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Author Topic: Liturgical Prayers of Absolution  (Read 833 times) Average Rating: 0
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Mor Ephrem
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« on: April 03, 2013, 11:02:09 PM »

Hello all,

I couldn't think of a better subject title for this topic, but basically I've been wondering about the link between "the Sacrament of Penance" and the Divine Liturgy in the Oriental traditions and thought to reach out to the learned members of this forum. 

In my limited experience worshiping in the various Oriental rites, there seems to be some kind of "penitential rite" built into the Liturgy.  In the Indian Church, for example, it is fairly common now, despite the continued practice of private confession to a spiritual father, for the Liturgy to be preceded by a sort of "general absolution", where those otherwise prepared to receive the Eucharist line up, presumably with contrition and repentance, and approach the priest, who silently reads over them the prayer of absolution from the rite of Confession.  This is functionally the equivalent of a sacramental confession, though it's not by any means officially considered the equivalent (most probably it is a concession for those who want to commune every week without having to confess every week).  At the discretion of the priest, sometimes the people may be led in a "general confession" before this absolution, but this is by no means common in my experience.  I'm not aware of the practice in the Syriac Church, but some books in my possession indicate they may have a similar practice.  Armenians also have something like this, definitely including a publicly recited "general confession", and in my experience, this is referred to as "the Sacrament of Confession", with no tradition of private confession. 

The Coptic tradition seems to emphasize private, sacramental confession much more (I would guess the Ethiopians follow suit), and so I'd never detected anything similar.  And yet, the Coptic Liturgy has the priest reciting an inaudible prayer "Absolution to the Son" and an audible "Absolution of the Ministers" which are definitely penitential in focus, asking for the forgiveness of sins. 

How are these prayers viewed in the Coptic tradition?  Are they simply prayers of penitential preparation, or do they have the "sacramental value/power/efficacy" of the actual rite of Confession (i.e., absolving sins)?  Certainly the sense of the prayers makes it seem like this is a sacramental absolution, but I'm not sure if this is how Copts understand those prayers. 

It's not my intention to start a conversation about the relative merits of "general confession" or other such things.  I wanted to see how the Copts view this part of their Liturgy because I find it interesting that every other Oriental tradition has incorporated some sort of "penitential rite" into the Liturgy, and most of the ones I'm familiar with view it as equivalent to sacramental confession; I don't know about the Coptic perspective, so I want to round out my understanding. 

I'm unaware of any parallel in the Byzantine Liturgy, but such a rite is definitely there in the Roman Mass, although it is not considered equal to sacramental confession.  It's interesting how widespread this sort of penitential practice is in the various types of Eucharistic Liturgies. 

Apologies for being too wordy.  :-)         
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2013, 12:14:49 AM »

I would like to know this too. Great thread, Mor.
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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2013, 01:42:12 PM »

Subscribing and bumping.
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« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2013, 01:55:56 PM »

 There is a rite of general confession in the Russian tradition.  Father Schmemann wrote about it a number of times and it is practiced weekly after the Vigil at St Nicholas Cathedral in DC.  The faithful are led through an examination of conscience by the priest, who then prays some prayers aloud and then we all line up for the prayers of absolution.  It is mentioned that this rite does not and should not replace private confession and all are encouraged to stay after for a private one.  It is mentioned that this rite is for those who frequent sacramental private confession and not for those who just want a "freebie," so to speak.

This is a fascinating topic and I look forward to learning more about its presence in the Oriental Churches.
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« Reply #4 on: April 04, 2013, 02:25:24 PM »

There is such a general prayer of absolution for those who commune in our Church, too:

Our heavenly Father, God Almighty (Παντοκράτωρ), Who wishest all men to be saved and come to the understanding of Thy Truth, Thee we beseech and of Thee we ask, Lord: grant salvation to these Thy servants and comfort all their pain. Deliver them from all servitude of sin, forgive their willful and unwillful trespasses. For Thou alone hast power to unbind those that are bound and to uphold those that are bruised. For unto Thee, o Lord, we have put all our hope and trust, for Thou art kind and most merciful: therefore grant to these Thy servants the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting by partaking of the precious Body and Blood of Thy Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.   

Those who have confessed and are prepared to receive would kneel when the priest reads it, just before the beginning of the Divine Liturgy.

There's a comparative study (PhD thesis) by a Romanian priest on this issue called The Sacrament (Mystery) of Confession in the Contemporary Liturgical Rites (RC, OO and EO). 
« Last Edit: April 04, 2013, 02:36:56 PM by Romaios » Logged
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« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2013, 02:39:03 PM »

Hello,

I by no means have an official response (I could do some digging and find some sources if you are all interested), but my understanding is that the absolution prayers are there in order for us to be able to take communion. While a Coptic person is expected to practice the private sacrament of confession every 40 days or so, this absolution prayer is asking God for forgiveness of our sins in order to be made worthy to accept Him to dwell in us in communion. It is not understood in the church as a replacement for the sacrament, but rather, like you said, a penitential preparation for communion. In fact, it is a generally understood rule that any deacon or reader arriving to the liturgy after the absolution of the ministers (servants) should not serve that day as they were not present for the absolution. While this is not always practiced, it is a general guideline. Hope this helps!
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« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2013, 02:51:05 PM »

Hello,

I by no means have an official response (I could do some digging and find some sources if you are all interested), but my understanding is that the absolution prayers are there in order for us to be able to take communion. While a Coptic person is expected to practice the private sacrament of confession every 40 days or so, this absolution prayer is asking God for forgiveness of our sins in order to be made worthy to accept Him to dwell in us in communion. It is not understood in the church as a replacement for the sacrament, but rather, like you said, a penitential preparation for communion. In fact, it is a generally understood rule that any deacon or reader arriving to the liturgy after the absolution of the ministers (servants) should not serve that day as they were not present for the absolution. While this is not always practiced, it is a general guideline. Hope this helps!

In my experience, this is pretty much what our practice in the Indian Orthodox Church is as well, except for the confession every 40 days part. We bumped up the minimum to 1 year I think because not enough people were coming forward to take communion.

Are the absolution prayers something the priest says individually or is it a general thing?

Oh, and welcome to the forum!
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« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2013, 06:14:58 PM »

Hello,

I by no means have an official response (I could do some digging and find some sources if you are all interested), but my understanding is that the absolution prayers are there in order for us to be able to take communion. While a Coptic person is expected to practice the private sacrament of confession every 40 days or so, this absolution prayer is asking God for forgiveness of our sins in order to be made worthy to accept Him to dwell in us in communion. It is not understood in the church as a replacement for the sacrament, but rather, like you said, a penitential preparation for communion. In fact, it is a generally understood rule that any deacon or reader arriving to the liturgy after the absolution of the ministers (servants) should not serve that day as they were not present for the absolution. While this is not always practiced, it is a general guideline. Hope this helps!

In my experience, this is pretty much what our practice in the Indian Orthodox Church is as well, except for the confession every 40 days part. We bumped up the minimum to 1 year I think because not enough people were coming forward to take communion.

Are the absolution prayers something the priest says individually or is it a general thing?

Oh, and welcome to the forum!

The Coptic guideline is 40 days/4-6 weeks, but in reality, one can take communion even if they confess once in a blue moon.

Absolution prayers are general.
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ghaly8
« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2013, 08:20:18 PM »


In my experience, this is pretty much what our practice in the Indian Orthodox Church is as well, except for the confession every 40 days part. We bumped up the minimum to 1 year I think because not enough people were coming forward to take communion.

Are the absolution prayers something the priest says individually or is it a general thing?

Oh, and welcome to the forum!

Thanks! Been learning from the forums for years, finally decided to contribute Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: April 04, 2013, 08:30:40 PM »

From what I understand, these public liturgical prayers might be remnants of what used to be public confessions of sins and thereafter the absolution prayer in the ancient Church.  But I hope someone else can confirm this or correct me if I'm wrong.  I'm no expert on liturgical studies.
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« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2013, 02:06:12 AM »

Thanks for the replies so far! 

Having done a little more reading, it seems that the same prayers I cited from the Coptic Liturgy are also used within the rite of Confession for the absolving of penitents (http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/thecopticchurch/sacraments/3_repentance_confesstion.html), and the commentary on this part of the Liturgy in Fr Abraam Sleman's work (http://copticchurch.net/topics/liturgy/liturgy_of_st_basil.pdf) seems to argue for a sort of "general confession/absolution".  This need not and ought not serve as a replacement for private confession, but still seems to be "sacramental" and not just "penitential" in nature.  But that's just a guess on my part, and I'm hoping for a confirmation one way or another.  If it is what I think it is, then it seems that all Oriental traditions have incorporated (preserved?) a form of general confession within the Liturgy, regardless of the popularity of private confession. 

The prayer Romaios cited from the Byzantine tradition is interesting.  I can't recall ever having heard it used in any EO jurisdiction in over a decade of paying attention (and I've been around the block quite a bit).  Nevertheless, it doesn't seem like it's considered equivalent to "general confession", since the prayer seems to be different from that used in the rite of Confession, and it is for those who have already confessed and are otherwise prepared to commune.  I've witnessed "general confession" in a few EO parishes along the lines of what Schultz describes, and I like it, though it seemed to be done in a rather bizarre way in the one place where you'd think it would've been done correctly.  Go figure.  Tongue
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« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2013, 02:20:06 AM »

The prayer Romaios cited from the Byzantine tradition is interesting.  I can't recall ever having heard it used in any EO jurisdiction in over a decade of paying attention (and I've been around the block quite a bit).  Nevertheless, it doesn't seem like it's considered equivalent to "general confession", since the prayer seems to be different from that used in the rite of Confession, and it is for those who have already confessed and are otherwise prepared to commune.

It might be "new". You are right - it does not replace particular confession, but it might function as an absolution for those who confessed - say - a couple of weeks ago and are able to receive.

The Euchologion edited by the Athonite Monastery of Simonopetra contains a variety of newer absolution prayers: for priests or deacons, for children, for people with mental illnesses, for those who come to confession/communion after a long time, etc. IIRC they are penned by Hieromonk Athanasios of Simonopetra, who was (is?) hymnographer of the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople.   
« Last Edit: April 05, 2013, 02:45:08 AM by Romaios » Logged
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« Reply #12 on: April 06, 2013, 01:26:40 AM »

Very interesting!  Are these "newer absolution prayers" actually new compositions?  Or were they used once upon a time and are now being resurrected after a period of disuse? 
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Apolytikion, Tone 1, by Antonis

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« Reply #13 on: April 06, 2013, 01:52:38 AM »

Very interesting!  Are these "newer absolution prayers" actually new compositions?  Or were they used once upon a time and are now being resurrected after a period of disuse? 

They are new indeed, but they do not sound that way.
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