My beloved spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ God,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
"PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER, THAT
YE MAY BE HEALED."
REPENTANCE brings us back to God and the Church to confess and admit our offenses. It is repentance that heals us if it is genuine because it brings us back from dissoluteness to our Father’s House. The priest has no power or authority to speak in the first person and say, "I absolve you of your sins." or "I baptize you," or "I beseech you," or "I crown you," or "I anoint you." At Confession, it is the Chuch that asks THROUGH the priest for the remission of our sins. The prayer of the Church acknowledges and declares our repentance and return, as the Lord did when He received the sinful woman who came to Him in repentance. But He alone is able to declare, "Thy sins are remitted," because He ALONE KNOWS OUR HEARTS.
What washes us of our sins is not the words of the priest but OUR OWN HEARTS. That’s why the Church Holy Fathers, rarely if ever spoke of a "Mystery of Confession" but of the "Mystery of Repentance." Without our repentance, what value is there in the priest’s prayer, even if we confess every possible sin and every detail? "SIN AND REPENTANCE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. SIN IS THE INJURY AND REPENTANCE IS THE MEDICINE. In sin there is shame, but in repentance, there is courage, freedom, and cleansing of sins." (Saint John Chrysostom, 8th Homily on Repentance)
Saint Mary of Egypt was sanctified only BY HER LIFE OF REPENTANCE, PRAYER, AND ASCETICISM. She had been alone in the desert for over 45 years when Father Zosimas saw her in prayer, suspended off the ground. The grace of the Holy Spirit does not wait for us to go to confession. We need to be mindful of these things when we speak of REMISSION OR FORGIVENESS OF SINS. Humanistic expressions can mislead us and make us think only in human terms. "Look here," says Saint Symeon the New Theologian, "when you hear about keys and doors of the Kingdom, do not form images of houses and doors lest a physical form be embedded in your mind and your soul full into doubt and blasphemy. But if, in a manner that befits divine things, you are well able to reason within yourself regarding the use and meaning of all these things. But if you are not able to understand these things, just accept them in faith, and do not desire to meddle in them at all." (Catechism 33)
The Mystery (Sacrament) of Confession, like the Mystery of Unction (Holy Oil), has the origin in the fifth chapter of the Epistle of Saint James: "Confess your transgressions to one another, and PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER, THAT YE MAY BE HEALED. The quickened entreaty of a righteous man hath great power" (v. 16). In commending this Mystery, the Brother of the Lord and first bishop of Jerusalem does not refer to the clergy or to legalistic forgiveness of sins, or even simply to "forgiveness," for he already mentioned remission of sins in the previous verses (14-15) when he does refer to the healing and cure of sins as synonymous with forgiveness or remission. He advises us to REVEAL OUR SPIRITUAL WOUNDS, OUR PASSIONS, AND OUR FAILINGS TO OUR BRETHREN IN CHRIST AND TO PRAY FOR ONE ANOTHER THAT WE MAY BE HEALED. As with our bodily ailments, if we do not reveal them, we ought not to expect their cure. If we wish to be healed, WE OUGHT TO FIRST ACKNOWLEDGE OUR ILLNESS.
But before instituting Confession, Saint James institutes the Mystery (Sacrament) of Holy Unction (Holy Oil) by saying, "Is anyone sick among you? Let him invite the presbyters of the Church, and LET THEM PRAY OVER HIM," because it was not possible for the whole community to come to the house of the sick man to pray over him. The Church’s REPRESENTATIVES ARE THE PRESBYTERS and they go to the homes of the sick. The Apostle did not say "The prayer fo the presbyters shall save the sick man." But what did he say? "THE PRAYER OF FAITH [of the Church] SHALL SAVE THE SICK MAN, AND THE LORD SHALL RAISE HIM UP; AND IF HE HATH COMMITTED SINS, THEY SHALL BE REMITTED" (James 5:14-15).
Saint James the Apostle shows that supplications for forgiveness or healing of sins are not exclusive to confession but IS BOUND TO ALL THE MYSTERIES (SACRAMENTS) of the Chuch, moreover to the Church herself as a mystery and to our participation in her. The Church’s supplications for the remission of sins are made in virtually EVERY SERVICE AND MYSTERY (SACRAMENT). This entreaty is made about 13 times in the Divine Liturgy alone preeminently in the words and promises spoken by the Lord Himself: "FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS;" "EAT, DRINK… THIS IS My Body for you… this is My Blood, shed for you… UNTO REMISSION OF SINS." Every TIME SINS SEPERATE US FROM OUR Father’s House, WE MUST RETURN TO IT AND WASH OURSELVES IN ITS MYSTERIES AND IN ITS LIFE.
We know that the early Church kept Saint James’ Apostolic commandment and Christians CONFESSED THEIR SINS PUBLICLY. This acct set forth the wounds of the soul, not only before the presbyters but BEFORE ALL THE BRETHREN OF THE CONGREGATION. THE ENTIRE PARISH PRAYED FOR THE CONFESSING BROTHER ACCORDING TO THE COMMANDMENT, "Pray for one another that ye may be healed." There was never a magic absolution. The prayer of the Church, as the Lord tells us through His Brother, is for the REMISSION OF SINS, THAT IS, FOR THE HEALING OF THE SPIRITUALLY AILING BUT REPENTANT MEMBER OF TEH COMMUNITY. According to the Brother of the Lord, the effectual remission or healing of the repentant member’s sin’s, in those days and in ours, depends A GREAT DEAL ON THE POWER OF THE SUPPLICATIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS IN THE CONGREGATION, EVEN IF THE RIGHTEOUS ONES ARE ONLY ONE OR TWO.
And who are the righteous ones? They ARE THE LIVING SAINTS AMONG US IN THE Church. Perhaps God has not revealed them to us, but before Him, truth authority in the Church belongs to the Prophet, the God-bearing Saint or THEOPHOROS, who might not even have holy orders. It is noteworthy that Saint James does not specify the ordained clergy, the bishops, and presbyters, as the righteous ones whose entreaty for the healing of sins has power (v. 17). The example he gives us is of a holy Prophet, a God-bearing Saint without priesthood and at that, a Saint of the Old Testament.
Confession before the SYNAXIS (ASSEMBLY) or congregation was the only confession known until the early 4th century. Sinners awaited healing of sins from this confession and the supplications of the congregation.
After the Roman persecutions officially ended in 313 A.D., large numbers of people who had never passed through fire for Christ started joining the Church. Consequently, the SYNAXIS (Assembly) of the faithful LOST THE SPIRITUAL HEIGHT THAT IT HAD ATTAINED DURING THE CENTURIES OF PERSECUTION. And the result was that Confession WAS NO LONGER MADE "TO ONE ANOTHER" (James 5:16) IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ASSEMBLY OR SYNAXIS, AND SERIOUS LIMITATIONS WERE CREATED FOR THOSE CONFESSING. Then, to facilitate matters, THE CHURCH PERMITTED PRIVATE CONFESSION. Visibly, of course, the most reverent person in the parish was the presbyter. Nevertheless, the Church DID NOT PERMIT CONFESSION TO JUST ANY PRESBYTER. SHE SELECTED CERTAIN EXPERIENCED PRESBYTERS WHO WERE KNOWN FOR THEIR REVERENCE, SPIRITUAL WISDOM, GIFT OF DISCERNMENT OF SPIRITS, AND CONFIDENTIALITY. To such men WAS GIVEN THE OFFICE OF HEARING CONFESSIONS OF SINS in the place of the whole Church. This SPECIAL CATEGORY OF PRESBYTERS WAS CALLED THE "PRESBYTERS OF REPENTANCE," AND THEY WERE SOMETHING LIKE TODAY’S "SPIRITUAL FATHERS." To the present day, the Greek Orthodox Church GENERALLY DOES NOT PERMIT CONFESSION TO BE HEARD IN THE PARISHES BY JUST ANY PRESBYTER. Only certain presbyters are appointed confessors by the Church through a special service performed by the local bishop because the Church never considered the hearing of confessions an ex officio part of the presbyter’s ministry by virtue of ordination alone. Unfortunately, this tradition WAS ABANDONED Y THE POST-MOGHILA SLAVIC CHURCHES.
CONFESSION, therefore, is what its founder, Saint James says it is: the exposing of our failings and thoughts to our fathers, brothers, and sisters in Christ for the purpose of our spiritual healing. Naturally, this confession is not wisely made to just anyone, especially when we require guidance. "Do not tell these things to just anyone who happens to be available but to those who are elders because they have spiritual discernment, and not because they are white-haired with age. For, many looked to those with age and instead of finding therapy, they fell into despair because of the inexperience of those who heard their confession." (Saint John Cassian, Philokalia, vol. 1, p.80) [Source: Nostalgia for Paradise by Alexander Kalomiros]
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostomos
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George