Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

On Confession

4th Sermon

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For the fourth time I endeavour to speak on Confession. And what I want to touch upon is the mystery of forgiveness. When we come to Confession, as I have said before, we come into the presence of God. But God is not a judge; God is our Saviour. God is our Friend, the one who has loved us in such a way that He has given His life that we may believe in His love, and given His life to save us from condemnation. And it is to Him, as to a Friend, and to a Saviour, that we come.

We confess to Him, we open our hearts to Him. We tell Him, as I tried to explain on other occasions, all that separates us from Him; not lists of formal sins but what we feel in our hearts is our unfaithfulness; what we feel in our hearts separates us, because in spite of the words of love and of veneration which we pronounce, we act in a way that nails Him to the cross again.

We lie; and we create a world in which only death can triumph. We reject our neighbour and we close our own way into the Kingdom of God, because unless we can say, Our Father and not My Father, there is no place for us in His Kingdom.

And so we ask the Lord for forgiveness - but not a formal word that will say, You have been unworthy of My friendship, but I'm great-hearted and I forgive. No, that is not the point. It's not that kind of forgiveness which we must seek. It's a true reconciliation, in which we pour out our heart to God, the truth that there is to be said, in which we tell Him all the ways in which we have been unfaithful to Him - not only directly, but being unfaithful to our neighbour, to our friends, to our relatives, to anyone around us. The way, also, in which we have treated the world He has created with contempt and indifference - a world which He has so loved as to call it into existence.

And when we have said that, we must ask Him, as I have said a minute before, for reconciliation. Let us be friends again, Lord. I know I have not changed yet. It is only Your friendship - unshakeable, faithful, that can prompt me to become different. If You reject me, if You turn away from me, I have no reason to change. I am damned, I am damned in this world, whatever happens in the future world. The only reason why I can change is that the Lord said, In spite of all, I remain your friend. In spite of all, I love you with all My life and all My death. Can you in response to this love show a little faithfulness? I don't expect from you a total, immediate change. But change step by step. Hold on to Me. I will support you, I'll help you, I'll protect you, I'll guide you, I'll give you strength - but do change. And when you receive forgiveness in My name from the priest, don't imagine that the past does not exist. The past will have gone only when you have become so alien to this past that it is no longer yours.

It may sound very strange. But we all live a complex life. I remember an old woman who came and said to me that she does not know how to live. She spends her whole nights seeing in her dreams and in her memories all the evil she has done. She went to the doctor, who gave her pills, and it was only worse because from her memories it became hallucinations. What can she do?

And I said to her, Remember, God grants us not only once to live through our life but to live and relive our lives time and again until all the evil of it is expurgated. When evil stands up from the past before you, ask yourself: now, with the experience of life I have acquired, now, would I be the person I was then? Would I say these murderous words, would I do such and such action which was evil? And if you can say sincerely: oh no, with what I have learnt from life, now, placed in the same situation, I would never, never do the same - then you can say, 'Lord, forgive me this particular moment of my past', and know that you are free. If you can say that with all your heart, with all sincerity, with all the truth there is in you, then it will not come back to you.

And so it happened to this old woman. And so it should happen to each of us. We can not in a moment be free of our past. We must renounce the evil there is in it. We must turn to Christ our God and promise to struggle for faithfulness, ask for His help, and then, step by step free ourselves of the past. It does not mean that we are not forgiven, because forgiven means accepted in love, accepted with tenderness by someone who will never forget our weakness, never forget what has gone wrong with us, because to forget means that he will expose us to the same temptation without protection.

I remember a woman who was a drunkard, who was treated for a long time in hospital, who came back home healed. And to feast her return the family put a bottle of wine on the table; and it was the end; because they thought she was healed, but they did not realise that there was still frailty in her.

And so it is with us when we receive forgiveness from God. Yes, our estrangement from Him is gone. Yes, there is nothing that separates us from Him as far as love is concerned - His love - and as far as our longing - our longing - is concerned. But we must struggle and change and become new, new creatures, with His help. Forgiveness does not erase the past. It heals it in co-operation between God and us.

Let us therefore come to Confession in this spirit. Let us confess ourselves daily to God, sincerely; open our hearts, make our peace with Him, enter into reconciliation; and know that reconciliation means that we have undertaken to be faithful to Him; and fight, and fight ourselves, and fight evil, and fight for the people around us, whom we wound, and for God, Whom we crucify.

Let us reflect on this. And then, when we come to Confession, the prayer of Absolution will have a true and real meaning: the re-establishment of a friendship that cannot be broken on God's part, but was broken on ours and is now restored in intention. And this intention must be determination; and determination must be action, and new life in us. Amen.



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