Some of us, today, often neglect the significance of the sacrament; Repentance and Confession. Often we feel that we can repent, confess and heal ourselves, without having to reveal our weaknesses and passions to another. Some say ‘I confess my sins directly to Christ’. Yet the desert fathers teach us that no one can save themselves! Salvation comes from above, however, via our fellow humans. For this reason the desert fathers in their humility, confessed not only their sins to fellow elders, but even their thoughts. The following account about a young monk and Elder Zeno reveals the importance of confession.
We once visited one of the Fathers and posed the following question:
“Father, if one is bothered by a certain temptation and, seeing that he is slowly conquered by it, despite reading many times what the Fathers say about overcoming the temptation and trying to apply it, does not totally succeed, what is preferable? That he should reveal his temptation to one of the Fathers or that he should concern himself with applying what he has studied and be satisfied in his conscience?”
The Elder answered:
“One who is embattled by a temptation has the obligation to reveal this thought of his to someone who has the strength to benefit him. For support, he should not rely on himself only. For no one is able to help himself, when he is actually tormented by passions.
To me," continued the Elder, "the following occurred when I was younger. I suffered from a spiritual passion and I succumbed to it. I was informed that Abba Zeno healed many who found themselves in situations like mine. Therefore, I also decided to go and to reveal to Abba Zeno my passion; however, Satan hindered me, whispering in my soul high-sounding thoughts: ‘Since you know what you must do, act according to what you have studied in books. Why should you go and trouble the Elder?’
As many times, then, as I would decide to go to visit the Elder and to reveal to him my temptation, I would feel relief from the onslaught of that passion. This certainly was the cunning of the Devil, so that I would not go, since when I would decide not to go, I would again be possessed by the passion. Now, for a long time the Enemy pulled me astray, into this trap, not tolerating that I should confess my temptation to the Elder.
Many times I would go to the Elder with the decision to tell him my temptation; however, the Enemy would not let me, because of the embarrassment which he caused in my heart. 'Since you know,' he would say in my thoughts 'how you must heal yourself, what is the need to reveal to someone your passion? Besides, you are not negligent. You know what the Fathers have said about similar situations.'
"The Enemy brought all these things into my mind, so that I would not reveal my passion to the doctor and be healed. The Elder, however, realised that I was being tormented by temptations. He did not reproach me, but waited for me to reveal them myself. He also instructed me about the correct manner of living, and let me depart with his blessing.
Once, however, after one such visit, while grieving over my miserable condition, I said to myself: 'How much longer, my miserable soul, will you go without being healed? Many come to the Elder who live far away and are healed. Are you not ashamed to have the physician so near, and yet not be healed?' Therefore, since my heart was warmed by these thoughts, I arose at once and said to myself: 'I will go to the Elder and, if I find there no visitors, I will know that it is the Will of God that I confess to him my thought.' And indeed, going to the cell of the Elder, I found no one.
"The Elder, as was his custom, instructed me again about the salvation of the soul and how it is necessary for a person to be cleansed of shameful thoughts. (I, from shame, again disclosed nothing to him, and was getting ready to leave.) Standing up, he blessed me and showed me out, waking ahead of me to the front door of his cell. Tormented, however, by the thought of whether or not I should confess my temptations to the Elder, I walked behind him with hesitating steps. Then the Elder turned to me and, seeing me thus, tortured by thoughts, tapped me in a friendly way on the chest and said to me:
"'My son, what is wrong? I am also a man.'
"I felt the words of the Elder open my heart and, falling on my knees, I implored him with tears:
"'Father, take pity on me.'
"What is the matter, my child?' asked the Elder.
"'Do you not know what is wrong?'
"The Elder, as if he knew the secret in my heart, said to me:
"'It is necessary that you say it.'
"At that moment, then, I, with great shame, confessed to him my passion.
"After listening to me, the Elder said:
"Why were you ashamed to entrust this to me for so long? Perhaps I am not also a man? Did you just want me to reveal to you what I knew?
Why would you come here for three years already, tormented by these temptations, but without confessing them?'
"After this, deeply moved by him, I fell again on my knees, saying:
"You are right, Father, I beg you now to take pity on me, for the love of the Lord.'
"And again the Elder added graciously:
"'Go. Do not neglect your prayer and criticise no one.'
"Going back to my cell and busying myself constantly with my prayer, by the Grace, to be sure, of Christ and through the prayers of the Elder, I was never again bothered by that passion.
"A year later, the following thought assailed my mind: 'Perhaps God had compassion on you because of His mercy alone, and not because of the Elder.' As soon as this thought came to me, I went immediately to the Elder's cell, in order to test him. After finding him, I prostrated before him and said:
"'Father, for the love of God, I implore you to pray for me on account of that temptation which once I confessed to you.'
'The Elder left me on my knees. Then, falling silent for a moment, afterwards said to me:
"'Get up. You should have faith."
"As soon as I heard this answer, I experienced such shame at that moment that I wanted the earth to swallow me. And after I rose, I did not have the strength to face the Elder, but returned to my cell, full of wonder and astonishment.”
Evergetinos Vol. 1, Hypothesis 20.C.1