Confession is an important and integral aspect of Christian life. Its foundation is Scriptural and its practice goes back to Apostolic times. The ongoing forgiveness of sins in the Church rests in Him that makes all things possible in the Church: the Holy Spirit sent by Christ from the Father to those who are His.
When Jesus sees the Apostles after His resurrection, He breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. "(John 20:22,23). The presence and the power of Christ''''s forgiveness remains in the Church in which all of His gifts reside.
Jesus tells His disciples to hear the sins of the people and impart His forgiveness, just like at the Last Supper He tells them to perform what we know as the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Confession was a public part of Christian life in the early Church. In his epistle, James teaches his readers to "confess to one another" (James 5:16). In fact, in the early Christian Church, confession was public. Secret and private confession (at home by oneself) is a modern idea completely unknown in the Bible and throughout Christian history. A Confession which is not made before God, humanity and creation, is no confession at all. This is the Orthodox Faith.
In the early Church, confession was made to the whole congregation. Afterwards the priest read a prayer over the person which manifested God''''s forgiveness. With time this practice became difficult to keep up because of growth in Church membership. Confession to the whole congregation ceased by the fourth century and the priest came to represent the whole congregation in Confession.
The priest would hear the person''''s sins, offer guidance and encouragement and then pray over the person. This is how confession is still practised today. Confession is totally based on the Bible and Holy Tradition. Any person who is seriously trying to live an Orthodox Christian life will go to Confession regularly. They will choose a priest they feel comfortable with and make time to confess their sins and seek guidance in their spiritual life. The priest is not a judge, but a fatherly friend. He cannot forgive sins, only God does that, but Christ has given him the authority to hear sins and pray over the person for forgiveness. The priest helps our confessions to be more reflective, less rationalised and more honest, He can act as a mirror for us which feeds back things we would be more likely to avoid on our own. The priest may guide us into a deeper prayer life and Scripture reading. He slowly becomes what the Orthodox call, our Spiritual Father, nurturing us with the words of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in our Journey to the Father.
If you haven''''t been to confession, then pray for guidance, see a priest and make some time to get together. Ask him how you should prepare and then make the commitment to seek regular confession in a spirit of sincere repentance and faith in God. The rewards to your life will be immense.
Rev. Dimitri Tsakas
Parish Priest of the Parish of St. George - Brisbane (QLD)