Confession: "Your Sins Are Forgiven You"
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
How many people have a past sin that still haunts them? How about some hidden secret that you want no one to know about? Is there anything from your past that you are not proud of, or which lays heavy on your heart? I know people who are broken and hurting, who have made past mistakes and poor choices, and who can’t get beyond them. In fact, I see how some people allow their past to actually paralyze their present and future.
Jesus Christ came into the world to bring healing unto all of us. Sometimes that healing would be physical in nature but other times it would be more holistic. We can see an example of this in today’s Gospel story when a paralyzed man is brought before Jesus. The obvious hope is for some physical miracle to take place. And yet Jesus surprises everyone by saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And when the crowd is shocked at the audacity of Jesus to forgive sins, he then says to them, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk. But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, I say to you arise, take up your bed, and go your way.” And immediately the man was healed.
Now some people might be more amazed at the miracle of physically healing a paralyzed man, but in fact, the greater miracle was that Jesus announced that He could forgive sins, and then he proceeded to do so. Jesus as God Incarnate has the authority to forgive sins! And this means that He is ready to heal us from our past, from the sins that weigh heavy on our souls, from the hidden secrets that too often haunt us and even paralyze us. What good news is that for so many of us who live in regret and pain for past mistakes!
In fact, not only for those people who are paralyzed by their past, but even for each and every one of us, Jesus the forgiver of sins is good news! Because all of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, in countless ways, have missed the mark which God has set for us. We have consciously stepped across the line dividing good and evil many times, and often have unconsciously slipped across that line. God has given to each of us a sacred potential and divine calling, and by not fulfilling that potential and living up to that calling, we sin.
Thus, we all have a need for forgiveness and healing and reconciliation with our Lord!
Here is an important aspect to our Christian journeys. We will often talk about prayer, fasting, and works of charity as central to our Christian life. Today I want to focus on the importance of seeking out God’s forgiveness. Of course, seeking God’s forgiveness implies making a careful evaluation of ourselves. We must look at the many ways in our lives in which we have turned away from God, broken our communion with Him, and the ways we have forgotten or ignored God – through our words, and actions and even thoughts; in our homes, workplaces and in our places of entertainment. We need to come to our senses, take a good look at ourselves, and then make a confession before God!
The saints of our Church teach us that a sin which is concealed has great power over us, but if we can find a way to bring it into the open and to speak of it, the sin loses its power. The more we lay our sins out in the open, before God, the better we overcome them and go beyond them.
There’s a story of a monk who was troubled by sinful thoughts at night, so he went to see his elder and confessed his thoughts, and the wise elder comforted the young monk. After returning to his cell, the young monk again fell into temptation, and went to see the old man. This happened many times. As many times as this occurred, the old man encouraged the young monk saying, “Do not yield to the devil, nor relax your mind, but rather as often as the devil troubles you, come to me, and the demons shall go away. For nothing so dispirits the demons as when his assaults are revealed in the open, and nothing so heartens him as when his imaginations are kept secret.”
St. John Cassian warns, “The devil drags a person headlong to death by way of no other sin than keeping our sins hidden within ourselves and not confessing to others.” In other words, our connection with God breaks down when we allow sins to remain within our hearts, as barriers hindering God’s love and grace from dwelling within us. That is why an important step occurs when we honestly confess any and all our sins to God. And the result of confession is forgiveness and full restoration with God.
Now you may agree with me that confession is an integral part of our journey with God, but some may wonder why they need to go to the Sacrament of Confession, why they need to confess before a priest? Some people in Church may not even realize that we have the Sacrament of Confession as a central part of our Orthodox Christian discipline.
Well, first of all, the Apostle James tells us to, “Confess your sins to one another.” It’s interesting to remember that repentance in the early Church was a solemn public act of reconciliation. It was a public act, because the Church understood that every sin affects all people in some way. In public confession, the entire community would pray for the sinner and help him in his reconciliation. Only after the fourth century, with the growth of the Christian community, did public confession fall into disuse. In its place, though, developed the ritual of confession before a spiritual father in private.
So the Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another. But why else should someone go to the Sacrament of Confession?
Another purpose in confessing within the Sacrament is that people inexperienced in the spiritual life don’t always see or understand their own sins. I’ve met people who say, “Father, I don’t need to go to confession because I really haven’t sinned.” An experienced priest can help us clearly see and understand our many sins, and then guide us to overcome them.
When one offers confession with a priest, one will also quickly realize how easy it is to deceive ourselves, yet how much harder it is to deceive someone to whom we open up our souls. In Confession, we stand before an icon of Christ, hear confessional prayers, and then speak aloud in the presence of a priest. Throughout this whole process, our sin becomes something we didn’t see before. There is power in the spoken word, and the priest, who is our spiritual doctor, helps us to understand this sin, and then holds us accountable to our recovery.
Finally, Confession is a Mystery of the Church that confers sacramental grace upon each person. There is a special, divine power present. When the priest lays his hand upon the head of the person giving a confession, it is Christ who lays his hands upon us, Christ who forgives us, and Christ who offers His grace of healing.
And that leads us to the ultimate purpose of confession - HEALING!!! In today’s Gospel reading, friends brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus in hopes of finding physical healing, and yet they discovered much more – healing from their sins. Jesus came to bring us wholeness once again, to help us discover the divine image that lies within, and then to bring out that divine image in each and every person.
So as a part of your Christian journey, make it a point to go to the Sacrament of Confession, even if you haven’t gone in many years, and even if you have never gone in your life. It’s an important spiritual tool to help us grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.