By Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos.

Holy Confession was a familiar act in the Old Testament (Lev 5:5-6; Num 5:5-7; Prov. 28:13). That is why people would come to John the Forerunner and confess their sins while he would confirm their repentance with baptism (Matt 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5).

This activity was also continued in the Christian Church – “many who believed would come to confess their sins and uncover their deeds” (Acts 19:18) thus being forgiven by the Apostles, according to the promise of the Lord: that this authority would be granted to the Apostles (Matt 16:19; 18:18). This was fulfilled following the resurrection of Christ. Of course, forgiveness was not based on the power of the apostles but “on the blood” of the Lord (John 20:21-23; 1 John 1:7). 

The confessor is used as an instrument, as a servant of Christ and caretaker of the mysteries (sacraments) of God (1 Cor. 4:1; Titus 1:7; 1 John 1:9 – 2:2).

In the early Church, confession was made publicly during the holy assembly of the faithful, where the clergy and the bishop were present too, who would grant remission of sins. “All who repent, the Lord forgives them if they repent in unity of God and in the presence of a bishop” (Ign. Philad. 8, 1) Saint Ignatius says characteristically, while the “Didache” advises “if you con-fess your transgressions in the Church and you do not approach your prayer with evil con-science, this is the way of life” (Did. 4:14).

Saint Cyprian stresses that the sinner is received back into the ecclesiastical community, namely in the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, “through the placing on of the hands of the bishop and of the clergy” having previously confessed (Cypr. Epistle 16:2). Holy Communion is not allowed to anyone “if the bishop and the clergy do not place their hand on him beforehand” (Epist 18:2). The “remission,” he says, that was granted “through the clergy” is “pleasing to the Lord” (De lapsis 29).

Origen considers it a natural consequence, “according to the depiction of the One who gave the priesthood to the Church, that both the functionaries and the clergy of the Church assume the sins of the people, imitating the Teacher by granting to the people remission of sins (Origen, On Leviticus, speech 50, 3).

St. Basil the Great refers to confession in the Apostolic Church (Acts 19:18) and concludes that “it is necessary that we confess our sins to those entrusted with the care-taking of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1) since even the first Christians “were confessing to the apostles, who also baptized everyone (Gr. Basil, Rules 288).

Saint John Chrysostom says about priests: “While still inhabiting and walk upon the earth, they have assumed the management of heavenly affairs with authority that God did not give even to the angels or even to the archangels. He did not in fact tell the angels ‘whatever you bind on earth, shall be bound in the heavens…’ However, the bond of the priests touches the soul itself and extends to the heavens, and whatever the priests do down on earth is confirmed by God in the heavens. The Master approves the decision of His servants. Perhaps He not fully given them the heavenly authority? He told them, ‘whoever’s sins you uphold, they shall be upheld also in heaven’” (Chrysostom, On Priesthood, speech 3,5).

The Orthodox Church therefore continues this early Christian tradition of confession before a confessor.

Manual on Heresies and para-Christian Groups
By : Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos
PhD. of Theology, PhD. of Philosophy

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