05 April 2009

The Courage to Confess

The following is an except of a sermon preached at the pan Orthodox Vespers hosted by St Thomas Albanian Orthodox Church in Farmington Hills MI.

What keeps us from going to confession? What causes us to put off going to our spiritual father? Is it the belief that we have nothing to confess? Or is it rather our fear that Our Lord God does not understand, that He can’t identify, that He doesn’t really know what it’s like? In other words, we’ll confess—but to someone who really doesn’t know us, and what we face, and how hard it is. Now if we could just find someone like that—someone who truly understands, and has been there, and can sympathize with us.

Yet that is precisely who St Mary of Egypt found—a sympathetic ear; and more than a sympathetic ear. She found the Lord and God who had been there and back; who knew her sin not intellectually but also experientially. And St Mary found the Son of Man who had endured her temptations, and so was able to help her—all all men—who are tempted. And when she found Him, she received courage—the courage to confess.

Now isn’t that what confession is? Isn’t confession the courage to name our sins aloud, and also the courage to live against our ungodly desires? For it certainly takes courage to confess. And it certainly takes courage to live for others and against we selfishly pleases us. Yet where does such courage come from? Certainly not from the commandments. The commandments are good, but ultimately they show us that we’ve missed the mark; that we don’t measure up. And they show us how we should live. The commandments encourage us to do what is right, but they don’t give us courage.

Where then do we get the courage to confess? It comes from Our Lord Himself, who gives us His Spirit so that we might begin to know and believe that He will not turn us away—because He’s suffered our temptations.

Remember St Gregory’s words: “What Christ did not take into Himself He did not heal, but what is united with God is also being saved.”

These words mean that Our Lord has truly and really assumed and taken into Himself—into His life-giving flesh and blood—our temptations: our desire to control, our desire to satisfy our urges, our desire to accumulate, our desire to lash out, our desire to want what others have, our desire to feed our appetites, and our desire to lose heart and give up and give in to our fears.

All of these deadly sins, all of these ungodly passions and desires, Our Lord has both assumed and consumed. He has made them His own and swallowed them up in His person. He doesn’t just know about them. He took them in and suffered their sting, and then put them to death in His flesh. And He has done this for only one reason: so that He might transform and convert these ungodly passions, so that He might change them into godly desires—the godly desires which transform us.

Read the full sermon.

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