Teaching unit on the Holy Mysteries
This page is part of a teaching unit on the Holy Mysteries.
For an introductory lesson and links to the other Mysteries, please visit our page: The Holy Mysteries
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TEACHING ABOUT HOLY CONFESSION
At the end of the lesson, the students should be able to:
- Say the word “Confession“.
- Mention that, during Holy Confession, we talk to our priest about everything we did that we are sorry for. Our priest then prays for us, and our Lord forgives us.
- Give examples of actions that could be mentioned at Confession with the help of the teacher.
In addition to the above, the older children should also be able to:
- Name sin as a thought or action that disobeys God’s commands, “missing the mark”, and separating us from communion with Him.
- Explain that it is not the priest who forgives sins, but Christ Himself through the confessor.
- Explain the concept of a spiritual father as a priest who regularly hears our confession and advises us.
- Categorize examples of sins into three categories: sins against God; sins against ourselves; sins against other people.
- Describe the icon of Christ the Merciful and explain why it is relevant to Confession.
- Say a phrase from a psalm that is relative to Confession.
Vocabulary: sin, confession, spiritual father, absolution, reconciliation, stole or epitrachelion
Planning the lesson
Using our material and some external resources, a lesson on Holy Confession could go as follows:
First, introduce the Mystery. We have found ideas in various sources, and we are listing them below.
Introducing Holy Confession
- Discuss a Bible story. Our favorites are the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, or the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We are offering many resources for teaching both parables on the web pages linked above.
- Obstacle course in the dark: A wonderful teaching idea from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
- Muddy picture: An activity from Dr. Pat’s Orthodox Super Sunday School Curriculum, a fantastic Orthodox catechism website.
- Coca Cola and buttons: A good idea for introducing the concept of sin and its consequences, from the non-Orthodox website Kids’ Sunday School Place. If you decide to use it, be careful not to introduce any non-Orthodox elements.
* Please note: The internet abounds with non-Orthodox resources about Confession for children. We are always careful when adapting a non-Orthodox catechism resource, but especially for this essential Mystery, we suggest being extra cautious. The other traditions often view sin as a crime needing punishment; whereas in Orthodoxy sin is considered a wound that needs to be healed, within the Church, and always under the guidance of a spiritual father. Introducing non-Orthodox elements, even by accident, can make a big difference in the way a child perceives the all-important concept of sin, the relationship to the confessor, and the Mystery of Holy Confession.
After introducing the Mystery, the lesson could go as follows:
- Discuss examples of sins, with input from the children. We created a SLIDESHOW to help. Our printable packet can also be useful for this.
- Act out the prayer of absolution. A long piece of cloth can be used for the epitrachelion. The teacher explains how the epitrachelion is worn by the priest. A child then holds the cloth, and the teacher demonstrates kneeling beneath it, then kissing the cloth and the hand of the priest. Afterwards, the teacher holds the cloth, and each child takes a turn kneeling. Please note: Such enactments can be very useful when teaching young children, as they help make abstract concepts more concrete; however, care should be taken that they are always done in a reverent way.
- Discuss the relevant icon.
- Work on reinforcement activities.
In the printable packet, we are offering the following activities:
- Fact sheet and corresponding worksheet (for the older children)
- How can we miss the mark? – resources to explore the concept of sin
- Icon craft
- Crossword puzzle
- Word puzzles – one for younger and one for older children
- Board game
We are including below some books that we have found helpful for teaching about Confession.
- A Child’s Guide to Confession, Ancient Faith Publishing: A beautifully illustrated guide to Confession for children.
- Confession (Orthodoxy for Children series) by Anthony Borisov, translated by John Hogg.
- Making Things Right, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Orthodox Christian Education Committee (scroll through the catalog to page 6): A comprehensive 12-lesson program about the mystery of Confession for children in the early Grades of Elementary school.
We are born with the consequences of sin, which are erased with our baptism and chrismation. However, as humans, we regularly fall into sin again during our earthly life. The Greek word for sin is amartia (ah-mar-TEE-a), and it literally means “missing the mark” – the mark in this case being union with Christ. Practically speaking, sin is disobedience to God’s commands, and each time we fall into it, we remove ourselves from communion with Him.
We are not living in isolation; when we sin, we cause a wound to the body of Christ, the Church, of which we are members. In the early Church, during the Divine Liturgy, the Christians would confess their sins in front of all the faithful; then the Bishop would grant forgiveness. However, as this tradition was gradually abused, and the Church did not want to shame the faithful publicly, the Bishop started to hear confessions privately. Nowadays, the Bishop may appoint the Office of the Confessor to the priests.
Within the Church, sin is viewed more as a disease that needs to be healed, rather than a crime that needs to be punished. The mystery of Holy Confession is offered as a means for this healing, as an opportunity to repent and get back on the desired path. We confess our sins to the confessor, who at the moment of our confession is in the place of Christ. He prays the prayer of absolution over us, by which the forgiveness of God is pronounced and bestowed. Therefore, it is not the confessor who forgives, but God Himself through the confessor. The physical manifestation of God’s grace in the mystery of Confession occurs when the confessor places his stole (epitrachelion) upon the faithfuls’ head while reading the prayer of absolution, which is slightly different in the Greek and Slavonic traditions.
An Orthodox Christian should go to Confession regularly. In the Orthodox tradition, one confesses face-to-face, and usually to the same confessor, with whom a strong personal connection is developed. The confessor thus becomes a spiritual father, guiding the faithful on their path to spiritual growth. It is customary to go to Confession during the fasting periods of the Church, which are the periods of preparation before the major feasts. However, one may go to Confession anytime one feels one’s conscience heavy. Having a pure soul and light conscience is an absolute prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion.
PREPARING FOR CONFESSION
The Church teaches that it is beneficial for children to experience the mystery of Holy Confession. Oftentimes, a discerning confessor will help the penitent, either child or adult, confess their sins, within a spirit of loving kindness.
We are listing below some resources that may be useful when preparing ourselves, our children, or our students for Confession.
- Confession: The healing Sacrament – Antiochian Orthodox Church of North America
- Preparation for Holy Confession, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Ten Commandments: Confession preparation for kids, St. Philip Orthodox Church, Souderton PA
Matthew 18:17, John 20:23, 1 Corinthians 11:28-31, James 5:16
An appropriate icon to work on while discussing the mystery of Holy Confession is Christ the Savior or Life-giver, also known as “O Eleimon”, the Merciful. In this icon type, which is actually that of the Pantocrator, our Lord radiates serene strength and grace.
- Repentance and Confession – Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Three Common Misconceptions about Confession – Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
- Confession: Questions and Answers – Orthodox Church in America
- Be the Bee video series, Episode #36, Confession – Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America