What is sin?

God is always pouring forth His goodness upon all of creation. He created us to be like Himself in his image. Like God, we are called to put our energy into everyone and everything around us. Sin is when we choose to misdirect our love either inwards or away from others.

I think of it like a hose. Water is like the love of God, and we are like hoses. A hose is meant to pour out water. But if a hose decided to cork itself up so that it would keep all the water for itself or keep the water from reaching those before it, it would not be doing what it was created for. This “water holding” would just build up pressure within the hose. Eventually, the pressure would cause the hose to spring a leak, or even burst. At the very least, the water would become stagnant. This self-centred holding back or turning away from God’s purpose for us is sin.

Why should we go to confession?

When we were baptized, God completely forgave all our sins. Because of this, we have access to Communion with God and we are members of His Body, the Church. When we turn away from God by committing a serious sin, we break this union and damage our relationship with God. It must be restored before we can return to Communion. We need to go to confession to restore our relationship with God, with the people who make up the Body of Christ, and with ourselves. We also go to confession to strengthen us in our struggle against our tendencies toward sin that keep us from growing closer to God. Even though we were freed from sin through baptism, we need God’s continuing help to grow in our faith and our relationship with God.

Why do we confess to a priest?

Our priest stands before us as the sign of the truth and grace of God. He has been given to us to help us. He hears our confession in Christ’s place and he forgives us in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When we go to our priest to confess, we are going to God. We are confessing to God, not the priest. The priest’s role is not that of a judge. He is a witness, a healer and a counselor. He reminds us of God’s mercy and love. He instructs, encourages and guides us towards living a fuller Christian life. He prescribes a penance, not as a punishment, but as a way for us to be purified and consoled.

How often should I go to confession?

We are encouraged to confess our sins whenever we realize that we have seriously strayed from the Lord’s way, but at least once per year. Because we receive so much grace from this mystery, it is a shame not to take advantage of it when it is available to us. Frequent Confession makes a person spiritually sound, capable of resisting temptation; and it increases their vigour in the spiritual struggle. Appropriate occasions for Confession are the [four] fasts of the liturgical year, during which, according to Church custom, the whole family approaches the Holy Mystery of Confession.

Confession Preparation Checklist

1. Pray that the Holy Spirit guide you as you prepare for this mystery.

2. Give thanks to God for the many gifts and graces you have received.

3. Examine your conscience by reviewing how you have acted toward all people, creatures, and creation, what you have talked about and what you have neglected to do.

4. Think of any good you may have done and give thanks and glory to God. Pray that you will be strengthened and that you will continue to do good.

5. If you have done anything sinful, admit that you have committed a sin. Repent (express sorrow and have the intention of not doing these things again) and pray for forgiveness. To participate in this mystery, you must be sorry for your sins and you must have a change of heart.

6. Resolve to ask forgiveness of anyone you may have offended by these actions.

An Examination of Conscience

(Exert from Christ Our Pascha) Preparation for Confession requires a prayerful examination of one’s conscience. This consists of aligning our life with the divine commandments, the Church’s precepts, and the Gospel Beatitudes. Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky teaches:

A good Confession requires, perhaps, a lengthier preparation.
Before holy Confession we should beseech God in prayer for the
gift of repentance, the gift of heartfelt tears. Maybe there is even a
need to fast, since you know what Jesus Christ said: “This kind can
come out only through prayer and fasting” [see Mk 9:29]. There
are sins that cannot be expelled from the soul without fasting,
without prayer.

An important condition of Confession is sincere repentance, the desire to change one’s life. This means having contrition, or sorrow for sins, and a resolution to make amends. Sincere repentance is first of all realizing that one is a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness, and seeing that one’s sins have caused a turning away from God and rejection of his love. An important requisite of Confession is also reconciliation with one’s neighbour: “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).

1. You shall have no other gods besides me.

Have I engaged in superstitious practices or involved in the occult?

Have I denied the existence of God?

Have I loved someone or something more than God?

2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Have I used the name of God in cursing or blasphemy?

Have my words, actively or passively, put down God, the Church, or people?

Have I spoken about the Faith, the Church, the saints, or sacred things with hate?

3. Remember the Sabbath day (the Lord’s Day), to keep it holy.

Shop, labor, or do business unnecessarily on Sunday or other Holy Days of Obligation?

Set time aside each day for personal prayer to God?

Do I go to Divine Liturgy every Sunday?

4. Honour your father and your mother.

Do I show my parents due respect? 

Have I neglected the needs of my parents in their old age or in their time of need?

Have I obeyed all that my parents reasonably asked of me?

5. You shall not kill.

Have I harmed another through physical, verbal, or emotional means, including gossip or manipulation of any kind?

Have I recklessly endangered my life or health, or others, by my actions?

Been mean to, quarreled with, or willfully hurt someone?

6. You shall not commit adultery.

Have I purchased, viewed, or made use of pornography?

Made uninvited and unwelcome sexual advances toward another? Have I ever considered or committed sexual assault onto another individual? 

Have I purposely dressed immodestly?

7. You shall not steal.

Have I envied others on account of their possessions?

Have I deliberately defaced, destroyed or lost another’s property?

Have I failed to repay a debt or stolen from another? 

8. You shall not bear false witness.

Have I lied? 

Knowingly and willfully deceived another?

9. You shall not covet [desire] your neighbour’s wife [spouse].

Have I honored my spouse with my full affection and exclusive love?

Have I committed adultery?

10. You shall not covet [desire] anything that is your neighbour’s.

Am I content with my own means and needs, or do I compare myself to others unnecessarily?

How to Celebrate the Mystery of Repentance (Confession)

After you have prepared for your confession, go to the confessional. 

Approaching Confession, the penitent receives from the priest a blessing for the Confession. The penitent signs himself or herself with the sign of the holy cross. The penitent then sincerely confesses all the sins committed since the last Confession and accepts the guidance of the confessor as well as the assigned penance (epitimia). The priest then pronounces the absolution of sins. The epitimia is an ascetic exercise in virtues that are contrary to the sins that had been committed. The aim is to eradicate the habitual inclination to sin and to correct its consequences.

Penitent: (+) In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Glory to Jesus Christ! I confess to Almighty God, one in the Holy Trinity, to Mary the Mother of God, to all the saints, and to you, Father, all my sins.

Tell your sins to the priest. Remember to make a full and honest confession. Everything you say is confidential. You may choose to list your sins or to talk about where you are struggling in your life. Don’t make excuses. Don’t try to disguise or minimize. Let go of your pride. When you are finished say:

These are all the sins I remember. I am truly sorry for all my sins.

Father will speak to you, giving you advice and guidance.

He will give you a penance. When he is finished he will ask you to make your act of contrition while he absolves you through the power of Christ. Know, with certainty, that at this time, God is forgiving you, healing you and giving you strength to become like Jesus:

(+) God, be merciful to me a sinner.

(+) God cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me.

(+) I have sinned without number, forgive me, O Lord.

The priest will dismiss you with a blessing. Try to spend some time in prayer, thanking God for his love and mercy. Perform the penance as soon as possible.  

If a person has no desire to repent, and refuses to amend the damage, caused by sin, he or she thereby becomes incapable of receiving forgiveness of sins, even if they have come to Confession. In order to help such a person understand their lack of repentance and motivate them to true conversion, the priest can refuse him or her absolution. Anyone intentionally concealing grave sins in Confession remains unhealed and commits a sin of sacrilege. If a person in such a state approaches Holy Communion, he or she offends the Lord and commits a grave sin.

The Significance of Confession in the Spiritual Life

(Exert from Christ Our Pascha) In the Holy Mystery of Repentance, God grants the Christian growth in the grace of Baptism and the virtues. The closer we come to God, we see our own weaknesses and sinfulness more clearly and thus feel the need for more frequent Confession. According to the spiritual Fathers, if a person confesses rarely, he or she gradually loses the capacity to distinguish between good and evil, which has negative consequences for his or her whole life.