"If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1:9)
Repentance and the Sacrament of Holy Confession
Like faith, repentance is a turning from self and the world to God as the source of life. The biblical words for repentance suggest a complete “turning around” (shub - Hebrew), a radical “change of mind” (metanoia -Greek), abandoning evil thoughts and deeds and adopting by God’s grace a new way of life. Jesus emphasized the joy of repentance because of its results: forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal of life, and personal communion with God. The Church Fathers speak of repentance as “a gateway to heaven,” “second baptism,” “new birth,” and “renewal of the soul.” They also teach that repentance is a permanent part of Christian life and that, since no person is perfect, everyone needs to repent and confess his or her sins frequently.
The sacrament of Holy Confession has always been a central part of an Orthodox Christian’s spiritual journey during our pilgrimage with the Lord in life. The value of Holy Confession is twofold: first, through this sacramental act of the ordained priest and the Christian believer, we have the "assurance of divine forgiveness," according to the words of Christ (Jn 20:23); and second, Holy Confession provides the opportunity to talk about one’s deep concerns, to receive counsel and to be encouraged toward spiritual growth, all of which are universally recognized as extremely beneficial to personal life.
Holy Confession is appropriate whenever an Orthodox Christian feels the need for it. It is also a part of our total spiritual preparation during the fast periods leading up to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos and the Feast of The Twelve Apostles. However, Holy Confession is especially necessary when:
A serious sin has been committed;
When a habitual sin has overwhelmed a Christian, or
When a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a re-examination of priorities
Preparing for Holy Confession
We confess our sins to God and the power of forgiveness is God’s. However, the gift of God’s forgiveness, although assured, is not magical. It does not automatically spare us from spiritual struggle – the continual vigilance against evil and the unceasing warfare against sin. Holy Confession will bear fruits in the Spirit only when the believer hates evil, utterly rejects sin and patiently cultivates positive habits of the life in Christ, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus… Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life,” (Rm 6:11,13)
Preparation for Holy Confession is a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction and way of life. This prayerful self-examination includes not only the personal religious life, but also family relationships, social activities, job conduct, business dealings, political commitments, and even recreational pursuits, because our entire existence should be lived in Christ. The goal of this sincere search of conscience under the light of the Holy Spirit is not to condemn ourselves, but to affirm our true selves in Christ who has given us access to God’s mercy and forgiveness, and who has taught us to live for God’s glory.
Pray and think about your confession over several days. Ask God to help you perceive your sins and to make a thorough confession of them. Sometime before the Sacrament of Holy Confession, offer selected prayers from the above Confessional Prayers or prayer of repentance.