Towards the end of last week’s message, I mentioned the Church being a hospital of souls. She is the place where the passions which afflict the soul are transformed into virtues, where souls are cleansed from sin so that they may shine with the light of God. We may ask whether each one of us needs this hospital. This past Thursday, St. John the Theologian answers this question: “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 8-9).
There are two things to note in this brief passage. The first is that it is very possible for us to deceive ourselves. Most often this means that we tend to think of ourselves as better than we are. We may ignore some of our faults, and we may overstate some of our qualities and achievements in order to project a certain image to ourselves and to others. As we can see from St. John’s words, from a Christian perspective, this is not good for our salvation. The opposite is also problematic. Thinking that we have few, if any, worthwhile qualities and exaggerating our failures can easily make us lose sight of God’s love for each one of us and lead to depression and despair.
The second thing to note is that St. John specifically mentions confession of sins. So we can begin speaking about the healing aspect of the Church here. “If we confess our sins, he […] will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The sacrament of confession, therefore, is part of the healing process; it is the cleaning of the wound that a doctor would perform before applying a bandage. The grace of God is present in the context of the sacrament and it is through this grace that the sacrament can help us guard against self-deception as well.
It is part of our Orthodox practice that, when possible, we find someone to whom we confess on a regular basis. The sacrament, then, is part of a relationship. It is personal, rather than a wooden ritual. Within this relationship, then, the father confessor can act as a mirror who, by God’s grace, reflects back to us a cleaner, clearer image of ourselves. It is partly because of the importance of this relationship that prayers have been written in Orthodoxy for finding a confessor.
As we approach the holy season of the Great Fast, a time when it is customary to cleanse ourselves through confession, I pray that all of us will take the time and make the preparations needed for attending to the health of our souls.
With love in Christ,