When people come to a confession, they sometimes try to list all their possible sins, including the most insignificant ones (e.g., I ate a chocolate bar on a fast day, or, I washed my handkerchief on a Sunday, etc.) thinking that if they don’t name them, they won’t be forgiven. However, it is absolutely clear that we are in any case incapable of listing all our sins: we will list only a few of them. Instead, we should mention only the gravest sins, which separate us from God.
That aside, there are things that we don’t notice. There are forgotten sins. You mustn’t believe that sins like those — the unnoticed and forgotten ones — won’t be forgiven. According to one view, only those sins that a person names during a confession are forgiven, while the rest of his sins keep accummulating from one confession to the next. Some priests have even gone so far as to change the formula “I forgive and absolve you of all your sins” into “I forgive and absolve you of all sins that you have confessed.” When a person hears that distorted absolution prayer, he or she is left dissatisfied and perplexed; that person doesn’t feel at peace with God because he or she is told that it is impossible to be at peace with God ever, as if God collected evidence against us to be demonstrated on the Judgment Day.
In fact, though, if one doesn’t hide his or her sins deliberately, if one confesses his or her sins wholeheartedly and honestly, and is eager to improve, all sins are forgiven: those that he or she has listed, those that he or she has forgotten about, and even those that he or she doesn’t notice. I expressed this idea during a lecture in Moscow Theological Seminary. A seminarian opposed me saying that he’d dig into the works of all Holy Fathers to prove that only those sins that you list during a confession are forgiven. He spent six months in a library, and then approached me and said, “You’re right: all sins are forgiven.”
Translated by the Catalog of Good Deeds