The depth and mystery of Confession

“Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and renew a right spirit within me.” –Psalm 50

“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more…”-Heb. 8:12.

Going through the mystery of Confession can be, as it ought to be, immensely healing, but it can also be very spiritually dangerous because its potential effects on a Christian soul depend so heavily on the spiritual frame of mind of the penitent during the time he or she confesses and shortly thereafter. It is in this crucial time afterwards that the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the mysteries of the Church, radiating through her sacraments, is so crucial to catalyzing real spiritual growth and renewal in the penitent’s heart and soul. If the penitent sinner does not fully acknowledge the ruptures their actions have caused, which have obscured God’s grace in his or her life, he or she will be blind to the healing grace all around and within them.

If confession is undertaken by someone searching after the righteousness and purity of heart of which Christ spoke in the Beatitudes, if he or she comes before God with the priest as their witness and confidant in a spirit of Christian piety and simple humility, then the counsel the priest provides, and the gentle grace and the loving whispering of God in the repentant sinner’s heart will heal, restore and illumine them.

When this happens, the words of Psalm 50 ring true in the penitent’s heart. God will “blot out [their] transgressions”, washing them thoroughly and cleansing them from their sins. When this happens, he or she will see Christ in all people, even in their foes who might hate them, and they will be inspired to heal any ruptures or schisms in relationships with loved ones. They will want to forgive others, and to ask those they have hurt for forgiveness. Their loved ones will see the love of God in them and forgive them, discerning their hearts to be fully cleansed.

As much as it is a true blessing for those seeking after true righteousness, confession often becomes for the spiritually blind or immature a vehicle for further gratification of the ego, of the deluded sense of self- it becomes all about the person “feeling better”, and people thus mistake a symptom of gradual spiritual healing and recovery for the intrinsic goal. This sad delusion stunts any real progress in the process of repentance, obscuring the necessary union of a repentant soul with a loving heart. Thus for those unwilling to change their ways, confession is essentially a gratifying ritual void of the true repentance meant to accompany it.

In this confused state, a sinner is likely to not only continue sinning, blind as they are to the grace of God and the need for real repentance, but to become proud or boastful in his or her transgressions. Then, truly, they are to be pitied and loved all the more. Even in this state of persistent sinfulness, we must not condemn our brother or sister. We must pray for them, for something truly dark lives in their soul, whatever idol they have set up in place of God!

We are all of us hypocrites in how we quickly condemn and judge others. We would serve our own salvation far better if we looked to our own sins, from which we can and should turn, and examine not so much what we do wrong, but why we give into temptations. What spiritual void or weak spot or illness in us is the underlying cause of our sin? When we can do this for ourselves, we will see the image of God shining through our brothers and sisters, even those immersed in sin, and then we can be unto them as Christ is unto us, infinitely loving and forgiving.

“God has done all things for our benefit. . .”

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God has done all things for our benefit.

We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence.

On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean health, prosperity, strength, rest, joy, light, spiritual knowledge, riches, progress in all things, a peaceful life, the enjoyment of honors, authority, abundance and all the other supposed blessings of this life.

We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger.

On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as illness, discomfort, tribulation, weakness, unsought distress, darkness, ignorance, poverty, general misfortune, the fear of loss, dishonor, affliction, indigence, and so on.

Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.

-St Peter of Damascus

“Continually turn to God. . .”

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Even the saints of God were at times seized with diabolical despair and despondency.What, therefore, can we sinners expect?

O, the enemy often wounds us by the wrath, humiliation, and cruel despondency of the heart! We must continually turn to God and be every moment with Him, in order that we may not be besieged with the wrath and despondency of the enemy.

-St John of Kronstadt

Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) is one of the most beloved Russian saints to whom thousands would come seeking his ascetic and pastoral advice. He served most of his life as a priest at St Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral in Kronstadt outside St Petersburg. He wrote widely on many topics, especially on the profound existential need to cultivate transcendent Christian love and forgiveness.

The blinding delusions of sin

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Who does not know how difficult it is, without God’s special grace, for a sinner to turn from the way of sin that is so dear to him to the path of virtue?

How deeply sin takes root in the heart of the sinner, and in all his being — how it gives the sinner its own way of looking at things, by means of which he sees them quite differently to what they are in reality, and shows him everything in a kind of alluring light.

It is for this reason that we see that sinners very often do not even think of their conversion, and do not consider themselves to be great sinners, because their eyes are blinded by self-love and pride. And if they do consider themselves sinners, then they give themselves up to the most terrible despair, which overwhelms their mind with thick darkness and greatly hardens their heart.

-St John of Kronstadt

Saint John of Kronstadt (1829-1908) is one of the most beloved Russian saints to whom thousands would come seeking his ascetic and pastoral advice. He served most of his life as a priest at St Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral in Kronstadt outside St Petersburg. He wrote widely on many topics, especially on the profound existential need to cultivate transcendent Christian love and forgiveness.

“Put on the mildness of angels. . .”

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Let’s stop fighting and pray in a becoming way. We should put on the mildness of angels instead of the demons’ brutality.

No matter how we’ve been injured, we must soften our anger by considering our own case and our salvation.

Let us quiet the storms; we can pass through life calmly. Then, upon our departing, the Lord will treat us as we treated our neighbours. If this is a heavy, terrible thing to us, we must let Him make it light and desirable.

What we don’t have strength to carry out because of our struggle against sin, let us accomplish by becoming gentle to those who sinned against us.

-St. John Chrysostom

Incredible sermon on Christian joy, love, forgiveness and transformation

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On Sunday, May 27, with the blessing of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Jonah, Metropolitan of All America & Canada, celebrated the Divine Liturgy in St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Mayfield, Pennsylvania.

This Cathedral often changed hands during past jurisdictional disputes between ROCOR and the OCA, and Metropolitan Jonah’s historic visit, marked by this incredible sermon in which he offered a heartfelt apology for offensive and impolitic statements by some of his predecessors, marked yet another positive turning point in the jurisdictions’ relations as Orthodox brethren in America.

The Metropolitan’s sermon here is of the most inspiring talks I have ever heard him give. It covers the subjects of Christian love, forgiveness of and repentance from sins, and above all, the spirit of true joy- not merely happiness or gratification- to be found in reconciliation.

This beautiful video is provided courtesy of the Eastern American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), under the omophorion of His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral).

We have received from God…

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We have received from God self-control, forbearance, restraint, fortitude, patience, and the like, which are great and holy powers, helping us to resist the enemy’s attacks.

If we cultivate these powers and have them at our disposal, we do not regard anything that befalls us as painful, grievous or unbearable, realizing that it is human and can be overcome by the virtues within us.

The unintelligent do not take this into account; they do not understand that all things happen for our benefit, rightly and as they should, so that our virtues may shine and we ourselves be crowned by God.

-St Anthony the Great

 

On the human heart

“Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in Thee. . . “ — Blessed St Augustine of Hippo (d. 430)

‎”The Lord is not tired of hearing us complain all the time. 
He is tired of our sins, not our turning to Him for help. 
He wants us to call upon Him all the time and to pour out our hearts to him.” 
—Venerable Thaddeus of Vitovinica, Serbian Orthodox elder

The human heart is a mysterious vessel, its true contents often fully known only to the God who created it. Rare is the person to whom we can unburden it and be exactly as we are. This person, if we are so fortunate as to find them, or for them to find us, is a lifeline in all ways, an extension of our heart outside our body. Within all hearts are many memories, inscribed there often without the person realizing it, and many quiet hopes and dreams enter existence there. In the strongest hearts there are memories of tragedies faced, of sorrows endured and above all, of love deeply felt. Next to love, laughter is the heart’s strongest medicine, pumping new life into the person. The twin of every person’s heart is their soul, and one cannot truly live without the other. Thus a person’s soulmate is intimately, invisibly connected, even in ways they do not understand, to the other’s heart and soul.