Return to Home Page

Confession, Communion and Spiritual Fathers

Much is said of the above three topics among recent converts. Unfortunately, much of it is false, since it is not based on the realities of Orthodox life in this vast part of the Church which is not composed of such. Recently, we have had cause yet again to be saddened by some of the false ideas on these issues being spread among young people. What are some of the myths and booklore which are handed down decade after decade and what are the realities?

First of all, some make out that confession and communion are in no way linked. This is true only in the sense that you can have confession at any time, without necessarily taking communion afterwards. However, those new to the Faith (especially those from Anglicanism, where the sacrament of confession is virtually inexistent – which is increasingly the case in Catholicism) commonly believe in the myth that confession is not necessary before communion. This is false.

It does not matter which Local Orthodox Church you belong to: Confession is the norm before communion and it is not limited to just the Russian, Romanian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches (90% of all Orthodox). The bad habit of some Greeks, especially in the Diaspora, who have over the last forty years or so fallen into the decadent Western practice of not having confession before communion and adopted by those who do not know any better, is not justified. Just because some have fallen into bad habits, this does not mean that they are to be aped. Communion without confession is NOT the Orthodox norm anywhere.

Of course, there are exceptional cases where confession may not take place before communion. For example, one who has confessed for Palm Sunday and who is living a devout life may not necessarily come to confession again before Easter and yet may take communion three or more times in that short period. And there are other cases of two liturgies being celebrated on two successive days where confession twice may not be necessary. Such exceptions are to be agreed on between the confessor and the penitent beforehand. However, these are exceptions.

Where do these false ideas from? It is clearly from outside the Church. I can remember a man coming to church here and commenting – sadly, rather contemptuously - that only a third of people had that day taken communion. Since he was a Roman Catholic, I knew at once where he was coming from. For Orthodox, unlike for Anglicans and today’s Catholics, communion is a very serious affair.

Firstly, there is a fast from midnight (not for an hour or two after a large cooked breakfast with egg, sausage and bacon, as in the Church of England - and among some Anglicans converts in one Orthodox diocese in England until a few years ago, when the situation was at last normalised). Fasting also means abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and marital relations. Secondly, the norm is, if it is possible, to attend the Saturday Vigil Service before Communion.

Thirdly, the Wednesday and Friday fast should be observed strictly in the week preceding communion. Some devout Orthodox fast on the Saturday before Sunday communion also. Then there are the prayers. The morning and evening prayers should be read especially strictly in the week before communion. The prayers before communion should also be read, perhaps half on the Saturday evening and the other half on the Sunday morning, depending on the time available, the distance to be travelled, the children to be got ready etc. Devout Orthodox read not only the prayers before communion, but also the whole rule before communion, which takes over an hour. Some also add canons or akathists in the week before.

As for outward preparation, television, radio, secular music and going out should be kept to a minimum or, better, excluded on the evening before communion. Men should make sure that they keep chaste on the night before communion, trim their moustache, if they have one, and dress appropriately. ‘Sunday best’ is the norm, wherever it is possible, and men especially should do this. Women should avoid wearing trousers, that is, dress modestly, and cover their heads in church. Women do not take communion when they have their period.

Finally, another myth is about ‘the spiritual father’. Sadly, some young priests (and not only in the Diaspora – post-Soviet Russia is particularly bad in this way) take it into their heads to call themselves and allow themselves to be called ‘spiritual fathers’. Let us be clear: anyone who calls himself a spiritual father is a fraud, in a state of ‘prelest’ (spiritual delusion) – and there have been plenty of such cases over the last forty years, just in this country and France. I do not know of a single genuine spiritual father in the British Isles or even in Western Europe. In the USA, I am aware of only one, Fr Ephraim.

True, there are several genuine spiritual fathers in Greece, Romania and Russia. Most of them are aged over 60 (it is very rare to find them under that age). Myths about spiritual fathers come from reading books, especially about 19th century Russia. Very few people in the Diaspora have a spiritual father and for that they usually have to go to Eastern Europe. In the meantime, those of us who have to live and work here can, unpretentiously, only go to their local priest and confess. That is quite good enough.

And it is confession that counts because, for Orthodox, confession is a sacrament which is as miraculous as any other sacrament. It is time that Protestant attitudes, dismissing the importance of confession, ceased and disappeared from Orthodox life in our decadent Diaspora.

  to top of page