Literally all of us, sinners and saints, come back again and again to thoughts of confession. The very long path to holiness lies through repentance, through confession eventually.
What mistakes do we make in confession? For example, we fall into two extremes. The first is a confession with the most general words, too brief and very vague. Another extreme is a confession to the impossibility of a detailed, drowning in details and therefore striving for such a long conversation that will never end. How to avoid these extremes?
We will use three approaches to confession, which were outlined by Saint Theophan the Recluse1. The saint advises, while preparing for confession, to pay attention to the following: 1. Business; 2. Cardiac arrangements; 3. The general spirit of life. Saint Theophanes begins with the most private (my particular actions), goes on to the middle (my heart arrangements) and ends up common (the spirit of my whole life). Let's take a closer look at all this.
Under deeds, Saint Theophan understands not only physical actions, but also words, and thoughts too. We pray daily to God: forgive me, if I have sinned by word, deed or thought. About this and speech. Our life consists of continuous deeds, good and bad, - there is no number. Even to analyze one's business for one day for a person is an impossible task. There is a great continuous flow of all sorts of things. Preparing for confession, you need to put this "guard" at this stream, as the saint writes. Or in the computer language - to put a "filter", he will select sinful deeds from the general mass of cases. How to do it? We must listen to the voice of conscience. Those deeds that conscience denounces, and there are sins. They definitely need to be confessed and try to avoid for the future.
St. Theophanes advises another caretaker to help conscience - the Word of God
However, conscience can leave something sinful without attention. We are especially aware of this when we convict someone's sin in the eyes, and the guilty person sincerely does not consider himself guilty. Conscience does not tell him that he is wrong, exposing him as some overstated demands, quibbles and whims. This is why St. Theophanes advises another guard - the Word of God - to help conscience. These are the commandments of God. The saint advises to look into the Bible and the catechism: "there every commandment is dismantled and shown what kind of good deeds are imposed on us and what sins are forbidden."
This approach does not allow us to get confused in details, considering thousands of different cases. And this is good. However, it does not give man full knowledge of himself. That's why the first approach is followed by the second. The second approach has more impact than the first. "We must go deeper inside ourselves and consider what the heart is like, and that's more to pay attention to than to the deeds." Why more? Very simply, individual cases are short-lived, and the heart's location determines the person's permanent (long-term) moods, his character. In a word, it is precisely what sets the direction for a multitude of human actions.
The Sermon on the Mount of Christ has a heart for humility, meekness, mercy, sincerity, peaceful relations, patience. And the saint adds a sense of gratitude to God. Passions are opposed to good dispositions. They are the sources of many sinful deeds.
One type, constantly repeated sins are united by one passion. If I could find some passion in myself, then I better track the sins associated with it. This is important, because passions are covered by something plausible. And it is not easy for a person to understand by his own actions that he is infected with passion.
He calls the main passions by names: pride with vanity, self-interest, envy, anger and hatred, passion for sensual pleasures, dejection and laziness. "Little by little each of them happens to everyone, but they are not deep and not permanent. And then everyone has one main passion, about which all the others also hurry. "
We must find the main passion. Then, and other passions to look and determine which one is closer to the main passion, and which is further. In this way a person learns the structure of his heart. This greatly facilitates the struggle with passions. The main effort and blows are directed to the main passion, as in war: if you break the main forces of the enemy, then everything else will only be finished. "It's easy to fix things. Do not do it, and that's it. And the heart to break and fix is not suddenly something you can. A fight is needed. In the struggle, not knowing where to strike, you can get out of the power ... and not get any success. " Many of us are familiar with the situation when the struggle with passions is carried on with all its might, but it proves to be unsuccessful. We sometimes get out of the way, not knowing exactly where to strike.
The common spirit of life
So, the saint said about repentance in sinful matters, then he added a struggle with passions, that is, with the sinful dispositions of the heart. It would seem that this can be ended. No! We still have the most important and most tricky part: to determine the general spirit of life. Intricate, because the evil spirit skillfully disguises itself under the guise of good intentions and vital necessity. You can determine the spirit of life if you answer the question: "Who do I live for?"
You can determine the spirit of life if you answer the question: "Who do I live for?"
An unkind spirit is revealed best when a person lives for himself, in a convinced egoism. Worse is the unkind spirit in that person who lives for the world. It seems to be noble and humane to live for people, altruism.
Why is it bad for children to live, for example? True, "I live for the sake of the child, and not for myself" often turns out to be a disguised selfishness. And it's enough for an outside person to talk to this kind of beloved child to see how parental love and care turns into an insistent desire to control literally all aspects of a child's life, dictatorial imposition of his will and jealous ownership. That's what happens "I live for a child."
Approximately the same thing happens when a person declares that he is fighting day and night for the happiness of the people, that he writes and breathes only for his reader. For noble words, there is so much open space for vanity, greed and violence of other passions! Therefore, the desire to live for the world, Saint Theophan defines as a vain spirit, self-sufficing, as a kind of desire to live for oneself.
Unlike just what has just been said, a good spirit manifests itself in the striving of man to live for God. Let us note that a man who lives for God acquires not only love for God, but also genuine love for his neighbor: to the child, to relatives, to acquaintances and even strangers. The saint believes that a good spirit, unlike an evil spirit, is sufficiently clear. Well, we have time to think and compare ...
The sharp sight of the saint notices one more thing: there is a spirit that is neither that nor that. This is not the spirit of god-worship or the spirit of self-satisfaction in its completed forms. This spirit can be characterized by brief words: "It was necessary, for example, to go to church - went, but no - and there is no grief". This is the spirit of warmth, as observed by Bishop Theophanes! No burning, no coldness ... Remember, Christ in Revelation says to one person: I know your works; You are neither cold nor hot ... I will spew thee out of my mouth. For you say: "I am rich ... and in nothing I do not need"; But you do not know that you are unhappy, and miserable, and poor, and blind (Rev. 3: 15-16). We understand that there is such a spirit of complacency and indifferent religiosity, a kind of "spirituality with coolness."
Sometimes, when Orthodox people talk about burnout, it would be more correct to talk about lukewarm - a lingering warmth that replaced the original enthusiasm: first it was interesting to try something new, and then interest faded.
How do three approaches apply
On our way of life, Saint Theophan traces separate steps (different deeds, words and thoughts, among which there are also sins). Another Russian prelate means separate directions in which we move through life, repeating many times the same steps (the arrangement of the heart, among which there are passions). Finally, the saint determines the general orientation of life (this is the question of the purpose of life: whether we live for ourselves, for peace, for God, or we do not have a general orientation of life, that is, "there is no purpose in life").
It is impossible to track all the great many steps, but the conscience and the Word of God will help us. They choose sinful from all the steps, from all small movements - that is the essence of the first approach. Our repentance will be alive if we repent in exactly what our conscience denies us. Conscience will "work" better if we gradually enlighten it with the Word of God.
During the preparation for confession, we ask ourselves the question of our passions, whether there is among them the main
The second approach to confession takes on a more significant topic - to unite those steps that have the same direction, the steps that we regularly repeat. "Kirila Petrovich Troyekurov ... twice a week suffered from gluttony and every evening was tipsy," - so Pushkin denoted the passions of the character mentioned. What was the main character's passion? Passion for sensual pleasures or vanity? Not such a simple question. During the preparation for confession, let us ask ourselves about our passions, whether there is a main one among them. If there is, then we will direct the main blow to it, then the struggle with passions, God willing, will move from the dead point.
In confession, we open our sins and convict passions. And yet we condemn the general direction of our life, if our life is not directed to God - that is the essence of the third approach. All three approaches to confession constitute a single whole and complement each other.
The first approach seems to be supplemented with a second approach. For example, if our confession is a long list of individual sins, but at the same time we do not understand which passions in us have taken root, then we do not see the forest behind the trees. If, having received the remission of sins, we do not stand up to the struggle with passions, so we ourselves stopped our ascent to God.
Another situation. If the list of sins for confession we were subtracted and copied into a notebook from a book, but our conscience does not convict us of these sins, and this fact generally suits us, then our confession will be a purely formal fulfillment of the church commandment. Something like a pharisaic legalism. He wrote and subtracted his sins, read the prayers. And so for years: one reading follows another subtraction instead of living prayer and confession. What general direction of life is this reading? Remember that St. Theophan in the first approach spoke of conscience?
Sometimes confession turns into simple words: "All around is sinful," "Whatever stepped on, sinned," "Did not observe fasting." The sin of non-observance of fasting is not necessarily associated with the passion of gluttony. In some circumstances, it is a tribute to vanity or despondency. With this you need to understand. A particular sinful affair can lead a person to a well-concealed long-standing passion, the action of which he did not even suspect.
After the first approach, the second approach follows itself. But the third approach leads a person to such a high level, on which the question of his entire life is decided. And are we able to clearly see and correct the general direction of our whole life, if we do not track sins and passions?
1. See his book "What is the spiritual life and how to tune in it?", Letters 34, 35.