After His glorious Resurrection, Jesus Christ gave authority to his disciples to forgive sins (John 20:23). This grace has been preserved by the Church through the unbroken link of Apostolic Succession, and is maintained in our own days through the priesthood.
There is no other way to receive forgiveness than face to face confession with a priest, and it must be preceded by repentance in order to be effective. Some people don’t confess at all, yet claim to have repented. Their sins remain. Others approach the confessor yet remain unrepentant and make no effort to change. They honour God with their lips, but their heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13).
Repentance is essential. Repentance is feeling deep regret for our sin, changing our mind towards our old sinful nature and promising to make every effort to do so. For this reason, both Jesus and John the Baptist began their ministry with this very word… Repent! It is the turning point of a new spiritual life. Without it there cannot be any spiritual progress. And yet, the holy mystery of repentance and confession is severely underestimated. How can we approach the Holy Chalice with the fear of God, faith and love, without having first knelt in humility before a confessor?
Entering the confessional room is always difficult due to the weight of sin on the soul. A good confession will change the way we feel exiting that same room, through the grace imparted on the soul during the sacrament. In order to lift the burden of sin and renew our baptismal vows the following points may be useful. Firstly, find a good confessor to whom you can open your heart. Avoid the busy times during great feasts so that you can have more time with him, but do not put it off thinking you have time to go later. You may not.
Secondly, take time to prayerfully prepare by writing down the things you have committed in word, thought and deed against God and fellow man. It is easier if you start your confession with the most shameful sin. Be careful not to lay blame on other people. Never judge the actions of others, only your own. Thirdly, it is important to be specific about the type of sin without going into the finer details. Try not to mention names, places and events. The only thing necessary is to confess that which your conscience reveals. Remember the confession of the thief on the cross, of Zacchaeus, of the prodigal son, and do the same. The experienced confessor will also guide you. Don’t forget, you are not there to receive sympathy, but to admit to your shortcomings and weaknesses.
It is also important to try and cultivate a good relationship with your confessor, to approach him more often, to call him and to ask his advice. After all, he is your spiritual father, he knows your strengths and weaknesses. He prays for you and asks for forgiveness on your behalf. Ask him to provide you with a prayer rule and a schedule for Holy Communion. If you entrust yourself to him in spiritual obedience, then your confession will improve each time and your spiritual life will reach new heights through this commonly neglected, yet very significant Sacrament.
St John of Kronstadt was a married Russian Orthodox Christian priest living in the 19th century. Below are some excerpts from a prayer he wrote titled ‘A Preparation for Confession’:
I, a sinful soul, confess to our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, all of my evil acts which I have done, said or thought from baptism even unto this present day.
I have not kept the vows of my baptism, but have made myself unwanted before the face of God.
I have sinned before the Lord by lack of faith and by doubts concerning the Orthodox Faith and the Holy Church; by ungratefulness for all of God's great and unceasing gifts; His long-suffering and His providence for me, a sinner; by lack of love for the Lord, as well as fear, through not fulfilling the Holy Commandments of God and the canons and rules of the Church.
I have not preserved a love for God and for my neighbor nor have I made enough efforts, because of laziness and lack of care, to learn the Commandments of God and the precepts of the Holy Fathers.
I have sinned: by not praying in the morning and in the evening and in the course of the day; by not attending the services or by coming to Church only half-heartedly, lazily and carelessly; by conversing during the services, by not paying attention, letting my mind wander and by departure from the Church before the dismissal and blessing.
I have sinned by judging members of the clergy.
I have sinned by not respecting the Feasts, breaking the Fasts, and by immoderation in food and drink.
I have sinned by self-importance, disobedience, willfulness, self-righteousness, and the seeking of approval and praise.
I have sinned by unbelief, lack of faith, doubts, despair, despondency, abusive thoughts, blasphemy and swearing.
I have sinned by pride, a high opinion of my self, narcissism, vanity, conceit, envy, love of praise, love of honors, and by putting on airs.
I have sinned: by judging, malicious gossip, anger, remembering of offenses done to me, hatred and returning evil for evil; by slander, reproaches, lies, slyness, deception and hypocrisy; by prejudices, arguments, stubbornness, and an unwillingness to give way to my neighbor; by gloating, spitefulness, taunting, insults and mocking; by gossip, by speaking too much and by empty speech.
I have sinned by unnecessary and excessive laughter, by reviling and dwelling upon my previous sins, by arrogant behavior, insolence and lack of respect.
I have sinned by not keeping my physical and spiritual passions in check, by my enjoyment of impure thoughts, licentiousness and unchastity in thoughts, words and deeds.