I had the blessing and joy to attend the 12th Annual Women’s Retreat at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in South Canaan, PA yesterday. The morning speaker was Mother Christophora, Abbess of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA. Her topic was on Confession.
Below are my thoughts, notes and reflections on the morning. I thought perhaps some readers might enjoy reading some of them. I especially found the reflective questions in preparation for confession beautiful and helpful.
As adults, we must come to a higher plain in our spiritual life. We must move from 7 year old’s confession to adulthood, just as we have physically grown and emotionally matured.
Since we just marked the Feast of the Transfiguration, with what can we identify with the Feast? It is not an emotional feast like Nativity or the Dormition. There is no babe in arms nor death of a loved one over whom to grieve. It is that we have the ability to become illuminated like Christ at the Transfiguration. Note: Not BECOME Christ, but become LIKE Christ. It calls us to the light and joy in this feast.
The “earth grabs us” and pulls us down. Mother Christophora told the story of how she and Mother Barbara stopped at Sheetz for gas and a restroom. They emerged from their car which was filled with liturgical hymns to the raucous noise of rock and roll blaring over loudspeakers everywhere, including the restroom! The “earth grabbed” them and tried to pull them down. One of the Matins prayers of the Feast of Transfiguration says “Awake oh sluggards, Arise from the ground…” She reminded us of how we are always in a battle to not let the earth grab us and pulls us away. We must work to keep our minds on God.
Confession is a time of repentance, which means a change of mind. It is more than falling on the ground on my face and being sorry. It means doing it differently. Living differently. Kallistos Ware says it is “not self hatred but affirmation that my true self is made in God’s image. …it is looking upwards at God’s love. Not looking backward with self reproach, but looking forward with trustfulness.”
She told the story of the Prodigal Son, of which we were quite familiar. She noted that the older brother never realized the great potential, the wonderful thing, he already had by being “in his Father’s house.” We who are in the church are the same. We never realize the wonderful thing we already have.
We must have Christ’s Light before we can see our sin. We must see where we’ve fallen first, in the light, in order to know what our sins are. Sin is “missing the mark (target), which is Christ.” They are obstacles to acquiring the Holy Spirit. It is not just breaking a rule.
The important questions for confession are not a list of what we did or didn’t do, but to answer the questions:
What breaks our heart before God?
Why am I going to confession?
What do I know of Christ?
Do I like Him?
Am I attracted to Him?
Do I want to be His friend? A person meets their friend face-to-face.
How have I tried to give joy to God?
How have I caused Him pain?
THESE are our confession! We confess in order to open our souls to Christ.
Remember: we are loved beyond judgment, to death and suffering. Remember Him. Thank Him. Talk to Him. That is why we were created by Him.
A question was submitted on an index card: What is the difference between temptation and sin?
Most temptations come in our minds. It is not unusual to have them come during Liturgy! Temptation is like a dirty sneaker floating down the river. The devil puts them there to see what happens. What we must do is let the sneaker float by! All sin begins with a thought/idea/temptation. Temptation becomes a sin when we “couple” with the temptation (take it into action/allow it to linger/dwell on it). Temptations can be for a period of time (weeks/years).
Afternoon Speaker: Mother Barbara
Topic: The most commonly confessed sins of anger, gluttony, and distraction
The icon of raising Lazarus from the dead is a favorite of hers. It shows that those present cooperated with Christ, along with Lazarus, to unbind him from his burial clothes. Point: There are times in our lives when we cooperate with God and get the help of others.
She went on to give the story of her life and struggle with these sins. All are commonly confessed sins but the way they manifest themselves is particular to the individual.
Anger: When we judge others we share that judgment with others in order to have it validated, moving us to an even greater sin.
We need to ask ourselves, what are we avoiding with our distractions? Distractions are things like: food, email, TV, movies, gossip, anything that takes our minds from God.
Depression is anger turned inward on ourselves. We get angry because we cannot get the “self” under perfect control.
Evening prayers are purposeful in that they have us review our day and how we moved through it. With God? Without God?
To change the way you look, you must change the way you see.