Friday, August 04, 2006

not quite confession, but . . .

I wrote a month and a half ago about my desire for a human confessor. I realized, of course, that as a sacramental non-Orthodox I could not participate in confession sacramentally. (It all goes together in a sort of package. Until you're legitimately baptized, none of the other sacraments apply either.) Still, there's something of a paradox here. Although I'm excluded from the formal sacraments of the Church, I live in a sacramental world. Whether inside or outside the Church, the Spirit of God works through our material experiences to infuse our lives with grace. There is a sacramental logic, if you will, that has little or nothing to do with the formalities of Church membership. (Church membership fits integrally into this logic--my point, though, is that the logic still operates while someone like me muddles his way toward communion. For that matter, the logic operates in the lives of Western Christians and even non-Christians of all sorts--even those who don't recognize sacraments as reality.) So sacramental confession, no; but there is still a meaningful dimension to confession given before another human that goes beyond the experience of private confession to God alone.

The Evangelical shadow of sacramental confession is a simple accountability relationship between two individuals or a small group, who mutually choose to open up to each other about their struggles with sin. Often, this type of thing happens without any particular chain of authority. They are brothers or sisters in Christ who take responsibility for each other. I think this kind of arrangement feels more comfortable to Evangelicals, who tend to suffer from a mild paranoia about human authority. Unfortunately, it also tends to diminish the weight of spiritual guidance that could take place in the exchange.

I'm happy to report that Fr. Gregory was willing to hear my confession and offer guidance. We had our first such session last night. Again, it was not an Orthodox sacramental confession. Aside from the advice he gave throughout, we simply ended with a few repetitions of the Jesus prayer, and he invoked the prayers of the saints on my behalf. But it was still a very valuable experience that I hope to repeat in the future. Not only was it a relief to open up to someone about my sins and to get advice about how to overcome them in the future, but even the couple of weeks leading up to our meeting provided an opportunity not only for reflection but for more active resistance to sin, since I knew that I was going to have to talk about it.

I also had the opportunity to stay for the Paraklesis afterward, which I enjoyed. It would be nice if I could go every day during the fast, but at least it was a taste. God willing, I'll be back for the Dormition liturgy in a little over a week.

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