What is Holy Confession?
There are four parts to Confession: (1) Examination of our actions and thoughts to discern how we have sinned; (2) Repentance for our sins; (3) Confessing these sins to God in the presence of the priest who is our Father Confessor; and (4) Absolution - the pronouncing of the forgiveness of our sins by the priest while his stole (epitrahili) is over our head. Sometimes this Sacrament is called the Sacrament of Repentance or Reconciliation or Penance.
Why Do We Go to Confession?
After His Resurrection, Our Lord imparted the Holy Spirit onto His Apostles, and gave to them His divine power and authority to forgive sins: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:23). This power has been passed on ever since then by the laying-on-of-hands (Ordination/Consecration) in an unbroken line from the Apostles (the first bishops), to each new bishop. The bishops in turn delegate this apostolic power to forgive sins to each priest when he is ordained but, in particular, when appointing the priest as Father Confessor (as is the practice in the Greek Orthodox Church).
When we are sick, we go to a doctor. Our Father Confessor is our spiritual doctor, who not only grants us forgiveness of our sins in the Lord's name, but also can provide valuable treatment for the illnesses of our soul by means of spiritual guidance.
Confession and Holy Communion
It is a truly awesome and an amazing privilege to be united with the Lord by partaking of His Holy Gifts, and so we must not approach casually, frivolously, or without adequate preparation. We prepare ourselves by prayerfully trying to cleanse ourselves of our sins, so that we might be suitable temples for the Lord to dwell in, for He wishes that we will allow Him to make His home in our hearts and bodies: "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (Revelation 3:20).
We are cleansed by sincere repentance, by Holy Confession, by fasting, by saying the Prayers Before and After Holy Communion, and by prayerfully approaching the Holy Gifts, consciously aware that we are partaking of Christ's Body and Blood and becoming united with Him. The Lord offers us a priceless gift - Himself! This is the best gift in the world - there is nothing better! He asks of us that we be willing to accept His gift of Himself, that He offers to us at His great Banquet Feast, and to properly prepare ourselves to become living temples of His Divine Presence.
St Paul cautions us about receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy manner (carelessly or without adequate preparation), saying: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
Download this flyer to help you prepare properly for Holy Communion (Print double sided then fold in half)
When children are seven or eight years old, they have reached what is called 'the age of discretion', that is, they know the difference between right and wrong, and are able to take responsibility for their actions. Therefore, for children actively raised in the Church and regularly attending Divine Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion, around this age is good for children to start going to Holy Confession and fasting before receiving Holy Communion.
In preparation for their first Confession, it would help if children were instructed about what sin, repentance, Holy Confession and forgiveness are, and what to do and say when they go to Confession. Occasionally, a person may be a teenager or even an adult when they have their first Confession; they too, will benefit from learning what Holy Confession is and how best to prepare for it. For an adult convert to Orthodoxy, their first Holy Confession will be heard soon after their Baptism and/or Chrismation and their reception into the Orthodox Church.
How Frequently Should We Go to Confession?
The goal and purpose of the Orthodox Christian life is to be united with the Lord, which can occur only as we become increasingly like Him, little by little by His Grace. Ideally then, we should receive Holy Communion at every Divine Liturgy and, perhaps, Confess before each Liturgy! In practice, however, the Church advises us to receive the Sacraments 'frequently' and always under spiritual guidance.
The best way, then, of ascertaining the frequency that we should receive the Sacraments of Holy Confession and Communion is to simply discuss it with our Father Confessor. The more our strengths and weaknesses are known, the more guidance can be given as to how much 'medicine' is required for healing, renewal, and growth.
How Do We Prepare for Holy Confession?
Father Confessors in Victoria and Tasmania
Very Rev. Fr Panagiotis Stylianopoulos (St. Dimitrios, Ascot Vale)
(The following Father Confessors are fluent in English)
Very Rev. Fr Evmenios Vasilopoulos (Transfiguration of Our Lord, Thomastown)