The Seal of Confession

Important for both Confessor and Penitent


The Seal of Confession is a hard and fast rule throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. Since the priest, in Orthodox theology, is but a witness to the confession, since the confession is given to Christ Himself, confidentiality is an absolute must. The secrecy of this Mystery of Penance is vital, for one could not expect a sincere and open confession if the penitent was doubtful of the confidentiality of his confession. Breaking the Seal of Confession is so serious, in fact, that betrayal of this secrecy can lead to canonical punishment of the priest, including the possibility of being deposed from the holy priesthood, as suggested in The Rudder.

Recently I had a man contact me by email, sharing his grief at not feeling he could trust his priest, having heard the priest was known to have violated the confidentiality of this Mystery of the Church. He continued that another priest refused to hear his confession, so he was feeling cast aside, seeing his spiritual need unfulfilled by the very men called by God to offer spiritual direction. He concluded by sharing his wonderment that non-Orthodox Christians seem more joyful, for his own spiritual journey seemed seemed devoid of joy.

Reading this man’s words brought sorrow to my heart, for joy should be our common inheritance as Orthodox Christians. How is it possible we do not experience this joy? The ability to confess one’s sins, and receive Christ’s absolution is so very central to our Christian faith, it would seem the ultimate failure of his priestly duties, for any priest to refuse to hear a confession, or to cause anyone to avoid confession for fear of having their sins revealed to others.

It is also imperative that the spiritual direction given by a priest in confession must be for the penitents ears only.  If the priest is not permitted to divulge what the penitent says in confession, then the penitent should not divulge what his confessor says. This does not mean sharing what was said by the priest during your confession is anywhere near as reprehensible as having your sins revealed by the priest, but sharing anything said by either the priest, or the penitent, opens the door to breaking the Seal of Confession, for this could easily lead to a friend sharing your confidentially shared words with another person, and having it passed on as gossip to any number of people.

I remember hearing members of a parish accuse their priest of having broken the Seal, only to find out later that the penitent was the one who’d revealed the content of the confession, thus betraying the priest and the congregation. One slip of the confidentiality of the confession, led a whole congregation to believe they could not trust their priest!

Another good reason to always refrain from sharing what was said in confession is that your spouse will feel they have a right to ask what was said, fearing they might look bad in the eyes of the priest. Confession must be the one place where the penitent can always be upfront, if spiritual therapy is to result in healing. Honesty has to be central to the confession.

As a final note, an Orthodox priest should NEVER pronounce absolution in the case of murder, rape, pedophilia, or any other serious crime, unless the person agrees to turn themselves into the police. An important element in confession for any person who is truly sorry for their sins, is their willingness to accept the consequences of justice rendered.

With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon

Saturday July 23, 2016 / July 10, 2016
5th Week after Pentecost. Tone three.

The Placing of the Precious Robe of the Lord at Moscow (1625).
Holy 45 Martyrs at Nicopolis in Armenia, including Leontius, Maurice, Daniel, Anthony, Alexander, Anicetus, Sisinius, Meneus, and Belerad (Verelad) (319).
Venerable Anthony of the Kiev Caves (1073).
New Hieromartyrs Peter ans Stephen priests, Gregory and Nestor deacons (1918).
Venerables Eumenes (1920) and Parthenius (1905) of Gortyna.
Venerable Silouan of the Far Caves in Kiev (13th-l4th c.).
Martyr Apollonius of Sardis (3rd c.).
Martyrs Bianor and Silvanus of Pisidia (4th c.).
10,000 Fathers of the desert and caves of Scetis martyred by the impious Patriarch Theophilus of Alexandria (398).
“Konevits” Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Translation of the relics (1609) of St. Basil, bishop of Ryazan (1295).
St. Gregory, bishop of Assos near Ephesus (1150) (Greek).
New Hieromartyr Archpriest Joseph of Damascus and Companions (1860).
Synaxis of All Saints of Vatopedi Monastery, Mt. Ethos.

Scripture Readings

Romans 8:14-21

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

From Suffering to Glory

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Matthew 9:9-13

Matthew the Tax Collector

9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him.

10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Abbot Tryphon

About Abbot Tryphon

The Very. Rev. Abbot Tryphon All-Merciful Saviour Monastery on Vashon Island, Washington. The Monastery is under the omophore of The Most Rev. Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Situated in the heart of a beautiful forest, surrounded by the Salish Sea, the monastery is reached by ferry from either Seattle, or Tacoma, Washington.

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