Confession: You Are Not Your Sins

I went to confession in preparation for next week’s Holy Week services. Confession is difficult for anyone, but coming from a Protestant background adds another level of anxiety. I don’t want to use this post to discuss the justification for confession, I only want to note that converts have an added level of difficulty that those raised Orthodox do not.

Orthodoxy teaches us to separate ourselves from our sins. We do not say, “I am a thief,” we say, “I have stolen.” We are not our sins, and they do not define us. They are acts we have committed that move us away from God. Our confession and repentance renounces those acts and sets us on the path back toward God.

This is still a hard thing for me to grasp, especially in the despair that comes from falling into the same sins over and over, like a repeat offender returning once again to a scowling Judge.

But Orthodoxy teaches us that the Church is not a courtroom. It is a hospital.

I want my Protestant friends to get that if they get nothing else from this blog. God does not want to punish us. He wants to heal us. He does not want to sentence us for our wrongs, he wants to restore us to health.

I found this passage from St. Ephraim the Syrian that helped me understand as I headed into confession that my sins are not who I am.

Do not lose heart, O soul, do not grieve; pronounce not over thyself a final judgment for the multitude of thy sins; do not commit thyself to fire; do not say: The Lord has cast me from His face.

Such words are not pleasing to God. Can it be that he who has fallen cannot get up? Can it be that he who has turned away cannot turn back again? Dost thou not hear how kind the Father is to a prodigal?

Do not be ashamed to turn back and say boldly: I will arise and go to my Father. Arise and go!

He will accept thee and will not reproach thee, but rather rejoice at thy return. He awaits thee; just do not be ashamed and do not hide from the face of God as did Adam.

It was for thy sake that Christ was crucified; so will He cast thee aside? He knows who oppresses us. He knows that we have no other help but Him alone.

Christ knows that man is miserable. Do not give thyself up to despair and apathy, assuming that thou hast been prepared for the fire. Christ derives no consolations from thrusting us into the fire; He gains nothing if He sends us into the abyss to be tormented.

Imitate the prodigal son: leave the city that starves thee. Come and beseech Him and thou shalt behold the glory of God. Thy face shall be enlightened and thou wilt rejoice in the sweetness of paradise. Glory to the Lord and Lover of mankind Who saves us!

You are not the sum of your sins. You do not have to “identify” as your passions or your impulses. You have been created in the image of a loving God, who beckons you back into relationship with Him. Don’t run from judgement; instead return to your healer.