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Confession in the Athonite tradition

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Persecuted christians - Conference at the European Parliament about the persecution of Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa (Credit: MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen)

Break the silence on persecuted Christians

MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen held a conference and exhibition at the European Parliament to denounce the silence surrounding the suffering of persecuted Christians worldwide. The EU must take stronger action against violations of freedom of religion, especially in Africa where lives are lost due to this silence.

Many asked me to tell about the Sacrament of Holy Confession and a little about what the Church is, what Orthodoxy is. Before talking about confession, we must first talk about Orthodoxy, about the Church.

What is Orthodoxy?

Orthodoxy is not a branch of philosophy, history, folk tradition, sociology, but a branch of medicine

We need to know that Orthodoxy is an exact medical science, the purpose of which is the healing of the soul and the achievement of eternal bliss, the acquisition of paradise, deification. Thus, Orthodoxy is not a religion in the sense in which the word is understood today. It is not a branch of philosophy, not a branch of history, not a branch of folk tradition, not a branch of meditation, not a branch of sociology, not a branch of psychology, if you like, but a branch of medicine. And therefore, many parallels can be drawn between the medicine of the body and the medicine of the soul. And this true medicine of the soul, as we said, is Orthodoxy, and not psychology.

Orthodoxy vs psychology

Psychology arose over time due to the fact that society moved away from Orthodoxy, and a Western person needed to find an emergency way out of this situation. Then it was announced that, supposedly, in the current desperate situation, we would create a science that would deal with the problems of the soul (after all, psychology is called the science of the soul). Because everyone, of course, was aware that our soul has problems, it is sick.

Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science

So, as we said, Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science, the science of healing the soul, and the Church is the guardian of this therapeutic science, which is applied in the Church in the cooperation of man with God.

What we need to know is that a person cannot heal himself. Why? Because a person by himself does not know what he needs to achieve, since the main consequence of spiritual illnesses is a violation of the vision of the mind, a clouding of the mind. And in order for a person to know what he needs to achieve and how he can be healed, he must have a bright mind and worldview of a deified person.

Man is healed in the Church

But since we are all fallen people, all the sons of Adam, and thus all have moved away from the burnt man, we no longer know what to strive for and how to be healed. For this reason, God created His Church, in which, with the help of people who are united with Him, He heals the rest, us who submit, following this therapeutic method, this recipe for healing the human person.

So, brethren, the commandments of God are not an appeal from a superior to a subordinate. The commandments of God are the appeal of the Physician and the Father to His most beloved children who are sick.

Church Therapists

Those through whom this therapeutic method of healing the human personality is primarily applied are priests and people who have come close to God. On the one hand, priests, from an institutional point of view, and on the other hand, in the aspect of grace, are people of holy life, possessing grace, that is, those to whom this science of healing human souls was revealed directly by God.

Priests, by virtue of their ordination, can carry out this healing primarily through the sacraments of the Church, as well as through spiritual nourishment, while people of holy life heal souls with the power of grace, with those spiritual gifts that they have acquired, and those knowledge that they have accumulated.

You need to look for a confessor (therapist)

We ourselves need to look for a therapist who can heal our spiritual illnesses – a confessor

So, it is very important to know that we ourselves need to look for a therapist, we need to look for a doctor of our soul who can heal our spiritual illnesses. As in the treatment of the body, we are looking for a doctor who is suitable, with an appropriate specialty for the treatment of our bodily diseases, so in the treatment of the soul, we must look for a therapist suitable for us, and this is the confessor we need to find.

The Grace of the Permission of Sins

We said that, from an institutional point of view, spiritual fathers have this grace from God to knit and loosen, that is, to heal us, and now let’s look at this in the aspect of grace and say that it is very important to meet with a confessor often. Just as we have a family doctor who observes or should observe us constantly, and it is necessary that he regularly sees our analyzes, so the spiritual doctor must see our spiritual evolution over time.

Maintaining a close relationship with the spiritual father

Therefore, it is very good for the confessor to be nearby. Of course, it is best when he is close geographically, that is, so that we can go to him, maintain personal relations with him, but today this can also be done using various technological means.

And yet, I emphasize it again, it is best to communicate face to face. If this is not possible due to time, pandemic, distance, it will be very good to communicate in modern ways. In any case, it is very important to try so that contact with the confessor does not become rare.

Holy Fathers and Confession

You should know that many saints – St. John of the Ladder, St. Paisius Velichkovsky, not to mention Theodore the Studite (and such is the tradition of the Holy Fathers even to this day, up to St. Joseph the Hesychast) – spoke about the need for daily confession. And in the monasteries, this elite spiritual milieu, they confessed every day.

Saint Athanasius of Athos, revered as the patriarch of the Holy Mountain, did not have an outstanding theological education, left no writings behind him, and during his lifetime did not perform an abundance of extraordinary miracles. But what distinguished Saint Athanasius of Athos (for this reason he is called the Patriarch of the Holy Mountain) was, firstly, that he served as a personal example for the monks, was always among the disciples, and, secondly, that he confessed to everyone every day.

Gracious power and institutional power of the confessor

And despite the fact that he was a simple monk, that is, he possessed only grace-filled power, he also did not have institutional power, since he was not a priest, he did not allow the monks to reveal their thoughts to anyone else but himself.

Of course, this is not practiced in the world, but it happens in the monastic environment. And Saint Joseph the Hesychast was not a priest either, he was a simple monk, but by virtue of his spiritual gifts he listened to the thoughts of others and corrected them every day.

If in the case of St. Joseph the Hesychast this was relatively easy, since he had only a few disciples, then in the case of St. Athanasius, it was about 120-150 monks. And in order to listen to everyone every day, one had to have a phenomenal preparation, colossal both on the part of the saint and on the part of the disciples, who, accustomed to confessing every day, spoke briefly, to the point: so, so, so and so.

Confession: how often?

In the world, of course, it is difficult to confess every day. We do not require this, but once a week or, in the rarest case, once every two weeks, in extreme cases, once a month. But not 4 times a year, brethren! This is very, very rare. This is no longer spiritual progress, not therapeutics. Thus, we are left without spiritual nourishment almost all year round, and nothing good can come of this.

We need to have constant spiritual contact with the confessor and most of all try not to lose contact with him, so that sins do not accumulate in us, so that we do not forget something, so that nothing torments us, does not burden us, does not overshadow. If we rarely confess, then besides the fact that we can forget something, we will also have to tell a lot of everything at once. And thus we will tire our spiritual father, and we will tire ourselves, and we will annoy those who stand behind us, who are also waiting for their turn to confess.

How to confess?

In confession we must be brief and to the point

In confession, brethren, we must be brief and to the point. Let’s not start with, say, “I was born in 1900 in such and such a year in the autumn,” and set forth my entire biography, the history of my entire life. Don’t, brethren, don’t need unnecessary details. Details are not needed at all, because in this way we lose time and ourselves get lost in trifles. In addition to everything, especially when it comes to carnal sins, we do not give details, because we can lead the confessor himself into temptation, because he is also a person, right? Therefore, we will speak briefly and clearly.

You can even write down for yourself on a piece of paper point by point: “What I did bad” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), “What I did good” (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). This is useful if the confessor is really experienced. And we will also say what we think we have done good, so that the confessor can tell us: “Yes, this is really good, strengthen this, but drop this,” so that he knows, so that he has a holistic view of our life , our spiritual path.

Advice and confession

At confession, of course, we can ask for advice, and it’s good to ask for worldly advice, but let’s just beware of intruding into purely professional spheres. That is, brethren, we do not ask the confessor what car to buy, what name to give to the company, and so on. I’m telling you because I know there have been misunderstandings because of this. If we have an idea of ​​the confessor’s life experience and expertise in a certain area, we can ask him a question related to this area. But this does not mean that we are already bound by spiritual law if the confessor tells us to buy a car X, Y or Z.

For example, throughout the Holy Mountain, the most common car is the Toyota Hilux. But if someone is told to buy a Toyota Hilux, this does not mean that he was commanded to buy a Toyota Hilux on Mount Athos. We just dealt with it, it is a very good car, but we are not associated with this company.

We will distinguish between the spiritual and everyday aspects of life

In spiritual problems, the priority is given to the confessor. And in family problems, the spouse (wife) prevails

Do you understand? So one thing is the spiritual side, and the other is the everyday side of life. Because serious dramas can arise in the family due to the fact that, they say, “the confessor told me to do this.”

Here you have to be very careful! In spiritual problems, the priority is given to the confessor. And in family problems, the husband (wife) prevails. So find a common language with each other. There is no monastery there. There has never been a rite of initiation into the laity, like the rite of ordination into monasticism, as a result of which the laity would have given all their freedom into the hands of a confessor.

Confessor of the laity

The great difference between laymen and monks is that laymen can confess to whatever confessor they want. And if the laity see that they have a problem that their family confessor does not solve, they can go to another abba, a more experienced spiritual father, even without the blessing of their confessor.

As in the case of doctors, when we have some serious problem – a problem with the stomach, eyes, etc. – and the family doctor cannot solve it, we, of course, go to an orthopedist, an otolaryngologist, a gastroenterologist, that is, a specialist doctor. But this does not mean that we leave our family doctor or that we need to take the family doctor’s blessing in order to go to the appropriate specialist doctor.

Abba and confession

The same is true in the spiritual life. So when we see that the confessor cannot solve some of our problems, we go and ask another priest: “Father, what should I do with this problem?”.

And, again, if we see that the family doctor, that is, the family confessor, does not solve any of our problems in time, and especially if he drives us to despair, then there is a huge problem here. We need to change our confessor, find ourselves another therapist who would inspire us, push us forward and, with the help of God, heal our passions in a timely manner.

What and how to confess?

As for the passions, it is very important, brethren, since it is also connected with time that we do not confess every thought that comes to our mind. Of course, that would be great, but as we said, this is impossible, especially in the world, for a number of reasons: lack of time and so on. Brethren, we confess those sins that are stubbornly repeated, those thoughts that importunately come to us. They must be confessed.

Suppose now I am standing on the opposite slope of Athos, where there is a valley a few hundred meters down. And if I hear that down there, someone scolds me, I do not attach any importance to this, I move on. If I see him come out here on the road and hear him scolding me, I will take a glimpse of what is going on in that direction. If I see that he is coming towards me and throwing himself at me, then I need to call the police, I need to tell about it.

And I will tell my confessor about this when the thought comes to me, will fight me and I will not be able to overcome it. We do not retell the whole lot of thoughts and chaotic movements of the mind. We open those thoughts that persist. I didn’t say it. Barsanuphius the Great said this.

So, we must be very attentive to what we confess, details are not needed here, and you yourself do not remember the details, especially when it comes to carnal sins, because they defile the mind if you remember them in detail.

Don’t be ashamed to confess!

As for these fleshly sins, and others too, brethren, do not be ashamed to confess! It is very important! And here I am referring primarily to the fair sex. Can you tell me how much I’ve heard? I’ve heard enough. Listened to everything! So you won’t surprise anyone. Well, okay, now I don’t know exactly where you planted the bomb, who you killed and so on, but, brethren, believe me: you will not surprise anyone!

The confessor will not look at you in any way. After all, usually there are, especially among ladies, such fears: “Oh, how will he look at me after that?” Yes, he will not look at you!

Personal Repentance and Attracting the Grace of God

The confessor will be touched by your repentance – that’s what will happen, and the grace of God will enlighten him to tell you a word from God.

Confession is a highly spiritual act, during which the confessor is enlightened by grace

Because confession is not a process of informing someone. Confession is an eminently spiritual act, during which the confessor is enlightened by grace, which you attract to yourself and to him by your repentance, renunciation of sin, rejection of sin, and then he, impressed by this and touched by this, full of love, the grace of God, which is love for you, will tell you from God what to do.

You will not tell anyone anything new, as we said. So, let it not be a problem for you, they say, “what will happen when he hears what I did?”. You didn’t do anything. Well, well, you did something, and it became your pain, your bleeding wound, your problem, but, brethren, from Adam to this day there is nothing new under the sun. So this is very, very important.

Fasting and confession

Preparation for confession. Brethren, there is no need for fasting! Because because of this, serious dramas were obtained. People came here, to the Holy Mountain, and wanted to confess, they had huge problems, but since they forgot to fast, they never confessed.

However, the post is not needed. You must know that a person can confess at absolutely any time of the day or night, and he must be ready to open his heart at any moment, and the priest must open the door for him at absolutely any moment. Of course, we will not abuse this now and will not show up at 12 o’clock at night to the priest, we will not knock on his door and behave impudently and heartlessly, forgive me!

When to confess?

But we can go to confession at any moment. And, besides, the only preparation that would be good to do, and even that is not necessary, is to pray briefly before confession: “Lord, help me so that he will tell me a word from God, and so that I express what I have on soul.” In short, there is not much to say. And secondly, for people of a certain nature, especially if we have to tell the confessor about a lot, it would be good to write it down on a piece of paper in advance so as not to come to the confessor and there, like a fish on land, draw only one “aaaa”, right ? After all, time is wasted and tension is created in the queue.

So, if someone wants to record a confession, that’s good, he can record it on his mobile phone, and anywhere, absolutely no problem. Point by point, so as not to get confused in the details and, most importantly, not to forget anything!

Let’s confess only for ourselves!

The main effect of confession is resurrection, deliverance from the tyranny of sin, the tyranny of death.

Because in the end we will leave confession with a heavy soul, while the main effect of confession, you should know this, is resurrection, it is liberation from the tyranny of sin, the tyranny of death. But this, of course, if we confess our own, and not other people’s sins. Because it often happens at confession that we come and say, we start very humbly and spiritually, and then: “I lost my temper because X did this to me, he is a pig and a bastard,” and so on. And in reality it turns out that I say what he did, but I do not say what I did, you understand?

One must be very careful not to confess the deeds of others. If necessary, we will describe the context very briefly, but we will not give a name, but will focus on ourselves, our problems, because then how will the priest read the permissive prayer? He reads a prayer for permission from the sins of you, and not of the person whose deeds we confessed.

The meaning of penance

Brothers, do not be afraid of penance! Well, in the world you have a different problem: you are looking for good confessors, but you need to know that at least in traditional monasteries, with the best confessors, those who are familiar with the tradition of the Church know that penance is not a prerequisite for the forgiveness of sins.

Sins are forgiven exactly at the moment when the priest lays his hand on the head of the confessor and reads the well-known permissive prayer: “… and I, unworthy priest …” At this moment, all sins are forgiven, and if a person dies in the next second, then he will go to heaven .

If penance is given, then so that the person does not fall again. Do you understand? Thus, penance is pain, labor, commensurate with the pleasure that was experienced at the moment of committing a sin, so that a person would no longer fall.

Pleasure and proportionate pain

Since sin is primarily a sinful pleasure, for this reason pain proportionate to it is given. So that balance is restored and a person is freed from slavery to sin. Therefore, in the case of carnal sins, sins associated with numerous pleasures, confessors are very experienced and give serious penances in order to wrest the corresponding person from the corresponding tyranny.

God is forgiving

Don’t think God won’t forgive you! God will forgive you everything! If only we wanted to be forgiven

And again: don’t think that God won’t forgive you! God will forgive you everything! If only we wanted to be forgiven.

If we were embraced, and we sit in these embraces with our sins and do not want to throw them out, do not want to renounce them, do not want to confess them, then God, also out of love for us, says:

“Listen, brother, if that’s what you want, then what should I do with you? I respect your freedom of choice, because I love you completely, even if it is your torment.

And then, at this moment, when a person sits in the arms of God with his sins and, worse, does not confess them, because he is ashamed, because he does not want to, and so on (“And how will the confessor look at me?” And others pretexts) – at this moment a person is tormented so much, writhes so much, until he is completely wrinkled, and then he loses his freedom and moves towards hell.

Confession is the condition of salvation

So, for this reason, confession is the main thing in the salvation of a person, and for this reason, on the other hand, psychology cannot resolve a person from sins, since psychology does not possess the grace of God.

We cannot help ourselves (through psychology) because the solution is above us.

Psychology is just, excuse me, a discussion… Yes, there is some unloading going on there, but it still remains at the human level. And besides, psychology is not a sacrament. Psychology does not imply Holy Communion.

If psychologists cooperate with confessors and after a person has unloaded himself a little with a psychologist, they send him to a confessor – this is acceptable and good. But psychology alone cannot heal a person, and we see that the entire West, full of psychology to the brim, is also full of nervous diseases.

Because this is in no way, in no way impossible, because a person needs God, needs the uncreated, needs love, and people – we ourselves in our environment – cannot solve our own equation, we cannot help ourselves, because the solution is above us.


So, here is what can be said briefly about confession and attitude to psychology. And so we need to know that it is very important to go to confession and confess regularly, at least once a month, and preferably once a week. And in monasteries one can achieve daily confession.

In addition to the fact that a person is unloaded during confession, and in addition to the fact that grace descends on him, he also receives a spiritual word from a confessor. And this grace that descends on him gives him the strength to follow the spiritual word that comes from the mentor, and so the person gradually gets out. And that’s how we heal! And not pills, brethren, let’s throw pills!

May God bless us!

Author: Monk Theologos (Kadar), Source: Mount Athos cell (O Chilie Athonită), February 22, 2022.

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