Nothing else remains after confession, Spiritual Father, except to keep the sins you hear a secret, and to never reveal them, either by word, or by letter, or by a bodily gesture, or by any other sign, even if you are in danger of death, for that which the wise Sirach says applies to you: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you” (Sir. 19:10); and again: “With friend or foe do not report it” (Sir. 19:8); meaning, if you heard a secret word, let the word also die along with you, and do not tell it to either a friend of yours or an enemy of yours, for as long as you live. And further still, that which the Prophet Micah says: “Trust not in friends… beware of thy wife, so as not to commit anything to her” (Mic. 7:5).
For if you reveal them, firstly, you will be suspended or daresay deposed completely by the Ecclesiastical Canons, and according to political laws you will be thrown in jail for the rest of your life and have your tongue cut out.169 Secondly, you become a reason for more Christians not to confess, being afraid that you will reveal their sins, just as it happened during the time of Nektarios of Constantinople when the Christians did not want to confess on account of a Spiritual Father who revealed the sin of a woman.170 The divine Chrysostom both witnessed these things and suffered because of them on account of his trying to convince the people to confess. It is impossible for me to describe in words how much punishment this brings upon you, who are the cause of these things.
—St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
An Excerpt from Exomologetarion (A Manual of Confession)
169 Patriarch Luke of Constantinople disciplined the abbot of the Monastery of Xerotrophos with an epitimia (“penance”) of suspension because he revealed the sin of one of his spiritual children, as Balsamon reports (Explanation of Canon 141 (135) of Carthage, PG 138, 424D). I am resigned to say that the Spiritual Father ought not to be believed on his word alone, according to this same Canon of Carthage, and a single witness is not to be believed, but rejected, according to Leo and Constantine the Emperors (Selections of Laws, Title 26). Let Spiritual Fathers be reminded of this by God Himself, Who never publicly revealed the confession of any person, as John of the Ladder says: “At no time do we find God revealing the sins which have been confessed to Him, lest by making these public knowledge, He should impede those who would confess and so make them incurably sick” (To the Shepherd, PG 88, 1196B; tr. The Ladder, p. 243).
170See Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 5, 19, PG 67, 613A-620A. And Sozomen says that the Spiritual Father was chosen on account of his being secretive and discrete (Historia Ecclesiastica 7, 16, PG 67, 1460A).