Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Can One Confess too Often?

The first week of Great Lent has many beautiful aspects to it, one of these being that there are services every day and thus the theoretical possibility of confessing one’s sins every day. But is this something that we should do? Or is it better to confess less than daily?

Of course, we all sin ever second of every minute of every hour. Sometimes those sins are quite small, other times these sins are rather consequential. That being said, our spiritual life is not just comprised of the person we see when we look in the mirror. We hear this axiom often in the Church: “one is saved in community but one perishes alone.” Given this is true (and for the great majority of us this IS true), we need to look beyond ourselves and think about our brothers and sisters as we decide whether it is good for us to confess every day. For the purposes of our discussion here we will not concern ourselves with the priests who hear confessions. If we priests have the great privilege to hear confessions ever day late into the night we will rejoice at those who are striving so diligently for their salvation! We can rest in our graves – we are here to work for God’s people. Today let us consider our parish family without taking into consideration the clergy.

In 2019 our parish had 135 paid adult members. If each of the adults (not taking into consideration the children who are old enough to go to confession, who are also quite large in number) comes to confession, and limits themselves to a 10 minute confession, confessions will take 1,350 minutes. We can divide that by two if we assume that each of our priests will hear an equal number of confessions. Thus – the total time for confession with two priests confessing and everyone limiting themselves to 10 minutes (on average – obviously some would be longer and some shorter) the time set aside for confession would be 675 minutes per day, or 11.25 hours. With the kids we can just round it up to 12 hours per day to make this a little easier to “feel”. May God grant that we have such zeal to stand and wait for confession for 12 hours (the last people in line would need to wait this long)!

But we don’t. And we shouldn’t pretend that we do. So that means that we need to figure this out. We probably can’t all go to confession every day the first week of Great Lent.

But we are ALL called to confess the first week! We follow the traditional practice of the Russian Church in our parish and call all our parishioners to attend as many of the First Week of Great Lent services that they can and to partake of Holy Communion on the first Saturday or Sunday, or both, of the first week.

How do we manage this? We don’t have a schedule for confession for the first week. Perhaps we should. But if we divide the confessions over the first 5 nights of Great Lent things start to become more manageable. That gets us to 2.4 hours per night if both priests are hearing confessions. That is not SHORT, but that is sort of manageable – especially if confessions are heard during the Divine Services like Great Compline. If Compline is 1.5 hours long then we are talking about less than an hour after Compline that confessions are heard if folks confess during the service. That is very manageable, and it means that the last person in line would wait less than an hour for confession. But still – it is clear I think that we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of confessing every day. Because our luxury negatively impacts the life of everyone else in our parish family.

What to do? How can we manage to live with ourselves if we commit a sin and do not go to confession as soon as we possibly can? First – let us thank God that we have the opportunity to confess AT ALL! It wasn’t that long ago that there were people in the Soviet block that were not allowed to go to confession – perhaps for their entire lives! Second – there are many people in the world today that cannot confess because there are no clergy or the government they live in suppresses their spiritual life. Christianity is under attack throughout the world. We don’t feel that here, but if a secular news outlet like the BBC is calling this a “genocide” we can be sure that this is not hyperbole. We here still have the First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees us free expression of religion. Thank God for that! But there are times that we have to struggle with our sins before we can have them resolved at Confession. In fact, we MUST learn to do this. If we have a serious sin we should confess it. And if we commit a second serious sin during the first week of Great Lent we should again confess it. And if we commit a serious sin every day of the first week of Great Lent we should confess it. But we are allowed to NOT commit serious sins! The English saying “fool me once shame on you – fool me twice shame on me” is on point here. We are allowed to learn from our mistakes! We are allowed to use the brain the good Lord gave us to not repeat our sins. And we are allowed to struggle. And we MUST struggle against our sins and our sinful inclinations! Confession was not the first sacrament established by our Lord after His Resurrection so we could be lazy. He established this sacrament that we might be forgiven our sins, but we are also called upon to struggle. St. Paul probably says it best:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

We are in a spiritual war! We must fight! We must struggle! What are our weapons? The Lord instructs us clearly:

“… one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:17-29)

Prayer and fasting. Struggle. It is not that we should not take advantage of the gift of remission of sins via Confession that the Lord gave us. We should! And often! But there will come a time when we can’t easily access Confession. We need to train now to struggle against our sins and sinful inclinations so that when that time comes we are not lost. And the first week of Great Lent is a great time for us do this training. Indeed – come to Confession! But be merciful to the rest of your parish family – think of someone besides yourself – and come only once. And if you commit a grave sin (murder, for instance) come again. If you do not commit such a grave sin – and I very much pray that you do not – do not come again. Ask the Lord to help you. Struggle against your sin with God’s help. Take part in the spiritual training that Great Lent affords us. If we do this – if we learn to fight our sins and our inclination to sin we will be well served. For a time will come – sooner or later only the Lord knows – that we will not have easy access to Confession. And then we will look back on Great Lent each year as a blessed time of training that prepared us for the race that we will need to run then. Where do we learn to struggle? At the church and in the Divine Services. Especially the weekdays of Great Lent. If we struggle without instruction our struggle will be in vain. Our school of struggle is the parish family, the parish church, the Divine Services. For “one is saved in community but one perishes alone.”

May the merciful Lord grant us all a spiritually profitable Great Lent! Please reach out to me or Fr. Moses with questions!

Fr. Gregory

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