This is part 3 of 3 in an address written by Metropolitan Jonah who serves in the Orthodox Church in America. It is great reading for Lent! The season of Lent calls us to self-examination, penitence, humility, and renewal. It is a time to concentrate on fundamental spiritual values and priorities, not a time for self-punishment. This address gives us some tangible ways to hold a mirror up to our souls and serves to reveal aspects of our lives that need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to read this and the other 2 parts and allow the Spirit to lead you in thought, prayer, reflection, healing, and transformation.
May the Spirit lead you into all truth and into the fullness of the gospel of Jesus this Lent –
Repentance and Confession
Awareness of our sins and hypocrisy, our short comings and falls, leads us to repentance and the transformation of our life. Repentance, conversion, the transformation of our mind and our life, is the core of the Christian life. Repentance does not mean to beat ourselves up for our sins, or to dwell in a state of guilt and morose self condemnation. Rather, it means to confront our sins, and reject and renounce them, and confess them, trying not to do them again. What this does is, that to the extent we renounce and confess our sins, they no longer generate thoughts, which accuse us or spur passionate reactions.
Sometimes we have to confess things several times, because we only repent of, or are even conscious of, aspects of the sin. Things that make us feel guilty, provoke our conscience, or that we know are acts of disobedience all should be confessed. We have to train our conscience, not by memorizing lists of sins, but by becoming aware of what breaks our relationship with God and other people. We need to be conscious of God’s presence, and realize what distracts us from it. These things are sins. Of course, we are experts at deluding ourselves, when we really want to do something, and we know that it is not blessable.
Confession is not only Christ’s first gift to the Church, the authority to forgive sins in His Name; but is one of the most important means of healing our souls. Sins are not sins because they are listed in a book somewhere. They are sins because they break our relationship with God, other people, and distort our true self. Sins are sins because they hurt us and other people. We need to heal that hurt, and revealing the act or thought or attitude takes away the shame that keeps it concealed, and prevents healing.
We need to confess the things that we are the most ashamed of, the secret sins, which we know are betrayals of our true self. If we don’t confess them, they fester and generate all sorts of despondency, depression and guilt, shame and despair. The result of that is that we identify ourselves with our sins. For example, same-sex attraction becomes gay identity. Failure in some area becomes a general self-identification with being a failure.
What is critically important is that we are not our sins, thoughts or actions. These things happen, we sin, have bad thoughts and do wicked and evil things. But we are not our thoughts or actions. Repentance means to stop and renounce not only the actions, but to renounce the identity that goes with it. Thoughts are going to come. But we can learn, through practicing inner stillness, to let our thoughts go. They will still be there, but we can learn to not react to them, and eventually, simply to ignore them.
The process of purifying our self is hard and painful, at first; but becomes the source of great joy. The more we confess, honestly and nakedly, the more we open ourselves to God’s grace, and the lighter we feel. Truly the angels in heaven (and the priest standing before you bearing witness to the confession) rejoice immensely when a person truly repents and confesses their sins, no matter how dark and heinous. There is no sin so grievous that it cannot be forgiven. NOTHING! The only sin not forgiven is thinking that God cannot forgive our sin. He forgives. We have to forgive our self, and accept His forgiveness.
Preparing for confession is an important process. It means to take stock of our life, and to recognize where we have fallen, and that we need to repent. The following should help to prepare for confession, but it is not a laundry list. Rather, it should help to spur our memory, so that we can bring things to consciousness that we have forgotten. It is more of an examination of conscience.
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself
Do I love God?
Do I really believe in God, or just go through the motions?
Do I pray, and when I do, do I connect, or is it just mechanical?
Do I rush through prayers, Scripture readings, and spiritual literature?
Do I seek the will of God in all things?
Do I rebel against what I know to be God’s will, and the Christian life?
Do I try to be obedient, and constantly surrender my life to God?
Do I go to church, go to confession and communion regularly, keep the fasts?
Do I try to be conscious of God’s Presence, or not?
Do I try to sanctify my life? Or do I give in to temptation easily? Thoughtlessly?
Loving our Neighbor
How do I treat the people around me?
Do I allow myself to judge, criticize, gossip aboutor condemn my neighbor?
Do I put people down? Do I look for their faults?
Do I condescend and talk down to others?
Do I treat others with kindness, gentleness, patience? Or am I mean, rough and nasty?
Do I try to control others, manipulate others?
Do I regard others with love and compassion?
Do I bear anger or resentments against others? Hatred, bitterness, scorn?
Do I use and objectify others for my own pleasure or advantage? For sex, for profit, or for anything else which de-personalizes him/her?
Do I envy and bear jealousy towards my neighbor? Do I take pleasure in his misfortunes?
Do I act thoughtlessly, oblivious to the feelings or conscience of the other?
Do I lead myneighbor into temptation intentionally?
Do I mock him or make fun of him?
Do I honor the commitments I have made? Marriage vows? Monastic vows?
Do I honor my parents? Am I faithful in my relationships?
Do I have stability in my commitments?
Am I conscious of how my words and actions affect others?
Have I stolen anything, abused or hurt anyone?
Have I committed adultery?
Have I injured or killed someone?
Do I covet other people’s things? Do I lust after possessions or money? Does my life revolve around making money and buying things?
Loving Our Selves
How am I self-centered, egotistical, self-referenced?
Do I take care of myself, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually? Am I obsessed about my self, my image, my appearance, my desires and agenda?
Do I indulge in laziness? Do I get despondent, depressed, despairing?
Do I beat myself up, indulge in self-hatred or self-pity?
Do I injure myself? Do I have low self-esteem, or think myself worthless?
Do I blame other people for my reactions? Do I feel myself a victim?
Do I take responsibility for my own reactions and behaviors?
Do I engage in addictive behaviors, abusing alcohol, food, drugs, sex, pornography, masturbation? How do I try to console myself when I’m feeling down?
Do I have anger and resentment, rage, and other strong emotions and passions suppressed within me? Do I act out on them? How do they affect my behavior? Can I control them or do I abuse other people?
Am I conscious of how my words affect people?
How am I a hypocrite? Can I face my own hypocrisy? Am I lying to and deluding myself?
Do I have a realistic idea of myself? Am I honest with myself and others? What kind of façade do I put up?
Have I done things that I don’t want to or am too ashamed to admit? Abuse of others or animals, incest, homosexual acts, perverse actions? Have I abused drugs, sex or other things that I don’t want to acknowledge? Am I afraid that I am those things—an alcoholic, drug addict, gay, child abuser? Am I afraid to confess them?
Can I forgive myself for these things? What do I feel guilty about? Does guilt control my life?
Am I being faithful to myself, to God, to others? Does my life have integrity?