Renewing the Spotless Robe the Mystery of Confession

Many of the prayers given in the Euchologia for penance and confession had their origin in canonical penance and communal reconciliation. Practice nowadays varies quite widely; many Orthodox use the sacrament only rarely when conscious of a very serious sin, while others (especially Russians) confess before every reception of communion.

It is common for confessions to be heard in the open church, by the priest standing beside a lectern on which are placed the cross and a Gospel book. The penitent stands in front of the lectern and it is clear, as one exhortation says, that 'I am but a witness, bearing testimony before him of all the things which you have to say to me.' The rites often include Psalm 50, troparia of penance, and a prayer recalling the prophet Nathan's absolution of David's sin. If there is limited time, this last prayer alone may be used before the actual confession. After the confession and the setting of a penance if appropriate, the priest puts his stole over the head of the penitent and says the absolution prayer. The Greek prayer for the penitent's forgiveness begins 'May God who pardoned David through Nathan the prophet when he confessed his sins . . .' In Russian usage, there are two prayers, the first of which is also a prayer for forgiveness and emphasizes reconciliation in the words 'Reconcile and unite him [or her] to the Holy Church.' The second prayer, which first appeared in seventeenth-century books under western influence, contains an indicative formula, 'I . . . through the power given unto me by Him, do forgive and absolve you from all your sins . . .' After the dismissal a Russian priest will give (or may withhold) a blessing to go to communion.

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