What should one do, whose conscience is
troubling him? What if the soul is tormented?
The Orthodox Church answers: repent. Repentance —
is the revealing of one’s sin, the decision not to repeat it in the future.
We sin against God, against our neighbor and
against ourselves. We sin through deeds, words, and even thoughts. We sin
through the urging of the devil, under the influence of the surrounding world
and through our own evil volition. " There is no
person, who lives on the earth and does not sin," is said in the prayers
for the repose. But there is no sin, which is not forgiven by God through our
repentance. It is for the salvation of sinners that God became man, was
crucified and rose from the dead. The holy fathers compare the mercy of God to
an ocean, dousing the strongest flame of human lawlessness.
Confession in Orthodox churches is performed
daily. It is accepted overtly by a priest, but invisibly — by the Lord Himself,
giving the Church priests the power to release sins. "May our Lord and God
Jesus Christ, by the grace and generosity of His love of man, forgive you,
(name), all your sins, and I, an unworthy priest, by the power He has given me,
forgive and release you from all your sins…" — prays the priest. One must
not defend oneself at confession, place blame on life’s circumstances, mask
sins with vague phrases like "I have sinned against the sixth
commandment," discuss extraneous matters. One must without shame (it is
shameful to sin, not to confess!) relate everything, which the conscience and
the Gospel expose. In no case must one conceal anything: one may hide a sin
from a priest, but not from the All-Knowing God.
The Church considers the following to be grave,
Killing; abortions; beatings; adultery;
debauchery and physical perversions; theft; blasphemy; sacrilege; hatred
towards one neighbor, extending to cursing him; sorcery and fortunetelling;
turning to help from extrasensories, "healers" and astrologists;
drunkenness, smoking; narcotics.
But even less grave sins hurt people,
serve as a barrier on the way to the Heavenly
Kingdom. Even "harmless"
lies or swearing can direct one to hell!
If, upon confessing something, we are determined
to repeat that sin — repentance makes no sense. One cannot come to the mystery
while quarreling or being in a prolonged non-reconciliation with anyone, by the
words of Christ: "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest
that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar
and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy
gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). If that person has already died, then one must
pray passionately for the repose of his soul.
In certain cases the priest assigns a penance —
in its way a spiritual medicine, directed to rooting out the vice. These could
be prostrations, reading of canons or akathists, stricter fasting, pilgrimage
to a holy place — depending on the strength and possibilities of the repenting.
The penance has to be performed without fail, and only the priest who assigned
it can rescind it.
A reality of modern days has become the so-called
"general confession." It consists of the priest himself naming the
more prevalent sins, and then reads the releasing prayer over each penitent.
Such a confession is only permitted those who have no deathly sins on their
conscience. But even good, decent Christians must time to time check their
souls on a detailed (individual) confession — at least, no less than once a
A person is responsible for their sins from age
seven. Those who were baptized as adults, do not need
to repent for the time before baptism.
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