ALL CHRISTIANS without exception must go to Confession if they wish to be saved.
But how should the truly faithful Confession occur? Many do not know this, and that is
why it is necessary to discuss this question more thoroughly. Here we will look at the
following three parts of Confession:
a) What we should do before we go to the confessor.
b) What we should do when we are with the confessor.
c) What we should do when we come out of Confession.
Part I What should we do before we go to the confessor
The first and the last of the Apostles of Christ sinned gravely. Peter denied Christ;
Judas betrayed Him. But Peter was forgiven and Judas perished. Peter regained his
apostolic dignity, but the condemnation of the ages Is still weighing on Judas. What
saved Peter, and what destroyed Judas? What should have this wretch done? Should
he have confessed the sin after he committed it? But, technically speaking, he confessed
when he went to the scribes and the elders and told them, I have sinned in that I
have betrayed the innocent blood (Matt. 27:4), and with the confession gave back the
thirty silver pieces to them. Is this not enough? Alas, no! A confession by itself does not
save. Besides a broken heart, a live faith in God’s grace is needed. Judas despaired of
his salvation; that is why he hung himself after his confession. His body hung on a tree,
and his soul went to hell for eternal torment.
Peter did not do so. In the yard of Caiaphas he denied Christ, his Benefactor and
Teacher, three times: I do not know the Man (Matt. 26:74). But at the third denial, when
he heard the rooster crow, he remembered what Christ had prophesied, realized his sin,
and humbled his heart. He went out of that yard, got out of the bad company of the servants
of the high priest, and, most importantly, began to shed bitter tears––tears of sincere,
heartfelt, deep repentance. According to one tradition, throughout his whole life,
whenever he heard a rooster crow Peter remembered his heavy sin, and his eyes
turned into two springs of most repentant tears. Peter did not despair; he believed in
God’s mercy and thus saved himself.
St. Peter has left us a living lesson: to turn again to God after our fall into sin. It is
faith in God’s mercy which drives away every despair. God is love. However grave our
sin may be, He will forgive it, provided we repent from the heart. Even if our sins are as
high as the mountains, they will sink in the ocean of God’s mercy. However, if a man
despairs, he is lost. Despair is the triumph of the devil. In short, let us protect ourselves
from despair, because if we despair no one can save us.
We should imitate the holy Apostle Peter in another respect, as well. As he realized
his sin, he immediately went out of the accursed yard of the high priest where he
had denied Christ. And you, brother or sister, when you want to confess and come back
to God, come out of that accursed yard of sin where you have been until now and where
you have denied Christ not three times, but thirty-three times. Come out with your body,
with your heart, and with your mind! Peter went away from the servants of the high
priest. You, too, abandon the friendship with those who teach you to sin or who unwittingly
serve as a temptation to you.
The most important moral from the behavior of the repentant Apostle is the following.
When St. Peter was left alone, he reflected in himself, relived the horror of his
sin, and cried bitterly because of deep suffering. As you prepare to go to your confessor,
do not approach him without preparing beforehand. First go away from the noise of daily
life, leave every other care, gather your thoughts, and make a short but heartfelt prayer.
Remember all your sins and even write them down on a piece of paper, so that you will
not forget them in your embarrassment, and thus remain uncleansed of them, when you
go to Confession. Remember the Ten Commandments, see which ones you have
transgressed, recall whether you have committed a deadly sin, test your conscience,
judge yourself, cry for your fall, and in such a mood go to the priest! Then you can be
confident that you will receive true forgiveness, because a heart that is broken and
humbled, God will not despise (Ps. 50:17).
Grieving over the sins committed by us is absolutely necessary, if we want to
receive God’s forgiveness. Indeed, this is what repentance consists of-to shed tears, to
feel deep sorrow because of one’s fall. As St. Isaac of Syria testifies, God accepts our
repentant grief as an offering of repentance.1
This is what we need to do before we go to the confessor.
Excerpts from: Rules for a Saving Confession, by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev
Chapter V in The Forgotten Medicine (pp 41-57)