Holy confession is the sacrament instituted by our Lord for the forgiveness of sins (St. Matthew 16:19; 18:18; St. John 20:21-23). Sin may be defined as going astray from God’s love. The parable of the prodigal son provides an elegant example of distancing ourselves from God, His love and forgiving nature (St. Luke 15:11-24).
A sinful life is a state of dissatisfaction. The dissatisfaction (1 John 3:21) results from two counts—sins of commission and sins of omission. The sins of commission are those that we do which we are prohibited from doing (see, Gal. 5:19-20). Sins of omission are failure to do obligatory duties (Exodus 20:2-17). The desire to confess comes from one’s own mind. The sacrament of holy confession renews the covenant of baptism which we had entered through god-parents. The covenant is a promise to live according to God’s will.
PREPARATION FOR CONFESSION
Holy confession without proper preparation is a grave sin. St. Paul exhorts: if anyone eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way dishonours Him, is guilty of sin against Lord’s body and blood. So then, everyone should examine himself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. For if he does not recognize the meaning of Lord’s body when he eats the bread and drinks from the cup, he brings judgment on himself as he eats and drinks (1 Cor. 11:27-29; also see, 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:30). Our desire to confess and to be one with God is always challenged by Satan which results in two things (1) we refuse to acknowledge that we have sinned and (2) we try to justify or find excuses for the sins that we committed. We should be prudent to recognize that these reasons are of Satan and should listen to the feeble voice within our inner selves which suggests that something wrong is taking place.
Steps involved in the Preparation
Preparation for confession involves two important steps (1) retrospection and (2) repentance. The word retrospection means ‘looking back.’ It implies taking stock of our past life. We have to remember that life on the earth is a preparation for eternal life and that we are constantly waging a war (Roman 7:15-25). We have to find where we stand in respect to our relationship with God. It is necessary to review the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17) and seven canons of the Church. The seven canons are attend holy Mass on obligatory days, observe the five rents, observe Wednesday and Friday Lents, confess before a priest, receive holy communion, practice total abstinence on prescribed days and pay offerings and dues to the Church. We have to examine ourselves in respect to the practice of fourteen Christian charities such as feeding those who are hungry, helping the needy, etc.
There is a danger of our concentrating so much on our sins that we lose sight of the forgiving and restoring love of God. In the Gospel of Luke there is a series of parables about lost things—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (St. Luke 15). Like most of the parables, these are really stories about God the Father, who is likened to a shepherd. He goes after what is lost, finds it, and carries it home on His shoulders with joy. It might help us to prepare for confession by reading one of the famous new testament stories about separation and conciliation—the prodigal son (St. Luke 15:11-24), the woman taken in adultery (St. John 8:1-11), and the woman drying Christ’s feet with her hair (St. Luke 7:36-50). Meditate on the one which speaks to you. Reading of the even penitential Psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) will also help realize your sinful state and seek God’s mercy.
Once the retrospection is complete with selected readings, we should repent about our sinful state. Without retrospection, confession will not bear fruits. A listing of sins and comparison with earlier confession (immediately preceding) will enhance the depth and meaning of each confession. Confession is a true description and acknowledgement of one’s sinful life. However, God’s grace should strengthen us as it strengthened King David—”You will not reject a humble and repentant heart.” (Psalm 51: 17).
Steps involved in Confession
The penitent should kneel before an accredited priest, the appointed representative of God. (The priest, like anyone else, is also a sinner; but he is empowered by ordination to absolve sins.) Then, he/she should draw the sign of cross and should say one of the prescribed prayers before confession (only one of which is given in this book; see below). If time does not permit saying the prayer in the priest’s presence, say: “In the name of the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit, I confess my sins.” The penitent must admit all sins, both great and small, one by one, their number, sort and circumstance. If a sin is inadvertently omitted, the person must confess it when it comes to mind. The silence or concealing a sin is in itself a great sin. After necessary counselling, the priest says the prayer of absolution. At the end of the absolution, when the priest says and draws the sign of cross on the forehead (in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) the penitent should say Amen three times.
PRAYER OF REPENTANCE
I confess to God the Father Almighty, and to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, in the presence of Virgin Mary and all angels, prophets, seventy-two emissaries, twelve apostles and four evangelists, and confess in the faith of the three holy synods of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus, trusting in the honourable priestly authority conferred upon you, priest, by which you bind and retain sins. I have sinned in thought, word and deed. I repent my sins. You are the master and I am the servant. Accept me as the prodigal son. I have sinned against heaven and against you. I believe that you have authority to bind and retain sins and that you are the mediator between God and me. And I pray that you deliver me from all my sins by your priestly authority that I may obtain forgiveness. I pray that you remember me before God, in your prayers and in the holy Qurbana. Amen.
The one who is receiving Holy Communion should fast during the previous night and should have said the required prayer before receiving Holy Communion. However, there are some relaxations to fasting based on the health of a person (Hudayo Canon, 1974, Chapter IV). After receiving holy communion, there is another prayer that should be said. The partaking in His body and blood empowers one to keep away from sin and to be blessed with a Christian end.
(From Syriac Orthodox Resources).