Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov left us the following precious instruction: "In order to live spiritually and draw breath from grace, we must continually exhale the ashes of sin." We sin almost constantly, if not in our deeds, then in our thoughts and feelings. Therefore it is essential to continually cleanse our souls. In the language of asceticism (teaching on religious struggle) it is known as "internal activity" or "attentiveness."
I would not dwell on the issues of what you have done in the past, repent of them. Many Orthodox Priests at the time of your Baptism/Chriosmation will offer you the opportunity to do a life confession prior to the sacrament. This enables him, as your spiritual father, to gain insight into what he will be working with you as you grow in the faith. The Greek word for sin is hamartia
and simply means to miss the mark. By recognizing, confessing, and repenting of the sin, we begin our way to the event of theosis that Christ says we have as our goal of the Christian Life. Your Priest represents the Divine Physician , Our Lord Jesus Christ, he will provide the medicine that the Holy Spirit tells him is necessary to bring you to spiritual health.
You mentioned penalties or penances. I assume you are referring to the compilation of recommendations listed in "The Rudder". [The Rudder is a compilation of the sacred and divine canons of the holy and renowned Apostles, of the holy Councils, ecumenical as well as regional, and of individual fathers, as embodied in the original Greek text].t is used as guidelines to assist the priest in determining how serious a sin is, and recommend the maximum penances for sin done after
one enters the Orthodox Church. The Rudder also speaks of mercy and love under the influence of the Holy Spirit that should guide a Priest as he assigns penances. One must remember that it is not you as the sinner that determines what those penances are (that is not your charism) but rather the Priest and Bishop (who do hold that charism or gift form the Holy Spirit to do so).
Here are various articles written by Orthodox theologians on the subject that may help you to understand this issue:
Repentance: Life's Continual Effort located at http://www.stjohndc.org/Russian/homilies/e_9803a.htm
Repentance located at http://www.orthodoxphotos.com/readings/beginning2/repentance.shtml
Repentance in Worship located athttp://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/wilson_repentance.htm
Confession and Repentance by Bishop Job located athttp://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/wilson_repentance.htm
Reopentance and Confession- An Introduction located athttp://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8493
Penance by Archpriest John Hopko located athttp://www.oca.org/OCchapter.asp?SID=2&ID=54
What Is Necessary for a Saving Confession? by Metropolitan Innocent of Moscowhttp://www.orthodox.net/confess/what-is-necessary-for-a-saving-confession-metropolitan-innocent-of-moscow.html
CONFESSION: Time, Space & Age by Father Joseph Honeycutthttp://southern-orthodoxy.blogspot.com/2007/02/confession-time-space-age.htmlYou may wish to locate the following books on this topic:
1)Repentance and Confession in the Orthodox Church
by John Chryssavgis
2)Do You Have a Ticket?,
by Metropolitan Cyprian of Oropos and Fili: a very concise and inspiring small book on confession in the Orthodox Church.
, by Met. Anthony Khrapovitsky (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery): It is mainly geared towards Priests (to teach them to be better confessors); however, there is a wealth of information for laypeople as well.
4) The Forgotten Medicine: The Mystery of Repentance
, Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev.
I hope that this will help you in your studies.