Great and Holy Wednesday
The Bride of Christ, our blessed Church has gathered us during this most holy time to further advance the cause of our salvation. Because this service of glorification of our God is misunderstood and thus often abused by ordinary people, we provide a better insight and understanding so there is no questionable confusion any longer.
Just as our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ is anointed for burial, the Body of Christ lovingly anoints her faithful children for burial of imperfection and sinfulness, "...now consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Jesus Christ" Romans 6: 11.
Today the Church celebrates with us that we have individually approached the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation and out of separation and brokenness, have returned once again to the embrace of Christ through the forgiveness of our sins. Having expressed sorrow for the separation, for our sinfulness, we are once again united to the Lord. So the Church utilizes the grace of the sacramental Mystery of Anointing of the Sick to strengthen us against the further, even continuing assault of the devil that we are strengthened to overcome temptation and bury our imperfections and proclivity to sin to overcome fall from grace.
The word and description "sin" literally simply means "missing the mark." It denotes failure to be what a believer in Christ must be and to do what one should do. We know we are originally made and created in the image of God, to live in union with God's divine life and to rule over all of creation. Man's failure in this task is his sin which plainly has been called his fall from grace.
The falloff man means that we failed in our God-given challenging vocation. This is the meaning of the very first book of Scripture. Man was seduced by evil into believing he could be "like God" by his own will power and effort.
In the tradition of Orthodoxy the eating of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" is interpreted as man's actual taste of evil, his literal experience of sin. And as St. Gregory the Theologian explains it is man's attempt to go beyond what is possible for his created limitations; his attempt to do that which is not yet within his power to realize by himself.
Whatever we might think about it, it is clear man has failed in his original vocation. He disobeyed God's command through pride, through jealousy and the lack of humble gratitude to our heavenly Father by yielding to the temptation and suggestion of the devil. We also miss the mark of our calling. We transgress the laws of God. The beloved disciple provides an interesting insight for us: "Everyone who sins acts lawlessly for sin is lawlessness" 1 John 3: 4. So man in the beginning ruined himself and all of creation which was entrusted to his care and cultivation. By our sin we bring ourselves and all creation with us, under the rule of sin and death.
According to God's revelation to us in Scripture all these elements go together: sin;, evil, the devil, suffering and death. There is never one without the other and all the common result of man's rebellion against God and his loss of communion with the Source of Life. Sin begets even more sin and greater evil. It initiates disharmony, the ultimate corruption of death in everyone and everything.
Man still is the created image of God because that cannot be changed, but he fails to keep his image pure and to retain divine likeness. He defiles his own humanity with evil, perverts himself and deforms his creation so that it cannot be the pure reflection of God that it was created to be. Our world as well also remains good, indeed "very good" according to the witness of his Maker, but it also shares the sorry consequences of its created master's sin and suffers with him in mortal agony and corruption. Thus, through man's sin the world falls under the rule of the devil and "...lies in wickedness" 1 John 5: 19. St. Paul explains it this way: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world and with sin, death, death thus coming to all men inasmuch as all sinned" Romans 5: 12.
The Genesis story of reality reveals that man's potency for eternal growth and development in God was turned instead into his own multiplication and cultivation of wickedness and his transformation of creation into the devil's princedom, a cosmic cemetery "groaning in trail" Romans 8: 22, until it is rescued and saved by our heavenly Father.
The Church repeats, echoes, mirrors and reverberates the fundamental message today; man and the world need to be saved. God gives the promise of salvation from the very beginning, the promise which begins to be fulfilled in history in the person of Abram, the father of Israel, the forefather of Christ and the father of faith response to God's first shown love. "And the Lord said to Abraham, "I will make you a great nation ... and by you all the families of the earth will be blessed"' Genesis 12: 3: 22: 15. Because Abraham believed God, from him came the Chosen People among whom in the flesh is Jesus Christ the Lord and Saviour of Creation. "Even as he promised our fathers, promised Abraham and his descendants forever" Luke 1: 55; "The oath he swore to Abraham our father he would grant us: that, rid of fear and delivered from the enemy, we should serve him devoutly and through all our days be holy in his sight" Luke 1: 73 - 75. Christ it is who comes from the Father to save people from their sins, to open their tombs and to grant eternal life to all creation.
Even as small children we have been taught and civil propriety demands that we apologize when we offend someone. The sacramental Mystery of Penance is our formal act of reconciliation with God in the Church when we permit sin to sever and rip us away from the life of Christ in his Body. Because reconciliation, or whatever else it may be called, confession of sin, penance, repentance, we prefer the word and description of St. Paul when he thanks God for "...giving us the gift of the ministry of reconciliation" 2 Corinthians 5: 18. What it means is admitting, confessing, verbally being sorry for our offenses against God, ourselves and each other. How blessed are we to have the ability in the life of our Church for Christ "Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you retain, they are retained" John 20: 23, which makes plain the priest confessor must actually hear the sin enunciated so that a judgment of genuine penitence and sorrow for sin can be made. We do not confess to nebulous sins, but to particular faults and sins of which we are guilty. We confess in the presence of a priest confessor because we offend God and the priest is his representative. We call upon the grace of the Holy Spirit to make known to us our sins and we invoke the Birthgiver of God and the saints because we offend the Church of whom they are representatives so that in their intercessory prayer, we will be strengthened to overcome the temptation of the devil.
This sacramental Mystery exists in the life of the Church to permit and allow, even encourage repentance and conversion to the purity of Christ's intentions and aspirations for each of us. What is required is sincere sorrow for sin and for breaking communion with our heavenly Father. The second necessity is actually enunciating with admission of the fault in particular instances by naming the sin. Third is the actual eagerness to be unburdened from our sin by participating in the grace of this sacramental Mystery. The final necessary element is the formal prayer of absolution through which the forgiveness of God through Christ is sacramentaly bestowed upon the repentant sinner. What the priest is looking for is sorrow for sin, repentance for sin and an eagerness not to repeat past sins again. This can only be done in the relationship of a spiritual father and his spiritual child. This can only be done if the child seeks forgiveness and makes a true apology to our Creator God.
The sacramental Mystery presupposes a firm belief and absolute conviction that Christ himself is present in the Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the priest is there to assure, to assist and to offer affirmation of God's forgiveness. Thus we see the results of all this effort, if individual and personal auricular confession forms in and today's unifying and strengthening as well as affirmative spiritual action in recognizing we are wounded by the devil in his tempting us, so we need additive strengthening grace to resist the power of hell. Understood for what it is, the sacramental Mystery is then cherished as the great Mystery by which God reunites us to himself who sincerely desire to overcome and check the defects of their lives and change their living to the way we were originally created in paradise in the beginning. We must never forget only our God can forgive sin and it is done through Christ in his bride, the Church.
We have been told of unfounded circumstances where some try to mitigate the value of the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation by approaching it from a dimension it does not possess. There is no such thing as General Confession or Group Confession except in emergency circumstances when a disaster occurs and through lack of enough priests to hear individual confessions of large numbers of gathered believers, a general absolution can be pronounced after those present are to elicit sorrow for sin and genuine repentance are interiorly inspired.
There are reasons why believers who have their origins where Islam dominated, in the past and were not able to make a proper confessions of sin. Islam did not permit our priests to be educated, so the priesthood was passed from father to son and after a few generations, the full and proper spiritual formation lacked a great deal. Priests who did not receive proper education meant to function as spiritual advisors were in time forbidden to hear confessions because they were not equipped to offer the appropriate spiritual advice to their flock. Specially prepared monastics were dispatched on a circuit as it were, but were too few to meet the overwhelming challenge of large numbers of penitents. What was introduced as a temporary response or remedy to a serious problem was not rectified. Our bishops and priests accepted this and some still continue it. In this country, and except for the limited people who came under Moslem domination, all Orthodox believers submit themselves to individual confession for the forgiveness of sin.
Let us not continue to use the excuse of past limitations to interfere with our spiritual life. Let us not allow insecurities of the past continue to intimidate and dominate us today. We are in a free country, so we ought to act freely and confess our sins as the Lord prescribes. Let us not use our freedom as license and avoid a serious relationship with the Lord.
Come up then and give thanks to our God that through the life of our blessed Church we are now taught correctly and have the opportunity to be reconciled with our heavenly Father and enjoy the benefit of additional grace from the sacramental Mystery of Anointing of the Sick to strengthen us and help defeat the temptation we so often experience along with the assaults of the devil on our life.
This sacramental Mystery is being offered in addition to what is first required in concert with our God insisting the sacramental Mystery of Reconciliation, or repentance, of penance, of confessing our sins be also received. Receiving this sacramental Mystery instead of or in place of actual Confession of sin does not work, nor can it work because that is not its purpose. Amen.