When we confess the Orthodox Faith, we are confessing Christ before men. We need to ask ourselves as we prepare to go to Confession: Do I believe in the truth of the Orthodox Faith as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, as revealed in our iconography, the lives of saints, the certain writings of holy fathers and mothers, and in the life of our worship? Do I mean it when I say "I believe..." in the Nicene Creed which is said at every Divine Liturgy? In order to approach the Eucharistic Cup, having a unity of mind concerning the Orthodox Faith and what the Church teaches needs to be there in order to participate in the Holy Eucharist. As said previously, one (either the candidate or sponsor) has to confess the Nicene Creed before the candidate can be baptized and received into the Church. The prayers of the liturgy acknowledge this when after we say the Creed and just before the Lord's Prayer I pray: "Having confessed the unity of the faith let us commend ourselves and each other and all our life unto Christ our God." So what does this mean? The Creed affirms certain things that are non-negotiable truths. We call these the "dogmas" of the Church. The fact that we believe that Christ was crucified on the cross, died for our sins, delivered us from death, and rose from the dead and is coming again to judge, are dogmas of the Church; the fact that we confess and believe that Christ is fully divine and fully human, born of the Virgin Mary, or that we believe in a Trinitarian God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are dogmas of the Church. If anyone outright denies and rejects these above truths of the Faith, they should not be coming to Communion. I am not talking about people who are struggling with these issues and open to learning. I am talking about people who just don't believe in any of the above truths and have no desire to change their thinking on this. Some might say if one doesn't believe in Christ, and that he rose from the dead, they wouldn't be interested in coming to Communion anyway. I am not so sure that is true. Some might view their going to Communion as being their way fitting in and being part of the group. "I am Macedonian, Bulgarian, Russian, Greek, or Syrian and part of maintaining my cultural connection to who I am is to go to church and go to Communion once a year." This is not the reason to approach Communion. To reaffirm our belief in the teachings of the Orthodox Faith helps us to shut off the auto-pilot of our spiritual life, and it keeps us from taking for granted what we believe. We should never forget the millions of people who have been martyred and are still suffering and being martyred today because they believe in what is confessed in the Nicene Creed. They would rather die than reject and renounce the Truth concerning the person of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing wrong with our culture. It is a wonderful gift of experience that has been passed onto us. But what will we pass onto to our next generation; our children? If their only perception of church has been the ethnic foods and dances, or the need to preserve a cultural identity, and if they haven't experienced the Church as the place where they can find Christ and walk the path of sainthood, then it is no surprise they end up going elsewhere to seek that. So before I ask others if they believe, I need to ask myself, do I believe? This is one way we prepare for the sacrament of Confession.
The other reality we need to consider as we prepare for Confession concerns that of sin, and reflecting upon where we have fallen short in our ability to live out the Orthodox Christian Faith. This is important because sin inevitably is a rejection of God's way in favor of my way. This leads to life without God which is death. When we look at Adam and Eve and the original sin in the book of Genesis, one also needs to look at the motivation behind the sin and not just the actual behavior of eating the apple from the forbidden tree. The temptation they succumbed to was that if they ate the apple they would be just like God, and wouldn't need God. The consequence of this sin is that they separated themselves from communion with God. They were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Was this eviction something that was God's doing, or does this have more to do with humankind rejecting a life with God? I begin with this because it underscores the reality that any sin we commit results in a consequence of separating ourselves from God. So when we experience regret for what we have done, and a desire to turn away from this wrong path we have chosen, Confession is the place we come to for reconciliation and restoration with God and communion with Him. If sin, is missing the mark, we need to know where the bulls eye is. We need to know what Christ teaches and how he expects us to live as Christians in this world. Is there anything we can look at or read concerning what our Lord Jesus Christ taught that can help us to prepare for Confession and give us clearer idea of where we fall short? There are a number of things we can read to assist us. One can read our Lord's teaching on living the Christian life as given in His Sermon on the Mount found in Chapters 5 to 7 in the gospel of Matthew. St. Paul talks about what love is in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. He also talks about how Christians should live in Chapters 12 to 14 in his epistle to the Romans. The Antiochian Orthodox Church has a very well known prayer book that has been around for years that takes the 10 Commandments and has a series of self examination questions on each commandment to prepare for Confession. Father Thomas Hopko wrote a booklet entitled "If We Confess our Sins" that can be used as a tool to prepare for going to Confession. It can be purchased through the "Orthodox Christian Publications Center" at www.oca.org. Or you can check with Mary Gresko to see if this booklet or the Antiochian Prayer Book is available at the bookstore in the church hall. We also have a booklet written by Jim Forest on Confession that can be found in the pamphlet rack in the Narthex of the Church that is free. Another free booklet on preparing for Confession will be available shortly that is comparable to the above literature. If we use any of the above, we will not have any trouble getting in touch with what sins we may need to Confess.
I am making the assumption that when one sees where they are falling short in living the Christian life that they are in agreement with what the "mark" or "bull's eye" is. In other words one accepts the commandment, "Thou shalt not steal" or "Thou shalt not bear false witness" as being true; that stealing and lying are sins and wrong acts to engage in. But what if you are behaving in a manner that the Church teaches as being sinful and you no longer believe it is sinful? The question can't be ignored because this is a serious matter. The prophet Isaiah alludes to this in the following warning; "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!" Isaiah 5:20. Our Lord (maybe having these words from Isaiah in mind) echoes a similar thought; "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" Matthew 6:22-24. We live in a secular culture today where what was once called evil is being called good and the individual decides what is wrong and right irrespective of what the Church might teach. So if we are committing a sin according to the teaching of the Church (but we don't think so) and don't repent of it, should we come to Communion? I will address this at a later point in my reflections. Next month, I will talk about how often one should go to Confession and address the issue of one who just doesn't see the need to Confess at all.