Suggestions of Athonite Elders Concerning Children’s Confession

Hieromonk Pavel is an archondar of Dionysiou Monastery. For many years, he gives guidance to hundreds of laypeople who come from Greece, Cyprus and other countries of the Orthodox world and visit the Holy Mount Athos. Fr. Pavel refers to the words of St. Basil the Great and states that the first confession of a child should occur at the age of ten.
According to elder Nicodemus, who was the disciple of Archimandrite Cherubim Karambelas, children can begin to confess even at a younger age: “If a child feels the need for repentance, then we should encourage this desire, even if the child will say something insignificant during the Sacrament of Confession”.

Archimandrite Parthenius (Murelatos) thinks that the first confession can take place even if the child is just three years old: “The earlier the child begins to live spiritually, the better. Childhood education has the strongest effect on a person. There is a national proverb in Greece: your child will become the one whom you will teach him to be.

We need to explain to children what is Repentance. They can confess even at the age of three. Participation in this and other Sacraments will strengthen the child in his Faith.
Parents can feed their children with material food, while the spiritual father will provide them with spiritual food. Such children grow up and become full-fledged people, who listen to elders and live a grace-filled church life.
A document, which is not sealed, has no value. The same is with people. During the Sacrament of Confession, we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit. Yes, a little child has no sins, but he receives the Lord’s grace when he kneels before the Cross and the Gospel with a humble heart, and when the priest covers his head with the epitrachelion and reads the prayer of absolution.
A child, who is fully involved in the life of the Church, is protected on all sides and is full of grace and joy”.
Archimandrite Parthenius and other elders point out that the Sacrament of Confession should not be turned into a formality. Confession should not be just an additional part of the Sacrament of Eucharist. Repentance is a separate Sacrament, which should occur only when a person feels that it is necessary, but not just every time a person is going to partake of the Holy Communion.
Elder Macarius (the spiritual father of Maruda cell), a well-known Athonite spiritual father, notes: “To bring a child to Confession against his own will is a crime. What is more, it is unacceptable to bring a child who is not ready for this Sacrament. We cannot let Repentance turn into a formal habit. A child must understand what he confesses and what is the essence and meaning of Repentance, of other Sacraments and the spiritual life as a whole. If a child does not understand the meaning of the Sacrament, but sees it just as a necessary action for admission to the Eucharist or for moral justification, then later it can happen so that this child will leave the Church. There is also another course of events: after many years of confession of such sins as “did not listen to my mom and dad, quarreled with my brother, did not do my homework”, sins that are more serious will appear. It can be so that such a child (who does not understand the essence of Repentance) can conceal them at Confession because he will be afraid of falling in the eyes of his spiritual father. Leaving the Church can become his next step”.
Elder Macarius reminds the the true Repentance is “neither a report on misconducts committed for a certain period of time, nor an attempt to clear your conscience. It is your desire to change yourself and to devote your life to God”.
The Athonite elders point out that our conscious participation in the church Sacraments gives us God’s grace and strengthens us on our spiritual path. It is possible for a child to participate in the Sacrament of Confession only in case his parents not just bring him to Confession, but explain to him the meaning of this Sacrament. At the same time, we should remember that the age of the first Confession should be defined individually in each case.  
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds:
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