Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Repentance and Confession

Posted in Practical Matters by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 17 February 2010

Русский: Покаяние и исповедь

Português: Grande Quaresma : Tempo de Confissão e Arrependimento

In order to understand what repentance is, one must first think about what sin is.  Most often, people liken sin to breaking God’s law or transgressing against God’s commandment.  Undoubtedly, such a characteristic of sin has its basis in the Old Testament.  But just like all Old Testament things, this is only a shadow or a symbol of that which has received a deeper meaning in the New Testament. It is more correct to think about sin as an illness or a corruption of human nature.  Just like any illness, sin does not have any ontological properties.  The enemy of the human race, the devil, is not a creator.  He does not create evil, but only corrupts and spoils that which has been created by God.  But one should not blame only the devil.  Just as a person who hits his head against a brick wall gets a bump on his head or cracks it open in accordance with natural law, in the same way a person who breaks God’s laws and commandments inflicts spiritual wounds on himself.  Thus, one can speak of two kinds of sin: the deadly illness which we inherited from our forefather Adam, and personal sin—the bumps, bruises and breaks which we inflict on our own souls.

Repentance is the sacrament which God gave us for our salvation.  Repentance is the act of our co-laboring with the Creator; the miracle of transforming the old into new, dirty into clean, ill into whole.  The foundation of the sacrament of repentance is the realization of one’s deadly sinful illness, a clear vision of one’s demise.  Only he who understands that he is ill will run to the Physician; only he who sees that he is perishing will call out to the Savior; and only he who wants to be well will follow the rubrics prescribed by the Physician and take the necessary Medicine.

In repentance, a man separates himself from sin, learns not to be one with it, and begins to understand that he is an image of God, but sin is a horrible caricature, corruption, and illness.  Having seen the ugliness of sin, a man turns away from it, opens his wound to the Physician, and begs for healing.  It is in this movement of man to God—one who is ill to the Source of health—and God to man—the Physician to one who needs His help—it is in this union of the two mutually-directed acts that the sacrament of repentance takes place.

We must daily repent of our sins and ask God for healing.  The evening prayer rule which can be found in any prayer book contains the Daily Confession of Sins—an example of a daily confession before God.  We must make this general confession our own.  We must unite with the words of this prayer in such a way that they come not only from our mouth but also from our heart.  We can and must change the words of the Confession to reflect our own spiritual state and add to it our own “illnesses.”  And it is not necessary to wait until evening to turn to our Heavenly Father with repentance and a plea for help: when you notice a sin—immediately turn your heart to God, repent, and pray for help and healing!

Confession, on the other hand, is an ecclesiastical testimony of personal repentance, a freeing from the burden of sin in accordance with Christ’s commandment (Matt. 18:18; John 20:22-3), and an opportunity to receive help and support from the Church in our struggle against sin.  One should go to confession not only when preparing for Communion, but also at any other time when it is necessary.  Of course, it is impossible to list all of our sins in all their details during a confession.  But this is not necessary.  It is important to understand the essence of the illness and how to treat it, rather than indulge in all the possible manifestations of its symptoms.  Confessions can be heard before or after a church service; in our church, confessions are not heard during the Divine Liturgy.  If you are waiting for confession, please make an effort to let the clergy know about your intent before the service.

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