Shame before Confession


What should we do if we feel ashamed to confess a certain sin? We may find the answer in any guide to Confession, but I do not think that answer will be enough to heal us. I am positive that this is the reason why you are looking for a way out, a different answer than the one you certainly already know, but that is futile in your current state. Therefore, I will not be blunt and curt by saying: “Shame comes from the devil, so you must overcome it to confess your sin!”

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh tenderly recalled a situation from his youth that changed his life. I must admit this story had the same impact on my own life.

One day, when the service was already over, a young man came up to a priest for anointing, but he was confused because the priest seemed drunk. Nonetheless, driven by hypocritical politeness, the man wanted to kiss the priest’s hand but the latter took his hand away in shame and asked the boy to forgive him for his state.

Once the worshippers were gone, the man, touched by the move, came up to the priest to ask for forgiveness. The priest looked hopeless and was about to burst into tears. He confided to the youth that he regretted his behavior; he said he was on edge as his wife and child had just died in a car accident.

Then the future Metropolitan had a revelation; it was simple but fundamental. He realized that reading about the patience of Job in the Bible and taking it as an example for others when they have lost hope is one thing, but it is something completely different when such a tragedy happens to you.

A true Christian life begins with the understanding that we cannot always follow the advice of the holy fathers and the Savior Himself, no matter how good this advice is. We do not always possess the necessary strength, courage, or merely the will.

Nonetheless, we should not forget that when we are tempted by the devil, or happen to be under his control, or are tempted by the natural impulses of our nature, we nevertheless remain Christians. Vulnerable, but still Christians. So let us realize that a Christian life is not just a series of victories or failures. It is, for the most part I assume, made up of defeats; but they are defeats that we face with courage.

For us Christians, a defeat we face with courage means more than an undeserved victory, which is a sanctimonious victory. A victory of this kind can easily knock you off the battlefield. In our case, if you confess your sins without a hitch, it is a reason to ask yourself: Why does it happen to me? Maybe this happens because my sins do not seem so grave? Maybe I have lost the spirit of true repentance?

Your sin may be abortion, or incest, homosexuality, necrophilia or murder. But do not forget that there are people who confess these sins with no problem, while a novice in some forgotten monastery may be suffering shame for having eaten an apple from a tree without a blessing. The Patericon tells us there was a novice who felt pangs of remorse for tasting some oil from the pot while working in the kitchen.i

Therefore, I believe the shame we feel before confession is not contingent only on the gravity of the sin committed, but also on the intensity of our compunction. The devil does not wish our repentance, which is so fearless and pleasant to God, to be full, and so he acts with more diligence, accelerating our confusion and magnifying hopelessness as well as shame.

What does it mean to declare oneself defeated? Does it only mean that you cannot confess a certain sin to the priest? No, not yet. This is just a blow, which is obviously typical of any warfare. This is a first fight, not a defeat. The defeat follows after you embrace the thought that it is not only the priest who is incapable of understanding you, but Christ as well. Even He will not forgive you.

As we mentioned above, shame before the confession may come from the depth of repentance rather than the gravity of sin. It would be disappointing to miss our award for repentance because of our distress. The award is awaiting us at a place beyond us. Just imagine—we have nothing to step on to get it, neither a bench nor a stone or a stump. The sin is all we have, and we have to step on it, as if it were a stair, and get the award.

So if you cannot tell your sin to the priest to whom you usually confess, confess it to one you do not know well, or go to a different town where no one knows you, and tell your sin to any priest you meet. Just say it.

On the other hand, if you can no longer trust priests—and you may succumb to this temptation too—reveal your sin to anyone you trust. But if there is no such person, say it right to God and keep saying it unceasingly. In fact, I am sure that the memory of the sin is in a sense following you; but say it plainly with hope, without running away from God.

Take the story of Peter and Judas as an example. Judas was also burning with repentance; he rushed to cast down the silver he had obtained for blood. Unlike Peter, Judas confessed that the blood of Christ was “innocent” (Mt. 27, 4); he practically refuted the judgment of the Jews, and opposed the entire Temple that had sentenced Christ to death.

Peter lacked the strength to confess this even to the woman that said she had seen him among the disciples. Peter swore and renounced Christ, while Judas fearlessly proclaimed Christ’s innocence to the elders who could have sentenced him to death, as well as to the ordinary woman that could do him no harm.

However, Judas’ great repentance was of no use because he ran away from God, he did not have the courage to confess his sin to the Lord. Judas, who was bold enough to confess it to the people, lacked the boldness to confess it to God; whereas Peter, though agitated and ashamed, confessed his transgression to the Lord when the time came.

What was Peter’s confession like? Perhaps he said, “Lord, I sinned by betraying you, forgive me”? No, he confessed his guilt in a different, astounding way. He said, “Lord, You know all things, You know that I love you.” (Jn. 21, 17).

Say these words over and over again even if do don’t believe them. Keep repeating them because you wish it were the truth. This may be a truth that very few can achieve but we all strive for it. Cry and go on repeating to God: “Lord, You know all things, You know that I love you.”

The Lord is aware of our sins; He knew them even before we were born. Nonetheless, He did not object to our coming to this world. Doesn’t this show the Lord’s confidence in us? Is it not a sign of the enormous hope He placed upon us? Why do we let down the wonderful God-man, Jesus Christ?

In one of his sermons on the Nativity of Christ, Metropolitan Anthony suggested that we speak about God’s faith in human beings rather than our faith in God. Vladyka vividly described the Council of the Holy Trinity at the moment of creation. God the Father could have said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

“This man will fall,” said the Holy Spirit, and, “You, the Son, will have to die for him.”

“So shall we create Him or not?” asked the Father.

“Let us create him, said the Son.”

This is the hope the Lord had in humans. This is the Lord we confess to, He is the One we are ashamed before, He is the One we love.

Do not fall into despair. If you are not yet ready to confess your sin to a priest, confess it to God, adding all the reasons why you cannot approach a priest with it. Tell it like it is and do not turn away from God.

You may tell Him that He is unfair to you, that He is responsible for your sins, you may denigrate everyone, all priests and bishops, but the crucial thing is that you say everything right to Him, and do not cease until He gives you His response. You will probably instantly realize that all your words are a lie—or maybe you will not. What you should know is that He will understand you no matter what you say; so be calm.

You may tell everything to Him so that you do not have to tell it to people. However, refrain from calumniating the priests or anyone else to other people before you regain you composure.

You can only address your defamatory tirade to God, because He can understand you, He knows all things. No matter how desperate and aggrieved you are, remember that it is all nothing but distress—a distress that is temporal and which you have to overcome.

One day you will be able to tell your sin to a priest, which means that you will confess everything to the Lord in the presence of a witness of your repentance. This time it will not seem so burdensome, because the priest is only human, and he may also be tempted by various thoughts, just like you. The apostle Paul commented on this: The whole creation groans and travails in pain waiting for the adoption (Rom. 8:23-23).

Just consider that this transgression is but an insignificant sin, and that as your life goes on you might commit sins so grave that what you are worried about now will seem a mere trifle. What will you do then if you have trouble confessing the sin that you are ashamed of now?

Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (Jn. 16, 33).

Hieromonk Savatie (Bashtovoi)
Translation by Maria Litzman
Translated from Romanian by Zinaida Peikova


i Drevniy Paterik/Ancient Patericon. On Abba Veniamin, 1 (in Russian).

Laura3/11/2023 10:28 pm
Thank you for this article. There have been sins I have been too ashamed to confess since becoming Orthodox. I have followed the advice of Heiromonk Savatie and prayed and confessed my sins to God directly even before I had the courage to say them during confession. Today I asked God to give me the strength and courage to confess them during confession and I hope I will be able to. Please pray for me and thank you again for this which has helped me have strength. Please tell the author thank you if you can and ask him to pray for me too. Kindly, Laura
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required