The relationship between Confession and Communion How do we stay “sinless” between confession and communion?

The relationship between Confession and Communion

How do we stay “sinless” between confession and communion?

[This is an oldy but a goody - first put on our website in 1996.Pr S.]

There is a common misunderstanding of the relationship between mysteries of Holy Confession and Holy Communion. There often seems to be a predominant idea that the link between these two is somehow a legal concrete thing – that there must be a 1:1 correspondence or some specific ratio and that any deviation from that ratio constitutes an abrogation of tradition or requires some kind of formal "dispensation".

But this is not the relationship that really exists.

While it is true that there is often a functional relationship that appears as though a formal ration exists, this is actually a coincidental observation.

These two mysteries, actually form part of a larger whole of the spiritual life and both form a closely connected but not dependant link in producing a spiritual life. There are of course other components such as fasting, prayer, self denial, obedience, righteous deeds, etc. to living a spiritual life which are also a part of this picture, but in this case I wish to confine myself only to the issue at hand – confession and communion.

These two mysteries are not part of the same process, but rather are themselves parallel and often intertwined processes.

Holy Communion is not dependent on Holy Confession, nor is Holy Confession dependent upon Holy Communion.

Each is independent but at the same time they work together toward the same goal.

Just as a physician might see you and diagnose an illness and then prescribe therapy that includes many components, (for example medication, diet, physical therapy & counseling) which all are targeted toward the goal of recovery so also the spiritual condition might be diagnosed in confession, and various spiritual remedies prescribed by the confessor.

And one of those spiritual remedies may be to refrain from receiving Holy Communion for a time (just as a physician might temporarily restrict your diet for a particular purpose) or perhaps the remedy prescribed might be to receive Holy Communion (like taking medication – or to stay with the diet analogy, to eat the proper nutritional foods).

The frequency that one goes to the Doctor is determined by the severity and course of the illness and the various restrictions on the diet are governed again by the patient’s condition and improvement. So also the "ratio" of confession to communion is determined by the spiritual physician (your confessor) and corresponds to the severity of your spiritual condition, your relative spiritual health, your particular spiritual needs, etc.

There are times when you cannot receive Holy Communion (such as a period of epitimia – penance – following a divorce for example) but when you should receive the mystery of Holy Confession regularly. OTOH, there may be times when the priest may permit one to receive Holy Communion weekly but only require confession on a biweekly basis. And just because you develop a particular rhythm at one time doesn't mean that it is constant – just as your frequency of seeking medical help is not constant.

Holy Confession in and of itself is not a prerequisite to Holy Communion. To take this position is to subordinate the one mystery to the other and so lessen its importance. Rather both mysteries are necessary and often they are combined for the health of the soul.

The "prerequisite" for Holy Communion is not a completely pure soul, but rather one that is "healthy" and prepared. And most frequently the way to guarantee that state is through receiving the mystery of Holy Confession.

Now on a practical note, there is the question of how to "stay" sinless from confession on Saturday evening until communion on Sunday morning.

If you structure your Saturday evening such that all overt sources of temptation are removed:

(TV

,Movies

,Games

,parties, etc.)

and are replaced with spiritually beneficial activities

(participation in vigil;

the service of preparation, including canons and akathists [1];

spiritual reading;

prayer;

psalmody [2];

spiritual conversation; etc.)

then you will have gone a long ways toward avoiding sin.

This is all very simple to do – except for the fact that one must deny oneself to accomplish all this.

In the "wisdom" of the world, Saturday night is a night of parties and entertainment and leisure and mindless activity. It is hard to rule out all these things and concentrate only on the fact that you will be receiving in yourself He Who is an all consuming purifying fire, He Who is the Creator of All, He Who is Uncontainable; you are about to encounter God face to face.

Read carefully the prayers and hymns that are appointed to be said in preparation and choose those images (they are many) which create in your soul the most beneficial effects. Use those images (verbal icons) as a framework to which you conform your mind and thoughts. If this is your Saturday night activity, then you will be able to keep yourself far from sin.

Edited and footnotes added, from a post to an Orthodox mailing list, dated Fri, 8 Nov 1996 by Priest David Moser,
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (stseraphimboise.org), 872 N 29th St, Boise ID
Email: frdavid@stseraphimboise.org
Used with permission

 

  St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas

 

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[1] The service for Preparation for communion is in any complete prayer book, like the “Jordanville” prayerbook. It consists of  some introductory prayers, three psalms, a canon of preparation, and a selection of beautiful and highly theological and comprehensive prayers preserved from various holy Fathers. It takes about 40 minutes or less to complete. A short discussion of these prayers is at http://www.orthodox.net/10things/preparation-for-holy-communion.html under item #5. This rule is also found here: http://www.orthodox.net/services/canons-for-communion.html (also in PDF and Word format) . If you are not accustomed to this rule, you need to be. Do not be afraid of it. It could be done in parts each day.

[2] “Psalmody” means chanting from the Psalter, the preeminent “hymn book “ of Christian History. It is well worth it to learn how to “chant” the Psalms” and make it a habit to chant them daily. Your priest or chanter should be able to teach you, and will be willing!

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7 Responses to “The relationship between Confession and Communion How do we stay “sinless” between confession and communion?”

  1. Deborah says:

    Father, Bless,
     
    Could you please explain the difference between the forgiveness we receive  through confessing directly to God and that which we receive through confessing to a confessor and receiving absolution from a priest?  It seems the latter makes an important ontological difference,  but I don't understand why or what exactly the difference is.  St. Mary of Egypt became astoundingly holy through the grace of God and her ascetic feats in the desert without continuous confession and/or communion.  Yet even as a living holy saint she requested and received these sacraments before her death.
     
    We know that continuous confession of our sins before God is necessary for all and is included in numerous of our daily prayers.  We know that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  1 John 1:9  And yet we know there is the need, in a frequency that seems to vary considerably from person to person, for the sacrament of confession before one's priest. What does confession before and absolution received from a priest convey to the Believer that simple confession before the Lord does not?
     
    Thank You and Bless,

     
    Deborah

  2. Deborah says:

    "St. Mary of Egypt became astoundingly holy through the grace of God and her ascetic feats in the desert without continuous confession and/or communion. "
    Just to clarify….I know St. Mary was continuously confessing to and communing with God.  But it is an amazing thing–that her holiness was achieved without the benefit of regular partaking of the Holy Mysteries and without a confessor, spiritual father or priest.  I know that this is an exceptional case, but it is part of what is a puzzling mystery to me.

  3. Deborah, the effect of the Holy Mysteries in our life is affected to a great degree by the manner in which we receive them. St. Mary had a deep, penetrating conversion experience and a deep repentance that most of us can't even imagine. She received great benefit from receiving the Holy Gifts twice. Most of us, however, repent only superficially and need to stay very close to the Holy Mysteries so that we do not fall away completely.
    Why do we need to confess our sins and receive absolution in the Mystery of Repentance? One might also ask why we need to commune with the Lord physically. The simplest and best answer is that this is what the Lord ordained, and we trust Him to know what is best for us. Is it just a condescension to our human weakness, our psychological need for ritual? Yes, to some degree. But there is more to it. For we are physical creatures, not merely spiritual, and Christ said that if we do not eat His Body and drink His Blood physically, we have no life in us…

  4. Thank you Deborah for this very important question, and Nicholas – for the answer…
    I just would like to share my experience in the circumstances I am & my relation to it – which is, of course, far from the attitude of a true Christian. The matter is that I do not feel absolutely in accordance with the Russian tradition of confession & communion being so close in time to it. For me, the Greek tradition is much closer. It is when a person is not closely linked by time to have a confession & then at the same day – the communion. In many churches in Moscow, for example, priests receive the confession on Saturday evening during the service & partly afterwards, but here where I live now – the confessions are conducted only in the mornings (except for the Great Lent time where there are espcially many people in churches). Thus a person should stand in a long queue,  missing the most part of the Liturgy – which is especially sad on the day of his Communion! The confession is in this case, (of course if t is not a working day and there are few people who come to confession) turns into a verbal quick procedure, carrying a formal character, when I, realising how tired the priest is & that I have to hurry up etc., try to be as quick & laconic as possible. Of course, confession differs from the talk or receiving advice, but I rarely feel well after such a confession.
    Thus, during the current period of my life, I enjoy the opportunity to confess during week-days. And – being used to confess not only before taking the Holy Communion, but quite regularly come to confession for confession only, – I thank God for this opportunity. As well for the time He gave me for repentance…and I repent, that I misuse this time too often, missing it.
    In Greece the day of the confession is appointed in advance, special days & time is assigned for it by priests, the notifications are fixed on the churches' walls & entrances, so that the parishioners could know it & get themselves prepared. And – the confession never takes place during the Liturgy! Then some period of time pay pass from the confession to taking the Communion, and during this time a person tries to keep away from the sins, prays & prepares his soul for this Great Mystery…
    Of course, I realise that in Greece there are much more priests than in Russia, much more churches, opportunities for that…But still this order here disturbs me.
    I also realise that this feeling, sometimes quite tense, exists in me because I miss humbleness, I am almost sure that if I were a true Christian, this would not mean anything for me, and I would take such "inconveniences" for nothing – in comparison with such a great Gift from our loving God!
    Thus may it be some confession (I know it cannot be a confession in its full sense, as it is type-written & in the form of a letter), but I still feel uneasy & feel my fault because I am impatient about it. As FOR A TRUE CHRISTIAN THERE IS NO BARRIER OR INCONVENIENCE ANYWHERE. REPENTANCE KNOWS NO CONFUSION.
    It's very important to say here, that in the above mentioned I meant only regular confession & communion.   If a person feels his sin sharply, he cannot think of anything else & gives no value to meaningless things…
     

  5. Deborah says:

    Thank you, Fr. Nicholas and dear Natalia, for sharing your wisdom and experience.  So it appears that this, too, is Mystery.  I do know that confession before my confessor, although simply repeating the confession I have already made to the Lord, is something powerful–and oftentimes very difficult.  To have our confessions of sin pass through the ears of a fellow human being in order to receive absolution can be a very humbling experience. 

  6. Dear Deborah, I cherish so much YOUR experience. Our relationship always enriches me. I cherish so much I met Father, you, Nicholas…It is such a blessing from God!
    On this Feast of Transfiguration I feel especially my nothingness & lack of change in my soul, where mainly are discontent & grumbling…But there is also there gratitude to God, also for the people I met & through whom God feeds me constantly with wisdom & kindness & with many things I cannot understand and appreciate now…Many spiritual blessings are discreet, hidden from me because of my inability to perceive them & absorb…
    I'll tell you a funny episode also, connected with confession. When I was preparing for my first confession, I was preoccupied by the following thought: how I'll be able to kiss the hand of an unknown person, especially – a man (a confessor)…I prepared seriously, and was very much afraid that I'd not be able – that I might die before it. If only I could keep this apprehension till now! But at the same time I thought of this kissing a hand…Of course, when I did it, I even didn't notice it, it went as natural.
    When I remember it, I smile.

  7. Deborah says:

    And you, dear Natasha, are a blessing to all of us…thank you so much for sharing your life with us.  Your story made me smile, too. 

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