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The Healing Sacrament of Confession

The Preparation for Confession:

Preparation for confession consists not of attempting to remember one’s sins as fully as possible and even writing them down, but of trying to attain that state of concentration, seriousness and prayer, in which our sins will become clear as daylight. In other words, one should bring to one’s confessor not a list of sins, but a feeling of penitence, not a detailed dissertation, but a sorrowing heart.

The Sorrowing Heart, A Real Yearning to Repend, To Amend Our Mistakes:

But to know one’s sins does not yet mean to repent of them. The Lord accepts our sincere and honest confession even when it is not accompanied by a strong feeling of repentance (if we bravely confess this sin, too - our “stony indifference”). However, a “sorrowing heart,” grief over one’s sins, is the most important thing which we can bring to the confession. But what can we do if our heart, seared by the flames of sin, is not irrigated by life-giving tears? What if the feebleness of our souls and bodies is so great, that we are unable to sincerely repent?

This is surely not a valid reason to delay our confession: God can touch our heart even in the course of confession; the very process of confessing, of naming our sins can mollify our heart, clarify our spiritual sight, sharpen our feeling of repentance. The very preparation for confession serves to overcome our spiritual indifference: fasting, which emaciates our bodies and disrupts the physical satiety which is so destructive to our spiritual life; prayer, thoughts of death; reading of the Gospel, lives of the saints and the works of the holy fathers; our earnest struggle with ourselves; the doing of good deeds. Our indifference during confession is primarily rooted in a lack of the fear of God and in a hidden disbelief. Thus our efforts must be directed towards this area. It is for this reason that tears are so important during confession - they soften our petrified state, rock us from top to bottom, simplify our internal condition, remove the major impediment to penitence - our egoism. Those who are proud and self-centered do not cry. If tears come - that means we have become softer, humbler. After such tears there is meekness, tenderness, peacefulness in the heart of those to whom the Lord has sent such joy-bringing weeping. One must not be embarrassed by tears during confession, one must let them flow freely, cleansing our impurities.

Taking Responsibility For Our Sins By Verbally Enunciating Them:

The third part of confession is the verbal enunciation of one’s sins. One must not wait to be questioned but must make the effort oneself: confession is the spiritual labor of self-coercement. One must speak precisely, without glossing over the ugliness of sin with general expressions (for example, “I have sinned against the 7th commandment”). It is very hard, when confessing, to avoid the temptation of self-justification, of trying to explain to the confessor all the “extenuating circumstances,” of making references to third parties who have led us into sin. All of this is evidence of egoism, of a lack of deep repentance, of our continued wallowing in sin. Sometimes during confession people refer to a bad memory, which supposedly prevents them from remembering their sins. In fact, it often happens that we easily forget our sins; but is it only due to a bad memory? For example, we long remember those times when our egoism was badly hurt or, conversely, when we were highly praised. Everything that makes a strong impression on us we remember clearly and for a long time, and if we forget our sins, does that not mean that we attach little importance to them?

The marks of accomplished repentance are: a feeling of lightness, purity, ineffable joy, when sinning appears to be difficult and impossible.

Our repentance will not be complete if, as we repent, we do not firmly resolve not to return to the sin which has just been confessed. But how is that possible, you may ask? How can I promise myself and my confessor that I will not repeat the sin? Will not the converse be truer - a certainty that the sin will be repeated? Everyone knows from experience that after a while one inevitably returns to the same sins; watching oneself year after year, one does not see any amelioration, it seems like “you jump - and you still remain on the same spot”! It would be terrible if it were so. But, fortunately, that is not the case. As long as one has a sincere desire to become better, there is not a single occasion when consecutive confessions and communions do not produce favorable changes in the soul. Furthermore, we cannot be our own judges; a person cannot correctly judge himself, whether he has become better or worse. Moreover, the Lord, in His special providence, often closes our eyes to our spiritual successes, in order to guard us against worse sins - those of vanity and pride. It often happens that although the sin remains, frequent confessions and the partaking of the Holy Mysteries weaken and loosen the roots of that sin. And even the very struggle against sin, the suffering over one’s sins - is that not a beneficial acquisition? “Do not fear,” - said St. John of the Ladder, “even though you fall every day, as long as you do not step off the godly path; stand bravely, and the Angel who guards you will honor your patience.”

If we do not experience a feeling of alleviation, of renewal, we must have enough strength to return to confession, to completely liberate our soul from our mistakes, to cleanse it with tears from all its negativity and non-forgiveness. Only let us not ascribe our successes to our own credit, let us not depend on our own resources, have faith in our own strength. This would mean a total loss of all that we have acquired. “Collect my wandering mind, O Lord, and purify my frozen heart; grant me the repentance of Peter, the lamentation of the publican, and the tears of the fallen woman.”

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