Have I neglected my children? Have I disrespected any member of the clergy?
Thou shall not kill.
Have I caused the harm, injury or death of anyone? Have I wished my own or anyone’s harm or death? Have I been cruel to animals or destroyed any life unnecessarily? Have I spoke badly about other people or harmed the self-esteem of others? Have I done things that are harmful to my own body such as excessive eating, drinking, smoking, drug abuse? Have I tried to prematurely end my life? Have I had an abortion?
You shall not commit adultery.
Have I committed any immoral acts alone or with others? Have I caused others to commit immoral acts? Have I committed immoral acts in my heart? Have I honored my spouse? Have I been faithful to my spouse? Have I read or viewed inappropriate materials?
You shall not steal.
Have I taken anything that was not mine from anyone or from anywhere? Have I cheated anyone? Have I caused others to steal or cheat? Have I tried to find the owners of lost things I have found? Have I damaged or destroyed anything that belonged to another? Have I defrauded anyone of rightful wages? Have I paid my debts? Have I given to the poor and to philanthropic causes in proportion to my means?
You shall not bear false witness.
Have I given false testimony against anyone? Have I spoken evil, told lies or spread rumors about anyone? Have I disclosed to anyone the sins and faults of another? Have I made careless statements or done anything else to harm the name and reputation of another? Have I engaged in idle gossip?
You shall not covet.
Have I looked with envy jealousy or hatred toward the possession talents or achievements of others? Have I desired the downfall or loss of others out of evil intent that I might benefit? Have I grieved that God has bestowed greater blessings on others than on me?
Photo Credit: Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church
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