WHY DO I NEED TO GO TO CONFESSION? This is a big question, an important question, and a good question to ask. As Orthodox Christians, it is crucial for us to have a proper understanding of Confession.
In the eyes of the world, many of us are good people. In fact, I would venture to say that in the eyes of the world, many of you are very good people. Sin and the confession of sins, however, have very little to do with being a good person. As Christians, we are not called to be simply good; we are called to be like Christ. Christ Himself tells us this: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The standard by which we are measured and the goal that we are trying to achieve is not being good according to the world’s perspective. Rather, it is to be like God. In light of this, we can all more fully understand the words of the Apostle Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Elsewhere, the Apostle John writes something similar: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (I Jn. 1:8, 10).
If this were the end of the story, it would a great cause for depression and despair. But God is merciful and loving, and, knowing our weakness, He also gives us this promise through the Apostle John: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).
Confession is not just about the big things. Christ is the Light (Jn. 1:4, 9), and He “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart” (I Cor. 4:5). As we grow closer and closer to Christ, we are opened up to more and more of His Light. And in His Light, we will see more and more things within ourselves that need to be cleaned. Our hearts are like a room that, without the Light of Christ, lies in darkness. And when we first throw open the doors to allow Christ the True Light to enter, we begin to see all of the clutter and the boxes of trash that we never noticed before. As our eyes slowly adjust to the Light, we might see that there are some things on the shelves that need to be organized, re-arranged, or even thrown out. Finally, after what seems like a very thorough cleaning, we might notice that there is a little dusting that we still need to do. Confession covers all of this. Whatever we have done, if we sincerely confess our sin, God will forgive us. And however far along we are on our spiritual journey—wherever we each might be in cleaning the room of our hearts—we can always grow closer to Christ and strive to make our lives look more like His.
The following is offered as a help and guide in preparing for Confession. In it are some very helpful questions that we can ask ourselves—no matter how far along we are on the path to Christ—to help us prepare for Confession by examining our own lives in light of Holy Scripture.
Preparing for Confession
To help you personally prepare for the Sacrament of Confession we suggest you find time to sit quietly and to prayerfully examine your life using as a guide the following examination of conscience:
1. When Jesus saw him there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)
What is my attitude to this confession? Have I prepared for it? Am I sincerely willing to change aspects of my life so that they will be more in keeping with the Gospel? Did I forget or hide any serious sins in my last confession?
Have I made reparation to anyone I have injured? Since my last confession have I remained firm in my efforts to change my life, or did I give up in laziness, discouragement, or forgetfulness?
2. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)
Do I really love God above all things? Or are worldly things such as possessions, power, or popularity more important to me? Have I placed my trust in these, or in such things as horoscopes, occult practices, and superstitions?
Have I prayed on a regular and daily basis? Do I pray attentively? Do I approach prayer with joy and enthusiasm, or do I allow anything, no matter how trivial, to be an excuse to shorten prayer or avoid it entirely? Do I think about God during the course of my day?
3. Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
Am I willing to be known as a Christian in public and private life? Was I embarrassed or afraid to admit my belief in Christ and His Church to others? If someone said something unfair or inaccurate about Christ or Christianity did I try to speak the truth with gentleness, respect, and love?
4. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (I Peter 3:15)
Do I know what the Orthodox Church teaches and believes? Did I take time to read, study, or learn more about my faith? Am I able and willing to answer questions about Christ, the Church, and my faith?
Did I read, study, or meditate on God’s Word in the Bible daily?
5. “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name. Bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” (I Chronicles 16:29)
Do I keep Sundays and feast days holy by participating as fully as possible in the liturgical services? Do I observe the fasting days and seasons of the Church?
Do I receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion frequently?
Did I prepare diligently for Holy Communion by prayer and fasting?
6. “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
Have I honored and obeyed my parents, showing them love and respect and helping them with their material, emotional, and spiritual needs? Have I been loving, patient, and understanding with my children? Did I discipline them appropriately? Have I tried to impart my faith to them by word and example? Do I contribute to the peace and well-being of my family by offering my time, service, and love?
In my job or profession, am I an honest and hard worker? Do I view the service I render my employers and others as service done to and for Christ? Do I pay my employees a just wage? Are my expectations of them fair and reasonable? Have I fulfilled my promises, contracts, and obligations?
Have I respected and obeyed legitimate authority? Have I voted responsibly and knowledgeably? Have I paid my taxes? Do I work, as I am able, to promote peace, justice, morality, and love in my community, my country, and the world?
Do I use my positions of responsibility and authority for the good of others?
7. Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.” (Luke 6:27-29)
Have I caused injury to another’s life, health, spiritual or emotional well-being, or material possessions by violence or neglect? Have I advised or helped in the obtaining of an abortion?
Have I quarreled, been unduly angry with, or insulted anyone? Have I been reconciled with them? If I have injured or offended anyone, have I sought their forgiveness? If anyone has injured or offended me, have I forgiven them? Or am I filled with hatred or a desire for revenge?
Am I committed to accepting suffering rather than inflicting it?
Did I seek to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence of any sort?
Do I strive for peace within myself and work to be a peacemaker in my daily life?
8. “It is God’s will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” (I Thessalonians 4:5-6)
Have I been faithful to my spouse?
Have I exercised self-control in regards to food, drink, drugs, and sexual desire? Have I misused my sexuality by having sex before marriage, masturbation, impure thoughts, and fantasies? Have I participated in indecent conversations or made use of pornographic entertainment, pictures, or reading?
Have I incited others to sin by my own failures in this area?
9. Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Have I envied or desired inordinately another’s position or property? Have I stolen or damaged the property of others? Did I restore it or make restitution?
Do I share my possessions with those who have less? Do I give freely and generously of my time, talent, and money to those in need and to the church?
10. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
Have I taken the Name of the Lord in vain? Have I blasphemed or used profane language?
Do I talk too much and listen too little?
Have I lied or, by cowardly silence, have I avoided telling the truth? Have I gossiped or spread rumors about others? Have I spoken harshly, unjustly, unnecessarily, or insultingly to anyone or about anyone?
Do I spend time in silence? Or must I always be talking or having the radio or television on?
Have I been boastful about myself or judgmental about others?
11. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)
Is all that I do motivated first and foremost by a desire to love and serve God and my neighbor in the way that God wills me to?
Do I think of myself as better than others?
When I pray, fast, or do any good, do I try to do it secretly? Or, by word or display, do I make sure that others notice me and my works?
12. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm 55:22)
Am I anxious or worried about anything? Is there a problem or hurt that I should bring to the Lord in Confession for forgiveness, healing, or guidance?
A Prayer before Confession
O Lord our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word, and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended Thee, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray Thee, O Lord: of Thy mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.