INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMISSION FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE

BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES


HOLY ETCHMIADZIN

(29 January- 5 February 2018)





by V. Rev. Fr. Boghos Tinkdjian,

Dean of Armenian Theological Seminary of Holy See of Cilicia




THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION

(ORIGIN, APPLICATION METHODS, HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT, THEOLOGY AND USE)


I. INTRODUCTION


Reconciliation: the restoration of the Christian believer into the previous sinless relationship with God, and with the community of the faithful. Reconciliation[1], which is literally to say weeping afterwards[2]over transgressions, renouncing them, turning one’s back to the worldly, and dedicating one’s self to the heavenly.

The Armenian church has kept and preserved the traditional understanding of reconciliation in its full meaning from the first centuries until this day. Reconciliation can by attained through fasting, praying, repentance, compensation by good deeds, confession, and unbinding.

We shall explore the origins of Reconciliation in the bible, on which the Armenian church has based its sacrament, as well as the methods through which it functions, its development and changes throughout history, and the theology behind it.


II. ORIGIN


As all Holy Sacraments, reconciliation too has its biblical basis, on which it applied and practiced in the Armenian Apostolic/ OrthodoxChurch. We are aware of the many different passages in the Bible, but we will suffice by quoting a few key verses to help in our attempt to elucidate the necessity of all the steps that lead to Reconciliation.

Starting from the Old Testament, we see the Lord commending the return of his children through reconciliation, which includes fasting, weeping and mourning (Joel 2.12).[3]We also read him commending the realization/acceptance of guilt that leads to regret and confession(Leviticus 5.5-6) .[4]In his Psalms, David describes reconciliation in a poem from the heart, seeking wisdom to be cleansed from sin, asks for cleansing of the heart and teaching of the Lord’s way (Psalm 51.5-13).[5]

As for quotes and testimonies from the apostles, we have some highlighted ideas in the New Testament. In his letters, Paul addresses the faithful and urges them to reconcile through turning away from their former lifestyles (Ephesians 4.22-24).[6]He also invites the readers to accept the heavenly invitation of reconciliation through Christ and his ambassadors- the clergy- who continue with the same mission (2 Corinthians 5.19-20).[7]James also emphasizes the necessity of confession in order to receive healing (James 5.16).[8]

Church fathers are also a reliable and rich source on reconciliation, but due to limitations of our lecture we are forced to skip mentioning them all here. Krikor of Datev (14thCentury), a famous theologian of the Armenian Church invites faithful to “feel pain for their sins”, “to punish the self for the evil deeds done”, “to cry over sins”, “to weep and never repeat the same mistake.”[9]He divides reconciliation into three parts; “repentance of heart, confession of the mouth and repentance by deeds.”[10]While he states that confession cleanses past sins he emphasizes that repentance is also required as it acts like a fence and rampart preventing sin from being repeated again in the future.[11]


III. HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT


As we read in church history, in the first couple centuries confession used to be public, and rarely only private. During the 5th century, public confession was used no more. Confessions were done privately between the priest and the sinner.

According to the Armenian Church’s doctrine, confession should be made in the church, to an ordained clergy, who is entitled to bestow absolution of sins[12]by the authority granted to him during ordination. In the mid 6thcentury, the 18thand 19thcanons of the Council of Tvin (554) state that the priest who speaks out the private confessions shall be excommunicated, moreover, the next canon states that priests should not receive any kind of payment from the confessor[13]. Each sinner would bring their own list of sins and read them in a specific part of the prayer.[14]The Armenian Church has developed a collective confession prayer[15]which tries to remind the faithful of all possible sins, to ensure a full confession.Upon reading the form of confession, the priest used to read the following verses from the Bible (Isaiah 1.16-20, Ezekiel 18.21-23, Ephesians 6.10-24 and the parable of the prodigal son Luke 15.11-32). After the readings, everyone would turn West to renounce evil before turning back East to “the light of the knowledge of God”[16], after which everyone recites the creed.[17]

The practices of excommunication and staying out of church during the celebration of Holy Eucharist has been ceased gradually. Instead of using public shame and silent judgments as for why the individual has been excommunicated for a period, group confession method has taken over.

While at old times the priest used to set a convenient period of time for the sinner to renounce, nowadays that period is not set by the priest, rather left to the conscience of the individual.[18]


IV. APPLICATION METHODS


The Armenian church has kept both public and private confessions since the early 5thcentury. The first step of reconciliation is the realization of the sinful way and remorse. Confession is the way to pour out all sins by enumerating them and regretting the actions, and promising the self not to repeat them again. Afterwards, the priest would give advices and instruction as to how to refrain from repeating the same sin and other sins in the future. After going through these steps in the specific order, the priest sets a compensation depending on the seriousness of the sin committed by the individual. Sin is the absence of love, therefore compensation through acts of love is the only way to prove the serenity of the soul. Of course, the priest would have to watch over the previously set period to approve the compensation, finally grant his blessing, release the individual from his burden of sin into the peace of Christ, and back to all the sacraments that he was banned from.

The Armenian Church has highlighted the importance of the succession of the steps of reconciliation. After the feeling of remorse, the church has set the sacrament so that the sinner would regret, confess and then live the repentance period to reach absolute peace. St. Hovhan Mantagouni, a Church father of the 5thcentury commends the following. “Seek those who have strayed from the truth, bring the lost back to justice… enlighten those who have been darkened by ignorance…justify sinners through reconciliation… urge them to a clean heart… order all of them to make a strict fast, volunteer prayer and abundant almsgiving.”[19]

V. THEOLOGY


It is noteworthy that the process of reconciliation is never obliged to the individual, rather left to the freedom and the conscience of the faithful. Reconciliation has never been a penalty or affiliated with the thought of punishment, rather the return to the previous sinless status. God became incarnate to save all sinners, because

1 John expresses the idea in the most beautiful way. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1.5-10)

In the Armenian Church’s theological thinking, salvation comes after reconciliation, and that of courseis a journey of life, it is a lifestyle rather than an event that is held once or occasionally. H.H. Aram I reminded the faithful in one of his latest sermons saying: “Confession and repentance are a conversation with the self, in the presence of God.”

The sacrament’s purpose is to call all faithful to repentance and reconciliation; although it is a repeatable sacrament but it is not encouraged to be used as an easy means to be forgiven.

The Church’s calling is to follow Jesus’ footsteps and remember that”…this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me…” (John 6.39)


Bibliography


1. Holy Bible, NRSV.

2. Կիւլէսէրեան, Բաբգէն Կթղ., Քրիստոնէական Հայաստանեայց Ս. Եկեղեցւոյ Վարդապետութեան, Անթիլիաս, 1971:

3. Չէպէյեան, Ղեւոնդ Արք., Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ Եօթը Խորհուրդները, Անթիլիաս, 2000:

4. Մանդակունի, Յովհան Հայրապետ, Ճառեր, Անթիլիաս, 2001:

5. Թանգեան, Ն.Վ. Մելիք, Հայոց Եկեղեցական Իրաւունքը, Թեհրան, 2004:

6. Տաթեւացի, Գրիգոր, Գիրք Հարցմանց:

7. Ս.Ե.Մ., Քրիստոնէական Վարդապետութիւն Հայ Եկեղեցւոյ, ստարան «Արարատ», Պուէնոս Այրէս, 1954:

8. Արզումանեան, Դոկտ. Տ. Զաւէն Աւ. Քհնյ, Աստուածաբանութիւն Հայաստանեայց Առաքելական Ուղղափառ Եկեղեցւոյ, Ա.Մ.Ն. Արեւմտեան Թեմ, 2009:

9. Քրիստոնեայ Հայաստան Հանրագիտարան:

10. Տէր-Միքէլեան, Արշակ, Հայաստանեայց Սուրբ Եկեղեցու Քրիստոնէականը, Թեհրան, 2003:


APPENDICES


1. FORM OF CONFESSION OF SINS


I have sinned against the most holy, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I am before God.

I confess before God, and the holy Mother of God, and before you, holy father, all the sins that I have committed.

For I have sinned by thought, word, and deed, willingly and unwillingly, knowingly and unknowingly. I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with my soul and its power, with my mind and its movements, with my body and its senses.

I have sinned with the power of my soul: by slyness, by inconsiderateness; by daringness and timidity; by prodigality and niggardliness; by dissoluteness and unjustness; by proneness to evil, desperation and mistrust.

I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with my evil thoughts: by insidiousness, by hatred, by malice, by vindictiveness, by envy, by being weak willed, by lecherous thoughts: lusting after men, lusting after women, sodomy, unreal ideas of daytime and night time masturbation and by abominable filthiness of imagination.

I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with the desires of my body: by sensuality, by sloth, by sleepiness; by the body motions, and by desecration in various vices: by the licentious hearing of my ears, by the impurity of my eyes, by the lusts of my heart, by sloppiness of my nostrils, by the fetidity of my mouth, by intemperateness, by gluttony, and by drunkenness.

I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with the evil use of my tongue: by lying, by taking false oaths, by perjury, by contradiction, by disputing, by defamation, by flattery, by spreading evil and malicious gossip, by verbiage and mockery, by defaming, by sowing discord and division, by cursing, by grumbling, by complaining, by backbiting and blaspheming.

I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with [my] hands: by stealing, by robbing, by depriving, by beating, by killing and by raping.

I have sinned against God.

I have sinned with all the parts of my body and its members, with my five senses and with my six movements: by arrogant contempt and by falling in carnal inclination, by straying to the right and to the left, by sinning against the past generation.

I have sinned against God.

I have, moreover, sinned the seven mortal sins: pride and its forms; envy and its forms; wrath and its forms; sloth and its forms; greed and its forms; gluttony and its forms; lust and its forms.

I have sinned against God.

I have, moreover, sinned against all the commandments of God, both the positive and the negative, for I have neither done what is commanded, nor abstained from what is forbidden. I have received the law, but neglected to abide by it. I was admitted into the order of Christianity, but was found unworthy by my deeds. Knowing evil, I willingly followed it, and willingly kept myself away from good works.

Woe to me! Woe to me! Woe to me!

Which [sin] shall I tell, or which shall I confess? For innumerable are my transgressions, inexpressible are my iniquities, unbearable are my pains, and incurable are my wounds.

I have sinned against God.

Holy Father, I have you as an intercessor and a mediator of reconciliation with the only begotten Son of God. By the authority given to you, release the bonds of my sins. I beg you.

ABSOLUTION

(Priest) Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

May the compassionate God have mercy upon you and forgive you all your sins, whether confessed or forgotten.

And I, by the right of my priestly authority, and the divine command, that “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16.19), by that same command, I absolve you from all your sins, whether of thought, of word, or of dead; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And I return you again to the sacraments of the Church; so that whatever good you shall do, may be considered good work and make you worthy of the glory of eternal life. Amen.


2. Renunciation


(Turning West) We renounce Satan and all his deceits, his seductions, his counsels, his ways, his evil intentions, his evil angels, his evil servants, his evil followers, and his entire evil power. Renouncing these we renounce.

(While turning East) And we turn to the light of the knowledge of God.


3. The Orthodox Confession of Faith [Of The Armenian Apostolic Church]


We confess, and with our whole heart believe in God the Father, not created, not begotten and without beginning; who also is the Father of the Son and source of the Holy Spirit.

We believe in God the Word, not created, but begotten and having originated from the Father before all time, who is neither older nor younger, but as the Father is Father, so is also the Son, Son.

We believe in God the Holy Spirit, not created, timeless, not begotten, but proceeding from the Father, of the same substance with the Father and glorified with the Son.

We believe in the Holy Trinity, one Nature, one Godhead, not three Gods, but one God, one will, one kingdom, one power, Creator of the visible and invisible. We believe in the Holy Church, the forgiveness of sins and the communion of saints.

We believe that one of the three Persons, God the Word, begotten of the Father before eternity, in time descended into the Mother of God the Virgin Mary, took from her blood and united it with his Godhead, stayed nine months in the womb of the pure Virgin, and He who was perfect God became perfect man with soul, mind, and body – one Person, one countenance, and one united nature. God became man without change and without alteration, by immaculate conception, and pure birth without corruption. So that as there is no beginning to His Godhead, so also is there no end to His Humanity, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13.8].

We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ, after being on earth for thirty years, came to be baptized, and that the Father from heaven bore witness saying “This is my beloved Son” [Matthew 3.17] and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove; that He was tempted by Stan and overcame him; preached salvation to men; He tired, hungered and thirsted; later, of His own free will He suffered, was crucified, and died in the Body, grave remained alive in His Godhead; in Spirit and without separating from his Godhead, He descended into hell and preached to the souls, destroyed hell and set the souls free. After three days He rose again from the dead and appeared to the disciples.

We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ ascended into heaven in that same bode, and sat at the right hand of the Father; and that he will come in the same body and in the glory of the Father, to judge the living and dead, when all men will be resurrected.

We believe also in the retribution for works; to the righteous, life everlasting, and to the sinners, everlasting torment.


[1]«Ապաշխարութիւն»pronounced “abashxarutyun.”

[2]«Աշխարել»“ashkharel” means to cry over/mourn something.«Ապ+աշխարել»“ab+ ashkharel”literally meaning to mourn or weep for something afterwards.Քրիստոնէական, էջ 70:

[3]“Yet even now, says the Lord,return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”Joel 2.12

[4]When you realize your guilt in any of these, you shall confess the sin that you have committed. And you shall bring to the Lord, as your penalty for the sin that you have committed.” Leviticus 5.5-6

[5]“Indeed, I was born guilty,a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore, teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins,and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God,and put a new and rightspirit within me.Do not cast me away from your presence,and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation,and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways,and sinners will return to you.”Psalm 51.5-13

[6]“You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4.22-24

[7]“that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”2 Corinthians 5.19-20

[8]“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5.16

[9]ԳիրքՀարցմանց, ՀատորԻններորդ, պրակԼԲ:Book of Questions, Vol. 9, section 32.

[10]ibid.

[11]ibid.

[12]Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 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

[13]ՀայոցԵկեղեցականԻրաւունքը, էջ333-334:

[14]ՀայԵկեղեցւոյԵօթըԽորհուրդները, էջ26:

[15]The text referred to is given in Appendix 1.

[16]The text referred to is given in Appendix 2.

[17]The text referred to is given in Appendix 3.

[18]ՔրիստոնէականվարդապետութիւնՀայԵկեղեցւոյ, էջ78:

[19]Ճառեր, էջ169:

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