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The Holy Mystery of Repentance is a renewal of baptism. It is the power of God to forgive and cleanse us from all sin and to grant us the knowledge and strength to live the life into which we have been baptized, the life of Christ. It is therefore essential that we understand this mystery, inasmuch as we are able, and that we accept this great gift of God for our salvation, approaching it as often as we should.
Christ himself, addressing the whole human race, said:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
THE HOLY FATHERS ON REPENTANCE
St. John Chrysostom
“No sin is so great that it can conquer the munificence of the Master. Even if one is a fornicator, or an adulterer… the power of the gift and the love of the Master are great enough to make all these sins disappear and to make the sinner shine more brightly than the rays of the sun.”
St. Isaac of Syria
“Repentance is fitting at all times and for all persons, for sinners as well as for the righteous who look for salvation. There are no bounds to perfection, for even the perfection of the most perfect is nothing but imperfection. Hence, until the moment of death, neither the time nor the works of perfection can ever be complete.”
St. John of the Ladder
“It is the property of angels not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the property of devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen.”
The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and of great mercy.
He will not always be angry, nor will he threaten for ever.
He hath not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as heaven is high above the earth, so great is the Lord’s mercy to those who fear him.
As far as the East is from the West, so far hath he set our sins from us.
As a father hath compassion on his children, so the Lord hath compassion on those who fear him. For he knoweth our mold, he remembereth that we are dust.
2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?
It is best to prepare the soul for confession through a prayerful self-examination. You may examine yourself according to:
- the 10 commandments
- the Beatitudes
- passages of scripture
- Our relationship to God, to others, and to ourselves
The following may be a useful tool for self-examination:
You and God
- Do you believe in God, the Holy Trinity, and in the divinity of Christ? Do you respect the Holy Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the Angels? Do you believe in the Church and its Mysteries (Sacraments)? Do you believe that Heaven and Hell exist?
- Do you always place yourself in the care and Providence of God, especially during difficult times?
- Do you complain against God and lose your faith during times of extreme problems, afflictions, sicknesses, and trials?
- Do you believe in mediums, fortune-telling, tarot card reading, or coffee-cup reading? Do you tell other people to believe in such things and go to such people?
- Do you believe in superstition and in luck?
- Do you pray morning and evening and before meals?
- Are you embarrassed of Christ? To make the sign of the cross in the presence of others (for example, in a restaurant or outside a church)?
- Do you read the Holy Bible as well as other Orthodox spiritual books daily?
- Do you go to church on Sundays and on the major Feast Days?
- Do you follow the Divine Liturgy carefully and reverently from the start until the end, or do you go late and leave before the end? Do you let your mind wander in church?
- Do you go to church dressed in a proper and dignified way?
- Do you prevent, discourage, or restrict others from going to church?
- Do you commune regularly?
- Do you give oaths without need? The Bible forbids oaths completely, saying that our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no” (St Matthew 5:7).
- Do you blaspheme the Name of God, the Virgin Mary, and our Saints by speaking irreverently of them?
- Are you faithful in tithing to the Church?
- Do you fast (unless you have a serious health problem) on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the appointed periods of the year?
You and Others
- Do you have hatred and ill-feelings towards someone who did you wrong or insulted you in their anger?
- Are you jealous and upset over the progress, fortune, possessions and beauty of others?
- Are you unmoved by the misfortune and needs of your fellow men?
- In your transactions with your business partners, co-workers, and clients, are you honest and forthright?
- Have you criticized or slandered others, wrongly accusing them?
- Are you sarcastic and patronizing towards believers, or towards those who fast and endeavor to live a Christian life, or towards those who have physical/mental problems and/or disabilities?
- If you heard some information or criticism against someone, did you gossip by passing it on to others and harm (even unwillingly) their reputation and respect?
- Did you criticize the conduct, actions, faults, and mistakes of another person when they were not present, even if what you said was the truth? Have you ever criticized the clergy? Do you gossip about and criticize the personal lives of others? Did you listen to someone blaspheming God or a holy person, and not protest?
- Do you curse those who have harmed you, or curse yourself in difficult moments of your life, or curse the day and hour in which you were born?
- Do you respect your parents? Do you look after them? Do you put up with their elderly weaknesses? Do you help them with their bodily and spiritual needs? Are you mindful of their spiritual needs by making sure they go to church and partake worthily of Holy Communion? Have you abandoned them?
- Perhaps in your anger did you hit anyone with your hands or injure them with your words?
- Do you perform your job or occupation properly and with a good conscience? Or are you unfair to others?
- Do you steal? Perhaps you have encouraged or helped another person to steal? Have you agreed to cover up a theft? Have you bought or accepted goods known to be stolen?
- Are you ungrateful towards God and generally towards your helpers and beneficiaries? Do you grumble and murmur against them?
- Do you keep company with bad and sinful people?
- With your words or example, have you ever pushed anyone to sin?
- Have you ever committed forgery? Have you ever embezzled or defrauded the public? Have you borrowed money and/or other possessions and without returning or repaying them?
- Have you ever committed murder, in any way?
- Do you entangle yourself in the lives of others or in their work or their families and become the cause of strife, quarrels and disturbances?
- Do you have mercy and compassion on the poor, on orphans, on the elderly, on families with many children struggling to make ends meet?
- Have you lied or added or subtracted from the truth? Do you flatter others in order to get your own way?
- Are you a slave to materialism and worldly goods?
- Are you greedy or a lover of money?
- Are you stingy?
- Are you wasteful? Do you live by the Gospel command to provide for the poor?
- Are you conceited and arrogant? Do you talk hack to your elders?
- Do you like to show off with your clothing, wealth, fortunes, and the academic achievements of your children or of yourself?
- Do you seek attention and glory from people?
- Do you seek after compliments and praise from others and like to be told that no one else exists who is as good as you?
- Do you get upset when others reveal your faults and do you get offended when others examine you? Do you get angry?
- Are you stubborn, haughty, egotistical, proud, or cowardly? Be careful with these sins, as the diagnosis and solution to them are difficult.
- Do you gamble?
- Have you become fanatical about sports, politics, or anything else that may have become an idol to you?
- Have sexual sins polluted your body, mind, or soul? For example, have you engaged in fornication (sexual intercourse before marriage), or masturbation, prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.?
- Do you watch dirty shows on television or at the movies?
- Do you watch pornography?
- Have you ever considered committing suicide?
- Are you a slave to your stomach (i.e. gluttony)?
- Are you lazy, careless and negligent? Do you not help out when you can?
- Do you say improper, dirty, and immoral words or use swear words for the sake of humor or to insult or humiliate others?
- Do you reject bad thoughts that come to pollute your heart?
- Are you careful so that your eyes don’t gaze or stare at provocative pictures or people?
- Are you careful what you ears hear? Do you like to hear sinful music and conversations?
- Do you dress immorally or provocatively?
- Have you appeared semi-naked in a swimsuit?
- Do you dance in a provocative and sinful manner? Do you listen to sinful immoral songs? Do you frequent parties, nightclubs, and bars? Do you celebrate sinful, worldly festivals such as mardi gras, gay and lesbian festivals, etc.?
- Are you a drunkard? Do you abuse “recreational” or pharmaceutical drugs?
- Do you smoke? Smoking destroys your God-given valuable health and is also wasteful of money, and therefore is a sin.
- Do you talk excessively about meaningless things?
- Do you remain faithful to each other?
- Do you embarrass or criticize the other publicly or privately?
- Do you not endure the apparent weakness of the other? Do you show harshness?
- Do you take into consideration the struggle the other has outside and inside the home, so that you both help each other bodily and spiritually in the struggle?
- Do you prevent your partner from going to church, spiritual gatherings, and talks?
- Have you had abortions?
- Does each of you love and respect the parents of the other?
- Have you ever considered divorcing your partner?
- Do you refuse to work out disagreements you have with your partner?
- Are you fair and just with your family, considering and respecting their views and wishes, or do you behave like a dictator?
- Do you bring up your children “in the instruction and counsel of Christ”? Do you only concern yourself with their intellectual growth and not with the nature of their character?
- Do you direct your children to go to church regularly, to go to confession, to frequently partake of Holy Communion (properly prepared), and to go to Sunday school? Do you teach holy virtues by word and example? Have you taught them to pray in the morning, evening and before meals? Have you taught them to pray with respect?
- Are you careful of the things they read? Do you buy spiritual books for them to read and lean?
- Do you watch with whom they keep company and who their friends are?
- Do you lead them to sinful shows and entertainment or allow them to watch television or be on mobile devices unsupervised?
- Do you teach them humility and meekness and are you careful that they dress in a dignified way?
- Do you curse them when they upset you?
- Do you as a parent believe that the responsibility of raising and educating your children rests only with your partner? Both parents have an obligation to educate them and raise them in the knowledge of the Lord.
- Do you scorn your children by using improper language or insulting hand gestures?
- Do you interfere in your children’s families?
- Do you allow your children to become fanatical about sports and even miss church in order to play (e.g. Sunday morning games)?