How to Confess?

Bishop Panteleimon (Shatov), Chairman of the Synodal Department of Church Charity and Social Service.

Bishop Panteleimon (Shatov)

At confession, you need to repent, listing your sins. Sometimes, coming to confession, people begin to tell something like the following: “I came home yesterday, my husband met me, he, as always, was drunk, I reproved him and he began to shout at me, I got angry and hit him in his face. I, of course, did the wrong thing. But what could I do?..” This is not a confession. The confession should be a repentance, and not a story about your life, and, moreover, with an attempt to justify your sins.

Although there are people who, by their simplicity, do not know how to repent in any other way. And, of course, their confessor will accept their confession in this form, but nevertheless it would be more correct to say this: “I am angry, I am very irritable; when my husband misbehaved, I got angry, hit him in the face. I am very sorry about this, I repent. I asked him for forgiveness and I promise God that I will never do this again.” This is how, it seems to me, the correct confession will sound.

Often people write a lot in their notes, they tell too much about something, it is not entirely correct. There is an opposite thing, also wrong, when a person simply lists his sins in separate words: “I sinned with vanity, despondency, irritation ...” “I broke my fast, I had bad thoughts,” the children say “I misbehaved...” What does “vanity” mean? What does irritation mean? What do bad thoughts mean? What do you mean saying “misbehaved”? We should not speak in general terms about the passion that works in you, it works in everyone, but about how this passion manifests itself in you. For example, it would be more correct to say not “I was annoyed with my daughter,” but “I humiliated my daughter, called her with bad words, hit her ...” Or, for example, pride... How does it manifest itself, your pride? You humiliate other people, look down on everyone, you are rude to someone, wanting to humiliate him? That is, confession should not be a detailed story of all the circumstances of a particular case, but should be repentance for specific sins, but, on the other hand, these sins should not be designated by one word.

Some modern people have a desire to find the exact names of all their sins, and some painfully search to find out what are other sins they do not know about. Some, for example, ask, what is “covetousness”? What is “possessiveness”? What is...? It seems to me that this is wrong; sins should be listed using the words that exist in modern language. When we pray, read the morning and evening prayer rule, we use the words of the holy fathers, we borrow their images, and this is correct, since we are learning the language of the saints, we are learning the right relationship with God, but when we repent, it seems to me that we all need to repent - in your own words. It must be said, for example, that you sinned not by covetousness, but, let’s say, curry favour with someone in order to get money, or that you did something good, wanting to be responded in the same way...

We know that there are eight passions, that there are commandments – we must repent in all our proneness to these passions, in all violations of these commandments.

In different sins, we need to repent in different ways. There is a kind of sins, unclean, impure sins, in which you do not need to repent in detail, but at the same time you need to make it clear to the priest what happened to you, because often these sins are spoken of only in general terms, hiding behind them a terrible distortion of the relationship between a man and a woman. ... You can't just say, “I have a lustful passion.” It is nevertheless necessary to clarify, how it manifests itself. There is no need to remember the details of these impure sins, but it is necessary to say so that the priest understands the extent of this sin. When you have repented, you need, on the contrary, to remember that you have this evil passion, to avoid situations where it can manifest itself, but to drive away memories of committed sins. But you must surely remember about the sins of pride, vanity, theft, humiliation of other people – and even bring them to your memory, especially when vain thoughts appear.