When I was preparing to become an Eastern Orthodox Christian, the idea of confession scared the pants off me! It was so foreign to my experience as a Protestant Christian that I really had no frame of reference from which to understand it.
Over the years I have come to realize how much I need confession–to be reminded of my complete sinfulness, to be reminded of Christ’s forgiveness, to be encouraged and guided by my spiritual father. Now I truly cannot imagine my spiritual life without this sacrament.
For those who are new to the faith, or who are not Orthodox, I wanted to provide a brief (certainly not exhaustive!) overview of the Orthodox doctrine of confession.
Orthodox View of Confession
The Orthodox Church continues the early church practice of confession. Back in the earliest days of Christianity, confession was public–in front of the entire congregation.
Later as this became impractical, confession was done in the presence of the priest who represented the church.
In the Orthodox Church, we do not say that we confess our sins to the priest. We confess them to Christ in the presence of the priest. The priest listens as the Church and then reminds that Christ forgives. The priest, as a spiritual father, is able to give advice, see patterns of sin, and offer encouragement for holy living.
For a more detailed description of confession, you can read the Orthodox Church in America’s article here.
Helping Your Child Prepare for Confession
Recently I’ve noticed a change in my six-year-old son. He is beginning to understand when he does something wrong and tries to correct it. He might tell me he is sorry for something without being prompted. Or, he may start to say or do something that will hurt his younger siblings and then stop himself. As my husband and I have sensed that he is growing to understand sin and the consequences of his actions, we have begun to talk with him about confession and the need for repentance.
When your child reaches this awareness, it is a good time to start helping prepare him or her for confession. These simple tips can get you started:
1. Talk with Your Priest
As with anything in Orthodoxy, your first conversation should be with your priest. Talk with him about your child and the possibility of confession. Each priest is different and may have slightly different practices regarding this. Some priests like to talk with the child before confession, to help alleviate any nerves and to get a read on the child’s readiness. Other priests prefer to come in and talk with entire Church school classes at one time. While there is no set age for a first confession in Orthodoxy (as opposed to the Catholic practice of First Communion), some priests prefer that children be of a certain maturity level. So, have a conversation with your priest to find out how he wants to proceed.
2. Talk with Your Child’s Church School Teacher
Your child’s church school teacher is a wealth of information with a variety of resources. He or she may be able to point you to great books, websites, and activities to help your child get ready for confession. She also can let you know about any Church school curriculum that the class may be going through about confession. For example, I teach a first grade Church school class in my parish, and I am bringing the idea of confession into much of what we do. Send your child’s teacher an e-mail or talk together for a few minutes after Liturgy to get some ideas and information.
3. Bring Your Child to Your Confession
Ask your priest if your child can tag along to your confession. By seeing the entire process, a child is able to visualize what will happen in their own confession. My son went with me to a recent confession. In the car ride on the way to Vespers, we discussed what he would be seeing and why. I was able to explain why we do confession, what the role of the priest was, the types of things that I would be saying, and what the priest would say afterward. Then, my son saw my confession, which took away much of the fear of the unknown that had existed before.
4. Read Together
Spend some evenings together reading about confession and repentance. You can start with familiar Bible stories like The Publican and The Pharisee or King David and the Prophet Nathan. There are also a few Orthodox children’s books out there that can help. One incredibly thorough and beautiful one is The Path to Confession by Father Artemy Vladimirov. Fr. Artemy’s book is not a short one, but it is worth reading through in installments. He discusses the work of the Cross, the role of the priest in confession, the battle against sin, preparation for confession, the Sacrament of Confession, and the role of the spiritual father. All of his practical, pastoral writing is accompanied by beautiful iconographic illustrations. If you haven’t read The Path to Confession yet, please do. It is an invaluable resource for both children and adults.
5. Pray Together
Be a role model of prayer for your children. In your Morning Prayers and Evening Prayers, try to include some prayers of repentance. Here is a beautiful prayer from A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians:
O Lord, our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word, and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended you, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray you, O Lord: of your mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of your Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As I have begun helping my son prepare for confession, I’ve grown a deeper understanding of my own need for continual repentance. May the lessons I teach my children be ones that I am learning myself. May I pray, as did the Publican, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
What about you? How have you helped your children prepare for confession?
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