Updated: Jul 25, 2020
We all have shortcomings and make mistakes - we’re human after all; and the Orthodox Church understands this fully, providing a way back for us when we do “miss the mark”. The sacrament of Confession in the Orthodox Church is very much a two-way street, and that very 'way back', taking place between spiritual father and spiritual child.
There are some mixed perceptions out there about what “confession” means. To some, it's something they'd rather avoid, to others unfamiliar with Orthodox Confession, the word may even conjure up the image of a priest speaking through a divider, accompanied by the words “tell me your sins my child.”
This is an inaccurate portrayal of the Sacrament of Confession in the Orthodox Church. Unlike other faiths who may foster an anonymity around confession, we are encouraged to find a spiritual father and guide that we feel comfortable with, developing a relationship which brings with it considered advice for our own personal journey. It can be likened to finding the most suitable medical doctor for your physical health. Once we do, there are perks to sticking with them; they know our medical history and background. The same concept applies to our spiritual health, our doctor in this instance being our Spiritual Father.
The Sacrament of Confession in the Orthodox church is indeed about opening up about one’s weaknesses, limitations and shortcomings, and it's met with the love of Christ and guidance from our spiritual father. The church states very clearly that the moment we openly confess our shortcomings to Christ in confession, He immediately forgives us! Our Spiritual Father, with God's grace, is able to give us guidance on how to best deal with our weaknesses, challenges or shortcomings and strengthen our resolve, so as to continue to work towards Christ.
St Ignatius Brianchaninov says, “If you reject repentance, you’re being impossibly hard on yourself. Those who disregard repentance show a tremendous lack of sympathy, even hatred towards themselves. If you’re hard on yourself, you can’t help but be hard on other people. If you’re kind towards yourself by accepting repentance, you become kind towards others at the same time”.
Our church Fathers encourage us, although we may fall with the same sin time after time, it is the getting up, repenting and continued trying that pleases God the most.
Check out this list of english-speaking Spiritual Fathers in New South Wales