Holy Confession

Saint John Chrysostom writes: "Did you commit sin? Enter the Church and repent for your sin; for here is the physician, not the judge; here one is not investigated, one receives remission of sins."

The sacrament of confession introduces us to the life-long process of grasping accepting and choosing to follow the values of the Christian life. Christians, are expected to govern their lives by the power of God. They are to undertake the noblest deeds and hold fast to both faith and virtue, and grow into the blessed likeness of Christ". The Church, however, has never considered Baptism to be an automatic guarantor of continuous salvation. It is only the beginning of the life in Christ. Its full effects are derived when the baptized are disposed to persevere and preserve the treasure to the end. The process of healing and restoring our damaged, wounded and fallen nature is on-going.

God is recognized to be continuously loving, merciful and long-suffering towards his creation. He accepts all repentant sinners tenderly and rejoices greatly in their conversion. There are no limits set to the exercise of his loving-kindness and forgiveness. All sins are forgivable, save one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Here we are confronted not with the powerlessness of God, but with an unrepentant and callous heart.

Through the mystery of repentance God embraces a repentant lapsed Christian with his love, in order to forgive him and reconcile him to the Church. But, for this to occur, the sinful Christian must first have a sense of his unfaithfulness to God, contrition of heart, and determination to amend. This must be followed by the confession of his sins before the authorized clergy of the Church. Both the interior repentance and the verbal acknowledgment of concrete sins are indispensable conditions for true forgiveness and reconciliation. Confession is the opening of one's conscience before God and the witness of the Church. Our Lord ordained this sacrament in the form of a law, giving power and authority to His ordained ministers to declare and pronounce absolution to the faithful who confess and repent of sins willingly committed after baptism. The faithful should consider the many sins he or she has committed and must truly and earnestly repent. One should then confess them to the priest without concealing them and, consequently, accept the canonical penalty.

Confession is essentially a healing ministry, since sin is viewed primarily as a disease that needs to be healed, rather than a crime that needs to be punished. And since everyone is susceptible to the wiles of the devil, a regular examination of the conscience deepens self-awareness and quickens the sensitivity of the heart. For this reason many persons as a matter of course have a father confessor who shares their concerns in the on-going process of spiritual development and growth.

Written by Tenny Thomas

[1] Thomas Finn, The Liturgy of Baptism in the Baptismal Instructions of St. John Chrysostom, Studies in Christian Antiquity 15 (Washington DC, 1967).
[2] Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, (New York, 1974).
[3] St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite, "How Everyone Should Prepare for Confession" in Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession.
[4] Elder Ephraim of Philotheou, translated from the Greek by Fr. Seraphim Bell, On Watchfulness, Prayer and Confession.
[5] Karl Rahner, Penance in the Early Church, vol. 15 of Theological Investigations, trans. Lionel Swain (New York, 1982).
[6] David Coffey, The Sacrament of Reconciliation, Lex Orandi (Collegeville, 2001).