Bridging, not widening

We Orthodox Christians hear again and again our our services that God is good and loves mankind.

But doesn’t every Christian group believe that? I very much doubt that they believe it in the same way — the way illustrated here, where an experienced Orthodox Priest describes how the rubber of sacramental confession meets the road of God’s love:

Among the more interesting experiences for a priest is the confession of children. The one thing I am certain to avoid is trying to teach children about sin when it is not part of their conscious existence. Convincing a child that there is an external parent (God) watching and judging their every thought and action is almost certain to create a certain distance from the soul itself. The question, “Am I ok?” is the language of shame, of broken communion, even communion with the soul. But, having done this now for 40 years, I can say that I see a gradual awakening in each child, an awareness of broken communion. The role of a confessor is not to widen that gap, but to help a child learn how it is bridged in Christ. I tell parents, “The only thing I want a child to know at first is the absolute certainty of God’s unchanging and unconditional love.” It is only in the context of such safety that, in time, an older adolescent can find the forgiveness and healing that they will inevitably need.

Fr. Stephen Freeman (emphasis added)

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“Auricular confession”

One of my blind spots as a Protestant was the need for formal confession, which we dismissed as “auricular confession” and considered a patent superstition and absurdity. “Who needs a priest to confess?!”

A nice, simple explanation of why we Orthodox confess to a Priest: salvation is more than forgiveness.

… If someone sincerely repents of a sin done by him, of course God will forgive him. But for salvation this is not enough. The Lord came down to earth and was incarnate so that man would be transfigured and reborn. To make him a new creation in Christ (cf., 2 Cor. 5:17). For this the Lord established the Holy Mysteries – sacred actions in which, under a visible image, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the invisible grace of God is given, freeing man from life in sin and giving him life with God. Man cannot perform upon himself a single Mystery – Baptism, Marriage, Unction….

So, is the Catholic view — the Protestant target, with the arguments carried over as an objection to Orthodoxy ad hoc — essentially the same? It appears that it differs:

“The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.75

Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 1468. Maybe I’m missing something, but the RC emphasis on reconciliation seems to be based on reassurance that God isn’t angry any longer.

The Orthodox emphasis in contrast is on transformation and rebirth. Indeed, the best part of confession by my lights is when the Priest prescribes a penance that I hadn’t thought of as a way to root out the detestable sin.

The Protestant equivalent, it seems to me, is the “counseling ministry” of big Churches. But the problem is there’s no mention of counseling ministries in the Bible that Protestants claim as their sole authority. Like Biblically baseless “infant dedication” services (faux baptism for anabaptists whose consciences tell them that their children are precious to God now, and not just potentially precious if they “pray the Sinner’s Prayer®” some day), it’s an ersatz solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in historic Christianity.