The Sacrament of Confession is the first and most important way to cure spiritual delusion. After confession, the action of thoughts, sins, and demonic visions on the human soul diminishes and disappears.
Sermon by Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov).
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees).
Beloved brethren! We have reached the haven of the holy fast. Let us now set aside special time for an especially attentive, detailed review of ourselves. The gates of repentance have now opened wider to us.
Dwellers of the holy monastery! Christ’s closest disciples! True children of the Church, who do ever abide at her spiritual breast! It would be more appropriate to those of our calling not to require a special time set aside for being attentive to ourselves, for cleansing away our sinful stains by confession and repentance; it would be fitting for us if our entire lives would consist of unceasing attention and unceasing repentance—if only our lives would correspond to our name as monks. The example of purity to which we should aspire is perfect. That example is our Lord Jesus Christ. But as He which hath called you is holy, says the Apostle, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Pet. 1:15–16). In accordance with the infinite perfection of this example of purity, the field of repentance and purification is infinite. Even if one were to pass through this field with all possible zeal and diligence, he could still not attain to perfect purity, even if his life of constant repentance were to go on for a thousand years; even then he would not reach complete purification. The greatest of monks were acutely aware at the time of their death that not only had they not fully repented, but that they had not even begun to repent. But because of our ever growing and multiplying infirmities, on the day our soul departs from this earthly life will be very far from that sanctity with which our holy fathers, those chosen vessels of God and desert dwellers, departed from their bodies. They are now dwellers of heaven, because they diligently abided in repentance during their sojourn through the desert of earthly life.
Bishop Alexander (Mileant). The Sacrament of Confession. Remedy for a sick soul.
Content: Reasons for inner discord. Looking into oneself. Power of the Sacrament of Confession. Aid to confession. Prayers of the Sacrament of Confession. Notes and conclusion.
Reasons for inner discord
The greatest paradox of our life is that while we all instinctively strive for happiness, most of the time we are unhappy and dissatisfied even when no danger threatens us. Philosophy is helpless in satisfactorily clarifying the reason for this paradox. The Christian faith, however, explains that the reason for our dissatisfaction and dark feelings lies within ourselves. It results from our sinfulness — not only from our personal sins but also from our very nature that is marred by the primordial sin. Sinful corruption is the main source of our grief and suffering.
Sin is a spiritual sickness that grows and expands with time like cancerous cells. Left unchecked, sin gains in strength and enslaves its victim, and in doing so, it taints his mind, weakens his will towards good, permeates him with uneasiness and bitterness, arouses in him passionate feelings and evil thoughts and compels him to sin again and again.
We all are, to a greater or lesser degree, damaged by sin, although we often fail to recognize the full extent of our inner sickness. The main reason that the Lord Jesus Christ came to our world was to eradicate in us the roots of sin and return to us spiritual health and with it eternal bliss. However, because sin is so intimately interwoven with our mind and will, with our subconscious, it cannot be removed instantly or by external means. It is essential that we become actively involved with its extermination, but even our own efforts are not enough to accomplish total eradication of sin. Only the grace of Christ can give us complete spiritual recovery.
Monk Moses of the Holy Mountain. "Many Confess, But Few Repent".
What is repentance and confession?
Confession is a God-given commandment, and it is one of the Sacraments of our Church. Confession is not a formal, habitual (”to be on the safe side”, or, ”in view of upcoming feast-days”), forced and unprepared act, springing from an isolated duty or obligation and for psychological relief only. Confession should always be combined with repentance. A Holy Mountain Elder used to say: ”Many confess, but few repent!” (Elder Aemilianos of Simonopetra Monastery, Mt. Athos)
Repentance is a freely-willed, internally cultivated process of contrition and sorrow for having distanced ourselves from God through sin. True repentance has nothing to do with intolerable pain, excessive sorrow and relentless guilty feelings. That would not be sincere repentance, but a secret egotism, a feeling of our ”ego” being trampled on; an anger that is directed at our self, which then wreaks revenge because it is exposing itself and is put to shame—a thing that it cannot tolerate.
Repentance means a change in our thoughts, our mentality; it is an about-face; it is a grafting of morality and an abhorrence of sin.
Repentance also means a love of virtue, benevolence, and a desire, a willingness and a strong disposition to be re-joined to Christ through the Grace of the almighty Holy Spirit.
Repentance begins in the depths of the heart, but it culminates necessarily in the sacrament of divine and sacred Confession.
During confession, one confesses sincerely and humbly before the confessor, as though in the presence of Christ. No scientist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, sociologist, philosopher or theologian can replace the confessor.
Saint Basil the Great. "A Lament for Sin".
Weep over your sin: it is a spiritual ailment; it is death to your immortal soul; it deserves ceaseless, unending weeping and crying; let all tears flow for it, and sighing come forth without ceasing from the depths of your heart.
In profound humility I weep for all my sins, voluntary and involuntary, conscious and unconscious, covert and overt, great and little, committed by word and deed, in thought and intention, day and night, at every hour and minute of my life.
I weep over my pride and my ambition, my self love and my boastfulness; I weep over my fits of anger, irritation, excessive shouting, swearing, quarreling and cursing;
I weep for having criticized, censured, gossiped, slandered, and defamed, for my wrath, enmity, hatred, envy, jealousy, vengeance and rancor;
I weep over my indulgences in lust, impure thoughts and evil inclinations; covetousness, gluttony, drunkenness, and sloth;
I weep for having talked idly, used foul language, blasphemed, derided, joked, ridiculed, mocked, enjoyed empty gaiety, singing, dancing and every pleasure to excess;
How to Prepare for Confession
Advice given by Saint Theophan the recluse from his well known book Path to Salvation.
To make a good confession it is necessary to prepare yourself carefully. Ask God to give you Grace to make a thorough examination of your conscience, the courage to make a sincere and complete confession, and the strength to amend your way of life in the days to come.
Think timidly and fearfully of our weak human condition.
Begin your examination from the time of your last confession; try to recall whether you omitted anything through carelessness or lapse of memory, or from fear of embarrassment. Examine yourself with the assistance of the form of self-examination according to the Ten Commandments of God which follows.
It is most necessary that you be truly sorry for the sins which you have committed, and that you firmly purpose amendment of your manner of living. Embrace the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32).
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite. "Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession".
What is repentance?
My brother sinner, this is the preparation you must undergo before you repent and go to confession. Know firstly that repentance, according to St. John of Damaskos, is a returning from the devil to God, which comes about through pain and ascesis. So you also, my beloved, if you wish to repent properly, must depart from the devil and from diabolical works and return to God and to the life proper to God. You must forsake sin, which is against nature, and return to virtue, which is according to nature. You must hate wickedness so much, that you say along with David: “Unrighteousness have I hated and abhorred” (Ps. 118:163), and instead, you must love the good and the commandments of the Lord so much, that you also say along with David: “But Thy law have I loved” (ibid.), and again: “Therefore have I loved Thy commandments more than gold and topaz” (Ps. 118:127). In brief, the Holy Spirit informs you through the wise Sirach what in fact true repentance is, saying: “Turn to the Lord and forsake your sins... Return to the Most High, and turn away from iniquity, and hate abominations intensely” (Sir. 17:25-26).
The aspects of repentance
Know secondly that the aspects of repentance are three: contrition, confession, and satisfaction.