How Everyone Should Prepare Before Confession
An Excerpt from Exomologetarion: A Manual of Confession
by St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
What is repentance?
My brother sinner, this is the preparation you must undergo before you repent and
go to confession. Know firstly that repentance, according to St. John of Damaskos,
is a returning from the devil to God, which comes about through pain and ascesis.
So you also, my beloved, if you wish to repent properly, must depart from the devil
and from diabolical works and return to God and to the life proper to God. You must
forsake sin, which is against nature, and return to virtue, which is according to
nature. You must hate wickedness so much, that you say along with David: “Unrighteousness
have I hated and abhorred” (Ps. 118:163), and instead, you must love the good and
the commandments of the Lord so much, that you also say along with David: “But Thy
law have I loved” (ibid.), and again: “Therefore have I loved Thy commandments more
than gold and topaz” (Ps. 118:127). In brief, the Holy Spirit informs you through
the wise Sirach what in fact true repentance is, saying: “Turn to the Lord and forsake
your sins... Return to the Most High, and turn away from iniquity, and hate abominations
intensely” (Sir. 17:25-26).
The aspects of repentance
Know secondly that the aspects of repentance are three: contrition, confession,
Contrition is sorrow and perfect grief of the heart, which comes about in a
person who, on account of the sins committed, disappointed God and transgressed
His divine Law. This contrition comes only to the perfect and those who are sons
of God, because it only proceeds from the love for God, just as a son repents simply
because he disappointed his father, and not because he was deprived of his inheritance
or because he will be ousted from his father’s house. Concerning this the divine
Chrysostom says: “Groan after you have sinned, not because you are to be punished
(for this is nothing), but because you have offended your Master, one so gentle,
one so kind, one Who loves you so much and longs for your salvation as to have given
even His Son for you. On account of this, groan.”
Related to contrition is affliction, which is also a sorrow and imperfect grief
of the heart, which comes about, not because a person disappointed God by his sins,
but because that person was deprived of divine grace, lost Paradise, and gained
hell. This affliction belongs to the imperfect, that is, to the hired hands and
slaves, because it proceeds not out of love for God, but out of fear and out of
love for themselves, just as a hired hand repents on account of losing his wage
and a slave repents because he fears the disciplines of his master.
So you also, my brother sinner, if you wish to acquire this contrition and affliction
in your heart, and through these for your repentance to be pleasing to God, you
must do the following.
Confess to an experienced Spiritual Father
First, search around and learn who is the most experienced Spiritual Father, because
Basil the Great says, just as people do not show their maladies and bodily wounds
to just any physician, but to experienced physicians who know how to treat them,
so also sins must be revealed, not to just anyone, but to those who are able to
heal them: “The same fashion should be observed in the confession of sins as in
the showing of bodily diseases. As then men reveal the diseases of the body not
to all or to chance comers but to those who are experienced in their treatment;
so also the confession of sins ought to take place in the presence of those who
are able to treat them, as it is written: ‘Ye that are strong bear the infirmities
of the weak’ (Rom. 15:1)—that is, take them away by your care.”
How one is to examine his conscience
Second, just as you would sit down and count your money after a certain business
transaction, in like manner go to a particular place, my brother, and two or three
weeks before going to the Spiritual Father you found, especially at the beginning
of the four fast periods of the year, sit down in that place of quietude, and
bowing your head, examine your conscience, which Philo the Jew calls: “The testing
of the conscience,” and become: “Not a defender, but a judge of your sins,” according
to the divine Augustine. Consider, like Hezekiah, the whole span of your life in
sorrow and bitterness of soul: “I will ponder all my years in the bitterness of
my soul” (Is. 38:15). Consider also how many sins you committed in deed, word, and
by coupling with thoughts, after you last confessed, counting the months, weeks,
and days. Remember the people with whom you sinned and the places where you sinned,
and diligently reflect upon these things in order to find every one of your sins.
This is how the wise Sirach counsels you from one side saying: “Before judgment,
examine yourself” (Sir. 18:20), and from the other, Gregory the Theologian says:
“Examine yourself more than your neighbor. Account of actions is superior to an
account of money. For money is subject to corruption, but actions remain.”
And just as hunters are not satisfied with merely finding a beast in the forest,
but attempt through every means to also kill it, likewise, my brother sinner, you
should also not be satisfied with merely examining your conscience and with finding
your sins, for this profits you little, but struggle by every means to kill your
sins through the grief in your heart, namely, through contrition and affliction.
And in order to acquire contrition, consider how much you have wronged God through
your sins. In order to also acquire affliction, consider how much you have wronged
yourself through your sins.
Note: Numbering does not match the book.
 “Repentance is the returning from that which is against nature to that which
is according to nature, from the devil to God, through ascesis and agony” (De Fide
Orthodoxa 2, 30, PG 94, 976A).
 Concerning true repentance, see the Homily on Repentance at the end
of this book.
 George Koressios, writing about the Mysteries, adds a fourth aspect of repentance,
the loosing of sin (also called “keys”), which happens by the grace of the Holy
Spirit through the mediation of the Spiritual Father, and which, he says, especially
defines the Mystery of Repentance (from his Theology).
 This grief does not only consist of its sensible manifestations, like groans
and tears, but it mainly consists of the interior will of man hating sin and in
wishing that sin never occurred, and the resolve to never commit sin again. And
note this also, that this grief and contrition of the heart, according to Koressios,
is an element of repentance and, as long as it is found in the heart, a person is
in the state of repentance. But as soon as grief leaves the heart, so also does
a person leave from the state of repentance, which means that grief and contrition
must be present in the heart of the penitent perpetually, for in this way is his
repentance true. Concerning this grief, see more on it in the Homily on Repentance
at the end of this book.
 On II Corinthians, Homily 4, 6, PG 61, 426.
 Some teachers divide the sorrow and the grief which a sinner has on account
of his sins into three parts: the grief he has before confession, which they call
infliction, or reproach (pros-tribe); the grief he has during confession,
which they call contrition (syn-tribe); and the grief which he has after
confession, which they call affliction (epi-tribe). [Greek words transliterated
for the Web—OCIC Ed.]
 Regulæ Brevius 229, PG 31, 1236A; tr. Ascetic Works of Saint Basil,
 My Christian brethren, do not wait until the last moment to confess and go
to your Spiritual Father when the days you wish to commune are very near, but go
many days in advance. And certainly during the four fast periods of the year, as
soon as they begin, go to confession with leisure and when you have time, so you
may be properly corrected. One or two days before you are to commune, go to your
Spiritual Father so that he may read a prayer of forgiveness over you on account
of the pardonable sins which you committed between the time of your confession and
your reception of Communion, and so receive in this manner, according to this good
custom which is followed by the monks of the Holy Mountain.
 Because the people of today either find it burdensome to carry out this light
examination of their conscience, or on account of forgetfulness they are unable
to remember their sins, see the pertinent areas of Part 1 of this book, Instruction
to the Spiritual Father, which we have prepared for you, brother, in particular,
Chapter 3, Concerning Mortal Sins, Pardonable Sins, and Sins of Omission,
and Chapter 4, Concerning the Ten Commandments, where we explain who errs
in these commandments, in order to lighten your conscience by helping you easily
remember your sins. So, look there and examine your conscience and bring to mind
the sins you have committed according to what is said there in order to confess
them. Read also Chapter 6, Concerning
Thoughts, in order to learn from there that you must also confess your
bad thoughts, if not all of your thoughts, and certainly those thoughts which disturb
you and assault you the most, because just as the eggs of birds, when they are hidden
in dung, are enlivened and hatch chicks, so also bad thoughts, when they are not
revealed to a Spiritual Father, are vivified and become deeds, according to John
of the Ladder: “As hens’ eggs that are warmed in dung hatch out, so thoughts that
are not confessed hatch out and proceed to action” (Step 26, PG 88, 1085C; tr. The
Ladder, p. 193).
 Carmina Moralia 33, PG 37, 932A.
From Part III, Chapter 1 of Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession), by
St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (Thessaloniki, Greece: 2006,
Uncut Mountain Press). Order today from
Uncut Mountain Supply! Posted on 10 March, 2006 (n.s.).