Confess Your Guilt (Part 1)

An open and sincere acknowledgment of guilt, offence or sin or a written or oral statement acknowledging guilt, made by one who has been accused or charged with an offence is confession.

A Christian “confession” carries with it the meaning of agreeing to a particular statement of faith. For example, the minister sometimes invites a congregation to read the Apostles’ Creed by saying, “Let us together make our confession of faith.” But perhaps the most familiar meaning of the word refers to the Catholic tradition of confessing ad auriculam, “into the ear of” a priest. The practice began in the medieval church. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 declared confession had to be at least an annual event if the confessor wanted to receive the host during Eucharist. In the sixteenth century, in order to provide privacy and a more substantial ritual, confessional stalls began to be used.

It has always been the law of the land that anything said to a priest was absolutely confidential. The priest took a holy vow that he was bound not to reveal anything told him in the confessional. But recently, as a result of child-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, state legislatures are beginning to question the practice of excusing priests and ministers from lists of people, such as doctors and social workers, who are required to report instances of child abuse. In May 2002 theCommonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, eliminated from the list of exceptions ministers of denominations who did not use confessionals by tradition.

In general, the Orthodox Christian chooses an individual to trust as his or her spiritual guide. In most cases this is the parish priest, or any individual, male or female, who has received permission from a bishop to hear confession. This person is often referred to as one’s “spiritual father” or “spiritual mother”. Once chosen, the individual turns to his spiritual guide for advice on his or her spiritual development, confessing sins, and asking advice. Orthodox Christians tend to confess only to this individual and the closeness created by this bond makes the spiritual guide the most qualified in dealing with the person, so much so that no one can override what a spiritual guide tells his or her charges. What is confessed to one’s spiritual guide is protected by the same seal as would be any priest hearing a confession. While one does not have to be a priest to hear confession, only an ordained priest may pronounce the absolution.

Confession does not take place in a congress, but normally in the main part of the church itself, usually before an analogion set up near the iconostasion. On the analogion, a Gospel Book is placed and a blessing cross. The confession often takes place before an icon of Jesus.

The Orthodox understands that the confession is not made to the priest, but to Christ, and the priest stands only as witness and guide. Before confessing, the penitent venerates the Gospel Book and cross, and places the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand on the feet of Christ as he is depicted on the cross. The confessor will often read an admonition warning the penitent to make a full confession, holding nothing back.

In cases of emergency, of course, confession can be heard anywhere. For this reason, especially in the Russian Orthodox Church, the Pectoral Cross that the priest wears at all times often has the Icon of Christ “Not Made by Hands” inscribed on it.

In general practice, after one confesses to one’s spiritual guide, the parish priest (who may or may not have heard the confession) covers the head of the person with his Epitrachelion (Stole) and reads the Prayer of Absolution, asking God to forgive the transgression of the individual (the specific prayer differs between Greek and Slavic use). It is not uncommon for a person to confess his sins to his spiritual guide on a regular basis but only seek out the priest to read the prayer before receiving Holy Communion.

In the Eastern Churches, clergy often make their confession in the sanctuary. A bishop, priest, or deacon confesses at the Holy Table (Altar) where the Gospel Book and blessing cross are normally kept. He confesses in the same manner as a layman, except that when a priest hears a bishop’s confession, the priest kneels.

Orthodox Christians go to confession at least four times a year; often during one of the four fasting periods (Great Lent, Nativity Fast, Apostles’ Fast and Dormition Fast). Many pastors encourage frequent confession and communion. In some of the monasteries on Mount Athos, the monks will confess their sins daily.

Orthodox Christians also practice a form of general confession, referred to as the rite of “Mutual Forgiveness”. The rite involves an exchange between the priest and the congregation (or, in monasteries, between the superior and the brotherhood). The priest makes a prostration before all and asks their forgiveness for sins committed in act, word, deed, and thought. Those present ask that God may forgive him, and then they in turn all prostrate themselves and ask the priest’s forgiveness. The priest then pronounces a blessing. The rite of Mutual Forgiveness does not replace the Mystery of Confession and Absolution, but is for the purpose of maintaining Christian charity and a humble and contrite spirit. This general confession is practiced in monasteries at the first service on arising and the last service before retiring to sleep.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, confession is an acknowledgment of sinfulness, in public or private, regarded as necessary for divine forgiveness. It is said that in the Temple period, Yom Kippur included a collective expression of sinfulness, and the day continues in Judaism as one of prayer, fasting, and confession. The early Christian Church followed John the Baptist’s practice of confession before baptism, but soon instituted confession and penance for the forgiveness of sins committed after baptism. The fourth Lateran Council required annual confession. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches consider penance a sacrament, but most Protestant churches do not do so.

Some Old Believers perform the rite regularly before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. The best-known asking of mutual forgiveness occurs at Vespers on the Sunday of Forgiveness, and it is with this act that Great Lent begins.

Whatsoever be the definitions of the confessions under different schools of thinking or in terms of practices in different religions/areas, everybody loves a sincere confession. Confessions free the soul and lighten the heart. Confessions free you of guilt, heartache and blame.

Be Happy – Confess Your Guilt.


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