Preparation For Confession
Introduction by Father Andrew Harrison
This article was taken from The Orthodox Companion by the late Fr. David Abramtsov who was the Rector of my family parish of St. Michael's in Philadelphia when I was a child. The article has been revised and the biblical quotes have been checked with the New King James Bible. Some revisions in language were made and examples removed to make it more readable for our parishioners. The complete text can be purchased from Light and Light Publishing Co.
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
By Fr. David Abramtsov
ON the day of His Resurrection Our Lord imparted to the Apostles (and through them to the Bishops and Priests of His Church) the power to remit sins, with these words: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained" (John 20:23). Penance, commonly called Confession, is the Sacrament in which the sins committed after Baptism are forgiven by God through the Priest, after they are confessed to the Priest and sincerely repented of. The three basic elements of this Sacrament are: penitence, confession and absolution. According to some theologians penitence, the first part of the Sacrament, is made up of five factors to receive the sacrament properly: (a) the sense of sin and the knowledge of it; (b) contrition; (c) firm resolve for amendment; (d) faith in the saving power of Christ alone; and (e) reconciliation with one's neighbor against whom one has sinned.
The Realization of Sin
Before we receive this Sacrament we examine our conscience, i.e., we carefu1ly consider what sins we have committed. The examination of conscience is most important for by it we learn to know ourselves, and this is the beginning of all improvement. A person can no more acknowledge and overcome a fault of which he is not aware than he call cure a disease of the existence of which he is ignorant. The Creator has placed a book in the hands of every man, his conscience. This book must be studied diligently for of all our library books it is the only one which we can take with us into eternity.
Before examining our conscience we invoke the aid of the Holy Spirit that He may enlighten us. Self-knowledge is a gift of God which we can obtain by prayer alone. The eye sees everything but itself; it is the same with our spiritual sight: it is quick in discerning the faults of others and slow to see its own. It is well to examine our conscience in solitude, for there the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart (Hosea 2:14).
When examining our conscience we humble ourselves and earnestly endeavor to acquaint ourselves with our faults. Many sick people will not admit that there is anything seriously the matter with them, and sinners often do the same. This arises from pride and self-complacency. Some even count their faults as virtues; they think arrogance to be assertiveness, deceitfulness to be prudence, etc., like, some mothers who think all their children's faults to be praiseworthy qualities. In examining our conscience let us look on ourself as our own enemy; enemies have a sharp eye for one another's feelings.
In examining our conscience it is well to go through the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and precepts of the Church. These questions should be asked: (1) Have I forgotten to say prayers or been inattentive while saying them? (2) Have I neglected the things of God and Church for pleasure and play? (3) Have I uttered the Name of God or spoken of holy things irreverently? Have I said " the Lord's name in vain?" (4) Have I done unnecessary work on Sundays or Holy days? Have I missed the Liturgy, or have I been inattentive during the Liturgy or disregarded the fasts? (5) Have I been rude and quarrelsome? (6) Have I been unkind and angry to others or led them to do wrong? provoking them to anger? (7) Have I indulged any lustful thoughts, or spoken any words or done any deeds of impurity? (8) Have I been involved in theft and not made an attempt to return what was taken? Have I injured or deceived any one? (9). Have I lied, or accused any one wrongly, abused any one, or gossiped about their faults? (10) Have I coveted another person's property? Have been prideful, given into bad temper, greediness, or laziness at home, work or in school?
The most usual defect in the examination of conscience is that the penitent keeps back certain shameful sins and is careful to search out slighter ones. Such persons are like the Pharisees who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matt. 23:24). Hence it is that many do not benefit at all from Confession. How many apparently pious people will take their sins with them to eternity. All those circumstances which alter the nature of the sin are to be explained in Confession. For instance, if a man has taken something from a church or has taken another's goods by violence, it is not enough to say: "I stole;" for stealing from a church, robbery with violence, or ordinary theft are three different sins.
In order to receive the Sacrament of Penance properly we must repent of our sins, i.e., we should grieve from our heart that we have offended God by them, and the thought of offending Him should be abhorrent to us. As instances of true contrition we may mention Mary Magdalene who fell at Our Lord's feet weeping (Luke 7:36-50); the Apostle Peter who after he had denied Christ went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:15); David, who when the Prophet Nathan had awakened him to a sense of sin, lay upon the ground and neither ate nor drank (2 Kings 12), but cried: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your great mercy; and according to the multitude of Your compassion blot out my transgressions" (Ps. 51). True repentance implies profound hatred of sin and a complete rejection of sin. The Blessed Augustine says, "If that which formerly caused you joy and pleasure now fills your soul with bitterness, and that which formerly you enjoyed is now a torture to you, then know that your repentance is real." Real conversion takes place when a man turns to God with his whole heart and detaches himself completely from earthly things. Repentance is not real if we do not give up every last evil affection and offer up our heart in sacrifice to God: "Sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit: a contrite and humble heart" (Ps. 51). Such an offering to God is more priceless than all offerings and oblations.
True contrition often manifests itself in tears, as in the case of Mary Magdalene and the Apostle Peter. The tears of the penitent are the most forcible language he can use; they render forgiveness more sure; they wash away the stains of sin; they are a kind of baptism, only the cleansing waters come from within, not from without. They enlighten the mind as rain clears the sky. They bring inner consolation; they refresh the soul as dew does the plant.
We may awaken true contrition by reflection on how our sins have grievously offended the infinite majesty of God, have displeased our loving Father our greatest Benefactor. Think of the numberless stars in the heavens, the countless number of human beings upon earth, the innumerable hosts of spirits in the invisible world, and then conclude how infinite is God's greatness. God is the Almighty Creator of Heaven and earth; the awful and righteous Judge of the Universe. And we have offended this Sovereign Lord! Consider the greatness of our Heavenly Father's love for us in that He gave what was dearest to Him, His Only-begotten Son for us. How shameful to offend so loving a Father! Remember also all that Christ suffered for us. Consider too the innumerable benefits which throughout our lives we have received from God: health, food, clothing, etc. All these things are His gifts. Instead of showing thankfulness to God we have often grieved Him, repaid His benefits with ingratitude, have often insulted Him with our sins.
Confession without contrition of heart does not obtain God's forgiveness. The man who goes to Confession without sorrow of mind, without loathing for the sins committed, but merely from force of habit and not from consciousness of sin, derives no benefit from the act. The farmer who scatters seed on untilled soil labors in vain; so the words of Absolution are meaningless to one whose heart is unprepared and who will not renounce sin. Confession without contrition is like a gun loaded without ammunition, an ear of corn empty of grain; it is like the barren fig tree that our Lord condemned. On the tree of Penance confession is only the leaves while contrition is the fruit. St. John Chrysostom compares the man who goes to Confession without contrition to an actor in a play. From the parable of the Prodigal Son we see that confession alone is not everything; the father scarcely heeded what his son said, but as soon as he saw that his heart was changed, he hardly let him finish speaking, but clasped him in his arms (Luke 15:11-32).
The Resolution to Amend
We must make a firm resolution, i.e., steadfastly determine with the help of God to try to put an end to a sin and in the future to avoid the occasions of a sin. To try to live with all prudence. The resolution to desist from a sin is an essential part of true repentance. As long as the will retains its attachment to a sin it cannot be forgiven. It is only after the promise of amendment that the penitent is absolved. He who does not think whatever about bettering himself confesses in vain, for even if the Priest says "Your are forgiven and absolved" the Holy Spirit does not forgive and absolve! Unfortunately, many people who make resolutions to amend their life do not adhere to their resolutions. A good resolution is like a nail driven fast into a wall; but many resolutions resemble a nail badly knocked in which falls out as soon as anything is hung upon it. The way to Hell is paved with good resolutions that have not been carried out. Good resolutions are of no use without Divine assistance any more than corn can ripen without rain and sunshine. We must therefore not trust to our own strength but in the Grace of God.
It is almost impossible to carry out many resolutions at a time. To attempt this is like trying to roll several large stones up hill all at once; we shall succeed with none. We should resolve to uproot one sin at a time, the one to which we are most attached. In trying to overcome one fault we shall be combating all the others. If we rooted out one vice every year we will grow toward perfection.
In order to receive this Sacrament properly we must have lively and saving faith, i.e. with knowledge of the articles of the creed which are most necessary to salvation, we should believe in Jesus Christ and live according to His holy commandments; and while repenting of all past sins, we should trust with our whole heart that Christ will grant forgiveness for them. We must believe that the Lord is prepared to forgive all sins no matter of what magnitude if only we repent of them wholeheartedly. It is necessary to believe and hope that Almighty God desires and seeks our conversion. He has assured us of this through the Prophet Ezekiel; "As I live, I desire not the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel. 33:11).
Confession without faith in Christ, without trust in His loving kindness, is no less dead than a body without a soul. The example of Judas shows this clearly. He betrayed Christ, later repented, confessed his sin publicly and returned the pieces of silver; but because he would not seek God's mercy, with trust in the Son of God who had allowed Himself to be betrayed, his confession did him no good at all and was followed not by Absolution, but by despair and suicide. Faith in Christ is necessary for repentance because it has such virtue that of itself brings peace to the troubled sinner, and frees him from condemnation and torment? (Rom. 5:1; 8:1). St. Ambrose wrote: "Repentance cannot be performed aright unless there be trust for the forgiveness of sin. It is not tears only that God requires, but also faith: tears are profitable indeed, but so that we also know Christ."
Reconciliation with One's Neighbor
He who wishes to approach this Sacrament but has any quarrel with another must first be reconciled; if he has done any wrong to any one, he must amend it so far as this is possible (Matt. 5:23-24). St. John Chrysostom, writes: "If in thought you have injured any, then in thought be reconciled; if by word you have injured any, then by word be reconciled; but if by deed, then be reconciled also by deed." If a person can make amends but does not, he is not truly penitent; and, consequently, even though the prayer of absolution is read he would remain unabsolved with God. This is especially applicable to the sin of stealing, of which it is said: There is no Absolution for the sin unless the thing stolen be restored.
If a person has himself been wronged by any other, then it is his duty to forgive the injury. We should forgive our fellow servants the one-penny debt in order that we may obtain for ourselves the forgiveness of our greater debts, our talents, and so not suffer what befell the debtor in the Gospel (Matt. 18:35). True forgiveness means never to seek revenge, either secretly or openly; never to recall wrongs or insults, but rather to forget them; but above all it means loving our enemies as friends, as brothers and sisters, protecting their honor and treating them honestly in all things. It is a difficult matter to forgive injuries against oneself, but he who can forgive is for this reason great before both God and man. We have the warning from Christ that unless we forgive the offences of others God will not forgive ours (Matt. 6:1445). Even if we frequently pray to God and have so great a faith that we can move mountains, distribute all our belongings to the needy and give up our body to the fire, all will be in vain if we do not practice forgiveness. If we refuse to forgive those who have harmed us, our enemies, then neither prayer, faith nor alms giving will avail to help us.
In order to receive this Sacrament properly, therefore, we must forgive our enemies and ask forgiveness of those whom we have offended. Thus if you have harmed any one by word, entreat forgiveness of him. Go to him, and say, "Forgive me." If you have injured any one by deed, endeavor to expiate your guilt-and compensate for his damage. You may then be certain that all of your sins, no matter how great they may be, will be forgiven you by the God of mercy.
AFTER reviewing our conscience and being truly sorry for our sins we follow the example of the penitent Mary Magdalene who cast herself at Our Lord's feet and heard from His lips the words: "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7: 48). The sinner now acts as she did: filled with sorrow and contrition, he casts himself at the feet of Christ's representative, confesses his guilt and obtains the pardon of his transgressions. Our Confession to be sincere must indicate evidence of sorrow for sin and be by word of mouth, full, complete and explicit. It involves the statement and acknowledgment of concrete sins, humbly, devoutly and categorically.
Confession is made secretly, i.e., we must speak in so low a tone that no one hears what is said except the priest. Confession must be accurate. We should avoid the use of general terms; for instance, "I have transgressed the Third, Fifth or Seventh Commandment; I have not loved God with my whole heart; I have sinned in thought, word and deed." Such phrases are not specific enough. Yet while entering into particulars, everything should be told as briefly as possible, every superfluous detail and all, irrelevant matter should be avoided. Ambiguous expressions, attempts at self-justification, are not a Confession; the penitent must be simple and candid as a crystal is clear and transparent. A true Confession should represent the exact state of the soul as if it were in a mirror, and the penitent should not conceal any of the sins, or those circumstances which add to or diminish their weight, and because of which his conscience troubles him. Neither however should he excuse himself nor extenuate his sins by any false pretexts, as of his weakness, necessity or ignorance; much less should he blame his sin on any one else (Gen. 3:12-13). To seek to justify one's self is to act like our first parents in Paradise who shifted the blame from their own shoulders and were punished more severely for it. It has been said: "Accuse yourself and God will excuse you; excuse yourself and God will accuse you."
Any one who has been accessory to our sin is not to be mentioned by name. Should the penitent reveal the names of his partners in sins, it will not be the Confession of a sinner but the self-justification of the Pharisee and an accusation of other men's sins; sins, perhaps, of which the humble publican has already been justified (Luke 18:1144).
The penitent must not take offence if the Confessor reproves or questions him. In Confession the Priest is in the place of God, the penitent is but a sinner. A king once said to a Priest who timidly addressed him as "Your Majesty": "I am not a king here nor are you a subject; I am a child and you are a father." That is why the priest addresses all you who approach him in Confession as "My child." If the Priest perceives that the Confession is not entire and complete, he asks questions; just as the customs officer, if he thinks that a traveler has articles on which duty has to be paid, does not satisfy himself with yes or no, but searches his luggage. However the Priest is not interested in all the details of a particular sin, but rather searches and enquires diligently after the causes which led to the sin in order that he may be able to apply a remedy suitable to the wound. He tries to teach the penitent in the future to kill the sin in its very bud and to give it no opportunity for further growth. His questions are also for the purpose of being better able to impose on his penitent a penance suitable to the nature and causes of the sin.
There are various kinds of sin but generally they may be divided into deadly and pardonable sins. From Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers it is quite clear that there are some sins "unto death" and some "not unto death" (1 John 5:16-17), just as there are some diseases of the body which cause death, and others which, while they cause weakness and pain, are not mortal. All sins therefore are not equal. Certainly the trifling anger of a little child is not as great an act of sin as the violence of a man who commits murder, although both are breaches of the Sixth Commandment. The child who takes a lump of sugar is not as guilty as the burglar who robs a bank. According to the Blessed Jerome, "There are light sins; there are grave ones. It is one thing to owe ten thousand talents another to owe a farthing.... You see that if by prayer we can win pardon for light ones, and if for graver ones it is difficult to win pardon, then there must be a difference between light sins and grave sins." The difference between deadly or grievous sin and pardonable or minor sin is partly to be found in the gravity of the act itself. Just as the Priests of the Old Testament were commanded to distinguish carefully between one kind of leprosy and another (Lev. 13), so under the New Covenant must we carefully distinguish between various sins. The New Testament Priest must determine how dangerous our spiritual leprosy may be; how deep it has gone into our soul; whether it has spread widely among our powers and senses; whether it has changed that image of Christ which must be in every Christian (Gal. 4:19); whether it has deprived our soul of the sap of life, the Grace of the Holy Spirit. The sins called pardonable are those committed ignorantly and involuntarily. Deadly sins are those done willingly, knowingly, with a set purpose, and as it were with a high hand against God (Num. 15:34). Grievous or deadly sin cuts the soul off from God, destroys all Grace and renders the soul displeasing to God; and no works done in this state can be acceptable to Him.
Since grievous sin is so hateful to God and so disastrous to man it is important that we should be able to recognize it in ourselves when we make our self-examination if we have been so unfortunate to fall into it. These sins must be acknowledged with contrition in the Sacrament of Penance if they are to be forgiven. If the beams are burned away the planks will probably be consumed with them, but the reverse is not the case. It is most important therefore to confess the deadly sin. Unfortunately people are too apt to confess the smaller sins and conceal the grave ones. Yet it is profitable and necessary to confess the smaller sins for thereby we acquire greater peace of mind, and because it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a sin was committed involuntarily or not. If we do not root out the minor or "pardonable' sins they may lead to greater ones much more disastrous to us. There is probably no one who does not almost every day commit such sins through temper or pride or slothfulness, and it is for this reason that the Church urges us to examine our conscience daily and ask God's forgiveness for them. All the deadly sins of which we are conscious must be enumerated in Confession; however it may occur that one is forgotten; if so, it must be mentioned next time and we need not distress ourselves if we do not remember it until after Holy Communion, for our Confession was not sacrilegious.
No one ought to be deterred from confessing his sins by a feeling of shame. Furthermore it is absurd that a man who was shameless enough to commit a certain sin should be too ashamed to express his penitence for having committed it. The Priest will not under any pretext reveal what he has heard in Confession, and he is ever ready to receive the contrite sinner kindly. Some one who had confessed several grievous sins to a holy spiritual father, afterwards said to him: "What can you think of me now?" The spiritual father replied: "I think you must be a very holy person for only the Saints have made so good a Confession!" Nothing gives a Priest greater joy than to see that a penitent has made a full and sincere Confession of all his misdeeds, for then he knows that his conversion is real. He who is ashamed of confessing to the Priest will one day be put to confusion before the whole world. To such a one God says: "I will show your nakedness to the nations, and the kingdoms your shame " (Nah. 3:5). It is far better to confess one's misdeeds to the servant of God who has compassion with the sinner, than to be put to shame in the sight of all men; far better willingly to acknowledge them once for all, than to do so compulsorily throughout all eternity. What man conceals, God reveals; what a man confesses, God suppresses.
He who conceals a grave sin in Confession from a sense of shame does not obtain forgiveness. If all the locks on a door are unfastened except one, the door cannot be opened; so it is with the soul; unless every grievous sin, those locks of the soul, is subject to the power of Absolution, the door of reconciliation cannot be opened. Moreover to conceal a deadly sin in Confession is to commit the grievous sin of sacrilege, the profanation and contempt of Divine things. By concealing one sin a man also embitters his life. Sin unconfessed is like indigestible food, which lies in the stomach and ruins the health. It must also be pointed out that he who lies in Confession deceives himself, not God.
Any one who conceals a grievous sin in Confession exposes himself to the grave risk of dying unrepentant. Sin concealed is fatal to the spiritual life; it is like a wound which bleeds inwardly and causes death. In order to be reinstated in God's graces under such circumstances, it is necessary not only to confess the sin purposely concealed, but all the other sins mentioned in the first worthless Confession, as well as all that have been since committed whether they have been confessed or not. Hence a Saint gives this advice: "Begin with the sin which it costs you most to confess, and afterwards all the rest will come easy to you." Once the general is slain, the whole army will speedily be routed. If you find it very difficult to confess any sin in particular, say at least to the Priest "There is something more, but I cannot bring myself to tell it." In a sympathetic and fatherly tone he will give you courage to climb this hurdle.
ABSOLUTION AND PENANCES
AFTER the Confession is completed and we have been careful not to conceal anything or leave some secret unconfessed because of shame, the Priest as a good physician, may ask any necessary questions, give counsel and prescribe the appropriate remedies. Having in mind the example of Christ who told many: "Thy sins are forgiven thee," the Priest recites the prayer of absolution. However he also remembers the words of admonition Christ often added to His Absolutions: "Go and sin no more." In order to safeguard the penitent from yielding again to sin, to resist temptation and to establish him in his state of pardon, the Priest may apply certain medicines or penances (known in Greek as "Epitimia"). These penances are remedies to preserve the state of convalescence and to protect against relapse. Some of the penances the Priest may impose are, for example, reading from the Bible, frequent prayer, a certain number of prostrations to be made together with prayer, spiritual reading, almsgiving, pilgrimage to sacred shrines, fasting, serving in hospitals, assisting the church to spread the Gospel either by offerings or personal services, exclusion from Communion for a time, and other spiritual exercises and good works.
Penances are enjoined also that we may bring forth worthy fruits of repentance (Matt. 3:8), i.e., perform good works which would bear witness to our sincere repentance and lay the foundations of a virtuous life. They are also imposed that we may take all possible steps toward killing the remaining roots of the sin which we have confessed, i.e., those incentives which, beget the sin; and of destroying the habit if it should have become habitual. As a rule the Priest imposes on the penitent penances exactly opposed to his evil inclinations: almsdeeds on the avaricious and covetous, fasting on the intemperate and sensual, prayer on the weak in faith and hope, etc. Nothing is more efficacious in eradicating sin than prayer, almsgiving and fasting because the lust of the eyes and flesh and the pride of life are overcome by the practice of the opposite virtues. St. John Chrysostom writes thus: "How can we bring forth worthy fruits of repentance but by doing what is contrary to our sins? Have you stolen what is another's? Begin then to give away what is your own; Have you lived a long time in fornication? Abstain even from a lawful bed; Have you injured any one by deed or word? Then bless those who cure you; and strive to soften those who strike you, both by serving them and by doing them good."
The Confessor also directs reparation to be made for any injury that has been done. He obliges those who have stolen other people's goods to make restitution. He directs those who have wronged others by slander to retract their words and make an apology. The Priest, however, deals gently with the penitent and does not require from him what he cannot perform.
Although penances are greatly beneficial because they help us to live a life of righteousness and assist us from falling into sin again, they are not an indispensable part of the Sacrament and are not integrally connected with it. All of the benefits of the Sacrament are bestowed upon the penitent upon the basis of true repentance and Confession. The Absolution is a complete forgiveness and remission of all sins and involves the deliverance from the external penalties of sin. It renews our Baptism, reconciles us with God and gives us the gift of peace and confidence. Penances are of practical, medicinal use and are for the purpose of preserving the penitent in the state of healing attained from the Sacrament. The person however who neglects to perform the penance appointed him loses many graces and the opportunity to better and strengthen his spiritual life, and he violates the obedience he owes to his Priest as God's representative; but he does not thereby render his Confession invalid. He is like a sick man who, when the physician has gone, will not take the medicine he prescribed. He shows moreover that he does not think seriously of amending his life.
THE METHOD OF CONFESSION
AS pointed out above, in order to make a properly confession it is necessary to prepare very carefully. We do this in part by examining our conscience (1 Cor. 11:28) to see what sins we are burdened down with and which we desire to lift from our souls. We must try to remember all the injuries we have committed against God and against our neighbor. If possible we must ask forgiveness from everyone we have wronged and offended. St. Demetrius of Rostov, in speaking of the preparation for Holy Communion, says: "See that you have a pure heart, are at peace with God, of one mind with His Church, and have love towards your neighbor. As long as we remain in sin, we will not have peace with God, for our sins separate us and make us enemies of God." We must ask God to help us by giving us Grace to make a thorough self-examination, courage to make a sincere and complete Confession, and strength to amend our way of life in the future. We then read such penitential prayers and psalms as will put us in the proper frame of mind.
When it is about time to approach the place of Confession we make two Prostrations and when we see that the previous penitent has concluded his Confession, we approach the Priest, our Father Confessor, who is standing or sitting before a small table (called an Analogion) upon which is lying the Holy Gospel and Holy Cross. These serve to remind us that we are going to tell our sins to the Lord Himself and that the Priest listens to them as His representative and witness. The Place of Confession is usually in some secluded Part of the church, usually in front of an Icon of Christ, which leads us into contrition. We place ourselves in the presence of our Heavenly Father, and begin our confession by kissing the Holy Cross and Holy Gospel and reciting the following prayer:
PRAYER BEFORE CONFESSION
Hear me, my God and Creator, and listen to me, a sinner and your unworthy servant. I have often promised to amend my ways, yet I still remain unchanged. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned and I acknowledge my transgressions and am truly repentant. I am ashamed to come before your face, for I have not kept my word to turn from my iniquity. What shall I say for my lack of gratitude, and where shall I turn? I have greatly sinned, my compassionate Master, but I boldly come and fall down at your feet. You accepted to die on the cross because of my wickedness; you call sinners through your holy scriptures, and you cry out in your own voice: Those who come to me shall not be cast out. Therefore, receive me, the unworthy one, O Lord; forgive all my sins, and in your great and immeasurable mercy grant me your grace and your blessings. I am truly sorry for all in which I have transgressed and angered your goodness by word, deed or thought, willingly or unwillingly. I promise that from this day forward, with your grace and help, I shall not return to my former ways. I resolve to obey you now and forever, and to worship your all-holy name, O my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to confess you to the ages of ages. Amen
We now mention without exaggeration or justification the offenses that we remember, starting with the last time we went to Confession. We tell our sins to the Priest with a humble, sorrowful and contrite heart, knowing that God who sees all things shall either forgive or withhold forgiveness depending on our attitude. Having told the Priest everything that we did or thought that was sinful, being careful not to omit anything through shame, and having answered any questions the Priest may deem necessary, we listen to his instruction and accept his penance, if he gives one.
The Priest then places his Epitrachelion (a long ribbon-like vestment which he wears during Divine Service, and which is emblematic of the arms of God which embrace every repentant sinner) on our head, recites the prayer of Absolution and dismisses us. We make the Sign of the Cross when the Priest blesses our head. Afterwards, we stand and kiss the Holy Cross and Gospel and then the hand of the Priest. We then withdraw to one of the seats, make another Prostration, say our prayers and prepare for Holy Communion, if we are about to communicate. All Christians who are seven years of age or older must make their Confession before they can receive Holy Communion.
The Prayer of Absolution
May God who pardoned David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sins, and Peter weeping bitterly for his denial, and the woman weeping at His feet, and the publican and the prodigal son, may the same God forgive you, (Name) all of your sins through me a sinner, both in this world and in the world to come, and set you uncondemned before His dreaded judgment seat. Have no further care for the sins that you have confessed depart in peace.
May Christ through the prayer of his holy Mother and of all the saints have mercy upon us and save us for He is good and loves mankind.
The Absolution is like lightning; it consumes the sin at a flash. By it, Jesus Christ, through the authority granted to the priest forgives all of our transgressions and by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, all our sins are erased and become as if they never existed. After Confession and Absolution we may depart in peace, ready to face life anew.
PRAYER AFTER CONFESSION
O Lord; glory to You my Creator and Savior, for You have not allowed me to flounder in the abyss of my sins but raised me up like drowning Peter and establish me upon the rock of repentance. I glorify and magnify Your compassion, O Savior, for You have not forsaken me while I was perishing in my iniquities but permitted me, a sinner, to repent and confess my sins to You, O Lord, and to disclose the mortal wounds of my soul to the spiritual physician ordained by You. I believe O God that my sins are forgiven for You came not to save the righteous but to call sinners to repentance, and return those who are lost to the Truth. You bestowed every good thing upon those who call upon You and You opened to me the doors of compassion and mercy for You are a God of mercy and love. To You we ascribe glory, to the Father, Son, Holy Spirit: now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.
To purchase the book "Confession: With Examination Of Conscience And Common Prayers" a comprehensive coverage of the topic of confession. Click Here