Today is the first Sunday of the Triodion, the period in the Church when we begin to prepare our souls and minds for the Holy and Great Fast. Over the next three weeks, the Church will encourage us to turn our minds and hearts to God, and to make a commitment to grow closer to Him. The Church will ask us to change for the glory of God, and change begins with Holy Confession.
In the Epistle of Saint James we read, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” (James 5.16) In the ancient Church, this meant standing in front of your brothers and sisters and confessing to each other that we had sinned, we had brought sickness into the Body of Christ. This can be confusing. Why should we stand in the Church and confess? Why can’t we just quietly and privately confess in our home? Doesn’t God forgive sins?
You better believe He forgives sin, but so does the Church. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20.23) Christ gave real authority to the Holy Apostles to forgive sins, and through centuries of Apostolic Succession, our Bishops today have the same authority, which they give to priests. So, in short. One reason we go to the Church for Holy Confession is because the priest has the REAL authority to forgive us on behalf of God, and it is comforting to know we are surely forgiven. When we sit in our room at home, we doubt.
Besides the authority to forgive sin, we also confess our sins to the Church because we are accountable to the Church. When we are baptized into Christ, we are joined not only to Christ, but to each other. So, when we sin, we affect the lives of everyone within the Church, and we owe the Church an apology. When Saint James commanded that we confess to each other, he also said we needed to pray for each other. When we confess our sins to the Church, we benefit from the prayers of the Church, and Body of Christ. We no longer confess in public, but the priest sits as a witness on behalf of Christ and the Church. We don’t have the benefit of the Church when we sit in our room at home.
As important as Holy Confession is for our journey, I will again this year make myself available every Friday from 1pm to 4pm for Holy Confession in the Cathedral. You don’t need an appointment. You just need to want to be forgiven by God and the Church. The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest. See you Friday!