Question: I read that the sins that you name during your confession will not be recorded by the Satan and will not be brought to light after you die. Holy Fathers and some priests recommend to confess thoroughly and precisely. You and some other priests recommend to confess only roots of sins. My question is: If I confess only the roots of my sins, will certain instances of my sinful actions, words, thoughts and feelings be remembered in the afterlife?
Answer: Repentance is the mystery of God and human being working together to change the life of that human being. It’s a creative process. Repentance makes one acknowledge his wickedness and inability to fight that wickedness. The individual is inclined to change himself but knows for a fact that he cannot do so using his own power. At that point, he asks for God’s help. Practically speaking, if I repent of drinking, for instance, I have to be adamant in my willingness to quit, and do everything I can to quit, and ask God to help me quit drinking. Saint Mary of Egypt gives a good example of proper repentance. She went into the desert and quit drinking. She spent seventeen years in the wilderness struggling with thoughts about wine and drinking. She yielded fruit of repentance and achieved not only liberation from her sinful passions but also the heights of holiness with God’s help. However, she did not confess her sins to a priest. She told Zosimas about her life just one year prior to her death, and she didn’t mention all details, she did not confess in church, and there were no special rituals.
Confession is a church ritual that corroborates one’s personal repentance. This ritual can be void. If I believe that it’s enough just to name my sins and make a list of them on a paper sheet, the Sacrament isn’t going to take place (and neither will forgiveness be granted). You can cough out the list of your sins without the penitential feeling, and it will be totally useless or even harmful, if you mistakenly believe that all your sins are forgiven just because you mentioned them by name.
The practice of “detailed confession” is not about repentance. It’s about the monastic practice of disclosing one’s thoughts and seeking spiritual guidance. A novice or a monk comes to his elder daily and discloses all his thoughts in the tiniest detail, and tells him about all events that happened during the day. The wise elder gives him advice on how to improve his spiritual standing and how to fight sins. The spiritual father is like a doctor who analyses his disciple’s symptoms, prescribes the right remedies, and supervises the process of recovery. This kind of communication takes up an awful lot of time, which is impossible to accomplish in a parish setting. First off, not every priest can be a spiritual father. A newly-ordained 25-year-old dude won’t be able to give you a sound advice. He hasn’t defeated his own sins yet, so he doesn’t know how to treat yours. Secondly, if you start spending two hours with a priest every day, the priest won’t have the time to listen to other parishioners and to pay attention to his own family. Your husband will also most likely be suspicious. Finally, if you just imagine that everyone who wants to confess talks with a priest for just ten minutes (not two hours) on Saturday night (not every day), listening to 20 confessors will take up 200 minutes, or three and a half hours. If the confession happens during the All-Night Vigil, when is the priest going to serve? If the confession starts after the Vigil, at what hour will you get home—especially if you bear in mind that you’ve got to attend the Liturgy the next day! Of course, if the priest has enough time to listen to you and give you his advice, you should seize this opportunity but be aware of what I’ve said.
It seems to me that the priests who demand a detailed report from their female parishioners are either too curious of the female parishioners’ private lives (believe me, they don’t haunt men with so many questions during the confession) or they have an exaggerated opinion of their counseling skills, or they simply don’t understand the essence of what they do and try to copy what they’ve read in some old books. With that said, I can be completely wrong. I’ve tried to explain my take on it. You can ask other priests to give their opinion on the question that you’ve asked, and then you’ll be able to decide which answer is the most suitable and useful for your spiritual well-being.
Question: There must be a reason why Holy Fathers recommend naming sins clearly so as to be ashamed of them. Why do you think they recommend it?
Answer: This is meant to help a person to struggle with his sins. If you’re ashamed, the feeling of shame will help you to stop and not repeat the sin the next time. So yes, you should name some sins in plain terms, especially if you’re ashamed of them. But please don’t describe them in detail! First of all, take pity on the priest. Sadly, his profession makes him a trench latrine for everyone to dispose of their filth. But I don’t think you should overuse it. Hope you understand. Moreover, if you struggle with a certain passion, detailed memories of your feelings, sensations, emotions, and actions related to that passion will likely cause an upheaval in your soul, which is already sick, isn’t it? You should act wisely.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deeds