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Grave Sins & Sacramental Confession - Mark Fletcher - 22-02-2007 02:46 PM

Quote:'In the case of a grave sin, confession by private prayer should be supplemented by sacramental confession. In case of uncertainty as to what constitutes a grave sin, one should consult one's priest.'
'Introducing the Orthodox Church' (Coniaris) page 133

What constitutes a grave sin in the Orthodox Tradition? Is there a Bumper Book of Grave Sins which I can consult? I find this whole subject very difficult to understand and accept in my own experience. Am I bound to attend sacramental confession once a year, or be chucked out? Can I rely on private confession alone? Is this acceptable?

Quote:Matthew Chapter 5 verses 27 and 28:
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. 28 But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

One reason for ceasing to be a Roman Catholic was that I found sacramental confession a terrible ordeal. As I did not truly repent of a particular sin (and had no real intention of stopping doing it) then what was the point of lying to God and to the priest? It makes a mockery of the whole exercise if you do not really repent of something which the Church teaches is a grave sin. I tried to follow the letter and the spirit of what the RC Church teaches, and had to exclude myself from it because I felt that it excluded me first. If we are willing to be dishonest with God in something as serious as this, then where does our deceit end?

I am not suggesting for a moment that I shouldn't confess my sins to God whenever they occur, alone and in private. Of course that is the correct course of action. My difficulty is with sacramental confession per se.

The mental picture of Christ standing over me and waiting to drag me off to eternal hell-fire for one particular sin filled me with dread. It was as if our Lord was standing over me whispering: "Repent - or else!"

In the Russian rite of the Sacrament of Penance, the priest says:
Quote:But if you hide anything from me, you will have greater sin.
Coniaris - page 134

In my heart, I do not feel that God and Christ are like that at all. I feel that some denominations manipulate people through fear and guilt. This is unhealthy and damaging. Other allegedly Christian bodies are liberal to the point of apostasy and utter disgrace.

I am full of sin. My ego is intrinsically sinful. In some respects, the actual committing of a particular sin is the least significant aspect of the whole business. Surely it is the feeling of the attraction of sin - its "pull" - that is the most significant factor, whether one "acts out" the sin or not.

At the moment, the idea of being in the presence of someone of the holiness and genuine loving kindness of Reverend Father Michael (for example) and feeling obliged to list my sins fills me with dread. I simply don't think that I could do it. It would be absurd, grotesque and utterly, pointlessly demeaning. Only God forgives sins, and only He knows what they are. If I "confessed", where would the list end? It could never be enough to "satisfy" such a Holy God as understood in this paradigm of sacramental confession, however much I tried and however many tears I wept. Christian life is all about Grace and love, not Sin and fear, in my view.

In my experience, if you see Christ principally as Judge and Jailer, there is no end to the self-pity and concomitant self-torment you will inflict on yourself. How many serious, scrupulous Christians live lives of fear-filled self-abasement and end up despairing of the Mercy of God and committing suicide, like the sister of the Roman Catholic writer and Jesuit Gerard Hughes?

This understanding also implies that you are able to see your most serious faults and flaws. I believe that most sin is subconscious and unconscious. We are all sinners, and the nearer we come to Kindness Itself, surely the more we realise that we have never really repented. What's the point of useless self-torture?

Genuine, heart-felt repentance is one thing. The systematisation of sin and the manipulation of others through fear and guilt is another - however veiled the "Threat" may be, as in the Orthodox approach.

I want to come to a true faith in God and Christ, but I find this so hard to come to terms with in all sincerity. Please pray for me.


Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 22-02-2007 08:57 PM

Thanks for another helpful posting from you. I'll try and get hold of a copy of the book you mention when I can afford it. Thanks for taking the time and trouble to reply. I will certainly pray for you every day.


Confession - John Charmley - 22-02-2007 09:17 PM

Dear Mark, Dear Fr. Simon,

Mark, Fr. Simon's advice is, so it seems to me, spot on, and it points up one of the huge differences in ethos and doctrine between the Orthodox and the western tradition of Christianity, influenced as it has been by St. Augustine and by the Roman system, which has tended to emphasise judgement rather, perhaps, than healing.

The Church is a spiritual hospital, and all inside it are sick; the difference between those inside and outside, is that those inside know they are sick and have come to the right place for treatment; outside are those who do not know they are sick, and those who know, but do not know where the best treatment is to be found.

God will judge me, my spiritual father will hear my sin and aid the healing process through the sacrament of confession. If I am ill and I relapse, am I lying when I say I want to recover, but lack the means so to do? Or, am I wiser and humbler to say to my doctor, I lack the means to become well of my own volition, help me please? I know what you told me to do, but I know not how to do it with consistency and purpose - help me, please?

We may fear our disease, and it may disgust us, but God knows our illness and the cure; and part of that cure is to be guided towards the light by a spiritual father who, himself, stands in need of healing, so he knows himself a sinner, even as we are; he does not judge us, he helps us, and himself. Only the one Just Judge will pass judgement upon us; but in this mortal life we need relief from our sickness and amendment of life; we find that in His Church and its sacraments - including confession.

The 'torture' comes from our conscience telling us we have done that which is displeasing to God, and that is making us ill; our spiritual Father supplies a way of lancing the boil; another one will afflict us, and again we shall be absolved. In the process of trying to live the Christian life we shall all fall, we shall all stumble, we shall all need a helping hand up; confession is part of that process - just as struggling with our sinfulness is.

We walk on, perhaps a few more paces. The thing to remember is that with His Grace, and with the help of His Church, healing does take place; there is real progress. That, I think, Mark, is the difference that being inside the real hospital makes - and until I was there I did not know what that meant.

If, sometimes, I seem a little zealous for everyone to come to Orthodoxy, it is because from inside the hospital, even when very sick, you know healing is taking place - and you want everyone you know - and don't know - to get in there quick.

In Christ,

John


Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 22-02-2007 11:07 PM

Many thanks for your kind, wise words, John. Yes, I think you're entirely correct. It's a matter of deep trust and faith in God, His Church, and His Pastors. It's a matter of making a commitment and sticking to it whatever happens.

How Satan seems to work (as you have pointed out previously) is to introduce a little spiritual pride into your mind, and then assist you in dropping a rather large clanger so that you will not want to pick yourself up. It's a bit like the Pope being accused of shoplifting in 'Woolworths'. The shame of it is devastating at the time. The thing to do is to keep picking yourself up again... and again... and again... and trusting those God has entrusted with the cure of your soul. I don't mean to be disrespectful to Pope Benedict XVI - it was only an illustration.

I can only say that, for the first time in my life, I feel called by God to do something in particular. It just happens that it is to be a member of the British Orthodox Church. I will fail and fall many times. I will make many errors of judgement. I will probably not be a very good Christian in many respects. But at least I will have answered His call. For what it's worth, having visited St. Alban's Church, Chatham just the once, I get a very good feeling about the people there, and feel that the Holy Spirit is quietly and powerfully at work.

Whatever happens, I shall stick with it, as I feel sure that this is what God wants. I may not understand much. I may be only able to attend once a month. I may be "as thick as two short planks" and as sensitive as a stone. But at least I will have answered His call. Thanks again for your friendship and postings.


- Simon - 23-02-2007 08:59 PM

I will fail and fall many times.

No doubt you will, my friend, no doubt you will... join the club! To quote from the sermon I preached last Sunday:

"Ah, but you may tell me next Sunday how you tried it and your thoughts kept wandering off? Well, of course they did! It?s what they are long used to doing and praying the Jesus Prayer is something new to you. It takes time. Discipline is built up gradually, over a period of time ?it?s not instant. Of course you will fail ? but don?t let that put you off. As the saying and the song puts it: Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again. Or as the monk answered one who asked him what they did all day in the monastery, ?We fall down and get up again, fall down and get up again, fall down and get up again?? Just remember to keep getting back up."

I pray that God will bless you in your journey Mark


Thanks - Mark Fletcher - 23-02-2007 09:48 PM

Many thanks for your kind and thoughtful posting.


Falling - John Charmley - 23-02-2007 10:58 PM

Dear Mark,

Your post breathes the right spirit. One of the gravest sins is to despair. If He could empty Himself to take on our flesh in order to heal it, then we must never despair. It is, as He said in Gethsemane, the will of the Father that must be done.

Fr. Simon's wise words do not make the yoke too heavy. We do make some progress in spiritual health, even as we suffer relapses; but if you follow the call you feel, then you will always have a helping hand.

As you go forward the temptations will become greater; remember when that happens it is Satan trying to reclaim you through the means he originally ensnared you. But with prayer, and with the help of the Incarnate Word who triumphed over death, you will go forward and you will tell Satan to get behind you. Of course, he will, if only to be able to stab you more easily in the back!

But if you put on the armour of the Church, and if you trust in the Lord, you will go forward in His good time.

My dear Mark, keep praying, keep reading - and keep your Faith in Him.

In Christ,

John


Confession - John Charmley - 26-02-2007 06:30 PM

Dear Fr. Gregory,

I just wanted to say thank you for such an enormously helpful posting. There is so much wisdom and good advice there, and it provides the perfect answer to anyone wondering what it is about. It is a key aspect of theosis, and, like the rest of Orthodoxy, forms part of a seamless web which links all aspects of our life in Christ - but I have seldom seen it so well expressed - and never in that short a compass.

Many thanks,

In Christ
John