Any serious Orthodox Christian should consider going to the Sacrament of Confession before the great Feast of Pascha, our Lord’s Resurrection. It is a fundamental spiritual discipline to seek out a spiritual father, go to Confession regularly, and use this spiritual doctor to help you in your journey towards our Lord. Through Confession, we cleanse our souls from all that hinders us from drawing closer to God.
Many people, however, have never gone to Confession, and hesitate to go now. And even after they may decide to go, they’re not sure how to prepare for this Sacrament. The best place to begin is by making an appointment with the priest, and setting a time to go to Confession. The next step is to reflect upon your life, and your need for confession. Try to recall all the sins which you has committed voluntarily or involuntarily, those sins that are habitual, and others that may be more serious and heavy on your heart. We must attentively examine our lives in order to recall not only sins committed since our last confession, but also those we have never confessed Then, with compunction and a contrite heart, approach the Father Confessor and begin your confession.
1. Confess your sins honestly, remembering that you open them not to a man, but to God Himself. God knows your sins already and only wants your admission of them. You should not be embarrassed before your spiritual father. He knows human shortcomings well and our tendency towards sin. For this reason a spiritual father does not act as a judge at confession. On the contrary, a spiritual father will have all the more love for you when he sees your open, honest confession. Furthermore, if you are afraid to reveal your sins before your spiritual father, how will you overcome your embarrassment when you appear at God’s Last Judgment? There, all your sins which you have not confessed will be revealed before God Himself, the Angels and all the people.
2. Be specific when you confess. St. John Chrysostom says: “One must not only say: I have sinned, or I am sinful, but one must declare each type of sin.” “The revelation of sins,” says St. Basil the Great, “is subject to the same law as the declaration of physical ills…” The sinner is spiritually ill, and the spiritual father is like a physician. It stands to reason that one must confess or tell about one’s sins in the same way as one who is physically ill describes the symptoms of his illness to a physician from whom he expects to receive healing.
3. Do not mention anyone else during confession, i.e. do not complain about others.
4. Do not attempt to justify yourself in any way during confession: blaming others, or certain weaknesses, or habits, etc. The more one justifies himself during confession, the less one is justified by God. The more one denounces, judges and accuses oneself, the more one is justified in the eyes of God.
5. Unless asked by your spiritual father, do not list the sins you have not committed or things you have not done. Doing this, you liken yourself to the Pharisee of the Gospel. You do not confess your sins, but boast, thereby increasing your judgment.
6. We must confess with sorrow and a contrite heart the sins by which we have grieved our Lord God. It is not good that many tell of their sins matter-of-factly, without any remorse. They speak as though they are engaged in some casual conversation. We are sick and in need of healing. This is a sereous spiritual exercise.
7. Finally, confess your sins with faith in Jesus Christ, with hope in His mercy. Only with faith in Jesus Christ and hope in Him can we receive forgiveness of our sins. Without faith, we cannot receive remission. An example of this is Judas the traitor, who was remorseful of what he did, but did not have faith in Jesus, no hope in His mercy, and thus ended his own life.
This then, is how we must confess in order to receive remission of our sins from our Lord God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)