The recent abhorrent incident with an ex-presbyter molesting numerous children has shaken many within the Coptic Orthodox Church. The case was condemned by numerous dioceses throughout Egypt and the West with some diocese taking practical steps to prevent this from reoccurring (although sadly some diocese were quite late despite their direct involvement in the matter).
This instigated negative reactions among some who began doubting the importance of the sacrament of confession on rather superficial grounds such as “I can pray alone for forgiveness and God will forgive me. I need no priest.”
The issue with this mentality is that it is incredibly individualistic. Thinking of almost anything pertaining to Christian life apart from being in communion with God and fellow believers is outside the bounds of Orthodoxy.
The sacrament of confession is not about YOU receiving forgiveness in isolation. It’s about you being reconciled back in the commUNION of the Church. It’s about reconciliation with God and the people of God. You cannot have one without the other.
The primary role of the presbyter in the sacrament is the following:
- (1) A witness to your repentance
- (2) A representative of the Church who reconciles you with the rest of the Church
- (3) A spiritual guide who aids you with 2000 years of spiritual wisdom preserved in the Church
As for our beloved presbyters, I think it is about time you begin dealing with confession as a real sacrament rather than a chit-chat with your son/daughter in confession.
Here are a few things that might bring back reverence into the sacrament if you would consider them:
- (1) Wear your stole (sadra) when you’re performing the sacrament. It’s the sign of your priesthood and the sign you’re carrying a priestly function. Consider doing that when you’re praying the liturgy as well. There’s nothing pertaining to humility about ignoring church orders and properly vesting for the Sacramental occasion. Laziness is not the same thing as humility.
- (2) Perform confession in Church (i.e. an open space) not in your office and certainly not when you’re having a post-liturgy meal. Believe me, it has happened. And it is scandalizing.
- (3) Consider making the sacrament more liturgical by incorporating an icon of Christ. I believe it can be helpful looking at the face of Christ as one confesses their sins. It is certainly more helpful than looking at the face of a priest you will constantly be running into throughout the Church building during all services.
- (4) Consider saying a prayer before and after confession with the confessor that makes them realize this is not about you and him/her so much as it is about you serving God and him/her as the latter journeys back to reconciliation with the Church.
- (5) Use your cross while reciting the absolution. Do so audibly and slowly. The prayers are to be heard and understood by both you and your spiritual child. They’re not a spill to be said for the magic or transaction to go through.
Finally, forgive me if my tone is a bit harsh but the beginning of this scandal was the unnecessary laxity that continued sneaking into the Church. The gravest of ecclesial sins begins with irreverence. The attitude of “I do not see the point of this so I will discard it” will not bring us forward at all. It will only make us lose more of the ecclesial beauty what we have.