After Baptism and Holy Chrism, the faithful is called to struggle so as to preserve God's grace active within himself and to produce spiritual fruit. Towards this aim, the faithful must, with all his being, turn to Christ, the Head of the body. This means that he must relinquish his autonomy and humble himself.
If on life's journey, the believer misses his mark, changes path, or orientation, he must repent, that is change his mind [metanoia = 'repentance' in Greek and means change (meta) of mind or noetic faculty (nous)], he must turn once again to the Lord, and follow the life of the Church.
Man with his autonomy insults the life of the entire body of the Church; his sin is the result of his own, individual, choice, which breaks and "amputates" the body, for it does not accept and participate in the one mind (φρόνημα), the mind of Christ. Those acts characterized as sin are not acts which stem from a communion of love with the Head and with the entire body, but only from a communion with ourselves. This is why sin insults both God's love and the love of the brethren who constitute the one Body. It is an affliction and harms the entire Body of the Church.
The Church's reaction is not one of revenge and retaliation. She does not look to the punishment of its weak member but rather to its cure. She does not, however, coerce the sinner's free disposition, she does not violate his personal free will. The pedagogical measures which she employs constitute a new challenge to the disposition of him who has deviated. If in the end he chooses to remain in his autonomy and does not desire to restore it within the unity of the Body of the Church, he cuts himself off from the life of the Body. This is why until he decides to change direction, he is not allowed to participate in the Holy Eucharist. If however he desires to return, forgiveness is granted him; he is once again received with love and he once again assumes his former place at the Lord's Table. Forgiveness is not granted by men, but by God Himself (Is. 43,25). Christ, however, sent forth His disciples, just as the Father had sent Him; He gave them the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins (Mat. 18,18. Jn. 20, 21-23.
The Spiritual Father is Christ's instrument and the steward of His grace (I Cor. 4,1.1 Peter 4,10). It is not he who forgives sins but God who uses him as a steward of divine grace; it is not his grace but God's (I Jn 1,9-2,2). That God uses men as instruments of his grace is an act of his philanthropy [love for man]. The confession of one's sin is an act of humility on the part of the sinner; such would not be the case if this confession was made "directly" to God and not before at least one man who represents the entire Church and is the servant of God's grace. This is what differentiates Confession from "an interview" by a psychologist or psychiatrist, from which one leaves without the feeling that his transgressions and omissions have been forgiven and that he has reestablished his bonds of love with God and the brethren. He does not have the feeling that he has received God's grace in order to begin a new life. The help provided by a psychologist belongs to the human order. The psychologist has as a prototype fallen man whom he sets up as an absolute model. He does not take into consideration the factor of sin, nor is he concerned with reconciliation with God. Thus man essentially leaves the psychologist without redemption, and takes away with him all of the guilt that ways upon him and deprives him of the freedom "in Christ".
The conviction that grace does not come from the man-Confessor but from God Himself relieves the sinful man and boosts his morale, for it provides him with the certainty that he is not alone but has as his supporter God the Merciful Father Himself. This can be seen from the Church's prayers of absolution. The Spiritual Father asks the Lord in His great mercy to receive the penitent, to overlook and to forgive all his sins, for only He alone is free of all iniquity and only He can forgive sins. The Spiritual Father expresses the awareness that he serves as God's instrument and that forgiveness does not come from him. Regardless of whether he who has confessed has done something voluntarily or involuntarily, in word, deed or thought, the Spiritual Father asks God to grant forgiveness, since only He has the authority to forgive sins and hence to Him belongs the glory.
"O God, our Saviour...receive in your usual love for man [Thy servant] overlooking all that he has committed, Thou who forgives injustices and overcomes iniquities"; "May that same God forgive thee, through me a sinner, all..." "Thou, Ο Lord, all-good and all-merciful, forgive all that my spiritual child has confessed with a contrite heart before Thee to my unworthiness..." "and if he has committed any voluntary or involuntary sin, in word, deed, or in thought, do Thou forgive as a good God who lovest mankind. For Thou art He who alone hath authority to forgive sins and unto Thee do we ascribe Glory, together with thine eternal Father and thine all-holy, good, and life-bestowing Spirit..."
The confession of one's sins before the Confessor constitutes proof in action of the humble mind of the penitent, with which he inaugurates his new life. This humility at the same time also constitutes the proof of his apostasy and of the expression of his repentance, which is a necessary requisite for the presence of God's grace (James 4,6. I Peter 5,5). In this way the believer once again restores his relationship with the body of the Church, and once again enters the spiritual palaestra and is called to a continuous effort to overcome the passions, which through sin have been strengthened and exercise greater force upon him. In order that he be helped in this struggle, the Spiritual Father recommends certain pedagogical means, in accordance with each particular case (the epitimia). These are not punishments or penalties but the necessary medicine needed to face the dangers which arise from the passions.