"Let us search out and examine our ways,
And turn back to the LORD;
Let us lift our hearts and hands
To God in heaven."
Lamentation 3:40, 41
Let Us Examine Our Ways
How to examine?
"For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." 2Chorinthians 10:12
When we look only inside of us to make an examination of our ways, we make a mistake. The thought "it is ok, everybody think this way" or "everybody does it" would be very unwise to use as an examination standard.
God called us "His children" and appointed us to be like His beloved Son. God, in old times gave us an image of His Son in the commandments. In the perfect time, God sent His Son for us to see Him and know Him. Our Lord said: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". When examining our ways, we look at our Lord as the model for life. The Ten Commandments are the basic description of who Christ is. Our Lord started His mission by giving us the Christian Standard in the "Sermon on the Mount". The Sermon on the Mount is a description of Himself. The apostles described Christ to us in their letters when they wrote commandments of love, humility and unity, example; 1Chorinthians 13.
A person searching a house to clean it would need ample light to see what to take out. The Word of God is the light that examine our ways.
The Lord through the Holy Spirit helps in bringing us to awareness of our sins by a direct loving gaze at us and by gentle reminders.
The appropriate response to discovering our sinfulness and weaknesses is repentance. Repentance is both holy sorrow in the heart, and determination to return from the wrong direction in the will. Repentance also include correcting the wrong that was done. In the Orthodox church, every member is expected to have a repentant heart.
The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican showed how we ought to pray and the attitude that we take "standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." Our Lord taught us this parable as an image of our whole attitude toward God.
The parable of the Prodigal Son tells us that God awaits the repentant with eagerness. God and the whole heaven rejoices at the return of the sinner.
The story of Zacchaeus shows that we recognize our sinfulness by seeking to see Christ. Coming closer to our Lord made a change in his heart. Also that we make corrections for the wrong we made.
Christ's told us of the Final Judgment as a "day" when we are to be judged according to our actions "Judge the whole world in righteousness and give everyone according to his deeds" from St Basil Liturgy.
When we finish examining ourselves, we are ready to confess our sins. Confession is one of the Mysteries of the Holy Church. We begin by a prayer of repentance to God, like the prodigal son: "I have sinned against heaven and before You and I am no worthy to be called your son."
Then I go to the priest to confess before the church to receive absolution. I do confess to the priest based on Christ words: "So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." John 20:21-23
Confession here is a matter of faith in the gift of our Lord to His church. The gifts of Christ seems beyond human logic. In the story of the sinful woman, The Pharisee responded with unbelief "This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." "Who is this who even forgives sins?" She showed faith in God's forgiveness through Christ. Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
And like the prodigal son, after meeting his Father, would return to the House of the Father (Church). The Father asks the servants (priests) to take care of his returning son.
Confession is a cleansing process that takes courage. It is also an offering made to God on His Altar.
How to Prepare for Confession
1. Coming back to Oneself: Set a regular time for self examination, use the ten commandment, the sermon on the mount and 1Corinthians 13. It is the regular practice of comparing oneself to the commandments with the intent to do them, that get us to know Christ closely: "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was." It might be useful to write your findings to keep a record of the findings for confession and follow up. It is also great tool in advancing the knowledge of oneself.
2. Coming back to God in repentance: After I get a clearer image of myself and the situation as a whole, it is appropriate to speak to God privately. If I do not have words of my own, I can use one of the prayers of the church i.e. psalm 50, Holy Holy Holy, Prayer before confession etc.
3. Coming back to Church for absolution: Then I am ready to confess to the priest. Confession is traditionally done in the church. The priest would pray with me the "Our Father" then ask me to confess my sins. I should not bring excuses for my sins, nor say "the usual sins" since sin should not be "the usual." I should not speak of others in my confession nor blame anyone or circumstances but myself. Confession is seeking reconciliation with God and the church, who love us and know us. Defensive attitude in confession means we are afraid to be judged and not that we trust forgiveness and reconciliation. At the end of confession, the priest would pray "the absolution prayer" to ask Christ Pardon, which is promised to the church.
4. Thanksgiving after confession: When we finish confessing we offer a thanksgiving prayer for Christ gift of forgiveness. The Mystery of confession prepares us for receiving communion. Confession should be regular (monthly). In some orthodox churches, the faithful would confess before every communion.