AxiosOrthodoxal news and traditionsWhy do I need a confession?

Why do I need a confession?

With the beginning of the Nativity Fast of Advent, Orthodox Christians are trying to prepare themselves in abstinence and prayer for the great feast of the Nativity of Christ. Fasting is a particularly grace-filled time for repenting of our sins and changing our lifestyle. Participation in the Church Sacrament of Repentance or Confession during this period is of particular importance for the believer. Those of us who have just begun to lead our lives in the Church are often concerned about issues related to this sacrament. Why do I need confession? How to confess to a priest? Read the answers to these and many other questions about confession in our material.


The sacrament of penance and absolution has its basis in the Holy Scriptures. Thus, the Lord Jesus Christ gave His disciples the power to release sins by the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn.20: 22-23). These powers were transferred by the apostles to the bishops and presbyters who were placed in new communities. The Epistle of the Apostle James (James 5:16) also speaks about confession before each other. Initially, a public confession was practiced among Christians when a sinner confessed his sins openly to the community and testified of his repentance. Then, with the growing number of Christians, private secret confession began to enter the practice, when the guilty repented of sins to the priest or bishop personally.

This transformation was due to several reasons. First, the number of Christians has increased significantly, and public confessions would take more time than worship itself. Secondly, with the Christianization of the empire for some sins criminal penalties were introduced, therefore people were simply afraid to confess openly. Thus, St. Basil the Great introduced secret confessions for women who repented of treason, theft or other sins towards their husbands, since the latter could have killed them for their offenses and did not bear any serious punishment under the law. The secret confession was more convenient for government officials, especially the military, because the priest cannot disclose the secret of confession to anyone. This form of confession is still preserved in the Orthodox Church. 

So what is the sense of confession? We need confession to cleanse our souls and for the forgiveness of committed sins. This sacrament must necessarily include two components: internal and external. The inner part of confession is repentance, sincere repentance of the committed sins and a strong desire to change your life and become better. “A cardinal change of mind” is the literal translation of the Greek word ‘metanoia’ or ‘repentance’. Only having the feeling of repentance in ourselves and the desire to change our way of life, we come to the temple to the priest for confession. During confession in the church, we confess, that is, we openly pronounce our sins before God and the priest as a witness to repentance. Of course, this is not easy, because it is often embarrassing for their misdeeds, but the presence of a sense of shame already indicates that conscience has not fallen asleep. In order not to forget, you can write sins on a piece of paper, but it is important to read them personally, and not just pass them on to a priest. Sometimes the priest may ask questions in order to possibly remind you of a forgotten sin. Then he can give advice on how to overcome this or that sin, or give penance, that is, a certain punishment of an educational nature, which will help get rid of sinful passions. Penance may include the reading of some prayers, an additional fasting, a different number of bows. Do not take such instructions as a punishment, because the penance is a kind of cure for a sinful disease. At the very end of the Sacrament of Confession, the priest reads over the penitent permissive prayer and forgoes sins. However, it should be remembered that if we do not repent of sin and do not want to correct ourselves, then even if all these external features of the confession are observed, we do not receive forgiveness from the Lord. Repentance and correction are the two most important elements of confession that are within the power of every person. After all, the history of the Church knows many difficult sinners who repented and became great saints, for example, the holy Mary of Egypt.

In our church practice it is customary to confess before the sacrament of Communion. However, be aware that in fact these two sacraments are not related to each other. You can simply come to confession without the communion after, as well as communion without confession. The tradition of compulsory confession was introduced here in the Synodal era, when, according to the law, every Orthodox Christian was obliged to confess and receive communion once a year at the church in his or her place of residence. The priest made an entry about this in a special journal, which was referred to the police report. Similar laws had brought to the public consciousness the idea that before Communion all Christians should definitely confess. Nowadays, obligatory confession before Communion is required only from people who recently came to church or rarely go to church at all. For regular parishioners who have long led of the church life, mandatory confession before the communion is not required. But, nevertheless, one should not neglect confession, and participate to this sacrament less than once a month.

What preparation is needed before confession? For the Sacrament of Confession, preparation is necessary, as for any other sacrament of the Church. Before confession, you should think over and analyze your life and actions from the moment of the last confession, and if this is your first confession, then from the moment of baptism. This is not an easy task, and in order not to forget anything, you can write out sins on paper. In addition, it is also recommended to pray while reading the 50th psalm of King David or the penitential canon that is in every prayer book.

Confession is the sacrament of the Church, which washes away our sins, gives a feeling of peace to the soul and helps to correct our life. Therefore, we urge everyone to come to church for confession at the time of Advent, and also to receive the Holy Communion. If you have any more questions about confession, you can ask them on our Facebook page.


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