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:: Thursday, September 04, 2003 ::

Confession as an Ecclesial Event: Part I

I always find something interesting when I check in to see what new articles The Ooze is putting out.

When I saw an essay entitled "Experiencing Our Heavenly Father's Embrace: Sacramental Confession as Counseling" I was intrigued, since The Ooze is a bastion of the PoMo Emerging Church movement. A piece written in defense of sacramental confession (or of anything smacking of the "modernistic" church) seems out of place here!

The article is written by Glen Davis, a Charismatic Episcopalian and, on the whole, it has many good things to say. It is a worthy read especially for the many young evangelicals who frequent the webzine and who have little experience with historic Christian praxis. However, in the middle of the essay one will find this disturbing paragraph:

"It is important to avoid the extreme of some Orthodox and Roman Catholic teaching that only a priest can forgive sin. The Orthodox Study Bible says, 'People ask, �Can�t I confess to God privately?� Certainly, though there is no clear biblical basis for it.' Of course, this is nonsense, 1 John 1:8 makes it clear that all will receive forgiveness when praying to Christ alone."

Many things could be said. These were some of my initial thoughts:

First of all, IMO, the Orthodox Study Bible is not the best source of Orthodox teaching due to a variety of factors which I don't have space to delve into here. While I would concur one will have a difficult time proving, *apart from Holy Tradition and Church history*, that the individual Christian can make any kind of *sacramental* confession "privately," I do not think the flippant way the OSB responded to this was well thought out.

Second, as the absolution prayers make perfectly clear, the priest is not the one who does the forgiving! (*)

Third, and most importantly, the Orthodox Christian does not make his confession to the priest! Consider how Father John Matusiak states this when he writes

"We do not confess "to" the priest; rather, we confess to God "in the presence of" the priest who, as the prayer before Confession clearly states, is God's "witness" and who, having witnessed our confession of sins offers pastoral advice on how we can better our lives and overcome the very things we can confess."

This is an incredibly important distinction.

A priest once gave me an interesting choice as a way to highlight this truth. He said, "You can say your confession to God with me as a witness and representative of the Church; or you can say your confession to God, but publicly in front of the whole parish during coffee hour! Your choice!"

He was kidding of course, but his point was clear. The act of making a sacramental confession is not made to the priest but to God. However, not to God alone but rather to God, in the presence of the whole Church, with the priest as a witness. Confession is always a communal act and thus it is an *ecclesial event*, not a private transaction between the individual believer and God.

In Part II, I'll look at Fr. Davis' phrase "Christ alone" a little bit and continue to explore why, from the Orthodox POV, there is no such thing as "private confession" (even as we attempt to live in continual repentance).

(*) For those interested in one of the more stark examples of the "Western Captivity" of Russian Orthodoxy, this is prime example. The wording of the prayers of absolution became increasingly influenced by Roman Catholicism during the era of Peter the Great and in some places one might have heard the words "I forgive you" rather than the historic "God forgives you" at the end of the absolution prayer. Interestingly, one can see this played out in the book "Fr Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father."

:: Karl :: 12:54:00 PM [Link] ::

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