Frightened by Confession: Do I Need It?

The Dormition Lent has begun. Father X speaks again on Confession and spiritual development. What are the people thinking about it? Let’s take a look around.
Frightened by Confession: Do I Need It?
Photo: Anton Chukreev,

John sits somewhere in the back and shakes His head as Father X goes on about the benefits of Confession. “Here we go again‚ we started the fast and Father is speaking again about Confession…But why do I need Confession? I am a steward of the Church‚ I help with the Greek Festival‚ I come to Church regularly‚ I am a good Christian overall‚ this is definitely not for me. I would have nothing to say.”

This way of thinking is not uncommon for a lot of the people. People are afraid of Confession because they don’t understand it. This is why a fair percentage of them just toss it on the same dusty shelf along with fasting‚ regular prayer schedule and church attendance. It is just something that they don’t want to deal with.

Part of the problem is a gross misconception about this sacrament: Confession is only for grave sins like murder‚ adultery‚ grand theft auto and the sort. The other sins are just normal‚ regular “stuff” that everybody does therefore they don’t need to be confessed.  So if I don’t have anything big to confess then I don’t go to Confession.

Regarding our life with such lenience makes us to overlook many faults and shortcomings that are important for our spiritual progress. We glance at our lives through a distorted mirror‚ and we construct a false mental idea about who we really are.  Having a skewed image about ourselves‚ thinking that we are actually better that we are  in reality is a huge stumbling block in our path toward salvation.

Often people consider that overcoming the big sins is actually the final destination and once they reach a comfortable stage many loose the drive to go further‚ to be “perfect‚ as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:48)‚ to reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:1’).

The spiritual life is about reaching this very perfection in Christ. If our final goal is to achieve the likeness of God‚ then our spiritual journey has no end. Stopping at any point on the way and thinking that we’ve reached the destination is only foolishness and deception. The moment I think I’ve reached the end‚ the ascent is over‚ and‚ without realizing it I am actually going down‚starting to loose what I have accomplished so far.

The image taken from the vision of Jacob‚ the ladder going from earth unto to heaven is the perfect depiction of our spiritual ascent. In the classical iconographic representation some people are climbing the ladder; others are falling down from it‚ some falling even when they had only a few steps till the end. This is because our struggle for salvation does not end after passing one or two big steps but only after reaching all the stages‚ after living not just some of our life but all our life. We can still loose everything in a heartbeat if we loose our focus.

From this perspective every aspect of our spiritual life is important. Obviously the big things are central but many times one does not get there overnight but often after a period filled with the “petty” stuff that pile up and lead to greater things. We don’t have to wait until something big happens‚ but we should maintain our spiritual health by regularly checking our vital spiritual signs.

The true nature of Confession is deeply therapeutic. Confession is not a tribunal but is a hospital for the sick. The priest is not a judge that analyzes the facts and then gives you a sentence; he is rather a doctor that tries to diagnose the state of your soul and helps you improve its spiritual shape. If there is disease he applies treatment‚ if there is health he assists you reach the next stage in your heavenly ascent.

If we expect help from the Church on our spiritual life‚ we cannot contend ourselves with general advice: be good‚ don’t kill‚ don’t steal etc.  In Church we are part of a shared support system that can apply personalized training to every one of us. Confession is at the foundation of this institution‚ because through Confession we can receive honest feedback about our real spiritual stage and recommendations for development.  Missing on this important sacrament is to reject a big part of our spiritual experience and slap on the helping hand extended to us all the way from heaven.

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