The Rites – The Byzantine Churches

Here, we provide two examples of the individual rite of confession as seen in the Byzantine churches.  The first example is more Eastern whereas the second is more Roman.

The Administration of Confession (from “The Offices of the Oriental Church” ed by Nicholas Bjerring; Ams Press, New York, 1969; pp. 104-108)

The priest leads each penitent alone, not two or more at once, with uncovered head before the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, and begins: Blessed be our God always, now and ever, and to age of ages Amen.  Glory be to Thee, O our God, Glory be to Thee.

Heavenly King, Comforter, etc. Then the Trisagion: O Holy God, etc. After: Our Father, etc., Lord have mercy.  Glory be to the Father, etc. 

Then: Come, let us worship before the King, our God. Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ, the King, our God. Come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

Psalm 50(51): Have mercy upon me, God,…

Troparion: Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us; we sinners, who have no excuse, bring to Thee, as our Master, this prayer: Have mercy upon us.

Glory be to the Father, etc.

Then: Lord, have mercy upon us, and thing not of our misdeeds; but look down as the Gracious One also now, and deliver us from our enemies; for Thou art our god, and we are They people; we all are the work of Thy hands, and we call upon Thy Name.  Now and ever, etc.

Open to us the gates of mercy, thou blessed Mother of God, so that we, who hope in thee, may not perish, but may be freed by thee from every misery; for thou art the salvation of the Christian race.

Lord, have mercy.

First Prayer: Let us pray to the Lord.  O God, our Saviour, who, by Thy prophet, Nathan, didst grant forgiveness to David, when he repented of his sins, and didst accept the prayer of penitence from Manasseh, receive also this They servant (handmaids), N., repenting of his (her) sins, according to Thy wonted kindness, and overlook all that he (she) hath done, forgiving his (her) fault, and passing over his (her) transgressions.  for Thou hast said, O Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but that he should turn and live; also Thou has said that we should forgive offenses seventy times seven.  For as They greatness is without equal, so also boundless is Thy grace.  If Thou should be extreme to mark iniquities, who shall stand?  Thou art a God of the penitents, and to Thee, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we offer up praise and glory, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.

Second Prayer: Let us pray to the Lord.  O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, shepherd and Lamb, Who hast born the sins of the world, Who didst remit the debt to the two debtors , and Who didst bestow the forgiveness of her sins on the sinful woman: do Thou, O Master, remit, forgive, and pardon the sins, misdeeds, and errors, both voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, which have been done in commission and omission by these Thy servants.  And if they, as men who walk in the flesh and dwell in the world, have been led astray by the devil, whether they have sinned in knowledge or ignorance, or have despised the priestly word, or have fallen under the priestly ban, or a curse of their own, or have bound themselves by an oath: vouchsafe Thyself, as the good Master, in Whom is no evil, to loose these They servants by the Word, and to forgive them their own curse and oath according to Thy great mercy.  Yea, gracious Lord and Master, hearken unto us, who implore for these They servants Thy grace, and forgive them as the gracious One all their errors, and remove them from the eternal torments; for Thou, O Master, hast said: Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in Heaven.  For Thou only art without sin, and to Thee, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, we offer up praise and glory; no and ever, and to ages of ages.  Amen.

The Exhortation to the Penitent: Behold, my child, here stands Christ invisible, and He receives thy prayer of penitence: so be not ashamed and fear not, conceal also nothing from me; be not afraid, but tell me all that thou hast done, so that thou mayest obtain forgiveness from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Behold, before us is also His holy image, and I am only a witness, so that I can testify all that thou wilt say to me; therefore, if thou concealest anything thy sin shall be double.  Consider wherefore thou hast entered this place of healing, so that thou mayest not go hence unhealed.

After this the Priest proposes to the penitent the questions, one after another, pausing a little after each, until the answer follows.  After he has proposed the questions, which concern faith and morals, according to the difference of rank and sex and age of the penitent, and received the answers, he says: From all these sins must thou henceforth abstain, since thou hast received a second baptism according to this Christian mystery.  so make now, with God’s help, a good beginning, and do not imprudently return to thy former sins, so as to become a derision to men, for this is not becoming to a Christian; but he should live honorably, and righteously, and godly, and to this God help thee with his grace.

When the confessor has said all this, and again examined the penitent, and the latter has disclosed all that is within him without concealment, he says to him: Bow thyself.

The penitent bows his head, and the confessor prays:

The Final Prayer:

Let us pray to the Lord. O Lord and god of the salvation of Thy servants, gracious, and merciful, and long-suffering, Who art grieved at our misdeeds, Who desirest not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live, have mercy now upon Thy servant (handmaid) N.; grant him (her) true penitence, and the pardon and forgiveness of sins; remit to him (her) all transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary; reconcile and unite him (her) with Thy Holy Church through Jesus Christ Our Lord, with Whom be power and glory ascribed unto Thee, now and ever, and to ages of ages.  Amen.

At the conclusion of the holy sacrament of confession, the Priest pronounces over the kneeling penitent the absolution:

Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, forgive thee, my child, N., by the grace and mercy of His kindness, all thy transgressions; and through the power granted unto me, I also, unworthy priest, forgive thee and absolve thee from all thy sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

At the close the Priest signs with his right hand the penitent with the sign of the cross.  Then he says: It is indeed right to call thee blessed, etc.

After this the benediction, etc.

Historically, it has occurred that, sometimes the order of the prayers (namely, the First, Second, and Final) are reversed. (Chapungco, p. 106)


An example of a particularly Roman use in the Byzantine church (According to the Byzantine Daily Worship book  (pp. 931-932))

An examination of conscience and act of contrition precedes reception of the sacrament.

The penitent kneels in the proper place, blesses himself, and says: “Bless me, my spiritual Father, for I have sinned.”

It is customary for the priest to answer with the following blessing: “May the grace of the Holy Spirit be in your heart and on your lips, so that you may sincerely confess your sins before God, in the name of  the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

The penitent continues: “It has been (how long) since my last confession. – These are my sins: “

Having briefly exposed his sins, the penitent adds: “For these and for all the sins of which I have ever been guilt I humbly ask pardon of God and absolution of you, my spiritual Father.”

He then listens attentively to whatever the confessor has to say, taking particular note of the penance imposed upon him.  Then the priest places his right hand upon the head of the penitent and pronounces the absolution of sins:

“The Lord God through Nathan the Prophet forgave David his sin, and the adulteress weeping at his feet, and Peter shedding bitter tears for his betrayal, and the Publican and the Prodigal Son.  May this same Lord and God through me a sinner, forgive you, N., all the sins of your life in this world and in the world to come.  And may He make you stand uncondemned at his awesome tribunal for He is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

And the priest may add the following: [notice the double absolution, this second one being very Roman]

“May our Lord and God Jesus Christ who gave his holy apostles the command to retain or forgive the sins of mankind forgive you, N., from on high all your sins.  I, his unworthy servant, who have received from these apostles the mandate to do the same, absolve you from all the sins of your life in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

And the priest may add: “Go in peace and do not be disturbed by the evil you have done.”

You will note that the two forms differ dramatically in length and in content.  In fact, in the first form, the prayers which the second form uses for the absolution actually come prior to the absolution used.

It appears that many Eastern churches use variations of the first form, and most of those quite shorter than the full text provided here.  For example, in one Greek church, the following directions are given to a preparing penitent:

At the appointed time you will meet the priest at the place of confession – in front of an icon, in a special room, wherever it is appropriate. The priest will begin the Service of Holy Confession with some petitions and prayers for the blessing and healing of your soul. You will then share your confession. This may also involve some spiritual counseling with the priest.

When you are finished, the priest will typically ask you to kneel. He will then place the Epetrahelion (the long sash around his neck) over your head and read the prayers of absolution. … Once these prayers are completed the Service of Holy Confession is concluded and you are free to go.

When there are many penitents, the prayers of the first form provided above are said by the priest only once and before all the people– then confessions are heard individually.  There seems to be no evidence of the existence of a rite of general absolution as would be found in the Roman church.

There is, however, a “general confession” which is often said in some Eastern churches.  Instead of listing sins by quality and number, individually, the following prayer– which begins much like the Roman church’s “Act of Contrition– is said.  Interesting, the option for listing sins individually is provided, but not required.

“I confess to the Lord my God and before you my Spiritual Father, all my innumerable sins which I have, until today, committed in word, deed and thought. Every day and every hour I sin ungratefully towards the Lord Who gives me, the sinner, His great and infinite blessings through His providence.

My sins are the following: Vain words, criticism of others, disobedience, pride, unmercifulness, envy, spite, jealousy, anger, slander, inattention, neglect for my salvation, carelessness, inconsiderateness, impertinence, irritability, hopelessness, revenge, hard heartedness, contradiction. I complain too much, I am self-righteous, I harm my neighbor, I speak with contempt, I lie, I make fun of my neighbor, I am scandalous, I am egotistical, ambitious, gluttonous, vain, idle. I have evil thoughts, I am greedy, I look at or read immoral photographs, periodicals and books, I am negligent during Church services, I lack concentration during prayer at Church and home.

Generally, I have sinned through words, deeds, thoughts, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and with all these feelings, bodily and of the soul.

I repent of all my sins and I ask for forgiveness from my Lord and my God.

(Here the penitent can state other sins that exist in his soul.)

Also, I repent and ask forgiveness for sins which I possibly forgot and did not mention during my confession.

I ask you, please, my spiritual Father, to forgive and release me of all my sins and give me your blessings to partake in Christ’s Holy and Life-giving Mysteries, to the renunciation of sin and the receiving of life-everlasting.”

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2 Responses to The Rites – The Byzantine Churches

  1. vogelkw says:

    In the two examples of individual rites of confession you comment that the second is more Roman. What makes it more Roman than the first? I thought at first, based on your comment about the second one’s words of absolution being “very Roman,” that Roman meant the use of the declarative personal formula. But I noticed that both combine the deprecatory with a declarative personal formula “I … absolve …”. Would the second be “more Roman” because if its relative simplicity compared with the first rite?

  2. Deacon Gerber says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Kevin. I should have explained that better. The first example has two prayers: one begins “Let us pray…” and the second begins “May Our Lord and God Jesus Christ….” That second prayer– really, a second absolution– is an addition to the rite. It was introduced after the churches reunited with Rome. In the “Confessions” book, the author makes mention to this. I had forgotten that this second absolution was also included in the first example.

    But you are right in that the Roman formula is ordinarily identified as being indicative.

    It is also correct to call Example #2 “Roman” because of its relative simplicity, as you pointed out.

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