Seminar on Confession
by Sue Lisowski
On Saturday, July 12, Father Paul Harrilchak of Holy Trinity Church in
Reston, Virgina led a seminar on the sacrament of Confession. He is something of an expert
on the subject, having authored a book, entitled Common Confession
Father Paul spoke with great enthusiasm to St. Luke parishioners about
the importance of regular confession in the life of each Orthodox Christian, and the
benefits of general confession for the whole congregation.
The talk began with a discussion of the giving and receiving that
takes place in the Liturgy. While we are on the receiving end of the fruits of Holy
Communion, we are not to be passive receivers of the gifts, according to Father Paul.
One of our responsibilities is to listen to the hymns and readings, especially the Gospel,
with great attentiveness. "There's a dialogue between us and God," he said. "We must
listen... learn... cooperate. There's a message for us there for that day."
Father Paul went on to discuss the current trend toward what he calls
"Eucharistic Renewal." Along with the benefits of greater frequency of receiving Communion,
he stressed that there is also a danger of disrespecting it, of not being properly
prepared. "You can be a frequent communicant and be inured to the fruits of Communion.
It becomes habitual," he said. Everyone sins on a daily basis, to some extent. But most
of the grievances are minor and do not require private confession before each Liturgy in
order to receive Holy Communion, if you participate in Confession and Communion regularly.
"Not all sins separate us from the Eucharist," Father Paul said. "There are three big ones
and then there are the everyday ones. Some sins are 'deadly sins' that cut us off from
Christ such that the light of Christ cannot flow into us." The three big sins are murder,
adultery and idolatry or apostasy. And breaking any of the Ten Commandments calls for
private confession. But there is also a whole range of sin that falls in between
something as minor as laziness and something as major as murder. "All the greater sins
come from lesser sins. There is a psychological continuity. It's not always clear when a
sin is serious or not. This depends on how our consciences are framed, how we understand
things," he said. "There's a difference between being embarrassed about something and
being tortured by it." For those who have not committed sins that cut them off from Holy
Communion, there are many ways in which we can be cleansed of sin. "Prayer, fasting and
almsgiving lead to forgiveness of sins," said Father Paul. "Even the Eucharist is
According to Father Paul, there are many points within the Liturgy
which have the built-in purpose of preparing one to receive Communion worthily. Psalms
and reading of Scripture--and our attentive listening to it--cleanse us, in addition to
prayers for forgiveness.
General or common confession takes place at St. Luke's church when
scheduled on Saturday after the vespers service. It prepares the whole congregation to
regularly take Communion. It is a type of confession that "covers" us for the more minor,
everyday sins. It is like a maintenance program for the soul, similar to checking the oil
in your car to ensure the engine continues to run smoothly.
"The common approach is for people who have not cut themselves off from Christ. They don't
need [private] confession, but they need confession---they need that articulation... It's
valid and good for the Church and allows us to grow together." According to Father Paul,
confession as a congregation is very powerful and beneficial for all, because those who
are struggling are cloaked by the community, buoyed up by the support of those around
them. As an example, he referred to the Bible story of the paralytic, who was saved
because of the faith of others around the him.
Following the seminar, Father Paul led all those in attendance through
the service of common confession. Using a portion of the book he has written on the
subject of confession, he read a series of short paragraphs, pausing after each one to
give everyone a chance to reflect and look inward, to question whether they have been
guilty of each minor offense and ask God for forgiveness. The series of short excerpts
from the Bible was thoughtfully compiled and written by Father Paul, drawing directly
from the words of Jesus and the Apostles. It is similar to a "best-of" version of all
the wisest and most important teachings from the New Testament; all the parts that tell
us how we are supposed to live our lives.
Following the general confession, there was an opportunity for each
person to come forward and privately add anything that was particularly burdening them,
and then the prayer of absolution was read for each person individualy. The next Common
Confession will be held on Saturday October 2nd at 5:30 PM. ALL SHOULD ATTEND!