Darnit, for the life of me, I just cannot get the search function on this thing to yield me any useful results, ever. I'm sure this question has been addressed many times over.
Often, especially here in Russia, General Confession is offered, rather than individual. I've gotten different impressions about what's what with it: A) That it is essentially a spiritual exercise, for those who confess often enough that they are not in need of individual confession, or for those intending to confess individually soon, or B) That it is exactly the same as individual confession, just done in a different manner. I also heard that St. John of Kronstadt originated it; is this so?
What's the scoop?
Yes, this was in fact originated by St. John of Kronstadt. However, it should only be used in times where there is not enough time to do the individual confessions, as was intended by the Orthodox Church.
As to elaborate on why St. John of Kronstadt used it is because he sometimes served Liturgy's that were so full of parishioners and those of the faith that he simply did have not time to confess each individual. If anyone has gone to a large Orthodox church and seen the lines for Confession, one may understand why he used this. However, he was a Saint and he only did this when there was no other alternative. Also, it was often remarked that those who went to Liturgy where he was serving and took part of the general confession saw the multitude weeping for their sins, some even falling down prostrate. This degree of repentance is simply not seen when one goes to services where this is done. I think that this was a form of miracle and to try and reproduce it is simply folly.
In short, in most cases it isn't warranted or needful such as in the case of St. John of Kronstadt and it can have the negative effect of people not going to "private" confession but only do the public one in which they do not get personal advice for their particular demons.
Again, this is what I have been told and if I am incorrect please correct this sinner so that none may be lead astray.
"Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." Proverbs 10:12