After I became a priest, I decided for myself that I would avoid confessing people as much as possible until I gained some pastoral experience. I have seen a number of deplorable examples when a young priest starts giving advice right and left in Confession, imperceptibly turning into a young elder. And then—tears, lives ruined… In other words, I was afraid of the responsibility that lay upon my shoulders.
And I thought, what can I teach the gray-haired elderly parishioners who started going to church when I was running around under the table? And I absolutely did not want to become a soulless machine for hearing confessions. I figured I would serve a little, come into my own, and then begin… But God reasoned otherwise: During one hierarchical service, Vladyka blessed me to help confess the people.
So this was my first time hearing confessions. I placed the Gospel and the Cross on the analogion. For some reason, I tried not to look the penitents in the eyes, as if afraid of troubling them with my “greenness.”
The first person came—I listened and read the prayer of absolution. I felt the power of this prayer in my gut. Then the second, the third, the fourth… I teared up. I realized they were naming my own sins. And some parishioners confessed certain actions that I didn’t even consider to be sins. “There’re holy people around me!” pulsed through my mind.
Some close acquaintances also came up. I saw the fear in their eyes that after their confessions my attitude towards them would change. To be honest, I was subconsciously afraid of it myself. But God seems to remove from my mind everything I hear in Confession, and when I spoke with my friends afterwards, the sins they had revealed did not trouble my consciousness. I am certain that if it were not so, many priests wouldn’t last for long.
There were also requests for advice. Sometimes they asked questions that caught me off-guard. But at the very last moment, I would find an answer, although the simplest one…
And most importantly—the Sacrament of Repentance teaches a priest to empathize with other’s pain, which was clear to me from the very first confession. The only oppressing thing is the dry enumeration of average deeds, written out from some brochure. Now I understand what priests must have felt sometimes from my own worldly, formal confessions…