Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Seal of Confession

Important for both Confessor and Penitent

The Seal of Confession is a hard and fast rule throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. Since the priest, in Orthodox theology, is but a witness to the confession, since the confession is given to Christ Himself, confidentiality is an absolute must. The secrecy of this Mystery of Penance is vital, for one could not expect a sincere and open confession if the penitent was doubtful of the confidentiality of his confession. Breaking the Seal of Confession is so serious, in fact, that betrayal of this secrecy can lead to canonical punishment of the priest, including the possibility of being deposed from the holy priesthood, as suggested in The Rudder.

Recently I had a man contact me by email, sharing his grief at not feeling he could trust his priest, having heard the priest was known to have violated the confidentiality of this Mystery of the Church. He continued that another priest refused to hear his confession, so he was feeling cast aside, seeing his spiritual need unfulfilled by the very men called by God to offer spiritual direction. He concluded by sharing his wonderment that non-Orthodox Christians seem more joyful, for his own spiritual journey seemed seemed devoid of joy.

Reading this man's words brought sorrow to my heart, for joy should be our common inheritance as Orthodox Christians. How is it possible we do not experience this joy? The ability to confess one's sins, and receive Christ's absolution is so very central to our Christian faith, it would seem the ultimate failure of his priestly duties, for any priest to refuse to hear a confession, or to cause anyone to avoid confession for fear of having their sins revealed to others.

It is also imperative that the spiritual direction given by a priest in confession must be for the penitents ears only.  If the priest is not permitted to divulge what the penitent says in confession, then the penitent should not divulge what his confessor says. This does not mean sharing what was said by the priest during your confession is anywhere near as reprehensible as having your sins revealed by the priest, but sharing anything said by either the priest, or the penitent, opens the door to breaking the Seal of Confession, for this could easily lead to a friend sharing your confidentially shared words with another person, and having it passed on as gossip to any number of people.

I remember hearing members of a parish accuse their priest of having broken the Seal, only to find out later that the penitent was the one who'd revealed the content of the confession, thus betraying the priest and the congregation. One slip of the confidentiality of the confession, led a whole congregation to believe they could not trust their priest!

Another good reason to always refrain from sharing what was said in confession is that your spouse will feel they have a right to ask what was said, fearing they might look bad in the eyes of the priest. Confession must be the one place where the penitent can always be upfront, if spiritual therapy is to result in healing. Honesty has to be central to the confession.

As a final note, an Orthodox priest should NEVER pronounce absolution in the case of murder, rape, pedophilia, or any other serious crime, unless the person agrees to turn themselves into the police. An important element in confession for any person who is truly sorry for their sins, is their willingness to accept the consequences of justice rendered.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Saturday December 7, 2013 / November 24, 2013
24th Week after Pentecost. Tone six.
Nativity (St. Philip's Fast). Fish Allowed

Afterfeast of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple.
Great-martyr Mercurius of Caesarea in Cappadocia (259).
Great-martyr Catherine of Alexandria (305).
Hieromartyr Mercurius of Smolensk (1238).
Venerable Mercurius, the Faster of the Kievan Caves, far caves (14th C).
New Hieromartyr Eugraphus (1919).
New Hieromartyrs Eugine and Michael priests, Virgin-martyr Anysia (1937).
New Hieromartyrs Alexander, Alexis, John, Cornelius, and Metrophanes priests (1937).
Martyrs Augusta (Faustina) the Empress, Porphyrius, and 200 soldiers at Alexandria with Great-martyr Catherine (305).
Venerable Mastridia of Alexandria (1060).
Venerable Simon, abbot of Soiga Monastery (Vologda) (1561).
Martyr Philothea of Romania (1060).
St. Gregory, founder of the monastery of the Golden Rock in Pontus.
Martyr Alexander at Corinth (4th C).
Venerable Luke, steward of the Kiev Caves (13th c.).
St. Hermogenes, bishop of Agrigentum (ca. 260).
Venerable Romanus of Bordeaux (382), and Venerable Protasius, hermit of Auvergne (6th c.) (Gaul).
Venerable Portianus of Arthone (527) (Gaul).
St. Minver, virgin of Cornwall.
Maryrs Philemenus, Christopher, Eugene, Procopius, and another Christopher (Greek).
Martyr Chrysogenes and Monk-martyr Mark Triglinos (Greek).
Hieromartyrs Clement, pope of Rome (101), and Peter, archbishop of Alexandria (311) (Greek).
St. Malchus of Chalcis in Syria (5th c.).
St. Nicodemus the Younger of Philokalos in Thessalonica (ca. 1305).
You can read the life of the saint by clicking on the highlighted name.

THANKS to all of you who have been able to contribute towards the support of the monastery. These difficult times of economic hardship have impacted the monastery, and those of you who have been able to donate, have been our lifeline. May God bless you for your generosity, and kindness.
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Donations can be made directly to the monastery through PayPal, or you may send donations to:

All-Merciful Saviour Monastery
PO Box 2420
Vashon Island, WA 98070-2420 USA

The Scripture Readings for the Day

2 Corinthians 11:1-6

Concern for Their Faithfulness

11 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

Paul and False Apostles

For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.

Luke 10:19-21

19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus Rejoices in the Spirit

21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.

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