The heart and soul of the Orthodox Church is her liturgical and sacramental life. This is by God’s design, precisely because the human person is created to worship God and to have a relationship with Him. It is through prayer and worship that we commune with God, but God has also given us the holy mysteries or sacraments. Baptism, Chrismation, the Eucharist, Marriage, Unction, Ordination and Confession are the main Mysteries of the Church. It is through these that God offers us communion with Him through His uncreated, fully divine Energies. These holy Mysteries are tangible ways for us to receive God’s transfiguring and sanctifying grace. God mystically participates in tangible aspects of His creation, such as water, oil, bread and wine, rings and crowns, and the laying on of hands, and invites us to become partakers of His divine nature through them.
One of the most useful and powerful Mysteries of the Church is holy Confession. For many reasons, this sacrament of reconciliation was seldom practiced during the time period when the Orthodox Faith was brought to the Americas, especially by the Orthodox coming from countries around the Mediterranean. Thankfully, the end of the 20th century saw a comeback in the emphasis placed on this life-changing sacrament. We, at St. John the Baptist, have always stressed the importance of regular and frequent confession as an integral part of the Christian life. Daily keeping account of our sins is a helpful tool in remembering our need for God. It helps us bring attentiveness and warmth of heart to our prayers. Remembering our sins in a healthy way, reminds us of our need for God and our inability to save ourselves. The accountability of facing our true selves and coming face to face with our Father Confessor keeps us on our “spiritual toes.” When we are regular in our confessions, it is unnecessary to carry around with us the burden of sin and guilt. Instead, we can unload this burden, and at the same time, replace it with the lightness of grace and an awareness of God’s love and mercy.
In order for frequent and regular confession to become normative for our entire parish of 120 families, I would like to encourage each of you, moving forward, to make an effort to prepare your confessions to be brief and to the point. To help us understand how this would work, a distinction needs to be made between confession and counseling. Counseling is when we present an issue or issues we are facing and seek feedback and advice. This type of session requires more time and usually includes some discussion. Confession, on the other hand, does not require much, if any, discussion, and the feedback or advice is more limited. The content of the confession is the penitent’s, and the priest is more of a witness, while also participating in the Priesthood of Christ and making the grace of Christ’s Priesthood present for the spiritual child. Confessions can be handled in about 15-20 minutes; whereas, a counseling session might require 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the situation. Counseling sessions are still important and necessary, and people should continue to schedule them as needed, but let’s keep confession succinct and distinct, so they can be more routine and frequent.
Thinking about confession appointments in this way, four can be scheduled in one hour, rather than dedicating an hour to one or two as we have done in the past. Not only can confessions be scheduled during the week, but they can also be done at Vespers while the Service is being chanted. In this way, many more parishioners can confess each week, and more often. The goal of all this is to continue to make the holy Mystery of Confession a central part of the spiritual life of our parish, while practically making it possible for our two priests to meet the spiritual needs of a growing parish. In no way will any parishioner be shortchanged in their “time” with the priest. On the contrary, more frequent confession will actually increase their ability to meet with the priest more often. In this way, may our merciful and loving God continue to draw us ever closer to Him through His holy mysteries, and particularly through the holy sacramentof Confession.