Author Topic: is common confession a good or bad idea?  (Read 1518 times)

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Offline erracht

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is common confession a good or bad idea?
« on: August 12, 2004, 08:47:16 AM »
In the Orthodox cathedral in Prague, there is a common confession before the Eucharist, a practice established by the "founder" of the Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church, New Martyr Bishop Gorazd. The priest reads out sins and prayers and everyone confesses these mentally. The priest reads a prayer of absolution and then the priests make the sign of the cross over everyone's head individually. This practice was blessed by a Russian patriarch and maybe others, but I have heard harsh criticism of it. The Dean told me that individual confession is also important, that they don't exclude that, but I wonder as to whether or not the people who say it shouldn't be there in the first place are right. For example, some people may see it, take it lightly and think "okay, I don't have to discuss my sins with my spiritual father. Cool!"  Any thoughts?

Offline Fr. David

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Re:is common confession a good or bad idea?
« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2004, 10:34:32 AM »
You've summarized the issue pretty well, erracht.

The OCA Synod put out a statement regarding confession and communion, how they intertwine, etc., and they mentioned the practice of common confession, but, iirc, only as a method of (hopefully) causing more of the faithful to recognize their sin more deeply, and never as a substitute for individual confession.

The two can exist side-by-side, as -- to give another, slightly different example -- we are called to confession with our spiritual father before Christ Himself in the Church, as well as to daily, private confession of our sins in Morning and Evening Prayers.

All of life is repentance; the blessing of doing so with your brothers and sisters is one way to "take your medicine," while individual confession w/spiritual fr. is another (and, in the opinion of the Synod, the best) way.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2004, 10:35:39 AM by Pedro »
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Offline The young fogey

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Re:is common confession a good or bad idea?
« Reply #2 on: August 12, 2004, 11:45:27 AM »
AFAIK no 'normal' Orthodox church approves of that but from what you say I may be wrong about that. I've seen it done at a nominally Russian Orthodox church in the US but assumed it was a deviation peculiar to that place.

Background info: Before he was an Eastern Orthodox bishop, Gorazd was an RC priest who went into schism after WWI when Czechoslovakia was carved out of the old Austrian Empire. He and other clergy formed a nationalist and possibly Modernist-orientated 'Czechoslovak National Catholic Church'; that Modernist influence may be behind the weird practice you describe. (I don't know if they ever were Old Catholics; I don't think so because they didn't have a bishop until they were Orthodox.)

I think it's far commoner to hear of Orthodox who think you have to make your confession and be absolved before every Communion. Well-intended but not quite right either.

The Western distinction between mortal and venial sin is a good way out of this dilemma, avoiding the possible scrupulosity of the latter and the abuse described by erracht.

A former girlfriend who was a born Russian Orthodox told me that in her church as in RC there is a place for general absolution (what erracht describes) but in both churches it's only allowed in emergencies. In the RC Church the person has to go to confession later if possible.

Heard Fr George Rutler in person tell his Sept. 11 story. A priest in Manhattan, he found himself in the street surrounded by Catholic firemen who wanted to make their confessions, so he gave one of those 'battlefield absolutions'. The firemen went into the World Trade Center and didn't come out alive.

Oh, and there's a very similar practice to what erracht describes that's done in and approved by the Russian Orthodox Church - a list of sins is read as a long prayer asking forgiveness, to help the congregation examine their consciences, and then the priest hears individual confessions and pronounces individual absolutions.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2004, 11:51:22 AM by Serge »
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Offline Augustine

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Re:is common confession a good or bad idea?
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2004, 10:56:59 AM »
St.John of Kronstadt was a gifted preacher, and a many who manifested great sanctity - he was a parish Priest known also for the working of miracles and other extraordinary gifts of grace.

Often times his parish would be so packed when he served, there was no possibility of being able to confess everyone; many prodigals came back to faith because of his work.

So, as a manifestation of leniency, St.John had a form of "common confession", but it was not what one typically see's today (and which is why I think the citing of St.John as a proponent of what we now see as "common confession" is mistaken); it involved people literally shouting out their sins, literally confessing in public (and before God) in the Church, while St.John stood as a witness, and then offered the absolution.

As for the contemporary practice, my take on it is this: I am not going to say it is entirely worthless, or somehow intrinsically "invalid."  The problem is really a question of prudence and pastoral responsibility.

In case no one has noticed, "confession" has never been a very popular thing.  It hurts, it's uncomfortable, to let anyone into the ugliness we sadly find in our hearts.  It's the same discomfort and shame our first parents found in their nakedness - to confess one's sins in front of another, is to show our nakedness, our shame.  It is humilitating - though let's remember the root of that, word; humility.

If circumstances warrant it (such as some kind of emergency), then perhaps such an act of "general absolution" is appropriate.  There is an inherent danger in such acts however, and it is one which I only think becomes an "acceptable risk" in such dire situations.

That risk, is that such practices of "general absolution" can become a "back door" for people, and foster the conceit that there is an "easier way" to get right with God.  The unfortunate truth is that it is "easy", particularly for sickly souls (and I definately include myself in that number), to convince themselves that they have "repented" without bearing the fruits of repentence.  While some may gasp at my saying this (ex. "how can you demean the value of someone repenting privately to God?" - which I am not, btw.), consider that our vile sins as Christians were done all the while we were allegedly those who "believe in God" and "believe God see's us and is present wherever we go".  Yet, did such a God-consciousness prevent us from sinning?  Did the knowledge of God's presence and omniscience prevent our fornications, or our thefts?  While one could argue that if it were firm enough, it certainly would have...the fact is, in the case of such poor sinners, it did not.

Given this, there is always the possibility that when "repentence" remains a completely private affair, that it can be comprimised; we may not truly appreciate the seriousness of what we have done, and not come away from the experience of such a private confession with a renewed humility.

IMHO the "general confession" that is being discussed here with it's "general absolutions" is fundamentally an act of private repentence/confession, but simply with the add on of a Priestly absolution, taking place in a congregational setting.

Whenever we sin, we manifest some basic problem with our faith; this is particularly so if we sin grievously.   The reality of Christ's presence, and a sufficiently serious appreciation of this, is facilitated by the visible presence of His Priest, and when he is included in that act of contrition - in particular, included in the awful reality and basic details of how we have failed.

Just as the act of martyrdom which flows from the open confession of Christ Jesus proves the sincerity of that which could have remained in some wise debatable otherwise (that one loves the Master more than anything else, including his own life), confession of sins before the Priest better demonstrates and assures the sincerity of the penitent, given that it is a contrition which has come at a price.

This is also beside the fact, that there is a great deal in the way of spiritual counsel and personalized correction that one will not receive, apart from traditional sacramental confession.

Another aspect of this, which I would hope Priests themselves would keep in mind, is the personal responsibility (before God and His Church) which the Priest has as guardian and administrator of the Holy Mysteries (which traditional, personal confession has been a tool in better guaranteeing.)  A Priest who shirks his responsibility in this charge, or carelessly allows people to persist in some kind of delusion and only add to their sins by the sacreligious reception of sacraments, will be held responsible for this by God.  This is a terrible thing, and is why even under the best of circumstances I'd have no desire to be a Priest; could it not be called great folly, for a Priest to do that which is liable to harm his flock, particularly it's weaker members?