Preparation for Confession and Repentance during the Sts. Peter and Paul fast as we prepare for the XXII Sobor of the UOCC

By +Andriy, Bishop of UOCC

The Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian says that sin – is lawlessness. There is no human without sin, but there is also no sin that Lord will not forgive humanity. The best offering to God is a pure heart – the psalmist David teaches us. In these present days of the Sts. Peter and Paul Fast, known to us in our church as PETRIVKA, we go through the Holy Mysteries of Confession and the Eucharist to prepare ourselves to meet appropriately the Great Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul who went throughout the Roman Empire, preaching the Holy Gospel of our Lord and bringing thousands to the faith in that Jesus is the Son of God who came into the world to save all of us sinners and to grant each one of us eternal life. In the Holy Mystery of Repentance cleansing and purification is given from sins that were committed after we who are Christian were baptized. The repenting individual confesses his or her sins before the Lord and the Church. When we confess we do so to the priest or bishop in order to receive the prayers of absolution. This absolution affirms forgiveness for the sins confessed and unites the repentant sinner not only to the church but with Christ who forgives all. As we approach the XXII Sobor of our church this is important to all of us and especially the delegates attending the Sobor to prepare spiritually to encounter God and be ready to act properly in order to be the stewards of our church. When we stop and think about sin we realize that every sin – is a refusal to be in God’s light and a turning away from God’s light. In order to see one’s own evil and sin, one must see the light and beauty of God’s truth. This is reflected in the person of Jesus Christ, in His Gospel, and also in the Saints. This is why repentance belongs before the face of the Lord, to Whom the Heavenly Father granted all judgment on the Earth. The essence of Judgment is that the Lord is the Light, and in turning away from the light, which is the act of sin, man punishes himself, and enters into the depths of darkness. God is Love, and therefore any sin is a crime, a transgression, against love. It leads towards separation from God and from other human beings, and thereby a sin is against the Church. He who sins separates himself from the Church and must, and is obliged, to repent before the Church. In ancient times a sinner repented in front of the whole congregation of the Church, but in these days the priest alone accepts confession in the Name of God and the Church. At the Sobor we come before Christ and we must be prepared to encounter Him as His stewards. He entrusted us, He gave us the mandate not only to be in the church but for each of us to help and assist in the growth of the Church. Being separated from Christ and the His Church hinders us in our mandate. It is our responsibility to make ourselves true before God so that we who are true can be true stewards of Christ’s Church. If we remain in sin, this causes us to be sick. This spiritual disease prevents a human being from accepting the gift of God’s grace, and also deprives an individual from the source of true life. When we are deprived of this we cannot act in the best interest of the Church at all. Sts. Peter and Paul are our example of how to act in the best interest of Christ and His Holy Church. As they were called and were full of Grace and the Holy Spirit, our call is the same. This state of Grace is important not only for the ones attending the Sobor, but for all of us who care and love our local communities as well. When we begin to look at ourselves we see that the greatest sins towards each other and to the church are such sins as pride or self-centeredness. To root these kinds of sins out, we have to be watchful of ourselves. We need to wrestle with sinful thoughts. We need to develop and foster regret in ourselves for mistakes. This creates in us true repentance. When a person reflects and analyzes their actions daily of their own lives, for example, during evening prayer, they recall everything that they did during that day. This simple exercise leads a person to repent in a much better way during the Mystery of Holy Confession. Those who neglect to work on themselves and care for their souls, easily fall into serious sin, oftentimes without realizing it. This serious sin then adds and builds on our pride and our self-centeredness. So what does one need to do? One needs to become repentant. When repentance precedes or happens before Holy Confession, this requires of us, firstly, a realization of ones own sins; secondly, a heartrending regret for their occurrence and happening, and finally a firm decision and resolution for correction and improvement. A Christian, who repents earnestly, can see and discovers reasons why they conducted sinful acts. So, they begin the road to understanding. If we take the example of not knowing how to handle insults or how to forgive humiliating acts towards us, one realizes that it is a result of pride, with which one must wrestle. To wrestle and struggle against sin, means for us all, to open one’s own soul to God and the Church. In our struggle we will realize that the root of sin is selfish alienation which distances and separates us from God, the church and each other. When we look at the church and become stewards of Christ’s Body here on earth the question we must ask ourselves is do we want to be alienated from the Grace of the Holy Spirit? When we want to be true stewards of the church then Holy Confession helps to purge us of unhealthy thoughts, feelings, impressions, and opinions; in other words confession purges us from our unhealthy subjectivity. Secondly, Holy Confession demands of us a self sacrifice. An example of this would be the ridding of or the turning away from one’s own selfishness. Without this sacrifice, sincere love is impossible. In addition, divulging one’s own sins, promotes one’s burning shame. This shame helps to sever and break the sin. The sin becomes like a discovered tumour that one works at removing from a healthy body. Everyone knows that it is impossible to cure the body from the tumour without surgery. Therefore Holy Confession becomes the instrument that promotes healing of the soul, as surgery for the tumour promotes healing of the body. Once a sin is confessed, then that sin becomes distanced and detached from us. The sin that is not confessed causes decay of the whole soul just like an abscess causes decay of the affected area of the body. The difference is that a sin that is not confessed abscesses the whole soul. We are confessing not only because we want to prevent punishment, but because we desire healing from our sins. We want to prevent those sins from being repeated. When receiving the person who repents, the priest tells that person, “Be careful, you came to be cured, do not leave unhealed.” Sin divides or more accurately breaks apart our soul. In order to return it to the state of oneness, to heal the soul, this can only be accomplished by Divine Love. Divine Love that heals the soul is only bestowed upon one who confesses within the Church. We come to the Church to receive it and thus return to a state of oneness, to a state of wholeness and of healing. How can that Blessed Divine love fail to ignite a flame in the heart of a man or woman who repents, when the Lord declares, as once He told the prostitute, “I don’t condemn you, go and sin no more” (John 8:11), or when the priest says and affirms the words of forgiveness. The authority to dismiss sins was granted to His Church by God, when he said to the Apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) While reciting the prayer of absolution from sins, the priest, with the Epitrachelion covers the head of a Christian who repents and makes sign of Cross over him and recites the prayer of forgiveness. Whatever is divulged during Confession remains a great secret and is kept in secret by the priest. In our society we call this the seal of confession. As a spiritual healing, the priest can administer upon the penitent an epithemy or a penance. For example, the priest can instruct him to do a special spiritual exercise, special prayers, or even temporally deprive the penitent from Holy Communion. This is not done to punish or humiliate the penitent, but rather as a spiritual medicine that can bring greater healing to the one confessing. In order to properly prepare for Holy Confession, it is necessary for one to continually examine one’s conscience. The proper way to prepare for confession would be to spend some time alone in reflection of ones’ own sins, by taking the time for prayers, for fasting, and taking time to read spiritual books. Confession has to be complete, exact, and without self excuses. At the beginning it is important to recall our greater sins, our passions as well as our failing. Our failings are the things that we need to wrestle with first and foremost. They could be things like failure to pray, to come to church, or to have more patience. Sins against love such as gossip, anger, or over indulgences have to be dealt with. If we are dealing with such sins, they should be a focus for continuous repentance and struggle. Before we even go to confession it is necessary to be at peace with everyone, it is necessary to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Our Lord said, “If you will not forgive people their trespasses then Your Heavenly Father will not forgive you your sins”. We even ask God to treat us in the same fashion when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We say: “Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In the Mystery of Confession the human being’s soul gets cleansed and purified. It is best said that the soul is washed in the bath of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is there in order for us to die again to sin and rise again under the Holy influence of “God’s Kingdom and His Truth”. This Holy influence opens once again the way to salvation. Reconciliation with God brings a person to a spiritual awakening and a joy from the fact that the soul is now in a relationship within the life of God. The soul of a person receives from this mystery (confession) the strength to discern and maybe a little ability to grasp with our small understanding, this spiritual life with God. The Mystery of Confession that takes place in the Church bestows on us a great method for personal renewal of spiritual vigor. During this Mystery the priest creates a special atmosphere for confession to those who confess and repent of their sins. The statement of the priest before Confession reminds us about God’s Law and His love for us. The priest’s prayer for the penitent, the priests concern and attention to the internal illnesses of the person’s soul, the forgiveness of sins by the authority, given to the priest from God, and instruction about correction; this is all that is needed for changing the soul for those who repent. This is the act that releases the soul from the weight and burden of sin. The church encourages all of us to attend confession at least four times a year, during our Lenten periods. These are Great Lent, Petrivka which we are currently observing, the Dormition Fast is August, and lastly Advent, the Fast before Christmas. During these times of the Fasts, we as the people of God need to come to our Lord with an open heart as well as an open mind. Come to Holy Confession not full of fear, but full of anticipation. When we prepare properly to encounter God, when we come to God with a penitent and contrite heart, when we open ourselves to receive the full grace and love of God, God will restore us, God will heal us, God will bestow His Great Blessing on us and we leave this great mystery full of the Holy Spirit in the knowledge that we are forgiven, we are on the road to eternal life and the kingdom of Heaven. Let us together in oneness of heart and love of God and the Church turn to God and repent of our sins. We are all called to be stewards and the builders of Christ’s Church here on earth. Just like Peter and Paul dedicated their lives to this goal, we must dedicate our lives as well. We have all been given the task and responsibility to love not only His Body here on earth but to truly care for one another. Let not sin, let not sickness and disease of our soul be an impairment to this task of being good and faithful servants of Christ. Whether we come to the Sobor as delegates, or just are good parishioners of our own congregations and parishes let us allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in the work and life of our Church as we all strive to attain the Kingdom of God and everlasting life bringing goodness, love, and peace here on earth as stewards of His Church, the life-giving Body of Christ! Amen

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