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About Confession - Metropolitan Anthony Bloom


Metropolitan Anthony BloomFirst of all, confession is not an exercise in humiliation. It may be a moment of humility. It may be a moment when the pain and the sadness of separatedness and sin comes to the fore, but it is not an attempt at feeling humiliated or being humiliated either by God or by the fact that the confession is made to a priest. What is at the root of confession is the awareness which the person who comes, the priest who is instrumental in it has of the greatness of man, the greatness of his calling, which is to be vindicated, and the sadness and tragedy of the fact that we are not faithful to our calling and not great enough for the stature, the measure of what we can be.

You probably remember in the parable of the prodigal son that the son came back to the father saying, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee; I am no longer worthy to be called thy son; let me be as one of thy hirelings.’ And the father stops him before he has time to say, ‘Let me be as one of thy hirelings’, because it is true that he has sinned, it is true that he is unworthy, but it is not true that another relationship can be established between the son and the father except that of sonship and fatherhood. And at the root of this confession as its absolute condition there the word ‘father’. Unless we can come to God in these terms, our confession will be a humiliation or else be a judgement in the worst sense of the word.

One of the fathers in the early centuries, I do not remember who said that to call God our Creator or give him any other of those names that make him great above us, is less than to call him our father, because all the names, all the titles we give to God indicate separatedness and distance, at times alienation. The word ‘Father’ indicates closeness and a kinship between him and us. And it is in these terms that we come to confession. We come to confession because, not only by distant vocation, but in actual fact we are God’s own children, his kin, and the measure, the dimensions of our stature, can be defined only in terms of communion with him, of greatness.

So when we come to confession the first thing is to realise not only that we come to the Father who will treat us with love and charity and compassion, which is obviously true, but that we are coming to him Who is the true measure of what we are called to be. And confession is a moment of truth when, looking at our vocational greatness, vindicated by God in the Incarnation, in his teaching, in the parable of the prodigal son, and seeing how short we have fallen from it, we turn to him in the terms of the prodigal son but without the last words, which would attempt at defining a debased, a lower relationship between him and us. It is a moment of truth, a moment when we stand face to face, not with human judgement, not even with moral or other standards, but with what we are or what we are not. We stand face to face with our greatness either betrayed or not yet reached, face to face with him, who is the full measure of our vocation.

If there is nothing more to confession as we practice it there would be little point in coming and making a confession in the presence of a priest. We can stand before God aware of his holiness and greatness, aware of our vocation to be holy and great, measure the distance, pass a judgement, turn to him as a prodigal son, ask for his help in growing to be the full measure of the stature of Christ. But why is it that we come to a priest? The form of confession which is today’s form is all that is left of something which much more essential to the life of the Church. The early Church knew nothing but public confession. People who felt that in their lives they had failed both heaven and earth, men and God in such a way that they no longer could consider themselves as full members of this community which is called the Church and which is a community that holds together God and men, these people came freely to confess their situation, their sin before men, in order to be reintegrated into unity of the Church. There was no court or judgement. In those days when to be a Christian was a question of life and death, any member of the Christian community was seen by the others as the closest person one could have on earth. Members of one’s family betrayed you into the hands of the tormenters. The Christian community really felt at one with their God and Lord who had been betrayed in the same way unto death and with one another. And when anyone had broken the bond and came, the community, warned beforehand, the community which had prepared each of its members by prayer, by fasting, by reflecting on his own life, went there not to judge, but to reintegrate the person by compassion, by acceptance, by love, by the readiness to live the solidarity of its members, to take the burden of the person who had fallen away, truly to carry one another’s burdens. This community was capable of doing this. It ceased to be capable of a reintegrating community when numbers, hundreds of people, joined it after the end of the persecutions without any dangers or risks. And then it became impossible any more to be reintegrated to that community, because the bond of solidarity, of oneness, was too loose. And that is the point at which the form of confession which we know now began to take shape. To begin with, the bishop of the place, as the man who presided at the eucharistic meal of oneness, heard these confessions instead of the community, as representing the community, because the community has become too weak to bear the burden. Then chosen men were commissioned to do it representing the bishop because the numbers of people who came for reintegration, for reconciliation, was too great.

And the present day practice, by which we come to a priest to make our confession, is all that is left of the communal reintegration of a member who has broken the bond of love and solidarity and oneness both with God and with other people. We must be aware of this, because this is the reason why we come to a priest instead of simply standing before God, because this reintegration involves the community. For the time being we are not in a position to revive a communal experience of confession. We are not mature for it, we are not even sufficiently aware of it. But this is where we should some day come again.

The priest therefore stands there in the name of the total community, stands there to witness before God that the person who has come has come accepted, recognized as one of its members by the concrete local eucharistical community, that the whole community stands by this person, that the whole community is prepared to take the burden and carry it together with this person. And also because this community is not simply a human society but a society in which God and man are equally present on equal terms of partnership interwoven and united with one another, the priest declares forgiveness, not as a judge, but from within the experience of faith he declares or proclaims the fact that whatever has happened to this person, God’s love has never wavered, God’s love is there ready to receive whoever comes back to him. It means that the words of Christ, ‘I have not come to judge the world but to save the world’, are at the root of this forgiveness.

But forgiveness must not only be granted but also received, and received in two ways: on the one hand accepted, on the other hand acknowledged. Very often I hear people say, ‘How can I accept God’s forgiveness or the forgiveness which is offered me by other people while I cannot forgive myself?’ We should never be able to ‘forgive’ ourselves. If we simply could say that we forgive ourselves, it could really amount to saying that the wrong we have done matters no longer to us. But we must be prepared to receive forgiveness both from God and from others as a pure present, as a gift, with all the gratuity of the gift, exactly in the same way in which we must accept that we are loved, not because we are lovable, but because someone is capable of loving us. It is a humbling experience to receive love or forgiveness with the gratuity and the joy of the one who gives and the one who can receive it. But on the other hand, this gratuity and this sense that we can accept forgiveness whenever it is offered is not the end of things. We are not forgiven in view of the fact that we will change and become better. We are forgiven because God chose in an act of solidarity with us to become man and die of our sins rather than leave us alone. We can be forgiven by our neighbour because he is prepared to bear the consequences of what we are, even if we do not change, because he loves us enough for that. But we must also, if this forgiveness to bear fruit, if this judgement of truth which we have pronounced on ourselves is to bear fruit, be prepared to live as an act of gratitude for what has happened. We cannot repair the wrong we have done, but we can start anew. (When I say we cannot repair, I am not of course meaning that if we have robbed someone we cannot give the money or the things back, or if we have done something wrong to the reputation of a certain person it is our moral duty to put it right. But ultimately we cannot pay a person back for love offered and given. But we can fulfil the joy of this person by accepting whole-heartedly and in an act of thankfulness, of gratitude, to try and live in such a way that our life should be a joy to the person who has forgiven, should be a proof that love has not been misplaced, that trust has not been misplaced, that Christ did not die in vain and that the person who accepts carrying the burden with us has not acted in vain. In that sense we do not receive forgiveness in view of the way we will change, as a sort of blank cheque, and if we understand the gratuity and the generosity of this act of acceptance we will have to live up to this miracle of love offered gratuitously.

Now if we come to confession, there are three aspects of it. The first one is the fact that he is vindicating our greatness against our readiness to be small and secure and peaceful, but that we accept in the very fact that we come, to strive to be as great as we are. The fact that we come is already the beginning of peace between us and God, in the same way in which the fact that the prodigal son had come was already evidence for the father that the past was past and that without a word, without asking anything, without reproaching him in any way he could receive him as a son that now had grown out of this past into newness of life.

There is the vocal, the outspoken confession that at times is necessary, without which we cannot manage to take hold of the situation. Things which have not been spoken out, at times do not involve us, commit us to change. Also to share in an act of trust with someone what is our life may bring us to a depth of awareness not of shame but of true broken-hearthedness which may allow us newness of life. At that point the priest plays the role of the community, who worshipfully, respectfully, with pain and compassion in the truest sense of the word of suffering together, listens, shares and accepts being party to what has happened, who by sharing accepts responsibility.

And now there is a third aspect, which has grown out of a quite different practice of the early Church. St James’s epistle says that if anyone is in spiritual trouble, let him go to someone in whose prayer and perhaps in whose advice he believes and share with him his predicament. This quite obviously is a quite different thing. A priest may stand there with all possible compassion in the name of the whole Church of God, triumphant and militant, but he is in no need of giving a word advice, of saying a word about what he has heard. It is enough for him to have stood, prayed, accepted oneness with the person in the name of the Church of God and declared to this person in the name of the Christian community and of God himself that love is stronger than death, that forgiveness is there to be received gratuitously, and both the community of man and God have faith and hope and are acting according to their faith and their hope. But the priest may have something to say, either from experience he has or from the understanding he has or because he feels, thinks, believes that in this meeting of two in God’s own name something is happening and God is helping him to say something which may be helpful. This is not a necessity. This can be or not. But this is also part of the present-day relationship within the confession.

Now when you come to confession be aware that you come to stand face to face with the Living God, who is the only One who will hear what you say and what you will leave unsaid, who will understand what you have been able to understand yourself and what you will not have understood, who can, if you ask him, see deeper to the very depth of your being, bless what can live, destroy and make wither what is not to live. But you stand face to face with God, and the priest is there as a witness, not only of you have said or not, but a witness sent by the whole Church to testify before God that the whole Church stands by you, whether he understands or not, because what is happening is beyond him. Speak as truthfully, as honestly as you can, but also be aware that it isn’t everything that can be put into words and that God knows all there is to be known, that you have come to make your peace and that is all. Remember also that making one’s peace takes two sides and that if what I have said about the community of men is true, then a community can reintegrate me or you if I am prepared to accept this community. But if I reject it, I cannot be integrated into it. This is why it is so important to have made one’s peace with all men, or at least if we cannot do it, sincerely to have tried, or if that wasn’t possible on either side, to have wished and to be prepared to make this peace. But also we must be prepared not only to be forgiven, but if I may put it this way, to forgive God. So often people who come to confession make a confession which is truthful, honest, and yet in the course of the whole confession, in the background, explicit or not, they hold God responsible for the reasons that made them what they are. Sometimes it comes very crudely to the fore, and it has happened to me to say to a person, ‘Before I can give you forgiveness in God’s name, can you tell me whether you are prepared to forgive God for all he has done to you?’ It is not a facetious way of putting things. If we can come in order to make our peace, we must be prepared to give peace as generously as we wish peace to be given.

If you ask the last question: what to confess? Anything which stands between you and God, between you and your neighbour. For sin is not a moral category although it also involves moral values, but it is the first of all a state of separatedness, coldness, indifference, forgetfulness separates persons as completely and perhaps more than quarrel and violence. It is true for God also. So ask yourself: Where do I stand with regard to God, with regard to other people? To what extent I am separated? To what extent do I ignore them or reject them? To what extent am I aware of it or have grown so completely indifferent that it doesn’t even hurt? In what way does that happen? Why does that happen? What am I prepared to do about it? Is it something that matters to me, or is it too much a question of indifference? This is all I want to say about confession.

 

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Ὅλα ἀρχίζουν ἐδῶ

Κάθε λογισμὸς καὶ κάθε αἴσθηση ὁδηγοῦν σταδιακὰ τὴν ψυχὴ εἴτε πρὸς τὸν παράδεισο εἴτε πρὸς τὴν κόλαση.

Ἄν ὁ λογισμὸς εἶναι ἔλλογος, τότε συνδέει τὸν ἄνθρωπο μὲ τὸν Θεὸ Λόγο, μὲ τὸν ὕψιστο Λογισμό, μὲ τὴν Παναξία, πρᾶγμα ποὺ εἶναι ἤδη ὁ παράδεισος.

παράδεισος

Ἐάν πάλι εἶναι ἄλογος ὁ λογισμὸς ἤ καὶ παράλογος, τότε συνδέει ἀναπόφευκτα τὸν ἄνθρωπο μὲ τὸν Παράλογο, τὸν Ἀνόητο, μὲ τὸν διάβολο, πρᾶγμα ποὺ εἶναι ἤδη ἡ κόλαση.

Ὅσα ἰσχύουν γιὰ τὸν λογισμὸ, ἰσχύουν καὶ γιὰ τις αἰσθήσεις. Ὅλα ἀρχίζουν ἐδῶ, ἀπὸ τὴν γῆ: καὶ ὁ παράδεισος μὰ καὶ ἡ κόλαση τοῦ ἀνθρώπου.

Ἰουστῖνος Πόποβιτς

Αγίου Ιωάννου Χρυσοστόμου

Ἐγὼ πατὴρ, ἐγὼ ἀδελφὸς, ἐγὼ νυμφίος, ἐγὼ οἰκία, ἐγὼ τροφὴ, ἐγὼ ἱμάτιον, ἐγὼ ῥίζα, ἐγὼ θεμέλιος, πᾶν ὅπερ ἂν θέλῃς ἐγώ· μηδενὸς ἐν χρείᾳ καταστῇς. Ἐγὼ καὶ δουλεύσω· ἦλθον γὰρ διακονῆσαι, οὐ διακονηθῆναι. Ἐγὼ καὶ φίλος, καὶ μέλος, καὶ κεφαλὴ, καὶ ἀδελφὸς, καὶ ἀδελφὴ, καὶ μήτηρ, πάντα ἐγώ· μόνον οἰκείως ἔχε πρὸς ἐμέ. Ἐγὼ πένης διὰ σέ· καὶ ἀλήτης διὰ σέ· ἐπὶ σταυροῦ διὰ σὲ, ἐπὶ τάφου διὰ σέ· ἄνω ὑπὲρ σοῦ ἐντυγχάνω τῷ Πατρὶ, κάτω ὑπὲρ σοῦ πρεσβευτὴς παραγέγονα παρὰ τοῦ Πατρός. Πάντα μοι σὺ, καὶ ἀδελφὸς, καὶ συγκληρονόμος, καὶ φίλος, καὶ μέλος. Τί πλέον θέλεις; τί τὸν φιλοῦντα ἀποστρέφῃ; τί τῷ κόσμῳ κάμνεις; τί εἰς πίθον ἀντλεῖς τετρημένον;  περισσότερα »»»

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Υπεραγία Παρθένος Θεοτόκος Μαρία

Κύριος διασκεδάζει βουλὰς ἐθνῶν, ἀθετεῖ δὲ λογισμοὺς λαῶν καὶ ἀθετεῖ βουλὰς ἀρχόντων· ἡ δὲ βουλὴ τοῦ Κυρίου εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα μένει, λογισμοὶ τῆς καρδίας αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰν καὶ γενεάν. (Ψαλ. 32, 10-11)

εἰ δέ τις τῶν ἰδίων καὶ μάλιστα τῶν οἰκείων οὐ προνοεῖ, τὴν πίστιν ἤρνηται καὶ ἔστιν ἀπίστου χείρων. (Τιμ.Α 5,8)

Ἅγιος Ἀντώνιος ὁ Μέγας

Οἱ ἄνθρωποι καταχρηστικά λέγονται λογικοί. Δεν εἶναι λογικοὶ ὅσοι ἔμαθαν ἀπλῶς τὰ λόγια καὶ τὰ βιβλία τῶν ἀρχαίων σοφῶν, ἀλλ' ὅσοι ἔχουν τὴ λογικὴ ψυχὴ καὶ μποροῦν νὰ διακρίνουν ποιὸ εἶναι τὸ καλὸ καἰ ποιὸ τὸ κακό καὶ ἀποφεύγουν τὰ πονηρὰ καὶ βλαβερὰ στὴν ψυχή, τὰ δὲ ἀγαθὰ καὶ ψυχωφελῆ, τὰ ἀποκτοῦν πρόθυμα μὲ τὴ μελέτη καὶ τὰ ἐφαρμόζουν μὲ πολλὴ εὐχαριστία πρὸς τὸν Θεό. Αὐτοὶ μόνοι πρέπει νὰ λέγονται ἀληθινὰ λογικοὶ ἄνθρωποι.

St Antony the Great

Ἐφ᾿ ὅσον ἐννοεῖς τὰ περὶ Θεοῦ, νὰ εἶσαι εὐσεβής, χωρὶς φθόνο, ἀγαθός, σώφρων, πράος, χαριστικὸς κατὰ δύναμιν, κοινωνικός, ἀφιλόνεικος καὶ τὰ ὅμοια. Διότι αὐτὸ εἶναι τὸ ἀπαραβίαστο ἀπόκτημα τῆς ψυχῆς, νὰ ἀρέσει στὸ Θεὸ μὲ τέτοιες πράξεις καὶ μὲ τὸ νὰ μὴν κρίνει κανέναν καὶ νὰ λέει γιὰ κανέναν, ὅτι ὁ δείνα εἶναι κακὸς καὶ ἁμάρτησε. Ἀλλὰ καλλίτερο εἶναι νὰ συζητᾶμε τὰ δικά μας κακά, καὶ νὰ ἐρευνᾶμε μέσα μας τὴ δική μας πολιτεία, ἐὰν εἶναι ἀρεστὴ στὸ Θεό. Διότι, τί μᾶς μέλει ἐμᾶς, ἐὰν ὁ ἄλλος εἶναι πονηρός;

Ἅγιος Ἰουστῖνος Πόποβιτς

Ἡ αἰωνιότητα εἶναι φρικιαστικὴ δίχως Θεάνθρωπο, γιατὶ καὶ ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἶναι φοβερὸς δίχως τὸν Θεάνθρωπο. Καθετὶ τὸ ἀνθρώπινο, μονάχα στὸν Θεάνθρωπο ἔχει τὴν τελικὴ καὶ λογικὴ του ἑρμηνεία. Δίχως τὸν θαυμαστὸ Κύριο Ἰησοῦ Χριστό, ὅλα τὰ ἀνθρώπινα μεταβάλλονται ἀναπόφευκτα σὲ χάος, σὲ φρίκη, σὲ θάνατο, σὲ κόλαση: ἡ φρόνηση σὲ ἀφροσύνη, ἡ αἴσθηση σὲ ἀπόγνωση, ἡ ἐπιθυμία σὲ αὐτοδιάσπαση μέσα ἀπὸ τὴν αὐτοθέωση ἤ τὴν αὐτοεξουθένωση.

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