Perhaps the most misunderstood sacrament of the Christian Church is confession. How did it originate? What roles 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 marvellous promise:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of 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 become difficult. Out of mercy, Priests began to witness confessions on behalf of the Church.
The penitent often faces a desk on which are places the Cross and an icon of the Saviour or the Book of the Gospels; the priest stands slightly to one side. This outward arrangement emphasizes that in Confession it is not the priest but God who is the judge, while the priest is only a witness and God’s minister.
The priest listens to the Confession and if necessary asks questions, and then gives advice. After Confessing everything, the penitent kneels or bows his/her head , and the priest placing his stole (epitrachilion) on the penitent’s head then laying his hand upon the stole, says the prayer of absolution.
Many Orthodox has a special ‘spiritual Father’, not necessarily their parish priest, to whom, they go regularly for confession and spiritual advise. There is no strict rule laying down how often one should go for Confession.
“go and sin no more” John 8:11
Gillquist, Peter E, Alan Wallerstedt, and Joseph Allen. 1993. The Orthodox Study Bible. 1st ed. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson.
Kallistos,. 1993. The Orthodox Church. 1st ed. London, England: Penguin Books.