Thus, in the Sacrament of Confession God gave us a powerful tool to battle sin. In preparing for our confession of sins, we learn to watch over our inner life more carefully, to realize our weak points and the cunning methods of our temptor, the devil. Sincere confession before a priest helps us combat our pride and thus to become free from the bonds of passion with which the devil wants to ensnare us.
After a deep repentance and the Divine cleansing that follows it, a Christian feels as if a heavy stone was removed from his heart. He finds himself renewed and enlightened, willing to love God and other people. This feeling should be the most obvious proof of the great spiritual power of the Sacrament of Confession. For this reason let us cherish this Divine tool of spiritual healing and ask God to give us wisdom and willingness to lead the remaining days of our life in righteousness, so that all our thoughts, words and deeds will be directed toward His glory and our salvation. Amen.
"Epitimia" or penance is to be understood as an interdiction which, according to Church canons, the priest as a spiritual physician has to apply in certain cases in order to treat the moral diseases of his spiritual children. For example he might impose a fasting beyond that which others do, some additional prayers of repentance, performing of a certain amount of prostrations, works of mercy, reading of the Holy Scripture and other righteous exercises.
Special penance or epitimia imposed sometimes by the priest-confessor is not a punishment but represents an action for correction or pedagogical healing. The purpose is to deepen contrition for sinning and to support the will for correction. The Apostle Paul said, "For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). One of the canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council declares: "Receiving from God the power to bind and loose, the priest must evaluate the nature of sin and preparedness of the repentant, and thus utilize appropriate means of healing. But if not applying appropriate means to this or the other, salvation will not be available to the sinner. For all sins are not similar, but different and specific, and represent many aspects of harm from which evil develops and disperses further, unless it is stopped by the healing power."
In the ancient Church Confession was accomplished somewhat differently from the contemporary Russian practice. At that time Christians had Communion every Sunday, or in any case often, so that Confession was not necessary each time. Christians came to Confession as needed, when they had committed a serious sin if their behavior was a temptation to other Christians. Usually the Confession of sins was done aloud before the priest and the congregation as well. At present time in the Greek Orthodox Church, Confession is not done before each communion and is separate from the Liturgy. Confession is heard at a time assigned by the priest and in a place specifically designated for this purpose, a confessional. Closer to our times the Russian St. John of Kronstadt, having no opportunity to hear individual confessions, often performed communal Confession, in which thousands of people participated. During this Sacrament many confessed their sins aloud and repented in front of the whole congregation. These communal confessions had a very beneficial effect on those who took part in them.
In whatever outward form the Confession is performed, it is necessary to remember that it is a great Sacrament and requires our most serious and reverent attitude. Its purpose is to achieve beneficial healing of the soul. That is the reason that a quick Confession just before the presentation of the Chalice is not the proper attitude towards this Sacrament. It is imperative to appear for Confession in advance, and one must repent with heartfelt sorrow and faith in the power of the healing grace of God.