Charlatanism, Confession, Constantine Cavarnos, Discernment, Elder Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, Epitimia, Holy Confession, Mladostarchestvo, Mladostartsy, Nepsis, Sobriety, St. Symeon the New Theologian, Watchfulness
After two years they made me a confessor (Presbyters/’priests’ are not ‘made’ confessors due to the event of their Ordination to the Presbytery). On a great feast day when there were lots of people present they took me to the bishop’s residence and they officially read the prayer for becoming a spiritual father (confessor). I was very young. What did I know about it! And. foolish wretch, I was thick-headed into the bargain. I was still uneducated; I didn’t know the penitential canons. And, with incredible stupidity. what did I do? I bowed my head in obedience. Now I realize my folly. At the time I wasn’t so aware of it.
How the monks and lay people that came for confession loved me! I heard confessions there day and night non-stop. I started early in the morning and I continued all through the day and throughout the night and the next day and the next night without interruption. I went forty eight hours without eating. Fortunately, God took care of me and gave my sister the inspiration to bring me some milk to drink. There was a stairway with lots of steps leading up to the confessional and the people would come up to make confession. They waited all night long for their turn. When they left they would say to each other, ‘Now there’s a priest who’s a knower of hearts!’ I remember they used the Albanian word for priest, priftis. I stayed there for fifteen years. (@ the Monastery of Saint Charalambos/Χαράλαμπος)
When they would come I used to ask questions. I would ask: ‘How old are you? Whom do you live with?’ One would say, ‘With my wife’, another would say, ‘With my parents’, and another, ‘I live on my own’. Then I would continue: ‘What have you studied? What’s your job? How long is it since you made confession? How long is it since you received Holy Communion?’ and so on. And then depending on what he said to me I would speak to him a little and. because there was a queue waiting outside, I would say, ‘What do you remember now, my child? What do you feel is weighing on your soul, on your conscience? What transgressions have you committed, what sins?’ And he would gradually begin to confess his errors and I would help him along a little, having told him first that truly he must say everything just as he feels it.
To begin with, when I first started to hear confessions, I used to really ‘scald’ those who came to make confession. I used to have at my side Saint Nikodemos’s Confessor’s Guide (Exomologetarion) when someone would come for confession. If he confessed a serious sin then I would look up the book and would see that it wrote: ‘Not to receive Holy Communion for eighteen years;.’ I didn’t know; I was inexperienced. And so I imposed the corresponding epitimia (rule of correction). Whatever the book said was law. But then the people would come back the following year — they would come from various places, from various villages, from far and near — and when I asked them, ‘How long is it since you made confessionr they would answer, ‘I confessed to you this time last year.’ Then I would ask, ‘And what did I tell you?’ They would reply, ‘You told me to do a hundred prostrations every night.’
‘And did you do them?’
‘Well, you told me that I couldn’t receive Communion for eighteen years so I thought to myself, “Since I’m damned anyway, I might as well forget about the whole thing.'”
You understand? Then another person would come and say the same thing. So I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ It was then I began to become a little wiser. The confessor has the power to bind and to loose. I remembered one of Saint Basil’s Rules, and I took that as my basic guideline and changed my tactics in confession. The Rule says: ‘He who receives the power to bind and to loose, when he sees the great remorse of one of the sinners, let him reduce the time of the epitimia (rule of correction). Don’t let him judge the epitimia (rule of correction) in terms of time, but in terms of disposition.’
And so I started to encourage the people to read the poetic canons written in honour of the saints, to read short prayers, to make prostrations and to read Holy Scripture. And in that way they began to pay attention to the things of our religion. Their hearts were softened and without any external prompting they desired to observe the fasts, to enter the spiritual arena and to come to know Christ. And one thing I have understood is that when someone comes to know Christ and love Him and is loved by Christ, everything thereafter proceeds well in holiness and joy and everything is easy .An Excerpt from Wounded By Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios