What is Confession?
Christ instituted the Sacrament of Confession to give man an opportunity, even many opportunities, to heal the diseases that afflict the soul. The Church has always taught, faithful to Christ’s own instructions, that every sin can be remitted in this Holy Sacrament. Even though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made whiter than snow if only we are truly sorry for having committed them, go to Confession and promise to avoid repeating them. Through this Sacrament sins are forgiven; the soul is restored and receives an increase in the divine energies; strength and spiritual assistance are given to the soul to help it avoid falling back into sin.
Preparing for Confession
Before approaching the priest for Confession, a person should:
- Examine his conscience by trying to recall to mind all of the sins he committed since the time he made his last good Confession
- Feel that interior sorrow and contrition of soul for the sins that have been committed
- Firmly resolve to keep away from all things, persons, places, or other temptations which more easily lead us into sin
- Beg Almighty God to give us Grace to keep away from all sin in the future
- Have faith in the saving power of Christ, His Mercy and readiness to forgive our sins if we are truly repentant
- Be reconciled with our neighbor against whom we have sinned.
A man who considers himself above sin or feels no sorrow and has not resolved to correct his life, cannot expect the operation of God’s Grace even if he goes through the external act of Confession. The preparation for Confession must flow from faith, love and sorrow that we have violated God’s laws, and this must result in our determination not to sin again. It is important to keep in mind that, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the forgiveness of sins proceeds from faith and love, and not from fear. One should confess his sins not because he is afraid of punishment alone, but primarily because of love of God and a desire to be in His Grace. “The grace of God never coerces man but operates where there is no oppostition.” And there is no opposition where there is love and faith.
(Adapted from “Holy Sacraments for Orthodox Christians” by Bishop Valerian D. Trifa, The Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America)
Examination of Conscience
The following is a list of questions that are a helpful starting point when preparing for Confession. By no means is this a complete list, and not all the questions may pertain to everyone reading it. Any further questions, need for clarification or special counseling should be discussed with one’s priest.
Concerning You and God
- Do you believe in God, the Holy Trinity, and in the divinity of Christ? Do you respect the Holy Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels? Do you believe in the Church and its sacraments? Do you believe that Heaven and Hell exist?
- Do you entrust yourself always, and especially during the difficult times of your life, to the care and Providence of God? Or do you despair and show a lack of faith?
- Do you believe in mediums, fortune-telling, tarot card reading, or coffee-cup reading? Do you tell other people to believe in such things and go to such people?
- Do you participate in yoga, tantra, self-hypnosis, repeating of mantras, or other such occult practices?
- Do you believe in superstition?
- Do you believe in luck?
- Do you pray morning, evening and before and after each meal? Are you embarrassed to make the sign of the cross in the presence of others, for example, in a restaurant or outside a holy church when you are passing by? Do you not make your cross properly?
- Do you read the Holy Bible as well as other Orthodox spiritual publications daily?
- Do you go to church on Sundays and on the major feast days or of the saints?
- Do you follow the Divine Liturgy carefully and reverently from the start until the end, or do you go late or leave before the end? Do you let your mind wander in church?
- Do you go to church dressed in a proper and dignified way? Are you careful not to laugh or talk even if it is a Wedding or Baptismal service?
- Do you prevent or restrict your spouse or children from church-going? Or do you tell your acquaintances not to go to church?
- Do you commune regularly or only once a year and then without Holy Confession?
- Do you give oaths withough need? Did you perhaps not fulfill your oath, vow or promise? The Bible forbids oaths completely, saying that our yes be yes and our no be no (Matthew 5:7).
- Do you blaspheme the name of God, the Virgin Mary and our saints by speaking irreverently of them?
- Do you fast (unless you have a serious health problem) on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the appointed periods of the year?
Concerning You and Others
- Do you have hatred and ill-feelings towards someone who did you wrong or insulted you in their anger?
- Are you jealous and upset over the progress, fortune, possessions, and beauty of others?
- Are you unmoved by the misfortune and needs of your fellow man?
- In your transactions with your business partners, co-workers and clients, are you honest and forthright?
- Have you criticized or slandered your fellow man, wrongly accusing them?
- Are you sarcastic and patronizing towards the believers, those who fast and endeavor to live a Christian life?
- Are you sarcastic and patronizing towards those who have physical/mental problems and/or disabilities?
- If you heard some information or criticism against someone, did you pass it on to others and harm (even unwillingly) their reputation and respect?
- Did you criticize the conduct, actions, faults, and mistakes of another person when they were not present, even if what you said was the truth? Have you ever criticized the clergy? Do you gossip about and criticize the personal lives of others? Did you listen to someone blaspheming God and not protest?
- Do you curse those who have harmed you, or curse yourself in difficult moments of your life, or curse the day and hour in which you were born?
- Do you send others “to the devil” or give them rude hand gestures?
- Do you respect your parents? Do you look after them? Do you put up with their elderly weaknesses? Do you help them with their bodily and spiritual needs? Are you mindful of their spiritual needs by making sure they go to church and partake worthily of Holy Communion? Have you abandoned them?
- Perhaps in your anger did you hit anyone with your hands or injure them with your words?
- Do you perform your job or occupation properly and with a good conscience? Or are you unfair to others?
- Do you steal? Perhaps you have encouraged or helped another person to steal? Have you agreed to cover up a theft? Have you bought or accepted goods known to be stolen?
- Are you ungrateful towards God?
- Do you keep company with bad and sinful people or associates? With your words or example, have you ever pushed anyone to sin?
- Have you ever committed forgery? Have you ever embezzled or defrauded? Have you borrowed money and/or other possessions without returning or repaying them?
- Have you ever committed murder? Have you ever considered committing murder?
- Do you have mercy and compassion on the poor, on orphans, on the elderly, on families with many children struggling to make ends meet?
- Have you lied or added or subtracted from the truth? Do you flatter others in order to get your own way?
- Have you ever sent an anonymous or cruel letter to anyone?
- Are you a slave to materialism and wordly goods?
- Are you greedy or a lover of money?
- Are you stingy?
- Are you wasteful? Do you live by the Gospel command that whatever you have leftover and above your needs belongs to the poor?
- Are you conceited and arrogant? Do you talk back to your elders and superiors?
- Do you seek attention and glory from people?
- Do you like to be told that no one else exists who is as good as you?
- Do you get upset when others reveal your faults and offended when others examine you and make comments about you? Do you get angry?
- Are you perhaps stubborn, high-minded, egotistical, proud, or cowardly?
- Do you gamble or play cards for money?
- Have sexual sins polluted your body, mind or soul? For example, have you engaged in fornication (sexual intercourse before marriage), masturbation, prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.?
- Do you watch dirty shows on television, on the internet or at the movies?
- Do you read pornographic/immoral books, magazines or websites?
- Have you ever considered committing suicide?
- Are you a slave to your stomach (i.e. gluttony)?
- Are you lazy, careless and negligent?
- Do you say improper, dirty and immoral words or use swearwords for the sake of humor or to insult or humiliate others?
- Do you expel from your mind bad or sly thoughts that come to pollute your heart?
- Do you dress immorally? If you are a woman, do you scandalize others with your appearance? In addition, do you dress in this way when appearing at holy places? If you are a man, do you dress provocatively?
- Have you appeared naked in public or semi-naked in a bikini publicly?
- Do you dance in a provocative and sinful manner? Do you listen to sinful immoral songs? Do you frequent nightclubs and bars? Do you celebrate sinful, worldly festivals such as mardi gras, gay and lesbian festivals, Halloween, etc.?
- Are you a drunkard? Do you abuse “recreational” or pharmaceutical drugs?
- Do you smoke? Smoking destroys your God-given valuable health and is also wasteful of money, and therefore a sin.
Concerning Married Couples
- Do you remain faithful to each other? It is tragic when one of you is unfaithful to the other.
- Did one of you embarrass or criticize the other publicly?
- Do you not endure the apparent weakness of the other? Do you show harshness?
- As a spouse, have you had excessive sexual demands and degraded your relationship? Do you abstain from sexual relations on Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays, Feast Days (including the night before), and on the days of the Holy Fasts of the Church?
- Do you prevent your spouse from going to church, spiritual gatherings and talks?
- Do you bring up your children “in the instruction and counsel of Christ”? Do you only concern yourself with their intellectual growth and not with the nature of their character?
- Do you direct your children to go to church regularly, to go to Confession, to frequently partake of Holy Communion, and to go to Sunday School? Do you teach holy virtues by word and example? Have you taught them to pray in the morning, evening and before and after each meal? Have you taught them to pray with respect and reverence?
- Are you careful of the things they read? Do you buy books and periodicals of religious and cultural subjects for them to read and learn, or encourage reading such things on the internet?
- Do you watch with whom they keep company and who their friends are? Do you watch with whom they communicate over the internet?
- Do you lead them to sinful shows and entertainment or allow them to watch television or look at the internet unsupervised?
- Do you teach them humility and meekness and are you careful that they dress in a dignified way?
- Do you curse them when they upset you? Do you send them “to the devil”?
- Have you had abortions or do you prevent yourself from having children (i.e. contraception)?
- Do you as a parent believe that the responsibility of raising and educating your children rests only with your spouse? You have an obligation to educate them and to read to them so that you can relieve your spouse.
- Do you scorn your children by giving them insulting hand gestures and reprimand them with improper language?
- Do each of you love and respect the parents of the other?
- Do you interfere in your children’s families?
- Is your spouse a blasphemer? Have patience, and try hard to eliminate blasphemy!
- Have you ever considered divorcing your spouse?
- Do you allow your children to become fanatical about sports and even miss church in order to play (i.e. Sunday morning games)?
- Are you fair and just with your family, considering and respecting their views and wishes, or do you behave like a dictator?