How To Confess
Requirements for true repentance
The Greek for repentance is Metanoia. This means a change of mind and heart. True repentance is about changing yourself to be less human and weak and more like God in His purity so that you can be closer to Him. That is why it is a continuous process that makes repentance a way of life, full of sweetness and joy. It means you must be fully aware of your sins, hate them and continuously strive to overcome them while confessing immediately those sins you do stumble and commit.
1. Needs strong love for God and a desire to be with Him. Otherwise you will not feel the sin when it is committed and live in the sin. Like those who don’t feel guilt nor shame when they have physical relations etc. Loving God more than the world must be the first requirement.
2. Contrite heart. You cannot say sorry for something you don’t regret. “ Now, therefore,” says the LORD, “ Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” Joel 2:12.
3. Desire to not sin again. Very often we make the same mistakes again and again. It makes our confession seem fake especially as some sin 10 minutes after confession. This does not always mean that we are not truly sorry. It highlights that repentance is a way of life and a struggle. Loosing hope and therefore not confessing is the only thing that leads to death. (Hence the importance of having faith and hope in God).
4. Prayer. The most beautiful part of repentance. If you are truly repentant you must say so to God. Pray psalm 50 each word slowly in complete honesty, add your actual sins tell Him you regret them and want to come back. Bow down (matanya) remembering that you want Gods forgiveness as well as Him to change your nature
5. Now you are ready for confession in front of the priest.
Orthodox Church teaches to confess before a priest.
Look at reasons why
1. Biblical proof of its necessity
Clear instruction that the priest is the link between mans repentance and Gods acceptance. “If a person sins… or if a person swears…he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing, and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has sinned… so the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin” Leviticus 5:1-6
King David when he sinned by committing murder and adultery. He did not receive forgiveness until the prophet Nathan notified him, “The Lord also has put away your sin, you shall not die” 2 Samuel 12:13
Proverbs 28:13 “He who covers his sins will not prosper – But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” Implying to keep sins to yourself is wrong.
John the Baptist took confessions with the baptisms. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’… Then Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region around the Jordon went out to him and were baptised by him in the Jordon, confessing their sins” Matthew 3:1-6.
Jesus gave the priestly authority to the Apostles by breathing on them and with that the authority to accept people’s confessions. “He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, the are retained.” John 20:22-23
The apostles then carried this out in the Acts 19:18 “And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds”
2. Early Church practice and teaching of the fathers
Remember when explaining any matter of doctrine, or theology that we must fully interpret the entire bible and then look to the practice of the Early Church and its fathers teaching. This is a small selection; other fathers who wrote on confession include St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom.
“Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience” Didache 70 AD Note they confessed publically!
“Just as a man is enlightened by the Holy Spirit when he is baptised by a priest, so he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest” St. Athanasius (On the Gospel of Luke)
“Regard the Church priest, a spiritual father for you reveal to him your secrets openly, as the patient uncovers his hidden wounds to the physician, so you become healed” St Gregory of Nyssa.
“It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist (matt 3:6), but in Acts (19:18) they confessed to the apostles”. St. Basil the Great (Rules Briefly Treated 288).
Benefits how it encourages true repentance
- Overcome our biggest sin… Pride. People avoid confession for fear, or embarrassment. If that is true than you have not appreciated that God has already seen your sins. People who meet God e.g. near death experiences talk of feeling intense worthlessness in Gods presence but than He removes that. So confession makes us Humble, which is essential to Christianity and living with God. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly” Proverbs 16:18-19
- It is our nature to talk about our problems, therapeutic in its self just to talk to anyone. A priest a man appointed by God who will never judge or spread things is perfect for it. Especially as his priority is to be a father to you and love you.
- How can you be sure your sins are forgiven!! Our weakness of faith means people can pray and pray but the guilt never goes away, like King David who only received closure when Nathan granted it to him. So we need a priest to get closure to feel that it has truly been wiped clean.
- Transfer the guilt. We feel shame for our sins but Gods sacrifice means that we don’t ever need to feel shame. So when we confess the sin gets put onto the altar by the priest during communion and it is gone forever.
- Teaching – Remember we said that people repeat the same mistakes again and again. Confession helps you resist repeating the same mistakes because of embarrassment. But also the Priest is able to give guidance, tips, prayers, and sometimes exercises to help you overcome them.
- Discipleship – The church spread in this way, by confessing to the priest you practice virtues such as humility, obedience, meekness. Plus it is very liberating to put your spiritual life in someone else’s hands.
How to confess practically
- Examine yourself. Be completely honest and completely open. Don’t give excuses for mistakes “He who loves his life will lose it” John 12:25. “Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?” Ecclesiastics 5:6. Your concern is for your soul not what the priest will think of you and God does not care for who did what and for what reason! It dilutes your repentance if you start making excuses; it’s not a court hearing. God is only looking to cleanse you.
- Also don’t hold back expose all your deepest secrets “Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord” Lamentations 2:19. You would not hold information from your doctor because of embarrassment because you want to be healed. Don’t sugar coat your words be as truthful as you can. At the same time don’t exaggerate and really put your self down lower than your deeds. The priest will help you get this right.
- Write down your confession before hand.
- Big sins that play heavy on my soul
- Emotions and thoughts
- Personal sins committed against myself
- Sins against family and friends
- Sins against my service in the church and to God
- Sins against my work and colleges
- Sins against the world and strangers
- Or you can go through the list of sins in St. John of Kronstadt’s prayer (see below) and see how many you have committed and when.
- Finding the right confession father. You should not jump from priest to priest, as it is best to have someone who truly knows you and understands you and maintains continuity of care. Again like a doctor. So choose someone you can see regularly and you are comfortable talking to. Plus you love them and therefore trust them and obey there instruction
- Sit alone for 15 minutes minimum before confessing. Read your sins, and then pray psalm 50 and the prayer before confession. Remember this is a spiritual encounter with the Holy Spirit, you need to be in the correct frame of mind otherwise you will get embarrassed or distracted or weak hearted.
- Listen to the priest carefully. If you trust him be obedient to him. If he has given you penance (prostrations, prayers, fasting, abstaining from communion etc.) exercises do them diligently – They are not punishment the sin is forgiven it is purely a spiritual growth exercise.
- Once the absolution is prayed pray the lords prayer with the priest. Then alone pray the after confession prayer. You will feel very light at this point and very peaceful. Burn or shred the paper you wrote your sins on this will enforce the sensation of closure. (Plus stops it getting into the wrong hands!!)
Examples of prayers before and after confession
A Prayer before Confession by St. John of Kronstadt
Prayer before confession of St. Symeon the New Theologian
Agbya Prayer Before Confession
A prayer from Paradise of the Fathers
A Prayer by St. John Chrysostom
Agbya Prayer After Confession
Catholic Prayer After Confession