The gift of God's forgiveness is received through private prayer, corporate worship, the disciplines of prayer and fasting, penitential services and above all through the sacrament of Holy Confession.
The value of Holy Confession is twofold. First, through this sacramental act of the ordained priest and the Christian believer we have the assurance of divine forgiveness, according to the words of Christ (Jn 20:23). Secondly, Holy Confession provides the opportunity to talk about one's deep concerns, to receive counsel and to be encouraged toward spiritual growth, all of which are universally recognized as extremely beneficial to personal life.
Holy Confession is appropriate whenever an Orthodox Christian feels the need for it. It is also a part of our total spiritual preparation during the fast periods leading up to the great feasts of Easter, Christmas, the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos and the Feast of Twelve Apostles. However, Holy Confession is especially necessary:
- when a serious sin has been committed;
- when a habitual sin has overwhelmed a Christian, or
- when a Christian has stopped growing spiritually and needs a reexamination of priorities.
We confess our sins to God and the power of forgiveness is God's. However, the gift of God's forgiveness, although assured, is not magical. It does not automatically spare us from spiritual struggle - the continual vigilance against evil and the unceasing warfare against sin. Holy Confession will bear fruits in the Spirit only when the believer hates evil, utterly rejects sin and patiently cultivates positive habits of the life in Christ. "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to Christ Jesus. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wicked ness, but yield yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life" (Rm 6:11, 13)
How can one prepare for Holy Confession? Preparation for Holy Confession is a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words, acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction and way of life. This prayerful self-examination includes not only the personal religious life, but also family relationships, social activities, job conduct, business dealings, political commitments and even recreational pursuits, because our entire existence should be lived in under the light of the Holy Spirit is not to condemn ourselves, but to affirm our true selves in Christ who has given us access to God's mercy and forgiveness and who has taught us to live for God's glory.
Pray and think and your confession over several days. Ask God to help you perceive your sins and to make a thorough confession of them. Sometime before the sacrament of Holy Confession, offer selected prayers from the following Confessional Prayers, Psalm 51 or the following prayer of repentance:
Prayer of Repentance
O Lord my God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word and deed.
I have also omitted to do what Your holy law requires of me.
But now with repentance and contrition I turn again to Your love and mercy.
I entreat You to forgive me all my transgression and to cleanse me from all my sins.
Lord, fill my heart with the light of Your truth. Strengthen my will by Your grace.
Teach me both to desire and to do only what pleases You. Amen.
Now, without justification or self-pity, make a prayerful examinations of your conscience regarding all things.
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