The Sacrament or Mysterion of Confession
Jesus said to his disciples for the second time: Peace be to you: as my Father has sent me, I also send you. And when He had said this,He breathed on them, and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven to them;
If you retain the sins of any, they are retained. (Jn. 20:21-23)
His Eminence our Archbishop suggested that I speak to our gathering about the subject of the great Mystery of ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, the Holy Confession.
I like very much this Greek word, more than that of ‘confession’, used in the Christian languages that had a dominant influence from Latin. I see three descriptive words: Ex, expressing the exit of something; Omo, expressing one unity total and excluding any other,and proclaiming its rawness; even more a cryptosporidium from that earthly gut, that is the human being who lives on the Earth. I see the meaning of ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ as to speak out, to bring out that that is in the crypt, most hidden, of our being.
In Britain, there in the early nineteen sixties, when I arrived in this country through the exchanges of teachers between the British and Spanish governments, I learnt in the centre of education where I exercised my teaching duties, that in the Anglican or any other protestant denomination there was not that called confession. However, during my first visit to St Pauls Cathedral in London, I witnessed the practise of it, and this was happening between two Anglican clerics. When I mentioned this to my colleague in the school, he was very definitive in clarifying that this could not have happened. This event prepared me for an encounter, years later, with a very prominent member of the epritopoi in one of the many churches which I have visited since I was ordained priest twenty eight years ago. Then this Christian, when he heard me preach about confession, came and said Do you mean Father like the Catholics? I replied: well, similar in some way but somehow different in another way. He replied: “I never heard of it in Cyprus”. So I opened the Mikron evchologion and showed him the akolouthia for the Exomologesis.
At present the Anglicans and some other Protestant denominations have introduced, as beneficial for people some type of confession of one kind or another. To this has contributed, in grand part, Freud’s psychoanalysis and the fashion for psychotherapies and counselling, also, of one type or another.
The ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ or Confession we are considering now is the great new baptism, that the Church has been empowered with, to save the fallen Christian, during his/her journey towards the Eternal Life. It is one more gift from Christ to Man.
This Gift was not put in the hands of angels, but in the hands of men. This is because His Church has been entrusted to men. Ηowever not to all men, but to the twelve. He had chosen them and trained them during three years before His death in the Cross. Following the Master’s teaching they also trained others, no many, just a few, to do what the Master taught and entrusted to them. And so it came to our hands, my dear very reverend Hierarchs and Fathers in the Lord and venerable brothers in the presbytery of our Archdiocese of Thyatira and Great Britain.
We may be sinners, earthly and week vessels, very fragile children of God in our resoluteness to follow Christ, however our strength and power are in those words of Christ, that we accepted the day of our Episcopal or Presbyteral Ordination and we hear them at the Vespers of Pascha and on the Sunday of Thomas:
"as my Father has sent me, I also send you."
The business of this divine mission are complex and the list long, however today we concentrate in a special and a unique one: the duty to forgive or to retain SINS.
When Our Lord, the risen Christ, empowered the Twelve, or the Eleven, with this duty and power, He did so in a particular moment and by a particular manner. This was not done in parables, it was not during the intimate discourse of the last supper, this was not left to be taught by the Holy Spirit on or after Pentecost. This was at the first meeting with His eleven after the Resurrection. Moreover, He with specific gravity He breathed on them, and very solemnly and formally said: “receive the Holy Spirit."
We should not have any doubt. We should be struck by the meaning, by the awareness, by the grandiosity, force of power entrusted by Christ to us:
"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven to them;
If you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn. 20:21-23).
My dear brother in the Presbytery fear not the task. Christ is with you, He gave you to breath His own Spirit, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, that same Spirit that begot Him, the Word Incarnate, in the womb of the Mother of God. That same Spirit fulfils through you the mission of Christ, which is also, the mission entrusted to Christ by the Father.
What a marvellous privilege! What a unique duty! The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the judge of the Christian man and woman for entering in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not their Angel Guardian, not the Powers or Dominions of Heaven, not the Court of the Saints, not even God, but the humble priest there, in a little church in a miserable village, perhaps a Bishop in his Cathedral, or at the foot of a dying man in a hospital, at home or at the road side in a car accident.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven to them;
If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.
But, I have some news for you, there is one man who is excluded of your powers, over whom you have no authority at all: that one for whom you cannot do anything is yourself. For you..., you have to present you self to any other priest.
This brings us to something very serious and also very dramatically tragic. What Christ has put on in our hands is SIN.
There was a time in the Christian world when the society was aware of sin and fought it. Today in our society the thought dominates that sin does not exist. Or, if it exists, the goodness of God would not bother much about, God will forgive it : that is the reason for defending and implementing the rights of man, and this, only, if they do not conflict with ‘my rights’.
And it goes without saying that the Devil, the Spirit of sin, of evil, neither exists. A few days ago visiting a Spanish lady, well into her eighties, widow of a colleague of mine in the Department of Spanish in Bristol University, and supposed to be Catholics both of them, there during the sixties of the twentieth century, she was shock to find that I was still believing in the Devil. And she asked me: what will happen if, when you arrive to the other side, you discover that there is no Devil? ...I replied: I shall have the most pleasant surprise. But I continued: What will happen when you arrive there and find yourself received by the Devil as one of his best friends?
Yes, Christ has put in our hands the judgement of sin.
It is our privilege and duty to discern sin in our churches and communities, among the old and the young, the men and women, all children of God, and foremost, to discern sin in our selves.
To do this discernment we have to give prime importance in our pastoral work of every week to the Holy Mystery of the ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, the Confession. The Divine Liturgy and the ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, the Confession, go together in the life of the Church. The Christian men and women in this earth sin, and it is our duty, the priests, to offer the instrument of repentance, which is the ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, the Confession. The priests also sin, as our parishioners do, we also have to go to the ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, the Confession. We should do it at least once a month, better, every week.
I am a priest now for twenty eight years. I am witness to the lack of practice in our churches of ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, of the sacrament of Confession. The priests of this Archdiocese we are gambling our Eternal Life... as we are gambling too the eternal Life of our Christian people, our own Children of God.
Yes, I have seen in some churches, sometime with a resident bishop in them, some people, before going to receive the Holy Communion, go to the south door of the ikonostasis and receive a prayer from the priest.That is not ΕΞΟΜΟΛΟΓΗΣΙΣ, Confession, neither absolution of their sins. We even have seen circular letters of some Bishops, where there instruct their priests to give a general absolution to the people before given the Holy Communion. This is an abuse of the Mysterion.
Indeed in the economy of the Church, during circumstances of immediate persecution, of war-when the soldiers use to fight body against body-, or when there is an imminent catastrophe, then, yes, a general forgiveness is called for.
Howeve, we are not now in any of those circumstances. The priest authority is based in knowledge of the sin, in knowledge of the disposition and attitude of the sinner. As I said earlier, this divine mission of Christ given to his Eleven and to us, their successors, is a special and a unique one: the duty to forgive or to retain SINS. We only can do it if we know, if according to the Holy Spirit, we should forgive or we should retain. Indeed we are already children of God, children of the light, but still in this temporal life, in here, to discern sin we have to do it with human intelligence. If we were already in Heaven, that is, Saints, our authority would have ceased. Now we only can know the sins of others through their confession. In their humble confession we are enriched by their sorrow, by their love for God whom they have offended, their firm or weak confrontation with sin. We, the priests, are moved by their struggle and all of this transforms us into judges of mercy, physicians of sickness, advocates with wisdom, brothers of the fallen seeing in their falls also our own sins, temptations, and weaknesses, and then, as our reward, we discover our tenderness of being a father.
And so, with Christ’s mission, we become redeemers; with the power and authority of the Holy Spirit we become comforters; and, with the tenderness and compassion of a father we become contemplators of the Glory of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
This sermon was preached by the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir during the vespers celebrated in the Church of Sts. Constantine and Helen, in York, on 14 May 2008, during the CLERGY CONFERENCE of the Sacred Archdiocese of Thyateira & Great Britain.
Copy right © Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir .