Last night I went to confession. This is a sacrament which is so misunderstood in Protestantism, and I am only beginning to understand it. I accept it as a teaching of the Church, and as such I go to confession, at first hesitant, now willing, but still somewhat reluctant to share my sins and failings with another. God understands; others? Not so much. Or that is how I feel. But I am learning that I can say things to my priest that I would not admit to another human being. And so I found myself, after prayer and contemplation, weeping before my Father Confessor, and my Savior, Jesus Christ, in the sight of all that crowd of Saints who have gone before, in front of the Theotokos, and admitting my sins, repenting, and fearing that my tears are not solely of repentance but of self-pity as well. The God who forgave David is the same one who looks down on me with compassion. And in this life it is a great comfort to hear those words, “God forgives.” For it is not the priest who forgives me, it is God, and my confession does something that is hard to describe and explain. It is a building block in a wall of strength and forbearance in the future.
I will confess to you that the words admonishing me to withhold nothing or be the more guilty (wild paraphrase), is a hard one for me. How does one make a full confession? If my sins are as the sands on the shore, I not only cannot know them all, I cannot begin to recall them during confession. Do I willfully withhold? I think that is the key, but I am not the expert here. Do not willfully withhold from your spiritual father. Hmmm. The correlation that comes to mind is seeing a doctor but not telling them all the symptoms.
I was mortified to be weeping there in the nave (sanctuary), but I remembered a song from years ago, and the words if this is not a place, where my heart cry can be heard, where, tell me where do I go to cry? I realized that there is no better place to go when you have a need to cry, when you need to unburden yourself, when you need to confess, when you need healing, when you are grieving, when you are lonely, when you are celebrating, when you are joyful…when…
I don’t have a big, grand point to this post, but I wanted to explain in a small way what confession is in Orthodoxy. I remember having such a revulsion to the idea of confession, as it was related to Roman Catholicism, and as most Protestants will attest, anything that is remotely evocative of the Roman Catholic Church is to be avoided at all costs.
Confession? Why that just means that you live like the devil all week, but go to confession on Saturday night and it’s all good. Genuflection? That’s just vain ritual and empty repetition. Robes and vestments? Showy. Chanting? Old and boring.
I have now come around to where the beauty of these has been revealed, as if the curtain has been pulled back and I can finally see the truth, only the truth is more beautiful and more real than I had imagined. One of those beauties is in confession. But I don’t go to confession for beauty, I go to confession because it is a sacrament of the Church, and I have placed myself in subjection to her. Glory to God!