“In Confession, One Should Not Seek to Justify Himself”
From a talk by St. Paisios of Mount Athos
Why do we sometimes fail to engage in the battle needed to correct ourselves, despite the fact that our conscience accuses us?
This can happen because of some kind of spiritual breakdown. If a person is seized with panic because of some temptation that befalls him, he wants to take up a spiritual struggle, but has neither the necessary disposition nor the spiritual powers to do so. In such a case, he needs to internally put himself in order with the help of Confession. With the help of Confession, one receives consolation, bolsters his powers, and through the grace of God, once again finds the determination to do battle. If one does not appropriately put himself in order, some other temptation may come crashing down upon him. As a result, finding himself in such a sorrowfully oppressed condition, he breaks down even more, is smothered by ideas, becomes despondent, and cannot take up the struggle at all. Moreover, in Confession, try to be specific. It is not enough to list your sins during confession – e.g. “I envy, become angry,” etc. In order to receive help, you need to confess your specific failings. In failing to make a concrete/specific confession, one laughs at Christ. If one does not confess the truth to his spiritual director, does not reveal his sin to him so that the spiritual director might be able to help him, he does himself serious harm, like unto a sick person who does his health great harm by hiding his illness from his physician. Moreover, one who has acted unjustly toward someone else, or by his behavior has wounded someone, must first of all go to the one he has offended and humbly ask his forgiveness, be reconciled with him, and afterwards must confess before his spiritual director in order to receive absolution. In this way, God’s grace comes to him. If one should confess such a sin to his spiritual director without first having asked forgiveness of the one he has wounded, it will be impossible for his soul to be at peace, for in such a case the [sinner] does not humble himself.
, if you have committed some grave sin, is it permissible to put off confessing it until later?
You need to go as soon as possible. If we have an open wound, should we wait for a month, and only then treat it? No. In such a case, one should not wait for a moment when the spiritual director will have more time or a better opportunity to devote more attention to us. It does not take a lot of time to describe our condition to the spiritual director. If the conscience is working properly, one can describe his condition in a few words. However, if there is interior turmoil, he can say many words and yet not give the spiritual director an impression of his state.
Geronda if during Confession, the penitent does not feel the pain he experienced while committing the sin, does it mean that he is not actually repentant?
– If some time has passed since he committed that sin, the wound begins to close, and that is why he does not feel such great pain. But here is what one should be careful to keep in mind: in Confession, one should not seek to justify himself. Someone who during Confession indulges in self-justification does not receive internal consolation, no matter how much he might trample upon his conscience. The self-justifications with which he hides himself during Confession become a burden lying upon his conscience.
Geronda, I read somewhere that in the life to come, the demons will torment us for even one evil thought that we have not confessed.
– Look, when someone confesses without the intent to hide anything, and tells his spiritual director what he remembers, the subject is closed, and demons have no power over him. However, if he consciously fails to confess some of his sins, he will be tormented for those sins in the life to come.
Geronda, if someone has confessed the sins of his youth, but again thinks about them and is tormented by them, is his attitude toward them correct?
– If, having felt great compunction over the sins of his youth, someone has confessed them, there is no reason to agonize over them, for from the moment he has told of his sins during his Confession, God has forgiven him. After that, there is no need to pick open his old sins, especially his sins of the flesh; in doing so, he may cause himself harm
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