THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE/ABSOLUTION
By: The Right Reverend Father Michael D. Jordan
The Sacrament of Penance, sometimes referred to as Confession and Absolution. Only clergy with the rank of Bishop or Priest are allowed to dispense this Sacrament. The Eastern Orthodox Church defines Repentance or Penance as "Self-examination, remorse, or a decision not to continue in wrong behavior and attitudes, along with seeking forgiveness from God for our sins, or from our neighbors whom we have injured in some way through our actions."
Absolution is the actual pronouncement of forgiveness given to the repentant person by the Bishop or Priest. In order for this to have validity, the Bishop or Priest must be ordained in the line of succession from the Disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Bishop or Priest must have Apostolic Succession all the way back to the Disciples, and Jesus Christ.
What proof do we have that Apostolically ordained Bishops and Priests are given the grace to forgive sins in the name of Jesus Christ?
First of all let me begin by reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, beginning with verse 36: "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid [her] in an upper chamber. And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring [him] that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and showing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them. But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning [him] to the body said, Tabitha, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her [his] hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive. And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord."
In this Scripture, Peter, a Disciple of Jesus Christ, through the almighty power of Jesus Christ, raised Tabitha from the dead! Obviously, the only one who had performed such a miracle was Jesus Christ Himself. Now, after His Resurrection, Peter was empowered to do this miracle through Jesus Christ.
Itís a great deal simpler to grant someone forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus Christ than to take their hand and raise them from the dead!
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 16, verse 19, we read: "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
And again in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 18, verse 18, we read: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Many people read these passages and have no idea what Jesus Christ meant by it. Clearly, He is giving the Disciples the power to forgive sins on earth in His Name, as well as settle disputes among the brethren. As He gave His Disciples authority over unclean spirits, and other gifts that enabled them to continue the Ministry of Jesus Christ on earth. Just as a Master delegates duties to His servants, so did Jesus Christ, the Master, delegate these duties to the Disciples. The Disciples in turn, delegated others to help them accomplish their work.
With this empowerment to forgive sins, or set someone free from their sins in the Name of Jesus Christ, also comes the power to retain, or bind, sins on earth, which will be not forgiven in Heaven. While I have never heard of an instance of a Bishop or Priest that had adamantly refused to forgive someone of their sins, this situation is also possible.
Many of us, when we think of repentance, only think of repentance to God. We donít give much thought to asking forgiveness of our brethren whom we have offended. This is a serious mistake, because from the Gospel according to St, Matthew, Chapter 6, verse 15, we read: "But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." This reference to forgiving others of their trespasses is mentioned three times in the Gospel of St. Matthew, and two times in the Gospel of St. Mark. It must be important to Jesus Christ that we forgive others first before we ask Him to forgive us.
In the Gospel according to St. Mark, Chapter 11, verse 25, we read: "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any; that your Father also which is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses." In the Lordís Prayer we have references to forgiving others of their trespasses: "Forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us".
Holding grudges, and harboring hate and evil thoughts against your brethren serves only to diminish the effectiveness of your repentance before God. To be children of the Light, we must rid ourselves of the burden of ill feelings toward others. We must learn to pray for our enemies as Christ taught us. We must not withhold from our brothers and sisters in Christ, that which we expect for ourselves.
We all sin and fall short of the Glory of God, but God in His infinite wisdom has provided the Sacrament of Penance to allow us to obtain a true and binding forgiveness of our sins and transgressions through His servants on the earth. The Church does not teach that the Bishop or Priest has the authority to forgive sins in their own name, but they have the authority to forgive sins in the Name of the Savior, Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross that our sins may be washed clean by His Holy Blood.
Penance is a wonderful way to heal the scars and wounds that sin inflicts on our hearts. It invokes the spiritual healing powers of Jesus Christ. It helps us to start all over again with a clean slate, forgiven, bathed in the Light of Forgiveness from the Father of Lights!
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