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 , 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 to forgiveness of sins," said Father Paul. "Even the Eucharist is forgiving."
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 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 individually.