Thursday, October 6, 2016

Confession according to St John Chrysostom

Confession is one of the Sacraments of the Orthodox Church. With confession our sins are forgiven, restoring our relationship not only with God but also between us, strengthening our relations. However, it is one Sacrament that many faithful question and find difficult to apply in their lives. Why should we confess? Some would claim that they don’t feel guilty about their actions. Valid points, when understood from a 21st century secular point of view. However, the Church promotes another reality, another relationship status. St John Chrysostom promotes the meaning of confession, explaining:

‘Nothing is so deadly to sin as self-accusation and self-condemnation with repentance and tears. Have you condemned your sin? Put away the burden. Who says this? God Himself who judges us. “Do you first confess your sins, that you may be justified.” Why are you ashamed, why do you blush, tell me, to admit your sins? You are not speaking to a human being, are you, who might reproach you? You are not confessing to your fellow servant, are you, who might expose you? No, rather to the Master, who protects and cherishes you, to the physician you are showing your wound. He is not unaware, is He, even if you do not confess, since He understand everything even before it is done? So why do you not confess? The sin does not become more burdensome because of your self-accusation, does it? Rather it becomes easier and lighter. For this reason He wishes you to confess, not in order to punish you, but in order to forgive you: not in order that He may learn your sin (how could that be, since He knows already?), but in order that you may learn how great a debt He forgives you. If you do not confess the greatness of the debt, you do not discover the excess of grace. “I do not force you,” He says, “to come into the middle of the theatre and place many witnesses around you; tell you sin to me alone in private, so that I may treat your wound and relieve your pain.” For this reason He has set in us a conscience more loving than a father. For a father who has rebuked his child once or twice or even three times or ten times, when he sees the child remaining uncorrected, gives up and disinherits him, and expels him from the household, and cuts him off from the family; but conscience does not. Whether it speaks once or twice, and you do not pay attention, it will speak again, and will not desist until your last breath. In the house, in the streets, at table, in the marketplace, on the road, often even in our very dreams it sets before us the images and appearances of our since.’[1]

[1] Behr, John (ed.), St John Chrysostom – On Wealth and Poverty, (New York, SVSP, 1981), pp.89-90.

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