Sermon by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky, +1985)
on the Friday of the First Week of Great Lent
So here, beloved, the First Week comes to a close. Coming to an end is also the preparation of those who will partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ during Divine Liturgy either tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, on Sunday. And now, those who will, must first confess their sins, so that the holy Mystery of Repentance can occur, which usually precedes the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. I should note that in the good old times in Mother Russia we did not prepare as we do today. Firstly, it was not the norm at all that a person must prepare for Communion once a year, like now. It was customary to commune every Lenten period: Great Lent, St Peter’s Lent, Dormition and Nativity lents, and during long Lenten periods they would commune twice, or even more; many zealots did so even more often, besides the regular Lenten periods, during the Twelve Great Feasts, the feast day of their own parish, on their namesday and birthday, etc. Communing once a year was permitted (as an exception) only for those who due to life circumstances or other acceptable reasons could not do so more often than once a year. But that was the way of life in our ancient Russian past. Even in more recent decades, sadly, this pious way of life began to change: that which was the exception became almost the rule-most people considered it fully acceptable to commune only once a year, during Great Lent.
Of course, in today’s distorted life circumstances, in a way, this is good, since many do not even commune for years at a time, making various excuses: there’s no time, some circumstances are in the way, my way of life doesn’t permit it… Against all such excuses, St Theophan the Recluse in his time said: “If you had enough desire-all your hindrances would be set aside,” or as he would say, “Stomp your foot and say ‘this will be so,’ and all temptations, all obstacles will clear from your path.”
So a person prepares to make confession, prepares to stand before the Cross and the Gospel. A person making genuine confession beholds before him the Life-Giving Cross and the Holy Gospel. The Gospel is the book containing the Law of God, the commandments of the Lord. It reminds the repentant sinner that he constantly violates this Law, and for this reason he comes to confession, to repent in this violation, all the transgressions are clearly stated in this very Book. The Life-Giving Cross reminds him of the Bloody Price with which the Lord saved our humankind. Be there no Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, no amount of repentance would remove our guilt for our sin: guilty-then you must answer; sin-then you must pay.
But the Lord by His mercy loved us sinners so much that He brought Himself to sacrifice for our sins. He took upon Himself the sins of mankind, had them nailed to the Cross, as we say in our prayers, and by this sacrifice created salvation for all of humanity. It is not for the sake of our prayers of repentance, but for the sake of the podvig on the Cross of His Only-Begotten Son that God the Father will accept our repentance, and we will be cleansed of our sins, after which we are prepared to receive the Holy Gifts.
At confession, first of all, beware of hiding anything, fear it like fire. Better not to go to confession at all than to secrete something, because you will not be forgiven for a single sin then, but you will add one more, most grievous and most terrible sin. He who hides his sin during confession does not only deceive himself, but lies to the Holy Spirit, he mocks the grace of the Lord which is received by those who confess in earnest. Terrible is the fate of that person. Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory in his works clearly pointed out that those who remain silent about their sins during confession sometimes end their lives as did Judas-by suicide.
If a person making confession hides something, or tries to deceive his spiritual father, he will not be forgiven his sins. Your spiritual father, by the power granted to him by God, forgives sins. St Theophan the Recluse says: “The humble pastor of the Church does not grant release of your since by his own power, but he does it by the power which abides in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.” The power which works through the pastor of the Church is revealed to us by the Lord Himself, Who gave him this power. The Lord said to the Apostles, and through them to the pastors of the Church: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). What exceptional, terrible power and what responsibility is borne by the humble pastor of the Church; this power is not held by any earthly ruler, by no temporal sovereign. This is the power of our Very Savior and the Chief of our salvation, which is shared with the pastors of the Church.
But if you should think to lie during confession, or hide something, then the words the pastor speaks may differ from the decision of the Savior Himself, for the pastor does not know that you lied and may say “I forgive and absolve you,” but the Lord may not forgive and absolve you, for He knows that you lied during confession!
But if during confession you secrete nothing and earnestly admit everything, then remember that this is not the only important thing. Did you bring to the Cross and to the Gospel humble contrition for your sins? This is what we so often lack, yet this is so crucial! As a sinful servant of the Church, I more than once, while hearing the confession of the repentant, witnessed them in tears for their sins, the floor before the analagion would literally be sprinkled with their tears. How some people are able to repent! Often, a person comes to confession with a slumbering conscience, his soul remaining unawake; he says a few customary words and leaves unhealed… Vladyka Anthony says about this: “if a person comes to confession with such a sleeping soul, without a sense of repentance and sorrow for his sins, then the state of his soul could be even sadder and more dangerous than that of the greatest sinner, who may have sinned horribly but who then suffers and is contrite over his sins.”
Come to confession with contrition, with the recognition of your faults, with regret that you had sinned so much; remember how the Lord, through His Providence, His blessedness, His Sovereign Hand halted you, led you away from sin, yet you pushed His Hand away, did not heed His law, ignored His warnings, and stubbornly sinned and sinned…
And if you lack such repentant awareness and sorrow-then bring to the Lord at least the sad admission of your inability to repent. Repent of this to God. You may have sinned, but you are unable to repent-at least confess this inability with humility, the Lord will not reject even this meek confession and will grant you His grace.
The Holy Fathers say that he who truly repents, confesses all and gives the Lord the promise to correct his life. We sinners have an uncounted number of transgressions, but this is why humankind is given a time to prepare for confession, for this the Church calls upon him for redoubled prayer and fasting, so that, by concentrating, he discerns what is in his soul, and, beholding it, realizes his sin, his main weakness-almost each one of us has this.
As we prepare for confession it is important to take into account that which most of all burdens and binds your soul, so that if your spiritual father asks you, “what is your greatest sin?” you can immediately answer.
At the same time, never doubt, whatever our sins, however bad they are, that if we earnestly and humbly repent, the Lord, Who said “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37), and will not drive us away, but grant us mercy and forgiveness. Amen.