Repentance and Confession
Returning to God,
The Source of Inner Joy
Repentance is an opening up of the heart so it can
accept the joyful Kingdom of God; it is the exercise of a
son or a daughter who longs to enter into the new depths
of his/her heavenly Father’s bosom; it is a renewal of the
inner man as he/she longs to reach the measure of the
stature of the fullness of Christ (Epistle to Ephesians
4:13). Indeed, repentance is a renouncing of sins that
prevail in the darkness, and the bonding to the divine
Light, the Grantor of victory.
As for confession, it cannot be separated from true
inner repentance. They both work together to fulfill the
commandment of the apostle to “…work out your own
salvation with fear and trembling” (Epistle to Philippians
Our Lord Jesus Christ has always honored man; for
He has never separated Himself from His Church, rather
He considered it His Holy Body. His honoring of man
lives on, by granting His forgiveness by His Holy Spirit
by way of His disciples. He told His disciple, Peter, “And
I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will
build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail
against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of
heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in
heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed
in heaven” (Matthew 16:18, 19).
Note that this promise came after declaring that the
Church will prevail against hell, for this promise was
given for the Church to bind and loose according to
the will of God and His Gospel, and within God’s love
and righteousness. This promise was not given broadly
to every believer. If that was our Lord’s intention then
Christ, the Lord, would have given it during one of His
public homilies, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew
Not also that He gave this gift again to His disciples in
the upper room – not as an absolute power and authority
– but to use it through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Just before He made this promise through them: “He
breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy
Spirit” ( John 20:22).
Through repentance and confession our inner eyes
are opened to realize that both of them are one sacrament
– a sacrament for the preparation for the heavenly nuptial.
We can then behold God the Father rushing toward us
to hold us in His bosom; and we would behold God the
Son accepting us as a heavenly Bride for Himself; while
God the Holy Spirit makes us more beautiful to become
an icon of the heavenly Groom.
Repentance and confession are a love offering of the
soul before God, where man experiences the crucifixion
of his lusts and fondness of the world, and seeks a
provisional glory, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Then,
he would be able to ascend with Him to the heavens.
THANKSGIVING AND BLAMING OURSELVES
Note that in our prayers we always start with the Prayer
of Thanksgiving, followed by the Psalm of Repentance;
suggesting that it is proper for us to thank God for all that
He has given us, before we confess – so that we would
not be ungrateful. It is proper for the faithful to give an
offering of thanks to God for His unconditional love and
His constant work in our lives. Thanksgiving is offered
in the anticipation of a renewed and positive revival of
one’s life with the help of the priest, as if the sins that
were corrupting his insides were simply thrown away.
How Do I Repent? How Do I Confess? What Should
You might wonder, “I practiced repentance and
confession for over ten years now, and I’m repeating the
same words over and over again. I don’t feel any progress.
How should I truly repent and grow closer and closer to
God? How should I truly confess?
Many people believe that Confession is a mere
confession before God and the priest that they have
sinned. This idea represents an incomplete concept of
the sacrament and ignores its other positive aspects.
Repentance and confession are not a strict enumeration
of one’s sins before God and the priest; neither are they
a mere reappraisal of the mind that is sick of its previous
evils and habits. Repentance and Confession are also not
mere regrets over a particular sin; or are they a means of soothing one’s conscience; or are they akin to a session
with a psychologist or a social worker.
Practically, when we repent and confess (whether
in private or before a priest) we should not focus our
attention completely on our sins, but more on the Holy
Trinity, in order to enjoy the divine Love. Consider
also the following scenario.
A mother asked her five-year-old child to confess,
the child began to cry as if she was going to be punished.
The priest then asked the child, “Do you love Jesus?”
The little child answered, “Yes.” He replied, “There you
have just confessed!” The little girl hugged her mother
joyfully who then said, “Do you know what confession
is? It is confessing our love for Jesus Christ, our Lord!”
If we follow this example, we can foster love and
devotion for our Lord Jesus Christ in our children, and
they will focus on the Person of Christ, the Lover of
mankind, the Forgiver of sins, and our hearts’ Source
of all joy. Gradually, one would then start to confess his
weaknesses, while trusting in God’s love for all sinners.
St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom explained
that Confession has two elements: 1) confessing that
God is Good, the Forgiver of sins and the Lover of
mankind, and 2) confessing our weaknesses while
trusting in the richness of God’s grace which covers
our sins. The Psalmist says: “Praise the Lord… for His
merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the
Lord endures forever” (Psalm 117:1, 2).
The following are some general guidelines to help in
repenting and confession more effectively:
1) One should dedicate some quiet time to read
the Holy Bible with a prayerful spirit – requesting the
enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. We are not to count
our sins, but to discover their hideousness and to realize
the wondrous work of the divine Grace, so that we would
grieve and moan – yet enjoy peace and consolation.
2) One should always exercise repentance with
confession, for they are inseparable.
3) Your relationship with your father of confession
should be of a loving familiarity, yet be bonded with the
fear of God. The moments of confession are moments at
the feet of the Crucified, where both of you would enjoy
His wondrous work. Note also, that with every confessor,
the father of confession experiences a new start for his
own personal life as well.
4) Don’t put it in your heart the need to hide anything
during your confession, knowing that there is no need
for the details that had tempted you to sin.
Many girls have told me that they feel afraid when
they are about to go confess and are tempted to not offer
a full confession. I asked them: “How would you feel on
your wedding day in the midst of the stress of getting
ready for that moment to prepare to meet your groom?
Surely, at that moment, your feelings of unique and utter
joy and happiness are unmatched!” Likewise when we confess; we approach the Spirit of God so He can wash
us and make us beautiful for our wedding – our union
with God. Oh, what a happy and delightful moment!
5) Offer a thankful prayer to God, the Grantor
of gifts, and the Forgiver of sins, before and after your
confession. You should realize that when you repent and
confess, you are supported by the Holy Spirit of God
Who works within you; thus start by thanking God for
what He has already given you. Do not deny what He has
done for you and with you. Remember that He granted
you sweet times of prayer, a realization of the mystery of
His word, sharing in His features, and a chance to return
back to Him. After thanksgiving, start asking for help
with your weaknesses with the spirit of hope and trust in
6) Don’t make a routine out of merely enumerate
your innumerable sins; rather let your confession reveal
your deepest heart’s desire that longs for its heavenly
Groom. Ask for the workings of the Holy Spirit, the
Grantor of forgiveness, to grant you a spirit of glory,
strength, power, and royalty to realize the truth about
your soul as a bride, as a heavenly queen, that dwells to
the right of the heavenly King of kings.
Several times I have asked young people, “What is
the most significant sin in your confession?” Most of the
answers of the Egyptian youth pertain to evil thoughts;
while the American I found that it was frequently
regarding lying! The young man in Egypt feels that he has a malicious fight against lustful and evil thoughts,
while the American is usually occupied with his struggle
against lying – the worst sin that he cannot tolerate.
In my opinion, the worst sin that we should consider
is not realizing our mission as we properly should. In
other words, we, being ambassadors of Christ in this
world, do not carry ourselves as agents for God – neither
inside ourselves nor amongst our brethren! I remember
when I was still a student, the counselor responsible
for the youth used to tell us, “Don’t ask from God to be
anything less than being His icon!”
CAN’T I JUST REPENT AND NOT CONFESS?
- Confession keeps us Safe from Pride
St. Augustine, who lived many years fighting against
lusts, believed that the basis for the question of whether
to confess to another was really human pride. As it is
rather easy for man to secretly confess his sins so as not
be exposed; but when he is stricken by a physical illness,
he exposes his body before the doctor hoping that he
would cure him!
- True Confession breaks the Power of Sin
Sin lives and rules in the dark, for it cannot stand the
light. Thus, the believer must experience the shining of
the Sun of Righteousness upon him by being completely
honest with himself and with his father of confession
under the supervision of the Holy Spirit.
It was said of St. Pachomius that a certain extremely
righteous monk was having a fierce fight against hunger.
This monk used to take a loaf of bread every day from
the common table and hide it to eat later. He used to cry
out bitterly to the Lord about this wrong doing. Then,
he heard St. Pachomius talk with some hermits about
how the devil sometimes fights the righteous people
with sins that they never had committed in their youth,
which makes them ashamed to confess them, and then
they choose to conceal them. When the righteous monk
heard that, he confessed his sin with great shame and
broken-heart. His father of confession told him, “The
minute you humbly confessed your sin, you were set
free from its captivity. Today you have conquered your
enemy!” Indeed, the war was lifted from him.
The devil resembles an evil person trying to trick a
simple girl, asking her not to tell her father about what
he told her (to keep the deception hidden), and so she
would remain deceived by the devil’s sweet and tender
words! Sin is like a dark cloud; once it rains, it fades away.
It is like a group of scorpions hiding to breed under a
stone; but once the stone is lifted, they would run away
- Confession keeps the Spirit of discipleship and the
Unity of the Church
Furthermore, confession keeps alive the biblical spirit
of the Church; for example: living the life of obedience,
and of humility, etc. It is highly likely that the absence of the sacrament of confession in the non-apostolic
churches has caused the appearance of new faiths every
day, despite all the great efforts exerted and the immense
costs paid to unify the church.
- The Holy Bible calls us to Repent and Confess
The Holy Bible does not differentiate between
repentance and confession. What you confess before
the priest, you actually confess before God himself. And
this confession is an extension of the continuous life
of repentance that you exercise in your room, at work,
and even during sleep, for repentance is an endless life
The following are some Bible references for
- When Saul of Tarsus experienced a personal
meeting with the heavenly Christ, the Lord, he was
committed by a divine order to go see Ananias, the
priest, in Damascus to get baptized (Acts 9). When God
Himself appeared to him, Saul asked Him, “Lord, what
do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6) God didn’t tell him,
“Believe in Me, and you will be delivered,” rather He told
him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what
you must do.”
- The apostle James told us to, “Confess your
trespasses to one another” ( James 5:16). The apostle
didn’t mean that the person at fault should confess his
trespasses to the one he wronged, or to any other believer.
He underscores the importance of confession when he
continues, “that you may be healed.” It is obvious then,
that the sick person should confess before the priests to
obtain God’s forgiveness, which is the healing of the soul,
as well as the healing of the body.
St. John wanted to underscore the importance of
confession even amongst the disciples when he said, “If
we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we
say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His
word is not in us” (1 John 1:9, 10).
It is mentioned in the Book of Acts that those, who
accepted the faith in Christ, had come to confess their
sins (Acts 19:18).
We wouldn’t enjoy the spiritual depth and the
declaration of God’s grace and mercies evidenced in
the Book of the Psalms if David the Prophet had not
exercised repentance and confession. For all night he
had filed his bed and couch with his tears of repentance,
confessing before the Lord. Finally, His prophet, Nathan,
told him: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall
not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). Nathan said this through a
divine authority, as no creation has the right to say these
words unless given the right by God Himself.
David also confessed his sins publicly through the
Psalms of repentance, which became an integral part of
our prayers, and through which all believers exercise the sacrament of repentance and confession, realizing the
rich outpouring of God’s gifts. The trespasser used to offer
certain burnt offerings before the priest in the presence
of God to confess his sins. The believers exercised
confession even in the days of John the Baptist, for it was
said, “They were all baptized of him in the Jordan River,
confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5).
The wise Solomon inherited his father’s experience,
who said, “When I kept silence, my bones grew old.
Through my groaning all the day long” (Psalm 32:3),
and thus said, “He who covers his sins will not prosper”
During the spiritual revolution led by Nehemiah,
repentance was joined with confession, as it was said that
they “stood and confessed their sins” (Nehemiah 9:2).
QUESTIONS REGARDING CONFESSION
- I confess certain sins, but I do them again. What
should I do?
Many times we are inspired to make well intentioned
promises during our confessions, but we fail to adhere to
our commitment. This shortfall is often due to the fact
that we overlook the sacrament of repentance. It is not
the mere promises of not returning to our sins that will
distance us from them, but rather a decision to change
course – where the Spirit of God will guide you toward
the Father so that you could turn your back on the world
and its lusts. You would then focus your attention on God instead of the world. He would become your priority
above everything else. Who can change my course but
the Spirit of the Lord Himself?!
Don’t be afraid of falling, because with every time
you pick yourself up again, you will enjoy a new spiritual
growth and a new cycle for your struggle against sin.
However, beware of slowing down, and of not resisting the
causes of sin. When you fall and rise, give a thanksgiving
offering to God, who revealed your weakness to you.
- Is the will of God in what my father of confession
- a) If a humble spirit of prayer exists, then God will
speak through him.
- b) Discuss matters with your father of confession,
for God asks you to have a dialogue with him. Don’t be
embarrassed of being completely honest with him if you
didn’t like his opinion. You should converse with him
with a strong spirit, with kindness and love.
- c) Your father of confession does not have the right
to give you advice that opposes biblical commandments,
for God dwells above all; thus, obey him in the Lord!
- I committed some mistakes during my youth. I
repented, and confessed them; but my conscience is still
- a) You must trust that God, your Savior, is the Forgiver
of sin. Indeed, we should always put our weaknesses
before us so that we won’t have undeserved pride; but we should not try to remember and be weighed down by
the details of the sin. Never doubt the power of Christ’s
blood and the work of the Holy Spirit.
- b) You need to thank and praise God for forgiving
your sins, for the spirit of praise takes away any feeling of
distress or doubt in His forgiveness. Repentance is not
complete without giving thanks to God, our personal
- I don’t have a true desire to repent; should I wait
until I repent then confess?
Go see your father of confession and talk with him
openly. He will guide you and show you how to start
your repentance. Sometimes the enemy makes you
doubt your repentance to destroy you with despair.
Don’t ever despair, but shout out with the earnest son,
“I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). Cry out
to your Heavenly Father from the bottom of your heart.
Also, consider the desperation and determination of the
Simon, the Pharisee, could not stand to see the sinful
woman touch Christ, the Lord, and said, “This Man, if he
were a prophet, would know who and what manner of
woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner”
(Luke 7:39). But it was the very first time for this woman
to find someone to understand her tears, to defend her,
and to grant her the most precious desire of her heart,
“Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). But, those who sat
with Him could not comprehend this Divine love, and they began to say amongst themselves, “Who is this who
even forgives sins?!”
- I committed a certain sin and I am too ashamed
to confess it to my father of confession; can I confess this
sin to another priest that doesn’t know me?
- a) It is better for you to experience the spirit of
contrition, and to feel that this is an opportunity to speak
frankly about your weakness, which God covers with His
- b) Don’t be ashamed to talk to your father of
confession, for his nature is no different than yours. He,
himself, knows that he could fall under a sin that he has
never committed before, thus he will be gentle on you.
David, the prophet and king, fell under a series of sins
– each paving the way to another. But when he repented
of them, he wasn’t ashamed to confess them even in his
Psalms, which are read by all people and through which
we praise God.
- c) Keep Judgment Day in mind. Choose to be
exposed now so that God will cover up for you then.
Your continuous and patient prayers will support you!
- d) Despite all this, if you are still unable to go to
your father of confession, then go to another priest. He
will support you and lift you up by the Spirit of God, so
you would be strengthened to return to your father of
confession. Then, you will find spiritual rest when talking
openly with him.
- Can a priest talk about confessions he has heard
with other priests?
No, under no circumstance is the father of confession
allowed to talk about confessions to any man – no matter
who he is, or what his priesthood rank should be – even
if it was in the confessor’s interest; unless the confessor,
himself, allows him to.
- I usually forget certain sins; should I write them
down so I can recall them during my confession?
I believe that this would, to a great extent, cause the
confession to lose its spirituality. Confession is about
confessing one’s weaknesses and wrongdoings with a
heart full of love for God, and not a mere retelling of a
certain sin. Thus, if you unintentionally forgot a certain
sin, don’t be troubled; for God’s mercies are massive.
With all your heart confess that there might have been
other sins you have forgotten. But also keep in mind that
forgetting is sometimes an indication of carelessness
towards the true repentance.
- I don’t know what to say during my confession.
- a) Care to pray first, so that the Spirit of God would
work through you and guide you.
- b) Ask your father of confession to help you in your
confession, for he is a spiritual healer, who should help
the sick person to discover his illness with the Holy Spirit
of God that reproves man over his sins.
- How can I choose a father of confession?
The Church does not appoint you to a specific father
of confession; rather every believer is completely free to choose the priest that he feels comfortable with – no
matter where he is. When choosing a priest however,
keep in mind that he will be your father, your leader,
and your spiritual healer; thus, the Early Fathers advise
you not to rush this decision. Wait for the help of Jesus
Christ, and you will find the priest that is able to support
you. Pray for this.
- Why do I need the support of a priest?
Priests are the servants of the people, and are longing
to make themselves servants unto all; that they might
gain the more (1 Corinthians 9:19).
All priests also exercise confession themselves, for the
Church is not infallible; even the Pope and the bishops
exercise confession. To whom do they confess? Well, to
their fathers of confession, who might be elderly priests
(even those residing in the wilderness); for confession
does not mean that the confessor is in a lower rank than
his father of confession!
The main purpose of the Church is the salvation of
every soul through the spirit of repentance in humility
and contrition, through a spirit that is full of trust in
God’s free grace; that then truly realizes the fatherhood
of the Father, the power of the Blood of Christ, and the
working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.