TABOR - Tradition and Contemporaneity in the Romanian Orthodox Church
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The practice of confession to the Desert Fathers: A genuine ascetic system

DANIEL LEMENI, The practice of confession to the Desert Fathers: A genuine ascetic system
In this paper we examine the value of monastic repentance and its relationship with the ecclesiastical
penance (epitimion). Penance, understood in its widest and most general sense, is the process
through which a person restores communion with God. The present study focuses on one particular
conception of penance and its ramifi cation: the idea of a personal relationship with God that is severed through sinful deeds but can be renewed with the assistance of others. The examples under
consideration here are part of a larger Christian understanding of penance as an individual process
of redemption that does not necessarily involve the institutional Church nor require the ritual
assistance of a priest or a bishop. Generally, in the process of the penance, the bishop (or the priest
acting on behalf of the bishop) acts on the basis of his power to bind and loose, as a successor of
the Apostle Peter. Briefl y, the power to bind and loose was part of the ecclesiastical offi ce. Also, repentance
was an integral part of the monk’s routine, and not an element of the sacramental system
(confession of sin). This fact explains some of the differences between penitence in the Church and
in monastic practice during the fourth century. As we shall argue below, monasticism can also be
conceived as a state of extended penance to obliterate existing sin. The repentance was particularly
relevant as a pedagogical tool in the instructions of a spiritual father (Abba) to his disciple. In contrast
to the tendency to formalize penitence in the Church, the penitence in Apophtegmata shows
no sign of institutionalization.
KEYWORDS: repentance, ecclesiastical penance, monasticism, Apophtegmata Patrum, bishop,
Desert Fathers