Written By: on Nov 12th, 2010 and filed under Articles, We Believe, Youth And Faith.

Perhaps the most misunderstood sacrament of the Christian Church is confession.

How did it originate? What role does a priest play? Is there a special procedure for confession? The Scriptures hold answers to these questions.

Concerning our sins, God’s Word gives a marvelous promise. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The faithful are to bring their sins to God in repentance and receive cleansing and forgiveness.

The early Christian community had a specific practice in this regard. People would stand and confess their sins to God in the presence of the whole congregation! Had not Jesus encouraged His followers to walk in the light together, to confront problems corporately, to “tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17)” Thus James writes, “Confess your trespasses to one another” James 5:16). But as time went on and the Church grew in numbers, strangers came to visit and public confession became more difficult. Out of mercy, priests began to witness confessions of sin privately on behalf of the Church.

Jesus gave His disciples the authority to forgive sin. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” Gohn 20:23; see also Matt. 16:19). From the beginning, Christians understood that the grace of ordination endowed the shepherd of the flock with the discernment and compassion to speak the words of remission, on behalf of Christ, regarding the sins of those who confess and turn from sin. For God has promised the removing of sin from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Ps. 103:12).

“You did not choose Me,” Jesus told the Twelve, “but I chose you and appointed [ordained] you.” John 15:16).
To these same disciples Jesus promised, “It is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
Whom God calls, He equips. Paul writes to Timothy, “Stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6). It is the grace of the Holy Spirit which enables the priest to serve God and the people.

Thus the Church has encouraged her faithful: If you know you have committed a specific sin, do not hide it but confess it before coming to the Holy Eucharist. St. Paul wrote, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28), and “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Cor. 11:31).

King David learned a lesson regarding his sin which is recorded for our benefit. For about a year, he had hidden his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband (2 Sam. 11:1-12:13). Then, confronted by Nathan the prophet, David repented from his heart and confessed his sin in a psalm which is used for general confession to this day (Ps. 51). The joy of salvation was restored to him.

People ask, “Can’t I confess to God privately?” Certainly, though there is no clear biblical basis for it. Even general confession occurs in the Church. In His mercy, God provides the sacrament of confession (more properly called the sacrament of repentance) to give us deliverance from sin and from what psychologists call denial. It is easy to pray in isolation, yet never come clean. It is far more effective to confess aloud to God before a priest, and benefit from his guidance and help.

Thus we come before the holy icon of Christ, to whom we confess, and are guided by the priest, our spiritual father, in a cleansing inventory of our lives. When we tell God all, naming our sins and failures, we hear those glorious words of freedom which announce Christ’s promise of forgiveness of all our sins. We resolve to “go and sin no more” John 8:11).

Courtesy: The Orthodox Study Bible NT and Psalms 1993 – pp 571

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7 Responses for “Confession”

  1. T Daniel says:

    (1 John 1:9). The faithful are to bring their sins to God in repentance and receive cleansing and forgiveness. (Not priests who come and go often)

    It is not out of MERCY that the Church advocates personal confession!! Hard to believe.

    Do people who confess, speak of all their sins to the priest? And yet they partake in absolution/holy communion without a complete confession? Is this not a sin in itself? Even more, a laughable farce!

    I think it is time for people to confess what GOOD they have done rather than to focus on the negatives. (Now even the priestly cohort will be tongue tied). Focus on the good to develop your conscience and to live by a higher reason.

    For cathartic benefits of confession, it is best to talk to God directly. And if that is not satisfactory, see a psychiatrist.

    It is time to shelve these archaic impositions and walk in the path of Christ to come out of the cycle of “sin and forgiveness” ritual.

  2. K. T. George says:

    Fr. T. George, Ireland commnets: <>
    I am a bit confused by achen’s comment. Is he responding to mine as well as Varghese Mathai’s posts?
    As I understand, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Luthran pastor who advocated assassination of Hitler and in fact hanged at the early age of 39 for the assassination plot. Is his teaching on confession accepted by the Orthodox Church? I would greatly appreciate, achen, if I can get a few more details about his teaching on confession viz a viz ours.

  3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, ” Confession is not a divine law, but an offer of divine help for the sinner”.

  4. JVG says:

    yes – Thanks very much George Achen for additional commentary to help demystify and explain confession to us all! I think many people, especially young people have difficulty with approaching this sacred duty.

  5. My questiobn is something else

    What about the reconciliation with the fellow being. Some times even with the priest. Of course there are answers for the priest sins there are secret prayers. But does our conscious can say that are we doing in its real spirit? Are we both the laity as well as the representative of Almighty are able to participate and receive the Holy Qurbana in purity of heart when the celebrant priest and the laity has not reconciled with each other? Are both of them are able to be controled of their mind? Does the conscious (I may term it the gift of Holy spirits presence, which the human creations only have been given by His grace) can say that after receving the Holy confession and subseqently receving the Holy Qurbana we are cleansed; and therby renewed the Holy Spirti in us?
    We have diluted every thing which the early Chruch had handed over to us. The Public repentence in early chruch served both the pruposes. First reconcile with the brothers if was not reconciled privately but by the interference of the Church then repent for it so that gift of forgiveness was granted.
    Or else I may name it all these as just a performance? Just cheating both God and men. Can we able to take a retreat and come back to the early times. Come revive leave this performance and professionilism.

  6. K. T. George says:

    Thank you Herald for publishing this article and thank George achen from Ireland for his response which throws more light into the mystery of confession, especially for the following thought:
    “Genuine confession must be with full confidence in the father confessor, with utter frankness and a sincere desire to forsake the sins confessed and to start a new life of purity and usefulness……..The best proof for the need of confession would be a trial of making a sincere and outspoken confession before a priest in whom one has full confidence.”
    Here lies crux of what is wrong with the modern day confession. Instead of spiritual cleansing to “start a new life of purity and usefulness”, modern day confession has become a corporate eligibility requirement for attending Pothuyogam. Therefore it has become a secular practice. The Church must separate the worldly from the spiritually in order to give due attention to the spiritual self. There are cases where people are brought to the church in the morning for confession so that rival parties can muster their votes.
    How can one make a “sincere and outspoken confession before a priest in whom one has full confidence” when we suspect that the priest revealed the confessed matter to third persons? It did happen in one parish and diocesan metropolitan and Bava thirumeni were appealed to investigate the matter and restore confidence in the congregation. NOTHING HAPPENED. That is what is happening in our Church.
    At the same time, a Roman Catholic priest in Kerala owned a crime he did not commit because he wanted to uphold the sanctity of confession when the actual criminal admitted his crime before him in confession. Preparations are afoot to see if he could be declared saint.
    Once a Brahmin-turned Christian spoke: Conscience is a synonym for God. If you do not have conscience, there is no difference between man, the supreme creation, and animal.
    We must uphold the purity of purpose in confession between the father confessor and the sinner.

  7. Mar Osthathios says: “Private or auricular confession before a priest is a sacrament of great benefit, if rightly conducted. Christ has given the authority of remitting or forgiving the sins to the apostles (Mt.18: 18, Jn. 20: 22; James 5: 16). Aachan had to confess before Joshua as confession before God (Josh. 7:19) though it was not sufficient to save him from punishment as it was before the atoning death of Christ for the sins of the whole of humanity. True confession is also a pastoral counseling. Absolution by the priest gives the assurance. Expression prevents suppression and the consequent repression of pardon and a new song in the heart. Genuine confession must be with full confidence in the father confessor, with utter frankness and a sincere desire to forsake the sins confessed and to start a new life of purity and usefulness. Authentic confession ends with unconditional surrender to Christ. There are many who think that in stopping the practice of private confession the Protestant brethren were throwing away the baby with the bath-water. No doubt medieval practice of confession and the sale of indulgences needed to be reformed. Even today, there are many formal and routine practices of confession which need to be reformed, but confession as such is very useful and must be preserved for all those who have some guilty feeling to be shared and absolved. Self-examination asked for in I Cor. 11:27 would make us realize that there are hidden sins in us to be confessed. The best proof for the need of confession would be a trial of making a sincere and outspoken confession before a priest in whom one has full confidence. That would convince one of its efficacy. There is no other sacrament which gives so much of relief of the heart and the joy of forgiveness (Read Ps. 32; Prov. 28: 13; Lk. 15: 20-24).

    Logan says: ” It is certain that Indian ideas and practices conributed largely to form which Orthodox Christianity in the West finally adopted. Monasteries and Nunneries, tonsures, rosaries, confession and celebacy, all seem to have found their way to Europe from Indian Source”.( Malabar Manual p 254).
    40 Questions answered by HG Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios Metropolitan, St. Paul’s MTC, Mavelikara.
    ‘Early Foreign Contacts’ ( ‘A Survey of Kerala History’ by A. Sreedhara Menon, 1984 ).

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