Why Do Orthodox Christians Have Confession?

Orthodox Christianity 101
By Orthodoxy Christianity 101
March 26, 2024

Hey there, curious soul! Ever wondered why Orthodox Christians practice confession? Well, you’re not alone. Confession holds a significant role in the life of an Orthodox Christian. It’s not just about admitting wrongdoings; it’s a deeply spiritual experience. Stick with me as we delve into this fascinating subject.

Historical Background

Early Christianity and Confession

Did you know that confession has been a part of Christian practice since the early days of the church? Yeah, it’s that ancient!

The Development of Orthodox Confession

Over time, the Orthodox Church developed its own distinct approach to confession. It’s not just about tradition; it’s also about the soul’s connection with God.

Theology of Confession

The Doctrine of Repentance

At its core, the theology of confession in Orthodox Christianity is deeply rooted in the concept of repentance. Unlike mere regret or remorse, repentance is a transformative process. It’s a turning away from sin and a turning towards God, aiming for a complete change of heart and a renewed focus on a life in Christ.

The Mystery of Grace

In Orthodox theology, confession is considered one of the Holy Mysteries, or sacraments. This underscores the belief that it’s not merely a psychological or social act but a spiritual one that invokes the grace of God. When one confesses, it’s believed that God’s grace is abundantly present, facilitating healing, renewal, and deeper communion with the Divine.

Reconciliation with God and Community

Confession is not just an act between the individual and God; it also has communal implications. When you sin, it’s not just a violation of God’s laws but an act that affects your relationship with others and the Church as a whole. Thus, confession is seen as a sacrament of reconciliation on multiple levels — between God and man, and among the faithful.

The Role of Conscience

Orthodox theology places a great deal of emphasis on the role of conscience in the act of confession. It’s your conscience that convicts you of sin and prompts you to seek reconciliation. This underlines the deeply personal nature of confession, making it an act of both self-examination and divine interaction.

Sanctification and Spiritual Growth

Confession is also seen as a means of sanctification, an ongoing process of becoming more like Christ. By regularly examining one’s life, acknowledging shortcomings, and receiving spiritual guidance, one can grow spiritually. It is this continuous growth that the sacrament aims to facilitate, making it an integral part of a devout Orthodox Christian’s life.

Free Will and Divine Forgiveness

In Orthodox belief, the act of confession respects human free will. God is ever-willing to forgive, but He won’t impose His forgiveness on anyone. Confession is the means by which individuals can willingly approach God to ask for and receive His mercy and forgiveness, thus cooperating with divine will.

The Eucharistic Context

In many Orthodox traditions, confession is linked with participation in the Eucharist, the most central sacrament of the Church. This reflects the belief that one must be in a state of grace to properly partake in the Body and Blood of Christ, and confession is the sacrament that restores this state of grace when it has been disrupted by sin.

The Sacrament of Confession


The process involves two key parts: repentance and the act of confessing.

The Role of the Priest

In this sacrament, the priest acts as both a spiritual guide and a witness to the confession. It’s like having a trusted friend who’s trained to help you mend your spiritual fences.

Confession vs. Repentance


Despite these similarities, confession and repentance are not identical. Confession is a specific sacramental act, usually performed in the presence of a priest, who offers absolution and spiritual guidance. It involves vocalizing sins, taking responsibility for them, and seeking ways to make amends, both spiritually and morally. Confession is event-focused, marking specific times when a person seeks to restore their relationship with God and the community.


Both confession and repentance serve the overarching goal of drawing the believer closer to God. They are intertwined aspects of the Christian journey, each contributing to spiritual growth and inner transformation. Both are considered essential in Orthodox Christianity for cultivating a relationship with the Divine and maintaining a state of grace. Importantly, each process urges the individual to engage in self-examination, to recognize their sins, shortcomings, and the need for divine mercy.

The Frequency of Confession

Weekly Confession

The practice of weekly confession is rooted in the idea of constant spiritual vigilance. By confessing sins and receiving spiritual guidance on a regular basis, individuals keep their conscience sharp and their relationship with God in a continual state of renewal. Weekly confession also serves to maintain a sense of accountability, as it involves regular check-ins with a spiritual mentor who can offer personalized guidance. This frequent engagement with the sacrament allows for ongoing spiritual nourishment, offering an opportunity to address issues before they escalate into larger spiritual crises. However, it’s important to note that the focus of weekly confession isn’t just about listing off sins; it’s also about engaging in a holistic dialogue about spiritual growth and well-being.

Seasonal Confession

Seasonal confession, often coinciding with significant liturgical periods like Lent or Advent, provides an opportunity for more profound self-examination. The extended time between confessions allows for deeper contemplation and may involve a more comprehensive review of one’s spiritual life, which can be especially meaningful. Seasonal confession also aligns with the ebb and flow of the Church calendar, connecting individual spiritual practices to the communal life of the Church. The downside is that less frequent confession might allow for the accumulation of spiritual burdens, possibly leading to a sense of distance from God. Yet, many find that these designated times provide a more focused period for repentance and spiritual renewal, offering a balance to the more frequent practice.

Spiritual Preparation


Before stepping into the confessional, self-examination is an essential preparatory step. This involves taking some quiet time to introspect, reviewing one’s thoughts, words, and deeds since the last confession. The goal is not to merely compile a laundry list of sins but to understand the underlying tendencies and motivations that led to those actions. This deep dive into one’s spiritual state aims to foster true repentance, which goes beyond mere regret to a commitment to change. Self-examination can be challenging, as it requires facing up to one’s own failings, but it’s crucial for making the sacrament of confession a transformative experience. Some find it helpful to use guiding questions or even written aids to facilitate this process, focusing not just on specific actions but also on overarching spiritual goals.


Prayer is another integral part of preparing for confession. Beyond asking for forgiveness, prayers can serve to place one in a state of spiritual openness and receptivity. In the Orthodox tradition, specific prayers are often recommended both before and after confession, offering words when one might be struggling to find their own. However, spontaneous, heartfelt prayers are also encouraged, reflecting the deeply personal nature of one’s relationship with God. The aim is to invoke Divine Grace, to feel God’s presence, and to spiritually prepare oneself for the sacrament. Prayers may include asking for the courage to be fully honest during confession, for wisdom in understanding one’s sins, and for the strength to make necessary life changes.

During the Confession


The confession process in Orthodox Christianity generally follows a series of steps designed to create a structured yet deeply personal spiritual experience. Upon entering the church or designated confession area, you may begin with the sign of the cross and a prayer, setting the spiritual tone for the sacrament. The priest often starts by blessing the penitent and may recite specific prayers to invoke the Holy Spirit. This is followed by the actual confession, where the individual lists their sins and discusses them openly with the priest. Confidentiality is paramount, assuring the penitent that their disclosures will be treated with utmost respect and discretion. After the confession, the priest provides guidance, penance, or spiritual tasks aimed at aiding the penitent’s journey toward holiness. Finally, the priest offers absolution, a prayer of forgiveness, marking the spiritual renewal and reconciliation with God and the Church.

What to Expect

If it’s your first time, you may be understandably nervous or unsure. You can expect a non-judgmental atmosphere; the priest is there as a spiritual guide and representative of Christ’s mercy, not as a judge. You might be surprised at the level of dialogue that occurs during the confession. It’s not just about reciting a list of wrongdoings; it’s often a conversation aimed at helping you better understand yourself and your relationship with God. The priest may ask questions, offer biblical or practical advice, and suggest specific penances or spiritual exercises that are tailored to your situation. The whole experience is designed to be one of healing, restoration, and renewal. Emotions may vary; some people experience a sense of relief, others might feel emotional, but the aim is always towards spiritual betterment.

After Confession


One of the immediate steps that often follows confession in the Orthodox Church is partaking in the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion. Having confessed and received absolution, the individual is considered to be in a state of grace, making them spiritually prepared to receive the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist serves to complete the sacramental process, sealing the penitent’s renewed relationship with God and integrating them fully into the life of the Church. It’s more than a symbolic act; it’s a profound mystical experience that confirms and deepens the reconciliation achieved through confession. It serves as a point of divine encounter, furthering the spiritual healing and renewal initiated during the confession.

Spiritual Growth

Confession isn’t the end but rather a waypoint on the journey of spiritual growth. After confession, the focus often shifts toward applying the insights and guidance gained during the sacrament to everyday life. This might involve working on specific virtues, enhancing prayer life, or taking on charitable activities as a form of penance and spiritual exercise. The advice given by the priest during confession often provides a roadmap for this. Subsequent confessions serve to track progress, identify new areas for improvement, and offer continued spiritual guidance. It’s an ongoing cycle designed to promote continual growth, deepening not just one’s understanding of the faith but also enhancing the lived experience of it.

Common Misconceptions

God Doesn’t Need a Middleman

One particularly widespread misconception is the idea that “God doesn’t need a middleman,” implying that confession to a priest is unnecessary because one can directly confess to God. While personal repentance is indeed a part of Orthodox spirituality, the sacrament of confession offers something that private prayer does not: the opportunity for spiritual guidance, accountability, and the receiving of specific prayers and blessings that come with the sacrament. In Orthodox belief, the priest acts not as a replacement for God but as a spiritual guide who helps navigate the complexities of human sin and divine grace.

It’s All About Guilt

People often think confession is designed to make you feel guilty or ashamed. In reality, the aim is quite the opposite: to relieve guilt and offer a path to spiritual renewal. Orthodox confession is rooted in the belief in God’s limitless mercy and aims to restore the individual to a state of grace.

You Have to Confess Every Single Sin

There’s a misconception that confession must be an exhaustive list of every wrong ever committed. While thoroughness is encouraged, the primary focus is on sincerity and repentance. The Orthodox Church emphasizes the importance of confessing mortal sins and those that weigh heavily on the conscience, rather than creating an extensive inventory of minor wrongdoings.

Only ‘Bad’ People Need to Confess

Some people think that confession is reserved for those who have committed grave sins. This is a narrow perspective. Orthodox Christianity encourages all believers to partake in confession, as it’s seen as a vital part of spiritual growth and maintenance, not just a remedy for severe wrongdoings.

It’s Only For Adults

While the age for the first confession may differ across Orthodox traditions, it’s not just an adult practice. Many Orthodox Christian children participate in their first confession around the age of seven, laying the foundation for a lifetime of spiritual reflection and growth.

Psychological Benefits

The Power of Vocalization

Psychologists often talk about the therapeutic benefits of vocalizing thoughts and emotions. There’s something incredibly liberating about speaking out loud what you’ve been holding inside. Confession provides this opportunity, allowing individuals to articulate their sins, fears, and struggles, which can be the first step in confronting and dealing with them.

Catharsis and Emotional Release

One of the most immediate benefits of confession is the sense of emotional release or catharsis. Holding onto guilt, shame, or regret can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Confession offers a sanctioned space to let go of these burdens, often leading to a palpable sense of relief.

Accountability and Responsibility

Confession isn’t just about divulging sins; it’s also about taking responsibility for them. This aspect of accountability can be incredibly empowering. Owning up to your actions and acknowledging your mistakes fosters personal growth and ethical development.

Validation and Non-Judgmental Listening

While the purpose of confession is not to seek validation, it often comes with a sense of being heard and acknowledged. The non-judgmental atmosphere provided by a trained clergy member offers an environment for honest self-reflection without fear of retribution or stigmatization.

An Opportunity for Feedback and Guidance

Contrary to some misconceptions that confession is a one-sided conversation, it often involves feedback, counsel, and spiritual guidance from the priest. While not a replacement for professional psychological advice, these nuggets of wisdom can be incredibly insightful for personal development and mental well-being.

Clarity and Self-Understanding

By articulating your thoughts, sins, and fears, you’re also engaging in a form of self-analysis. This practice can lead to greater self-understanding and clarity, which in turn contributes to better mental health.

A Sense of Connection

The act of confession also establishes a sense of connection — not just to the priest, but to the community and ultimately to God. This relational aspect can be very comforting, especially in moments of loneliness or emotional distress, reminding you that you’re not alone in your journey.

Orthodox vs. Catholic Confession

Common Roots but Different Practices

It’s worth noting that both Orthodox and Catholic Christians share the early Christian tradition of confession. However, over time, the practices have evolved in different directions, reflecting the theological and liturgical nuances that differentiate the two.

Role of the Priest

In Catholicism, the priest is often seen as an intermediary who has the authority to absolve sins. In Orthodox Christianity, the priest acts more as a spiritual guide or witness, while God is seen as the one who forgives. The focus is more on the individual’s relationship with God rather than the institutional process of forgiveness.

Setting and Ambiance

The setting for confession also tends to differ. In many Catholic churches, confessionals — small, enclosed spaces — are commonly used. In contrast, Orthodox confession often takes place in the main part of the church, sometimes in front of an icon of Christ, symbolizing a direct conversation with God rather than an anonymous act.

Frequency and Focus

Catholics are generally encouraged to go to confession at least once a year, especially during the Lenten season. In Orthodox tradition, the frequency can vary depending on the individual’s spiritual journey and the guidance of their spiritual father. The focus in Orthodox confession is often on spiritual growth and transformation, rather than simply a list of wrongdoings.

Absolution Prayer

The words spoken during the act of absolution differ as well. In Catholicism, the prayer of absolution is more standardized and formalized. In the Orthodox tradition, the prayer may vary and often includes personalized guidance and wisdom from the priest, making the experience more tailored to the individual.

Anonymity vs. Relationship

While the Catholic confessional booth provides a degree of anonymity, Orthodox Christians often have a more relational approach to confession, usually confessing to a priest who serves as their spiritual father. This allows for a depth of guidance that goes beyond the act of confession itself, encompassing the person’s broader spiritual journey.

Modern Day Relevance

The Changing World

In a world where social media reigns and personal lives are often laid bare for all to see, the idea of a confidential, spiritual confession might seem archaic to some. Yet, in the age of oversharing, the personal and intimate nature of confession actually becomes more relevant. In an era defined by disconnection and digital relationships, confession provides a rare space for genuine, face-to-face human interaction and soulful examination.

The Role in Mental Health

Increasingly, people are recognizing the mental health benefits that can come from confession, even if they aren’t deeply religious. The act of unburdening oneself, of vocalizing one’s shortcomings and errors, can be an emotionally liberating experience. While it’s not a substitute for professional psychological treatment, many find it to be a valuable complement. So, in an age where discussions about mental health are finally gaining the attention they deserve, the emotional relief that comes from the sacrament of confession cannot be ignored.

Technology and Confession

Modern technology has even made its way into the realm of confession. Some Orthodox Churches are using technology for organizing appointments for confessions or disseminating teachings and guidelines about it. While there’s debate about the appropriateness of these methods, they highlight the Church’s willingness to adapt and reach people where they are today.

The Youth and Confession

Contrary to what you might think, confession is not just for the older generation. Many young Orthodox Christians find solace and guidance through confession. For them, it serves as a counterbalance to the frequent shallowness they encounter in modern life, offering depth and substance in a world often focused on the superficial.

Keeping Tradition Alive

Despite the changes in society and the many criticisms it faces, confession continues to be a cornerstone of Orthodox Christian life. For the faithful, it’s not just about following tradition for its own sake. Confession remains a living practice that evolves while staying rooted in its core tenets. In a rapidly changing world, the consistency and spiritual reassurance offered by the sacrament of confession continue to attract people of all ages and walks of life.

Criticism and Controversies

Addressing the Skeptics

Criticism of the sacrament of confession is nothing new. There are those who argue that confession is nothing more than an elaborate placebo, making you feel better without causing any real change. Skeptics also question the idea of having to tell your sins to a third party. “Why can’t I just confess directly to God?” is a question that many skeptics and even some Christians ask. These are valid questions, and they call for serious reflection.

The Problem of Secrecy

Another point of criticism is the secrecy that surrounds the confessional. Critics argue that this confidentiality might sometimes serve as a veil for illicit activities or could protect wrongdoers instead of encouraging genuine reformation. However, it’s essential to note that the Church has rules about what should and shouldn’t remain confidential, especially if someone poses a danger to themselves or others.

The Church’s Response

In response to these criticisms, the Orthodox Church often emphasizes the sanctity and theological foundation of confession. They also stress that the role of the priest is not to judge but to act as a guide to help the person confessing draw closer to God.


Phew, that was a lot, wasn’t it? But we’ve covered the importance, the theology, the procedure, and even the psychology behind why Orthodox Christians have confession. At the end of the day, confession is not just an age-old tradition but a living, breathing practice that continues to hold immense significance in the lives of many.

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