Our Lord Jesus Christ said to His apostles: “I give ye the power to bind and loose the sins of men. Whosoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whosoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). The apostles took this gift and this power, and successively passed it on to their disciples and to divine hierarchs - from the times of the apostles to this very day, and the hierarchs ordained priests, endowing them with the same power - to bind and loose the sins of men. This should be a matter of belief for everyone who comes to confession and lowers his head under the epitrahelion and hand of a priest of God. Moreover, you should not be troubled by the circumstance of the priest being a man like yourself, suffering the same temptations as other people and being not free of sins, which he also confesses to his father-confessor. However, it is not the angels whom the Lord entrusted to free penitents of their sinful burden, but humans, lawfully ordained priests; we must not inquire into the reason for this, but should obey Christ and believe without any doubt that a true remission of sins is granted through the priest, and that all those who have confessed properly leave confession with a soul as pure as after the sacrament of baptism. For this reason it is said about confession and the sacrament of penitence that “penitents are baptized with a second baptism.”
But it is most important to confess properly.
First of all, it is absolutely necessary to make peace with everyone before coming to confession. The Lord said: “Forgive and ye shall be forgiven. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). In that case, even if the priest, who does not possess the gift of clairvoyance as saints do, says to the penitent: “I forgive and loose thou of all thy sins,” Christ Himself, Who stands here invisibly and accepts the confession of those who repent properly, will quietly say to the one who has not made his peace: “But I do not forgive and loose you, because you have not, in accordance with My commandment, begged forgiveness of those whom you had offended, or who have something against you.” And if such a one dares to take communion, he shall be judged and condemned.
What should we do?
Never come to confession without having made peace with everyone. It happens sometimes that our offenders are far away and if we went to them, we would not get back to church in time. In that case, make your peace with them mentally, but make a firm promise to yourself to go and see them as soon as you return home.
What happens if the one with whom you are trying to make peace refuses to do so and says: “I do not forgive you”?
Ask his forgiveness humbly, patiently but persistently. If even then he refuses to forgive you, may God be his judge, for in that case his own sins will not be forgiven. And you may tranquilly go to confession, since you have done all you possibly could to make peace.
Another necessary requisite for a complete remission of sins is a full revelation of all one’s sins to the confessor during the confession, especially heavy sins, those which lie as a heavy stone on the penitent’s conscience. Do not be embarrassed to reveal your sins to a person who has sworn - under penalty of his own perdition - never to reveal anything which a penitent says to him in confession. Thus you will avoid shame before heaven and mankind on the Day of Judgment, because all the sins which you have confessed on earth will not be remembered there at all, having been erased by the mercy of God.
As you come up to communion, this Chalice of Life, you must firmly believe that during the eucharistic canon, when the priest reads a special prayer in the altar and blesses the prepared prosphora and the red grape wine mixed with water in the chalice, at that moment they are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Holy Gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ. Without faith in that this bread is the true Body of Christ and the wine is the true and precious Blood of Christ, - without such a firm and absolutely necessary faith it is better not to even approach the Chalice. There were cases, when for disbelief the Lord scorched the lips of the doubters (I have seen and heard live witnesses, who had personally received such a fearful lesson). It may be that the Lord will not scorch a doubter visibly, but that which has been taken without faith will, alas, only serve to judge and condemn the person.
It is hard for people to accept this mystery. It is a Sacrament and to many seems strange. “How can he give us his body to eat,” some said even way back, when Christ first explained this Sacrament to the people. And many of them left Him at that time and did not follow Him. Thus the Lord showed that He does not force anyone to come to Him, that He is to be followed exclusively on a voluntary basis.
And what did He say of His Holy Communion? “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whosoever eateth My Body, and drinketh My Blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:53-54).
And now let us look at our sins in accordance with the words of the Holy Scriptures.
Forgive us, Lord, first of all, that we do not instruct ourselves in the law of God day and night, that we do not like to hear or read the Lord’s exhortations, that pious conversations seem boring to us, that it is often hard for us to stand in church, where a multitude of God’s commandments are proclaimed and explained. This is the work of Satan, who envelops us in boredom and drowsiness during the reading of the Holy Scripture or the sermon, and we pander to him, often grumbling that the readings and the sermons are too long. We should be glad that God’s sermons are still being heard in churches, that the Lord has not yet deprived us of hearing the Word of God.
Repent before God and urge your somnolent souls to wake up and joyfully and attentively listen to every word of God, preserving it in your heart as did the Mother of God or the other blessed Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus, in order to hear His word. And do not simply be cool and forgetful listeners, but those who love the words of the Lord, who fulfill them in life - not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).
Protopriest Anatoly Pravdolyubov.