Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius Conference

The Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius had its annual conference in High Leigh, near London, between the 20th-23rd of August. The theme of this year's conference was "Repentance, Confession and Spiritual Direction". It was an interesting gathering, which analysed this topic, giving Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic views, showing the similarities and also the differences in practice and in theory. The unique factor of the Fellowship conferences is that in its program there is a chance to witness and take part in both Anglican and Orthodox Liturgies, respectively. 

The Conference began with a lecture given by the Secretary, Archpriest Steven Platt, entitled "Repentance, confession and spiritual direction - some thoughts of an Orthodox parish priest". He explained that repentance is Μετάνοια (Metanoia) that is a change of mind, of heart, or being and of orientation. We are disorientated, hence we have the fall of man. The parable of the Prodigal Son was used in order to explain how through the son's disobedience he felt the need to go back to the Father (repentance). Sin is a state of lawlessness (ανομία), transgression is missing the mark -which is Christ (αμαρτία), whilst (finally) infirmity makes us ill (ασθένεια). Sin, as described by Fr. Stephen, is a virus, an illness whereby we have no energy to react against it. Sin is basically what separates us from the Love of God. Repentance and confession exists in order for man to understand himself, to recognise his fall, his sinfulness. According to Metropolitan Anthony Bloom "confession is the anticipation of the terrible last judgement". Why terrible? It will be terrible because it will show us who we really are. When we confess we don't confess what we have done, but who we are. However, we currently live in a culture were we are ashamed to be ashamed. Nevertheless, confession is understood in being a "spiritual to do list". What we need to understand is that we are never saved alone; repentance has an individual but also a cooperative character.

Reverend HJM Turner spoke about "St. Symeon the New Theologian - his experience and practice of spiritual fatherhood" whereby he pointed out the fact that the spiritual father is seen and is understood as a trainer, towards the spiritual child. Canon Brian Macdonald-Milne delivered a speech concerning the "confession in the Anglican Church of Melanesia in the Western Pacific". We were all enlightened into understanding how Anglicanism and the Church in general functions in an 'alien' culture in regards to the ones we are used to. What is sin for some, might be accepted by others. This is a very interesting notion. Public confessions are still a reality in those islands, a practice long forgotten by the West.

Fr. Ephrem Lash gave a talk on "the images of ineffable glory: repentance and the image of God". He explained how God demands what we can give him. He analysed the themes of likeness and image, quoting various Church Fathers. On the other hand, Fr. Jerome Bertram spoke about "the sacrament of confession and its evolution", expressing the view that the West is very happy with development, which was also the case with the Sacrament of Confession, that has been evolving ever since its existence. According to Fr. Jerome, we need to confess not only actions but also thoughts, were we are able to open up our hearts. The ultimate objective is to confess our sinfulness and not our sin. All priests are required to see each case individually, hence books like the Penitentials (which is a list of sins and penances) is irrelevant.

Canon Peter Eton with his talk on the "sacramental confession and spiritual direction: an Anglican perspective" enlightened the Orthodox participants of the conference. He explained how the confessor must relieve us from our sins and take away the small hells that we create for ourselves. Currently the terms confessor and spiritual father are used interchangeably, however this was not the case a couple of decades ago. According to Fr. Peter, being a regular penitent is useful. The confessor is, nonetheless, required to have certain roles, which are: 
1. Judge
2. Father
3. Physician 
4. Guide.

It seems that people expect counselling and absolution, however, the first is more important for most. Focus should always be towards the person and not the sin. The goals of the confession are:
1. Hope for the future.
2. Using the Bible.
3. Make God's love real for the penitent.
Sin is understood as being a failure of love. The penitent should, nevertheless, understand that love is not put aside. Struggle of all Christians is union with the loving God. God has not made us in order to throw us away. As Nicholas Zernov believed, we are created by God with an indestructible personality.

The Conference also planned an excursion to Waltham Abbey, where by the Bishop of Barking greeted and prayed with members of the Fellowship. This was an amazing opportunity for members of different traditions within the Christian World to talk about and analyse such an important ecclesiastical and sacramental topic and theme. A big thank you must go to the speakers and of course to the Secretary of the Fellowship, Fr. Stephen Platt, for organising this conference. 

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