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Question 238

In the bible when disciples ask Jesus about confession, Jesus said we can confess to God in prayer our sins. Does the Orthodox church believe this or do we have to confess to our Priest. I used to work in a Christian broadcasting company where they also confessed in Prayer and not to a Priest thanks


Answer to Question 238


You say that in the Bible the disciples asked Jesus about confession and that he answered that we can confess to God in prayer our sins. Can you send the Bible chapter and verse because I can’t recall when Christ said this. 


What I do know is that after Christ’s Resurrection from the dead, he instituted the Sacrament of Confession by breathing on his apostles and saying “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained”. (John 20:22-23) Thus here we have Christ giving the authority and power to his disciples to forgive or not to forgive sins. This was given to them before the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, showing that it was not part of the general gifts of the Holy Spirit that was given to all, but a special gift for the select few. This authority was then passed on to the bishops who are the ultimate spiritual fathers of a Church. Bishops then pass on this authority to certain Priests whom they deem are spiritually experienced to guide and advice the flock in spiritual matters.


Now for Christ to institute this Sacrament means that there is a need for people to confess their sins, but also that they must confess them before a priest. The bishops and priests are the only canonical and lawful successors of the Apostles and only they have the power to grant forgiveness and remission. Thus we should not be as the Protestants who, like many other things, have abolished this God instituted Sacrament and because they never confess their sins they are completely ignorant of its significance. When they read the Bible, they pass over and pay no attention to the words of our Lord with which he established the Sacrament and gave to his disciples the authority to forgive sins. They grant remission to themselves and their mentality, being more easily acceptable in our modern world, has infected many Orthodox who have also abolished this Sacrament of confession for themselves and argue that they confess before the Icon of Christ or the Virgin, or that they tell their sins directly to God in their prayers. 


But Christ didn’t tell us to confess before his Icon neither did he tell us that by confessing directly to him in our prayers we would receive forgiveness of our sins. Neither the Icon nor our personal prayers can give us absolution. Christ entrusted this authority to the clergy and shepherds of his Church. Only the Priest can pronounce the prayer of absolution.