Sermon given by metropolitan Anthony on 31st October 1999
In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Continuing my short talks/sermons on Confession, I would like to say that in the first place Confession is an encounter and a reconciliation. It is our encounter with Christ Whose love to us has no limits, Who loves us with all His life and all His death, Who never turns away from us, but from Whom we sometimes, perhaps even often, walk away. It is an encounter that can be pure joy when during a lapse of time nothing separated us from Christ, when our friendship was pure, was whole, when our friendship wasn’t broken by any unfaithfulness. Then we can come to Christ joyfully, happily. We can come to Confession and say, ‘Lord! Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your love, thank you for all that you are. Thank you that you allow me to come near you; thank you for everything. O, my Joy! O, my Happiness! Accept me and bless me to commune to your Holy Mysteries. That is: to unite to you even more perfectly, for my joy to be perfect.’
It may happen. Perhaps it doesn’t happen often. But sometimes such an encounter can fill all our life, be an inspiration for all our life, and give us the strength and power to live.
But more often we come to Christ after some kind of separation. Sometimes the separation was not a cruel one; not inimical; sometimes the separation was because we have forgotten Him, life has submerged us, we didn’t have time to remember Him. There was so much in life. And all of a sudden we remember that apart from all that was our inspiration, our joy for some time, there is Christ – there is such a friend Who never forgets us, from Whom we walked away and Who is now alone. Then we must hurry to Him and say, ‘Lord, forgive – I was submerged by life, I was carried away by this, by that and something else. Accept me back. You know that this enthusiasm is superficial but that the true thing is our friendship.’ But before we can say that, we must ask ourselves a question: is it true that my friendship with Christ is deep enough so that my temporary forgetfulness cannot overshadow, even less destroy it? . . . Encounter and repentance.
But it happens that we have sinned before God. We have sinned by unfaithfulness not in something small but in something very deep. It can be a moment that has separated us in a very deep manner. You remember what happened when Christ was facing the Sanhedrin. A servant came to Peter and said, ‘But this one also was with Him!’ And Peter became afraid. He was frightened by what they would do to him because of the fact that he was with Christ; and he began to swear that, ‘No, I do not know this man!’ He could no longer stay in this yard and see through the window Christ undergoing judgement. And at that moment Christ turned His head and looked at Peter. The All-Knowing Son of God didn’t hear with His ears those words but they hit Him in His soul: one of His nearest disciples had declared that he didn’t know Him, didn’t want to know Him, that he preferred life, that he preferred tranquillity. This look hit Peter in his soul in such a manner that he began to weep and went out.
It was just one moment of radical, frightful unfaithfulness. And later on, when Mary Magdalene met the Saviour in the garden after His resurrection, He instructed her, ‘Go to My disciples and Peter and tell them that I am risen,’ – because Peter couldn’t any more consider himself as one of the disciples, he was a traitor. He had renounced Christ, and that is why Christ mentioned him especially for him to know that he was not rejected, that the disciples fled away in fear, but without renouncing, and he fled away and renounced; but the love of Christ held him firmly. He can meet Him face to face. Oh, he can fall down at His feet, he can ask for forgiveness, but he knows that he is loved as he was loved in the most faithful times.
And there are also times when we come to Confession – I use this word reluctantly, as a matter of routine – because we want to renew the closeness that so to speak has been shaken. At those moments we must come to Christ knowing that we are loved by all His life and all His death, that we are loved forever, to the depths of our hearts; and that we can come, but in order to become friends anew we must open our souls, tell Him everything for Him to know from us what is wrong with us, what is the infringement of our friendship. And here we should not have recourse to lists of sins, we should not search even in the Holy Scriptures for the sins we might have committed; but we should ask ourselves a question: in what have I personally sinned before God, in what have I personally revealed myself unfaithful?
And to do this there is a simple means. First of all, look at one’s conscience. What have I preferred to Christ? I will not give you lists, but every one of us can say: yes, to my closeness with Christ I have preferred this or that – shame! But apart from that, we can ask ourselves: what am I constantly, invariably? To do this we can take and read the Holy Gospel and mark in it not the passages that accuse us, but things about which we can say as the disciples said, going with Christ to Emmaeus: didn’t our hearts burn within us when He was talking to us on the road?
So, look in the Gospel for the passages that made your heart burn, even for a moment, passages that touched you in the depths of your soul, passages which made you feel that you and Christ, you and Christ, are sharing the same feelings, the same thoughts, that you are one – yes, we are one with Him, that there are passages of which we can say that His thoughts are our thoughts, His feelings our feelings, that we are one with Him, one with Him at that moment. And when of a sudden we discover that we have transgressed this moment, trampled it under our feet, turned away from it – that we were at one with him and turned away – it means that we renounced the little perhaps, but the most holy that is in us. In a sense it is of no importance that we have transgressed some rules, but here we have transgressed in a most frightful way our unity with the Beloved and the One Who loves us. And we should re-read these passages, check ourselves against them; not seeking in what way we are guilty, but in what way we have lost our faithfulness, our friendship, our love in what exists already; because on the part of Christ it is inalienable – it is we who have renounced it.
So, that is what we should bring to Confession. And it can be something quite frightful, like the renouncing of Him.
So when we prepare for Confession, let us ask ourselves a question: here is the encounter with our closest friend, the beloved one, with the One with Whom we want to be at one, inseparable, forever, completely, in our depths. And we have transgressed this friendship of ours where it already existed as is witnessed by our heart, our memory, our mind, when we remember those passages that made our heart burn, our mind become clear, our will move towards good, our body grow quiet, forgetful that it is flesh and become body, a sacred thing – sacred because through baptism it has united with the humanity of Christ, through chrismation it has become a vessel of the Holy Spirit, through our Communion it has become the Body of Christ, however incipiently.
That is what we should bring to Confession. May God give us to come that way, and then we will be able to repent, we will be able to regret not that there is in some list a sin that we have touched in passing, but that something has been broken in my friendship, in my unity with Christ, my Saviour, Friend, Beloved. Amen.