November 28, 2007

Quality in Higher Education Sector in India

It is a fact and hard reality that quality and discipline are at cross roads in the total system of India. The quality of education / educational institutions in the past was measured in quantitative terms in relation to the:

Students enrolment
Faculty strength
Number of programmes offered and
Physical infrastructure in terms of buildings and other amenities etc.

But today we are living in a knowledge-based, knowledge oriented and knowledge driven society. Therefore, quality in Higher education indicates more than quantitative measures or indicators. There is a paradign shift in this. The shift is towards the areas like
v Student centred teaching – learning process
v Socially relevant and productive research and
v Outreach programs
When these areas are harmoniously blended or integrated into a functional whole in the education system, it would certainly enhance the quality of the learner and enrich the society. Socially, empower it economically and enlighten it politically. Only then education can have its intrinsic and instrumental impact on the learner and the society at large respectively.
Community engagement is one way to create closer ties between institutions of higher education and the communities they serve. It deepens the quality of learning and discovery.
Higher education is not exempt from the process of globalization. The topic of globalization and its implications for higher education are wide-ranging. There are many dimensions – trans-national education, multi-national arrangements governing access, mobility and quality assurance. All link to globalization.

Globalization influences quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of qualifications - especially when they are earned through trans-national education. It is in this domain that some argue for putting international frameworks in place to regulate quality assurance, accreditation and the recognition of diplomas.

Every organization, be it a company, a corporate division, a university, a college, or an academic department, has both a stated mission, which is written for public consumption, and a true mission, which dictates how the organization allocates resources and rewards performance. The two missions may be the same or different. The working definition of "quality" within an organization is determined primarily by the organization’s true mission. The concept of the true mission is needed to explain the principal differences between the industrial and academic cultures that are related to quality management.

In industry, the true mission is relatively clear, and quality is relatively straightforward to define. In education, the true mission is complex and subject to endless debate, and quality is therefore almost impossible to define in an operationally useful manner.

Whatever the corporate mission statement may say, the true mission of a for-profit company is to maximize profits (more precisely, some measure of profitability). Setting aside altruistic objectives that may motivate individual company personnel, such goals as zero defects, customer satisfaction, staff empowerment, etc., are to the corporate mind simply means to the end of maximizing profits. "Quality" may be defined as any property of an industrial process or product that varies in a generally monotonic manner with profits. The goal of raising quality is therefore consistent with the mission of maximizing profits.

In education as in industry, the stated mission and the true mission may not coincide. The similarity ends there, however. The goals that constitute the educational mission of a university are extremely hard to pin down to everyone’s satisfaction. Is the goal to produce graduates who simply know a lot more than they did when they enrolled as freshmen? What is it that we want them to know? Do we wish to equip the students with the skills they will need to succeed as professionals? What skills would those be? Are they the same for all professions? Are we trying to produce "educated citizens"? Whose definition of "educated" will we adopt? Plato’s? Dewey’s? Alan Bloom’s? Is it our purpose to promote certain values in our graduates? Which ones?

Agreeing on educational goals is only the first step toward formulating an academic mission, however. In the modern university, teaching is just one of several important functions, the others being research, service to business and technology and service to the community and society at large.

In industry, quality is relatively easy to assess. In education, even if a definition of quality can be formulated and agreed upon, devising a meaningful assessment process is a monumental task.

In industry, the customer is relatively easy to identify and is always right, at least in principle. In education, those who might be identified as "customers" have contradictory needs and desires and may very well be completely wrong.

In industry, a clear chain of command usually exists, on paper and in fact. In education, a chain of command might exist on paper, but it is in fact relatively amorphous and nothing at all like its industrial counterpart.

Colleges should make a very serious survey of the existing scenario of higher education in India against global setting. One would witness the existence and operation of THREE forces simultaneously and these forces or factors may be categorized as
- Facilitating factors
- Compelling factor and
- Threatening factors
These three factors or forces certainly operate in a big way and if these are to be used as congenial factors for the empowerment of colleges. Colleges and the various functionaries in the system should mobilize their entrepreneurial talents blended with the entrepreneurial abilities to capitalize these forces towards growth and progress and ultimately to the good of mankind.

November 24, 2007

Cyberethics: New Challenges or Old Problems?

We say that those who switch on their computers, log on to a program, perhaps go to a website, send an email or enter a chat room - go ‘on the net’. However, this does not mean that they get caught up in the net, but that they enter a social and public space of communication. Such a space is not material space. If we want to describe it, we will have to use technical terms otherwise used in the field of broadcasting or communication. We won’t be able to speak about cubic meters or the proportions of a building. Thus the word ‘cyberspace’ is a metaphor. And yet, those who go ‘on the net’ and communicate with others via internet, experience space in a peculiar way. And if experience is the only way to speak about reality, while such an experience has aspects of space and involves our senses, then it is by no means absurd to describe the internet as a ‘space’. If we combine space with the word ‘cyber’ we signal that it is in fact different from those spaces which we perceive as three dimensional. It signifies that it is by nature fictional and utopian though not outside of our experience.

My basic theme is that those who act in this space and become open to such experiences of space are moving in a space which is not free from the necessity to make ethical decisions. Moving in cyberspace implies relevant ethical decisions. Those for who this theme is evident and without question will want to extend and apply traditional ways of asking ethical questions immediately to the new experience and opportunities which this technology generates. Such evidence presumes however that internet has been sufficiently understood as a means of communication between human beings, that a clear distinction can made between the subjects and recipients of ethical actions and that human dignity and the common good can be applied immediately as a measure for assessing certain events in cyberspace.

The internet opens up new, hitherto non-existent, ethical questions, in so far as we have to show anew the inevitability of the question of good and evil in a space which is entirely created and shaped by human beings. In its own way it places itself outside of the validity of ethical norms. Human beings and human community are aim and measure for our handling of the media. ‘Communication should be between human beings and to the advantage of human development’. This principle of media ethics, pronounced by the papal Council for Social Means of Communication, is itself a valid maxim. Its factual validity is obscured because in the perception and awareness of many people the internet, and with it the experience of cyberspace, has escaped the world of means.

For the purpose of making a limited contribution to dealing with this task, I want to relate the discourse of media theory and ethics to each other:
Media ethics as sector ethics reaches its limitations due to the universal character of the internet.
Theological justifications of norms for acting on the internet reach into the void as they apply a conventional interpretation of the effects of the internet on real life.
The internet generates the appearance of a momentum without a subject

The internet as a means to achieve real-life ends

The internet can be used to make arrangements for terrorist’s attacks. On it we can find calls for collective acts of violence. Following the basic model of communication theory of sender, receiver, message, medium and context, sender and receiver of calls to criminal actions are outside the net - the internet is (at the moment) only a means for ethically relevant events that take place outside the net. In this sense the net itself is morally neutral. It is open to any kind of intention for the realization of which it can be used. It can be an effective means for bringing about something good or for doing evil.

Ethical judgments about these phenomena are made ex-post. They are caused by violations of the norm. In the context of calls and incitements to criminal and violent actions ethical and legal judgments are indisputable. The internet however raises hitherto unresolved questions of the implementation of legal norms and criminal prosecution. The internet is a means of communication which increases the range and speed of communication. The connections of media, (telephone, TV, computer) which have hitherto functioned separately and their global character makes them vast and uncontrollable. Easy and uncontrollable access to the mass medium internet offers increased opportunities for those who break the law in democratic societies as well as democratic oppositions in totalitarian states.

There are two kinds of responses to these challenges: on the one hand people are looking for technical solutions. Image and language recognition software is supposed to identify on the world wide net so – called propaganda crimes or pages with pornographic content. Assessments on technical efforts of this kind are however rather skeptical. For this reason one is beginning to see the necessity to increase user competence from the point of view of ethics. As the internet is largely outside the classic means of controlling the media, there is no other option, but to improve the users’ self regulation and responsibility.

Internet ethics is first of all media ethics. Media ethics is a particular sector ethics: it is constituted through the application of general ethical norms on a limited area of society. It is largely restricted to those areas of society where the internet is used as a means of communication. The multiplication of the effects of this means of communication seems to necessitate the development and expansion of the internet ethic.

We come to two conclusions, which appear to make a heightening of human self-awareness in a world conditioned by information and communication technology:
If the internet as a control technology is necessary for the functioning of society, then it is a means, even though a highly complex one, for the sustaining of the primary world. It is one of its attributes and subordinate to it. The system of means, , mentioned above, does not lose its ontological rank as a means. Only in this rank can the internet require adaptability from human beings. Adaptability can however not mean for human beings to surrender their subjectivity. For it is n the willingness to do precisely that cyberspace as space gathers momentum. As such it would become alienated or liberated from its function as a means, depending on one’s point of view.
Those who regard the internet as a necessary means to sustain the world, and as a consequence demand adaptations with regard to human behavior and self- perception, have to hold the primary, sensorial, given world in high regard. Otherwise their arguments remain meaningless. It is essential for human beings in this world to live and act as a unique unit of body, soul and spirit. If we consider adaptability necessary, we simply resistance to any endangering of this human constitution.

Part I - Cyberspace in the Life and Mission of the Church

1.1 Origin of the term

The word "cyberspace" (from cybernetics and space) was coined by science fiction novelist William Gibson in his 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and popularized by his 1984 novel Neuromancer. The prefix “cyber ” is much older, this word is clipped off from the word ‘cybernetics’, which comes from the Greek “kubernetes” meaning steersman or governor. The English term ‘cybernetics’ was borrowed by the American mathematician Norbert Wiener in the 1940s to mean the theory of control and communication processes.

The portion of Neuromancer cited in this respect is usually the following:
Cyberspace - A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts. A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding.

Gibson later commented on the origin of the term in the 1996 documentary No Maps for These Territories, “All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page”. Gibson also coined the phrase Meatspace for the physical world contrasted with Cyberspace.

1.1.1 Metaphorical Meaning
The term Cyberspace started to become a de facto synonym for the Internet, and later the World Wide Web, during the 1990s, especially in academic circles and activist communities. Author Bruce Sterling, who popularized this meaning, credits John Perry Barlow as the first to use it to refer to "the present-day nexus of computer and telecommunications networks." Barlow describes it thus in his essay to announce the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in June, 1990

John Perry Barlow, in his article Crime and Puzzlement says “In this silent world, all conversation is typed. To enter it, one forsakes both body and place and becomes a thing of words alone. You can see what your neighbours are saying or recently said, but not what either they or their physical surroundings look like. Town meetings are continuous and discussions rage on everything from sexual kinks to depreciation schedules. Whether by one telephonic tendril or millions, they are all connected to one another. Collectively, they form what their inhabitants call the Net. It extends across that immense region of electron states, microwaves, magnetic fields, light pulses and thought which sci-fi writer William Gibson named Cyberspace”.

1.1.2 Cyberspace as an Internet metaphor

While cyberspace should not be confused with the real Internet, the term is often used to refer to objects and identities that exist largely within the communication network itself, so that a web site, for example, might be metaphorically said to "exist in cyberspace." According to this interpretation, events taking place on the Internet are not therefore happening in the countries where the participants or the servers are physically located, but "in cyberspace".

Cyberspace is the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person's phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. the past twenty years, this electrical "space," which was once thin and dark and one-dimensional -- little more than a narrow speaking-tube, stretching from phone to phone -- has flung itself open like a gigantic jack-in the- box. Light has flooded upon it, the eerie light of the glowing computer screen. This dark electric netherworld has become a vast flowering electronic landscape. Since the 1960s, the world of the telephone has cross-bred itself with computers and television, and though there is still no substance to cyberspace, nothing you can handle, it has a strange kind of physicality now. It makes good sense today to talk of cyberspace as a place all its own.
Cyberspace is like the white triangle in the above image, appearing virtually, existing nowhere, while joining computers, mobile devices or any device that can transmit and receive electronic bits, across the globe

The "space" in cyberspace has more in common with the abstract, mathematical meanings of the term than physical space. It does not have the duality of positive and negative volume, while in physical space for example a room has the negative volume of usable space delineated by positive volume of walls, Internet users cannot enter the screen and explore the unknown part of the Net as an extension of the space they're in, but spatial meaning can be attributed to the relationship between different pages of books as well as web servers, considering the unturned pages to be somewhere "out there." The concept of cyberspace therefore refers not to the content being presented to the surfer, but rather to the possibility of surfing among different sites, with feedback loops between the user and the rest of the system creating the potential to always encounter something unknown or unexpected.

Videogames differ from text-based communication in that on-screen images are meant to be figures that actually occupy a space and the animation shows the movement of those figures. Images are supposed to form the positive volume that delineates the empty space. A game adopts the cyberspace metaphor by engaging more players in the game, and then figuratively representing them on the screen as avatars. Games do not have to stop at the avatar-player level, but current implementations aiming for more immersive playing space (i.e. Laser tag) take the form of augmented reality rather than cyberspace, fully immersive virtual realities remaining impractical.

Some virtual communities explicitly refer to the concept of cyberspace, e.g. Linden Lab calling their customers "Residents" of Second Life, while all such communities can be positioned "in cyberspace" for explanatory and comparative purposes, integrating the metaphor into a wider cyber-culture.

1.2 Cyberspace and Infosphere

Infosphere is a term used since the 1990s to speculate about the common evolution of the Internet, society and culture. It is a neologism composed of information and sphere.

Emerging from what French philosopher-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the shared noosphere of collective human thought, invention and spiritual seeking, the Infosphere is sometimes used to conceptualize a field that engulfs our physical, mental and etheric bodies; it affects our dreaming and our cultural life. Our evolving nervous system has been extended, as media sage Marshall McLuhan predicted in the early 1960s, into a global embrace.

The term was used by Dan Simmons in the science-fiction saga Hyperion (published 1989) to indicate what the Internet could become in the future: a place parallel, virtual, formed of billions of networks, with "artificial life" on various scales, from what is equivalent to an insect (small programs) to what is equivalent to a god (artificial intelligences), whose motivations are divers: to help mankind or on the contrary to harm mankind?

The term has also been used by Luciano Floridi, on the basis of biosphere, to denote the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from cyberspace (which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were), since it also includes off-line and analogue spaces of information. According to Floridi, it is possible to equate the Infosphere to the totality of Being. This equation leads him to an informational ontology.
1.3 Characteristics of Cyberspace
1.3.1The system of cyberspace.

Is cyberspace part of the world Or is it "another world", in the sense of a fourth partition of space? One of the main problems when we try to define cyberspace is whether to consider it a system, a subsystem or a self-referential system, compared to space.

As a system, it would be autonomous from space, which means that, also, it might become a system of places, a group of places linked by mutual relationships, having all the characteristics that this implies. As a subsystem, a system which is part of another, it would become one of the places inside space, but it would remain linked to it, and it could not be considered as a "per se" space. As a self-referential system or "hybrid space", a system which is part of another but only refers to itself and its own variables, it would belong to the main system of space, and claim independence from it at the same time. In this case, the hybrid space would belong to, would be located in, a "metastanding" space (a space which namely belongs to the original space, but has independence in respect to its parent). Cyberspace would claim its own structure construction, which would not have to reflect the one of the original space, but could "reinvent" itself with a new system of metaphors.

The nature of cyberspace seems to lie more on the third definition, of "hybrid" space. Nobody is ready to admit a separate life for cyberspace, a life which would be "detached" and independent from physical space. It still relies on the physics of silicon. On the other hand, as for some commonly accepted descriptions given by VR (Virtual Reality), IRC (Inter Relay Chat) and MUD (Multi User Dungeons) users, cyberspace is a "legitimate" space, in which relationships and communities can develop.

1.3.2 The matter of cyberspace.

As seen above, in the term cyber+space, space assumes the meaning of physical matter, whereas cyber gives it the immaterial characteristic. The term "cyber" comes from "cybernetics", which means "leading, piloting". In the last few years, it assumed a meaning of "that which belongs to the digital world." Moreover, it reaches a point in which it could be assimilated to "virtual." Scholars are ready to agree that cyberspace is not a place for molecular manifestations, in the sense described above. Any phenomenon which takes place is, in fact, a result of electronic transformations of linguistic events.

Which is the "matter" of cyberspace, then? We can find any materiality in cyberspace. The "touchability" is still the main characteristic for defining "physicity" (being molecular). Cyberspace is not a physical space, and its livability is arguable. If we think about livability as "molecular presence", then we can sustain that cyberspace is not livable.

Let us consider different types of space:
Physical space has possibility of action, livability, can host communities and can be organised in spatial sub structures. Its time is irreversible: we do not have control over it; mental space does not have any livability characteristic, neither possibility of action or spatial organisation. Mental space is where intentions are formulated and organised; cyberspace has control over its time, whereas physical space is affected by its irreversibility;

cyberspace is an "actual" zone, activities can take place there, such as exchange of information, modifications of computer generated environments, communities can find ways of aggregation (eg. newsgroups, mailing lists, IRC channels and MUDs, all language-based environments);

communities, intended as groups of people sharing the same interests, as well as actions, are also possible in cyber, physical and social space, whereas mental space is, above all, the space in which the organisation of these communities and actions, and therefore their time, starts being shaped, but still is not produced as modifying action.
We can argue that the matter of cyberspace is language: it is written by it, and it is navigable by it; the navigation tools are nothing else but pieces of software.

The advantage of compiled language is in its global versatility: when compiled and sometimes even when not, such as HyperText Markup Language, it creates information which can be shared, transmitted and interpreted by a large number of computers.

1.4 Different Senses of the word Cyberspace

In one of its senses cyberspace refers to the "spaces" associated with virtual reality, an advanced computer-based technology in which people wear headsets with stereoscopic displays, carry trackers that sense their motion, and use special input devices. With the help of those devices people navigate in "simulated" spaces, typically graphical representations of three-dimensional mathematical spaces. The integrated use of these devices creates an experience of immersion in a "virtual" reality, thus realizing an important aspect of Gibson's vision: that it is possible to enter into cyberspace, leaving the body behind.

In another sense, which became predominant in the mid-1990s, cyberspace refers to the integrated "space" made possible by the Internet, which is populated by large numbers of entities of various kinds and in which people perform multiple activities. Although this space does not support immersion, it brings to life another important ingredient of Gibson's cyberspace: the fact that it is common to all.

In City of Bits, William Mitchell approaches the Internet from the perspective of space and place and suggests that "the worldwide computer network—the electronic agora—subverts, displaces, and radically redefines our notions of gathering place, community, and urban life" (1995, p. 8). Mitchell proposes that the Internet is antispatial in the sense that it is "nowhere in particular but everywhere at once" and that it is noncorporeal because people's identity in it is "electronic" and disembodied. In addition, because of this disembodiment, the constructions others make of people in an effort to give those people an identity are fragmented. Also, the Internet favours asynchronic communication. Increasingly, the word Internet is being invested with a broad meaning to encompass the notion of cyberspace in the second sense discussed above.

Syro-Malabar Qurbana and Reconciliation

According to the early Christian tradition, the sacrament of penance effects the Christian reconciliation not as the only form but as a proper and specific form of celebrating conversion and reconciliation in particularly grave cases of rupture in the ecclesial communion.[i] Another fact to which history and the Bible point is that the Holy Eucharist is a perfect means for the remission of sins, because the cross, the mystery of our reconciliation, is present in it. In the sacrifice of the cross, sacramentally present in the Eucharist, our liberation from and the victory over sins is realized. In its meal aspect, the Eucharist signifies and realizes the communion with God and others through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, and as a sign of communion, it is also explicitly a sacrament of reconciliation, of pardon and of liberation from sins. Although the Church lived these truths in the early centuries, allowing the sacrament of penance its extraordinary role, the remission of sins conferred by the Eucharist has suffered almost complete neglect since the middle ages.
The biblical texts, which make explicit reference to the Eucharist, affirm that when the Church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, it celebrates the mystery of its reconciliation. [ii] This reconciliation was accomplished once and for all in the death and resurrection of Christ and is now applied to the Church in this sinful situation by virtue of the sacrificial and sacramental character of the celebration.

Remission of sins through the sacrifice

The Words of institution over the bread “ This is my body which is broken for you for the remission of sins”, which is found already in G.Qatraya and is now used in the restored Qurbana, is a witness for the emphasis given to the purificatory effect of the Holy Eucharist, because the remission of sins here, which is non-biblical, is an addition in the East Syrian formula. The very common use of the phrase “remission of sins” in the text of the Qurbana clearly testifies to the belief of the early Church that the Eucharistic sacrifice effected the remission of sins. That Christ made the forgiveness of sins a principal effect of his sacrifice is evident also from the Words of Institution over the chalice: “ This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins”.[iii] Because of the use of a definitely sacrificial formula here in parallel with Ex 24:4-8, it is generally admitted that Christ offered a cultic sacrifice at the Last Supper.
There are two points here to consider: When Christ qualifies the chalice as the chalice of the New Covenant He refers to the Old Testament; secondly , the NT formulae make a parallel with Ex 24:1-11 which narrates how God constituted the people of Israel by making a covenant with them through Moses who sealed it by sprinkling blood on the altar(symbol of Yahweh)and the people. It was not a covenant with an individual but with a people. As the fulfillment of the Old covenant , Christ instituted the New Covenant which was foretold by Jeremias and by which the new people of God came into being.[iv]
According to the prophet Jeremias, to whom the Gospel narratives refer, the New Covenant conveys the pardon sins: “ I will forgive their iniquity and never call sins to mind”(Jer.31:34;EZ 25:29). As the first covenant was concluded in an atmosphere of liberation and redemption, the New Covenant should also realize a still more radical liberation than that prefigured by the first: liberation from sin and communion of the perfect life. The New covenant marked the destruction of sin and the sacrificial blood with which it was sealed bears in itself the efficacy of pardon.
By the use of the phrase “ the remission of sins for many”, which recalls the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:3-12, the participants are reminded of the expiatory nature of the Eucharist which is the representation of the cross. The Christian sacrifice replaces the propitiatory sacrifice of Israel and is the commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice, which alone makes God propitious to man. The Eucharist not only speaks of the return of sinners to God’s sonship but also effects that return. The effect of reconciliation is symbolized and caused by the exchange of gifts. That the sinful offer this gift on the altar is a sign of their willingness to be reconciled with the Father, and the acceptance of it by is the sign that the desired reconciliation has been effected.
Witnessing of the Qurbana text
A few prayers in the ordinary of the Qurbana can elucidate this point. Alluding to the desired end of the Qurbana the prayer which commences the anaphora says: “.. Our Lord Jesus Christ, through your ineffable grace hallow this sacrifice and impart to it the virtue and power to blot out our sins.” The prayer after ‘Our Father’ designates Qurbana as “the propitiatory sacrifice which sanctifies body and blood”. The Congregation raises the following appeal in the first karozutha: “ For the forgiveness of sins and all that enhances our life and wins pardon for yours people’s offences and forgiveness for the sins of all the sheep.” In the prayer after the elevation of the Host people acknowledge the effect of the sacrifice: “ His ministers… divide the body of Christ unto the forgiveness of sins.” The power of the Qurbana to remit sins of the living and the dead is recapitulated in the final huttama for the dead: “ Receive O Lord, this sacrifice on his behalf, pardon and forgive his offences and blot out his iniquities; let all those who participated in today’s’ holy sacrifice be made worthy of the forgiveness of through God’s mercy.”
The commentaries of the Qurbana also emphasize this idea. Narsai says: “This acceptable and pure oblation ,lo , is offered to the Lord,…It is sacrificed now that it may blot out and forgive your sins..Lo,it is offered for sinners and for the just ,that they may be cleansed by it from the stains of their sins. Lo,it is offered for the defunct and for the living , that all peoples may find mercy in the sacrifice thereof. Lo, it is offered to the God of all as a pledge that He will save us from the torment of Gehenna.”.[v]

Remission of sins through the Holy Communion
The Holy Communion is the communion in the victim of the sacrifice and is a means to enter into the movement of the sacrifice rendered present in the consecration.
The Eucharist is a sacramental memorial. The word memorial (Zikkaron) in the liturgical context means a cultic act by which a past event is recalled in order to relive the grace of that event at present, which revives the hope of salvation when God is reminded of His promise ad is prayed to realize it. The divine action connected with the Eucharist is the act of reconciliation. By eating and drinking the body and blood of our Lord who is present at the Eucharistic meal , the people open themselves to the redemptive and reconciliatory power of the Eucharistic celebration. The reconciliatory function of the Eucharist implies its efficacious and direct role in the remission of sins.
Numerous prayers in the ordinary of the Malabar Qurbana explicate the belief that the participants receive the remission of their sins through the reception of the holy communion: “These and I, who through your mercy receive in true faith this sacred body, may become worthy of the pardon of faults and forgiveness of sins”. Epiclesis: “That it may be unto us, Lord, for the pardon of our offences and for the forgiveness of sins.” In the elevation priest says: “Those who receive it are saved by it and are pardoned by it.” In the consignation the priest says: “The sacred body is signed with the propitiatory blood of our Lord Jesus Christ… May they be unto us, O my Lord, for the pardon of offences and forgiveness of sins.”
Eucharist is the sacrament of forgiveness because it sacramentally presents and communicates the act, which remits sins. As the memorial of the cross, it applies the expiatory effect of the cross to those who celebrate the memorial by putting them in touch with the paschal event in itself through the bread and cup of the meal and invokes the infinite mercy of God on the whole world. The forgiveness that makes the Christian worthy to communicate in the Eucharistic meal is directly produced by the memorial itself, and this effect is consummated in the sacramental contact with the body and blood given in the salvific sacrifice.
The prayers which designate the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ as “propitiatory sacrifice” elucidate this view: “This is the propitiatory sacrifice which our Saviour gave us so that we may sweep away by it the stains of our bodies and the occult filths of our souls and clean out our minds from hesitations”.[vi] “ This is the Holy Sacrifice by which sinners are cleansed”[vii]This view elucidates why it is a theological drawback to separate the sacrificial and sacramental dimensions of the Eucharist so as to destroy the profound unity of the mystery of reconciliation. As the sacrificial meal which is the culminating and concluding point of the sacrificial act, the communion has no existence independent of the sacrifice and therefore, it cannot be regarded as an isolated fact.

Limit of the Power of the Eucharist for Remission

It is quite remarkable that neither the liturgical texts of the Qurbana nor the commentaries on them find any limit in the forgiving power of the Eucharist in its sacramental and sacrificial dimensions. From the fact that public sinners were excluded from the Eucharistic assembly through the dismissal service, their sins could not be remitted by the Eucharist, not because of its lack of the power for the same but because of their forced absence from it.
Disposition for the Eucharistic Participation

Although the merit of the Eucharist is infinite, its appropriation to a soul depends on the measure of the spiritual disposition of the participants. Therefore, several prayers and rites seem to be aimed at creating in the participants an aptitude to dispose them to the propitiatory effects of the Eucharist.
The incense rites are of such a nature that they are generally considered as propitiatory sacrifice. Incensing immediately after marmitha and just before the reading of the Gospel reflects the penitential spirit: “ May the incense… be to your good pleasure and to the remission of offences of the sheep of your flock”. The incensing prayer reads: “Lord, may the sweet odour which spread over you… for the forgiveness of our offences and of our sins”.
The need for charity and reconciliation for the worthy participation is reflected in the second kussapa: “ Lord, Lord, give us confidence in your sight that with conscience free from every stain and evil, from envy, deceit and bitterness we may trustfully complete these living and holy mysteries .Sow in us, O Lord, through your grace mercy, love and concord with each other and with all men.”. The anthem of the mysteries elucidates the expected disposition of a participant: “Lt us please Christ, His Father and the Holy Spirit through fasting, prayer and repentance over our sins”. The prayers for pardon call for repentance and performance of penance are intended to create a proper disposition in the participants for the reception of the remission of sins. [viii]
The prayer of the priest after the communion: “Let not your living body, O Lord, which we have eaten and the precious blood which we have drunk, turn to our judgement and condemnation nor to our weakness and iniquity, but may it avail for the pardon of offences…” which directly refers to the desired fruit of the Holy Communion, indirectly hints at the expected disposition for the same.
Purity required for the Eucharistic Participation

If the Eucharistic sacrifice obtains the remission of sins, would it not be normal that sinners approach the Eucharist to obtain the remission of sins without previously obtaining the absolution in the sacrament of penance? There are some indications that such was the practice in the East Syrian Church. Narsai recommends only contrition for the abominable deeds against God and offences against neighbours as the prerequisite to receive the Holy Communion.[ix] Babai prescribes unshakable faith and burning love as the precondition for the worthy reception of t he Eucharist.[x]
Although theoretically speaking one could obtain pardon for all sins through the Eucharist, the East Syrian Church did not seem to have considered as ideal to partake of the Eucharist in a state of sin so as to obtain pardon through it, because the liturgical texts and their commentaries always emphasized the need of sinlessness for a fruitful participation. Numerous prayers in the Qurbana elucidate this point. For example, the prayer after the marmitha reads: “ Make us worthy to serve before thee with purity, piety, diligence and sanctity”. The prayer after the Our Father says: “ That we administer the propitiatory mysteries …with hearts and minds free from stains and remote from perverse thoughts “.
As the following prayer indicates, the rite of washing explicates the need of the purity of heart: “My God, the Lord of all, remove the uncleanness of our faults and sins with the hyssop of his kindness and may he wash away the stain of our offences in the immense ocean of his mercy.” The Lakumara prayer also mentions washing as a sign of purification: “I washed my hands clean and went round your altar.” According to Galot the washing of the feet of the Apostles by the Lord seems to symbolize the purity required for the Eucharistic meal.[xi]
From what has been said so far one may notice two tendencies: Firstly, that the Holy Communion can remit all sins; and secondly, that in order to partake of the Holy mysteries worthily, the communicants must be pure in heart. The remission of sins is both the condition for and the result of the reception of the sacrament. On the other hand this is how St. Ephrem reconciles these views:
As Adam, in his body killed the life
Thus, by virtue of this sacrament
Through his body which gives perfection to everything
Behold that the just are rendered perfect
And that the sinners themselves are pardoned.

In connection with the institution of the Eucharist he says: “Qui cum fide manducat panem in nominee meo sanctificatum, si purus sit purus conservatur , si peccator condonatur.”[xii] Since the fruit which a sinner can draw from it is minimum in comparison with those effects which the sinless and well-disposed can benefit, the participants should endeavour through the penitential prayers, request for pardon and the previous reception of the sacrament of penance to draw maximum spiritual benefits from the Eucharistic participation.
Two Sacraments of Reconciliation

It is quite reasonable that the preoccupation of the Church to prepare the participants for a more fruitful participation resulted in creating an increased sense of the need of sinlessness in the participants and in the regulation to receive the sacrament of penance previous to the communion. This evolution is manifest in the East Syrian Church because, while many earlier theologians do not mention the need of the sacrament of penance before the communion, some later authors do demand it. Mar Abdiso in his Pearl IV, 7 demands confession before the Communion.[xiii] The East Syrian Church perpetuated this insistence on holiness in the communicants by inserting a sacramental rite with a concluding prayer of absolution within the Qurbana before the distribution of the communion.

Two Penitential Rites
In the Postanaphoral part of the Qurbana there are two clearly recognizable rites: one before and another after the manual acts.

I .The First Penitential rite

This rite which appears just before the manual acts is comprised of a sacerdotal prayer to Christ, Ps 50(51), Ps 123(122), and the incensing accompanied by the prayer specifically intended for the same.
A .Sacerdotal prayer. The prayer, “O Christ, peace of those…” can be understood in this specific penitential context. Christ who brought peace to the world by his reconciliatory sacrifice of the cross and who first announced that peace to the disciples on the Easter Sunday by showing his wounds from which the Messianic peace flowed, proclaims the same peace now to the penitents in the sacrament of penance by making them share in the fruits of the salvific action of the cross and of the resurrection. On their part, the community supplicates Christ to grant them this peace, which should in their case result from the reconciliation between God and the assembly through the pardon of their sins.
B Psalms

The penitential psalms 51 and 123, said alternately by the priest and the assembly just after the sacerdotal prayer, evoke by their very nature compunction of heart.
c Incensing

The prayer accompanying the incensing reveals the significance of the rite: “ Make fragrant, our God, the foulness of our impurity and our corruption, lay the sweet odour of thy charity and purify me by it from the vileness of sin… pardon me my offences and my sins, those I know and those I do not know”. The symbolic gesture of extending the priest’s hands over the deacon and the assembly signifies that the propitiation and remission are conferred to them as the effects of the Eucharistic sacrifice, because the incensing seems to symbolize the Eucharistic sacrifice in its propitiatory aspects. The gesture of incensing the altar and the oblation with the respective prayers can mean that the propitiatory power symbolized by the incense does not belong to it properly but it is the mercy of God which attached it to the priestly hands and to the altar from which the remission of sins springs as if from a fountain.
Gouvea tells us that the Malabarians had a rite of burning incense on Sundays instead of the confession before Holy Communion: “Confession was resented in the whole Christendom in Malabar. In the place of confession on Sundays they put fire in the middle of the Church and the fire would be sprinkled with plenty of incense. All those who came into the Church venerated it with arms crossed on their breasts, saying that the smoke of that fire would remit all their sins”.[xiv] This is an allusion to the belief that they conducted a special incense service on Sundays perhaps like that of the Copts, to which they ascribed sacramental validity. This conclusion is corroborated by the additional part of the incense service in the Malabar Qurbana in which the celebrant extending hands over the thurible, to the deacons, to the people, over the altar and the oblation, blesses all. In the Chaldean and Nestorian Churches only the celebrant is blessed together with the recitation of the prayer for the remission of sins. This additional rite symbolizes the purification and reconciliation of the whole assembly.

2 Fraction and the Penitential Spirit

Fraction is considered in itself as a preparation for the distribution of Communion. Yet its prayers manifest a continuity of the penitential spirit since they include the petition for pardon. The prayer before the elevation is: “ They who receive it are saved and pardoned by it”. The people respond: “ The priest breaking and dividing the body of Christ for the pardon of trespasses.. You who in mercy do open the door to the penitent and call sinners to come to you, open to us, O my Lord, the doors of your mercy.” In the prayer of consignation the priest says: “ That they may be to us, o my Lord, for the pardon of offences and the forgiveness of sins”.

3 The Second Penitential Rite

It is presented as an immediate preparation for the worthy reception of the Holy Communion and is oriented towards the due recitation of “Our Father” by those who have been made sons of God through the remission of sins. Being inspired by the prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven them that trespass against us.”It places emphasis on fraternal reconciliation. It comprises a karozutha of deacon, general confession and a prayer of absolution the celebrant.
A .karozutha.
The proclamation of the deacon re4ads: “Let us all approach with fear and reverence the mysteries of the precious body and blood of our Saviour. With faith ,born of repentance, let us turn away from our faults and weep over our sins , and let us ask mercy and pardon of God, the Lord of all , and let us forgive our fellowmen their offences”
It is aimed at creating a proper disposition in the participants for the worthy reception of the Holy Communion through the cleansing of hearts of all sins. George of Arbel reminds the divine admonition that one’s worthiness to obtain divine forgiveness is preconditioned by having been reconciled with his offenders.[xv] In any case, this prayer constitutes as immediate reminder to admit one’s sins and to correct oneself.
b.Litany of forgiveness.
Deacon’s karozutha is followed by the dialogue prayer. This petition springs from the humble acknowledgement that all who are in this world of mortality are sinners.[xvi]Elucidating the theological profundity of this prayer, George of Arbel reiterates this view by commenting that it points to the universality of sins and the indispensable necessity of pardon for all.[xvii]
That this dialogue prayer is a form of general confession in which each one confesses his sins has been clearly testified by Mar Abdiso [xviii]. He stresses three points: 1.This litany alludes that everybody is a sinner who needs remission .2. It replaces the auricular confession, which is practiced in many other Churches before the reception of Holy Communion. 3.Its purpose is to enable the participants to approach the mysteries with a pure a heart.
The polemics of Patriarch Joseph II with the Nestorians reveal that they received the Holy Communion without previous auricular confession and penance, believing that they confessed before God and Christ.[xix]Penteado has already testifies that St.Thomas Christians had general confession and that they confessed to God in a clear voice together.[xx] Also from the report which Railing gives on the pastoral ministry of Meekness we can conclude the existence of general confession at that time, “Ubi sacrum celebrabat praemissa propalam confessione ad Aram maximam”[xxi]This confession at the altar should generally mean the general confession before the altar which symbolizes Christ. Fr.Paulinus Bartholomeus holds that in spite of the imposition of the Tridentine form of private confession in the Malabar Church, the practice of the general confession and absolution survived among them at least until the end of the 18th century.[xxii]
General confession reflects well the dimensions of sin and conversion. The collective nature of the prayer which underscores the need of fraternal reconciliation and the very nature of the conversion demanded of the participants becomes clear if the personal, social and ecclesial nature of sins for which pardon is sought is examined.

3.Let us pray
This dialogue prayer is immediately followed by the announcement of the deacon: “Let us be absolved. Peace with us”. Although this proclamation is usually translated as “Let us pray”, the Syriac word slotha has the special sense of absolution or of readmission to the ecclesial communion..[xxiii]
In Payne Smith’s Thesaurus Syriacus ,the articles on the verb salli and the noun form slotha end with brief reference to the use of these terms in the context of sacerdotal penance and the readmission to communion. However, the examples adduced by him date back only to the rites of penance known under the names of Bar Salibi and Bar Hebraeus. These terms are used in absolution formularies in the form of prayer in the East and West Syrian Churches[xxiv].
In a passage of Didascalia Apostolorum, there is a usage which is similar to the Syrian one with special reference to penance: “And afterwards as each one then repents and shows the fruits of repentance receive him with prayer after the manner of heavens”.[xxv] Aphraat seems to refer to penance: “Some one may be in sin and offending God, but carries a favour with the ‘musters of the prison’ and they release him from his claims and say to him, ‘God is merciful and forgives sinners; come in and come to prayer”[xxvi] Although ‘come to prayer’ could be interpreted in a general sense, the usage which became popular after him suggests that this phrase could be translated better as ‘come for absolution’. Commenting on this passage R.Murray supports this view: “Prayer is here, I believe, a special term, denoting the rite of readmission to ecclesiastical communion, from which sinners are cut off and to which penitents are readmitted…Aphraat is speaking of ecclesiastical communion here and therefore, of what we now call the discipline of penance “.[xxvii]
4 Prayer of Absolution

After the announcement of the deacon the priest recites the prayer of absolution: “In your mercy, O Lord, forgive the sins and offences of your servants, and sanctify our lips by your grace, that we may bring forth fruits of glory to your exalted divinity with all the saints in your kingdom”.
The importance of this prayer is obvious from the fact that as the anaphora proper it is also recited in secret and is designated as g’hantha in may documents.
Limit of its Power
Those who are permitted to participate in the Qurbana obtain the remission of sins through this penitential rite.[xxviii] The commentaries of the Qurbana testify that the dismissal of the unworthy from the Eucharistic assembly before the beginning of the anaphora and the conferring of the absolution before the communion has been a permanent characteristic in the East Syrian liturgy.[xxix]

The words of dismissal in the Qurbana sound:
Let him that has not received baptism, depart
Let him that does not receive the sign of life, depart
Let him that does not receive it ,depart
Go, hearers, and watch the doors.
Those who have not received baptism,. Those have not received the sign of life and those who do not receive the Holy Communion because of some reason had to go out from the haikla before the Eucharistic prayer began.[xxx]. The sign of life means the making of the sign of the cross on the forehead of the penitent, which is made at the end of the rite of Hussaya.
Different witnesses furnish the conclusion that the following sins were specified as requiring the rite of hussaya
1.Apostasy: To deny faith or to become heretic or be engaged in practices against the genuine faith has been considered as the most heinous crime.
2. Communicatio in sacris which means mainly the participation in the religious rites of heretics,diabolic rites etc. is always paralleled with apostasy.
3. Adultery and fornication.
5.Breaking of fast. One who does not fast on Wednesdays and Fridays without sufficient reasons commits a grave sin..
Lastly ,it is administered for any sin which troubles the conscience .The preliminary notes of Hussaya generally end with the praise ,”for the one who has fallen into any sin”.
Rite celebrated within the Qurbana.
Except six manuscripts all available ones explicitly prescribe that the rite of hussaya is performed within the Qurbana.There are three possibilities:
1.Immediately after “sancta sanctis” and before “praise the living God”
2.After the communion of the priest and the deacons and before the communion of the faithful.
3.After the communion of the faithful.
Role of the Eucharist and of the sacrament of Penance
The question arises as to what is the distinction between the role of the Eucharist and of penance as to the remission of sins. Both are sacraments of reconciliation and conversion, yet they are distinct as to the aspect of sign, which offers efficaciously the grace of pardon. Since the sacramental sign effects what it signifies, the sign should elucidate the proper manner of each sacrament’s operation in the Christian life. The Eucharist grants pardon through the sign of the sacrificial banquet in which the sacramental communion is actuated by means of the covenant sealed by the Father with mankind in the once and far all of the sacrifice of Christ. [xxxi] Being the memorial of the cross, it is the ecclesial source of all graces and pardon, and consequently, it is also the source of the sacrament of penance, which becomes as if an explanation, a further development of the grace granted in the Eucharist. [xxxii]Since it is oriented to the Eucharist, it should include the desire for it.[xxxiii]The Eucharist restores the communion of life and is concerned with the intensification of the vital belonging to the body of Christ by dispelling whatever is opposed to it. Thus, by transforming sorrow for sin into perfect contrition, it expels what obstructs the communion of life. In other words, in response to the sacrificial movement of man, God augments the communion of life, which in turn destroys sins. In the case of the sacrament of penance, the sinner comes to the Church as a prodigal son, approaching his merciful Father, confesses his infidelity and seeks absolution.

End Notes

[i] Ramos-Regidor, Il Sacramento della Penitenza (Torino 1974) 135
[ii] L.Ligier, Penitence et Eucharistie en orient, Orientale Christiana Periodica 29(1963) 67-69
[iii] Mt 26:28.
[iv] R.Britmann, The Theology of the New Testament 1(London 1952)146.
[v] R.H.Connolly (Ed), The Liturgical Homilies of Narsai,Text and Studies 8(1909 12;Cfr also Cyril of Jerusalem,My.Cat.5,3= PG 33,1109a;J.B.Chabot, Synodicon Orientale ou Recueil de Synodes Nestoriens(Paris 1902) 429,canon 2; Id.446,canon 18;LU 193;Theodore Bar Koni,Fragen des Mar Simon Bar Kepha uber die gottlichen Geheimnisse ,Borg.Sy.88,f.335.

[vi] Supplementum Mysteriorum sive proprium Missarum de Tempore et de Sanctis juxta Ritum Ecclesiae Syro-Malabaricae (Romae 1960) 32,154
[vii] Id.93, 253
[viii] Id. 32, 38
[ix] Narsai 24
[x] Babai Magni Liber de Unione,ed and Tr. A. Vaschalde A,CSCO 79-80 (Louvain 1915) 230
[xi] J.Galot, Eucharistia e Penitenza , in Civilta Cattolica 1(1974)128-131
[xii] De Azymis 1,10
[xiii]Mar Abdiso, Liber Margaritae de Veritate Christianae Religionis ,ed. A.Mai, Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio ,X 2) 360
[xiv] A.Gouvea,Jornada do arcebispo de Goa (Coimbra 1606) 58
[xv] R.H. Connolly (ed), Anonymi auctoris Expositio Officiorum Ecclesiae Georgio Arbelensi Vulgo adscripta,CSCO 76(1953)64-66.Herafter quoted as Expositio Officiorum.
[xvi] Narsai 25
[xvii] Expositio Officiorum 66
[xviii] Abdiso Bar Berika ,Ordo Judiciorum Ecclesiasticorum , collectus,dispositus ,ordinatus a Mar Abd’so Metropolita Nisibis et Armeniae,Latine interpretatus et illustravit J.M. Voste ,Sacra Congregatione Per la Chiesa Orientale (Roma 1940) 100
[xix] J.S.Assemani, Bibliotheca Orientalis Clementino- Vaticana III(Roma 1919-1928),249
[xx] Silva Rego (ed), Documentação para a Historia das Missões do Padroado Portugûes do Oriente,India 3 (Lisbon 1950)549
[xxi] J.F.Raulin, Historia Ecclesiae Malabaricae cum Diamperitana Synodo (Romae 1745) 274
[xxii] P.Da S. Bartolomeo, Viaggio alle Indie Orientali (Roma 1796) 137.
[xxiii] Cfr. P.Smith, Thesaurus Linguae Syriacae 2(Oxford 1901) 3401;R.Murray, A Special Sense of slótâ, in Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32(1966(523-27.
[xxiv] W.De Vries, Sakramententheologie bei den Syro-Monophysitern(Roma 1940)206-208.
[xxv] R.H.Connolly, Didascalia Apostolorum (Oxford 1969) 104.
[xxvi] Dem.14,44,in Patrologia Syriaca 1/1,708
[xxvii] R.Murray, Symbols of Church ad Kingdom (Cambridge 1974) 187
[xxviii] A.Raes, Un rite pénitentiel avant la communion dans les liturgies syriennes, in OS 10(1965) 121-122.
[xxix] For example, cfr.: George of Arbel, Expositio Officiorum 73
[xxx] R.H.Connolly (Ed), The Liturgical Homilies of Narsai,Text and Studies 8(1909)2-3 ;Gabriel Qatraya bar Lipha,Interpretation of the Offices, in G.Vavanikunnel,Homilies and Interpretations of Holy Qurbana (Changanacherry 1977) 94 - 95
[xxxi] R.Ramos-Regidor, Il Sacramento della Penitenza. Evento salvifico ecclesiale (Torino 1974) 131
[xxxii] Id.312
[xxxiii] J.M.Tillard, Le Nuove prospettive della teologia sacramentale, in SD 45(1967) 53

The Sacrament of Reconciliation with Special Reference to the Eastern and East Syriac Traditions

A. Penitential discipline of the church is an essential aspect of her faith life and spirituality.
The penitential discipline of the Church has been considered as an essential aspect of her faith life and spirituality. It permeates the whole of Christian existence and worship, both personal and ecclesial. By penitential discipline, we mean not only the SR but also all the other penitential practices of the Church like sacraments, sacramentals, fasting, prayer, alms giving, vigils, pilgrimages, seasons and days of penance, lectio divina, the life of penthos, monasticism, guarding of the heart, etc. However, SR is the highest ecclesial expression of the repentance of the heart through which we sacramentally receive forgiveness of post baptismal sins in the Church. Added to this, as we know, every religion has its own penitential discipline and it forms part of their religious life. (Islam, Hinduism, Budhism, Jainism, Sikhism,... etc)
B. The Church believes in the forgiveness of sins.
The Church believes in the forgiveness of sins and there exists in the Church a variety of ways for obtaining the forgiveness of sins. However the SR is a supreme ecclesial event, a sacramental event in which God’ mercy and love are extended to us and we personalise the salvation brought by Js. We have Js’ own words as the basis for it (Jn, 20: 22-23; Mt, 16: 18-20; Mt, 18: 18). SR is not to discover us as sinners but as pardoned sinners. We need a sound theological approach for a better understanding and fruitful celebration of the SR. Through this sacrament, we have to meaningfully and authentically present the joy of the Gospel values of forgiveness and reconciliation to the contemporary world. This is also a very relevant theme to the contemporary world.
-“I could not fail to come here to implore the grace of reconciliation” (Papal visit to the concentration camps on the occasion of his visit to Poland, 25-28 May 2006)
-“The Confession is for the good of the individual and also for the society” (Holy Thursday Message, 2006)
C. The beauty and grandeur of the SR and the joy of being a true dispenser of the fruits of redemption gained by Jesus Christ
RP, 29; CCC, 1422, 1465-66
CIC 959, 978, CCEO, 718, 732
Aprahat, Dem. 7: 2, 8; Narsai, Homily on the Church and Priesthood, 64, 73-74
Liturgy of hours, the season of Kaitha, Saturday Ramsa, Onitha d’basar
Propria prayers, the season of Katitha, IV Sunday, Onitha d’raze
Ratzinger J., Jesus of Nazareth, Ch. 7, P. 200-201
The Church’s consciousness discerns now in the SR a healing of medicinal character over and above the character of judgement: Christus medicus than Christus iudex.
D. Healthy appreciation of the wisdom of the East and the West
We firmly believe that the mutual appreciation of the theological riches of the East and the West would contribute for an authentically ‘catholic’ understanding of moral truths as well. We consider this all the more relevant regarding the sacrament of repentance. In many respects, the Eastern understanding of the sacrament of repentance may differ considerably from the understanding of it that is traditional in the West since scholastic times. The extent to which the validity of the administration of this sacrament exists cannot be determined on the Western conception alone nor according to the decisions made by the council of Trent alone. The Church has to make full use of the riches of her tradition. Also the Eastern understanding is to be considered for a better catholic understanding of the sacrament of repentance. As F. Nikolasch observes:
Studies have shown that it is no longer enough to serve up the familiar arguments, no matter how firmly they rest upon the authority of Trent. Neither would it be sufficient to limit the investigation to the Latin tradition alone, where our present formulas have their origin. A stage has been reached at which we must familiarise ourselves with the tradition of the Church as a whole and this includes also the Eastern Churches. In many respects the Western Church went its own way without consideration for the traditions of the East and this left it so much the poorer; this applies particularly to the liturgy and theology of the sacrament of penance. To gain a clear view of the range and limits of the renewal of this sacrament, a knowledge of its practice among the Eastern Churches as well as of their understanding of its nature and effects is therefore an absolute requirement.
The validity of an Eastern approach to the sacrament of repentance is already recognised by Vatican II that admitted the existence of ‘true and valid sacraments’ also in the separated Eastern Churches (OE, 27; UR, 15; see also Ut Unum Sint, 46; Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 46). This is also clearly stated by the Holy Father in the introductory chapter of his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia. Describing the development of this document, the Holy Father writes, “…Eastern Churches, whose theological, spiritual and liturgical heritage is so rich and venerable also with regard to the subject that concerns us here”. We desire and pray that the catholic character of the Church of Christ, her faith, theology and praxis should be expressed at all levels of her faith and life.
Different theological approaches to the SR are possible according to the various theological perceptions of the salvific work of Js. Various theological terms have been used in the NT to suggest the mystery of Christ’s salvific work. They include reconciliation (2Cor, 5: 17-21; Rom, 5: 10-11), redemption (Gal, 4: 5), justification (Rom, 3: 21-31), salvation (Rom, 1: 16) sanctification (1Cor, 1: 30), expiation (Rom, 3: 25-26), liberation (Gal, 3: 1, 13) adoption (Rom, 8: 15), transformation (1 Cor, 3: 18), healing (Mt, 13: 14-15, Jn, 12: 40; Acts, 28: 26-27), “divinisation”, etc. Various traditions have their own preferential options. For example, the Latin church gives emphasis to the “redemption”, the Eastern churches to the “healing”, the protestant Churches to the “justification”, the orthodox Churches to the “divinisation”. For a comprehensive theological analysis of the SR, one has to place it within the broader context of these theological terms.
-UR, 17; Instruction, 9; the notion of the three streams of Christian theology
E. Why the term “Sacrament of Reconciliation”
Amidst the various terminologies such as ‘repentance’, ‘conversion’, ‘penance’, ‘confession’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘forgiveness’, etc. found used in contemporary theological literature in order to refer to the sacrament in consideration, we prefer to use the term ‘reconciliation’ in our study. As far as we are concerned, this term expresses the actual effects of the sacrament, namely, reconciliation with God and with the Church.

1. Introduction: Contemporary Crisis in the SR
As an introduction into our topic, we will first try to have a general look at the contemporary crisis in the sacrament of repentance from a magisterial point of view, especially of Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, in the second chapter of which the Holy Father makes an analysis of the contemporary situation. This introduction will provide us with the actual setting and context of our study
RP sees the contemporary crisis surrounding the sacrament of repentance mainly from two angles, namely, the crisis in the understanding of the ‘sense of sin’ and the crisis in the practice and administration of the sacrament.
An ‘eclipse in the sense of sin’ has greatly obscured the reception of the sacrament of repentance in contemporary Church practice (RP, 18. See also NMI, 37). The sense of sin is rooted in the moral conscience of each man and is closely linked to his ‘sense of God’ and the ‘sense of man’. The growing obscuring of the sense of God and the sense of man in the consciousness of modern man and the gradual weakening in the moral conscience have their own role in the crisis around the sense of sin. RP comments: “The sense of sin is rooted in the moral conscience and is as it were its thermometer. It is linked to the sense of God, since it derives from man’s conscious relationship with God as his Creator, Lord and Father. Hence just as it is impossible to eradicate completely the sense of God or to silence the conscience completely, so the sense of sin is never completely eliminated” (RP, 18). Sin is best understood in the context of an interpersonal relationship between God and man. We feel the sense of sin in the presence of God, when we stand before God (Is, 6: 1-8; Lk, 5:1-11). True sense of God and sense of man lead one to a genuine confession of sins, sanctification of life and the consequent renewed mission of life.
The same document speaks of various reasons for the eclipse of the sense of sin such as the growing secular and hedonistic culture, the consumeristic mentality, errors in evaluating certain findings of the human sciences, historical relativism, wrong identification of the sense of sin with a morbid guilt feeling or with a mere transgression of the legal norms or precepts, the influence of the fast developing mass media, some exaggerated attitudes in the thought and life of the Church itself, etc. (n. 18). The sense of sin cannot be identified with a mere guilt feeling, though it is intimately related to the sense of guilt.
Changes in the understanding of sin have also probably contributed to the loss of the sense of sin. Sin in the traditional terms is best understood as “the transgression of the commandments of God”, “turning away from God and turning towards the creatures”, “morally evil human act”, “abuse of freedom”, “violation of conscience”, etc. Sin is now also differently understood as a ‘fact’, an ‘act’, a ‘state’, a ‘direction’, an ‘orientation’, a ‘sickness’, a ‘habit’, an ‘addiction’, a ‘structure’, a ‘power’, etc. The religious category of sin is now variously described as “wrong doing” (social sciences), crime (law), moral evil (Philosophy), guilt (psychology). Different metaphors like defilement, blemish, stain, fault, fall, etc. are also used to denote the reality of sin. Different traditional conceptions of sin as related to some central realities like death, sickness, etc. have been changed. For example, death is now understood as the natural end of biological life. Death entered into life not only because of sin but also in biological terms. Disease is understood as not only due to sin but also in terms of the natural laws of a living being. Disobedience, violence and aggressivity were always understood as sins. But now they have become not only natural and normal but also indispensable for survival and existence. The interior divisions and conflicts in man cannot merely be understood in terms of sin alone. There are psychological theories that explain certain inner divisions that exist in human nature.
The reality of sin in human life cannot be negated in any way. The restoration of an authentic sense of sin and conversion would be the first way to face the grave crisis in the sacrament of repentance. RP sees the crisis in the sense of sin as an expression of the crisis in two other related dimensions, namely, the crisis around the sense of God and the crisis around the sense of man.
The crisis in the sense of sin is a form and consequence of the loss of the sense of God (RP, 18). This refers to the various atheistic doctrines of philosophy, the materialistic ways of thinking and the fast spreading religious indifference, promoted by the ever-growing mass media as causing an eclipse in the sense of God. The rapidly developing modern society with its false ideologies of freedom tries to silence the inspirations and murmurings of God in the human consciousness. Modern man has sometimes separated love of God far from himself, made it extraneous to himself, proclaiming in various ways that God is ‘superfluous’ and ‘unnecessary’. Scholars and theologians elsewhere speak of the ‘loss of the sense of transcendence’ and of the gradual ‘weakening of the sense of God’ in post-modern culture.
A God-less society and culture have no stable roots, have no lasting prospects and purpose of life. The council fathers of Vatican II already expressed their deep concern and anxiety over these emergent problems of our time (GS, 4-10, 19-21, 33-39, 41). Since God is the foundation of human existence, refusal of God is the refusal of ourselves and of others, which in turn causes disintegration and conflicts in society and nature (VS, 99). John Paul II reminds us: “The ultimate truth of the human being is to be sought in the One who created him. When man becomes bereft of God, he loses the meaning of his own life,… bereft of himself”. The Pope also points to the modern tendency of ‘desacralisation’ that often turns into a gradual ‘dehumanisation’: “the individual and the society for whom nothing is ‘sacred’ suffer moral decay in spite of all their appearances” (Dives in Misericordia, 12).
Hence the faithful are called to witness before the modern generation an authentic and true face of God and of religion by way of intellect and heart. The divine mercy and compassionate love should also be equally emphasised with divine justice. “Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind” (Dives in Misericordia, 13).
As RP envisages, the crisis in the sense of sin is also caused by the loss of an authentic concept of man and the crisis in the moral conscience (n. 18). Modern studies in psychological sciences and in genetic engineering and various philosophical doctrines propose differing views with regard to the moral responsibility of human action. They sometimes present either partial or exaggerated views on man at the risk of a holistic vision. They reduce moral responsibility to the point of not acknowledging one’s ability to perform truly human acts and therefore one’s ability to sin. Sometimes the failings are blamed upon society and the individual is declared innocent of them. Cultural changes in each society and mutual influences of cultures at the global level have very much accelerated this.
Confession, some years ago, was relatively easy. After having determined the number and gravity of the sins, one could confess them according to a pre-planned list, using a common formula; ‘Father, I am..; I made my last confession…; I have done…’. But now the mental framework has been changed due to the new ways of thinking on human freedom and autonomy. Now every one is conscious of his own moral conscience. He is sometimes even doubtful of the judgements brought from outside. “I have a conscience” or “I act according to my conscience” are common refrains that we hear very often in today’s society, especially among the youth and the learned. This could be seen also as an expression of their desire for liberation from clerical domination that was once commanding the moral conscience and judgement of individuals. Many do not see the priest as a real symbol of forgiveness and reconciliation or are reluctant to share their inner lives with a strange person. Some even challenge the mediatory role of Church and ministerial priesthood willed by God, claiming that they can receive the forgiveness of God directly without any mediation.
The fast spreading secularisation of modern society, changing views on the concepts of male-female complementarity and human sexuality, marriage and family life, various bio-ethical issues, the economic development of the developing countries and questions of globalisation and social justice, social conflicts and religious fundamentalism, threats of war and terrorism, large scale immigration and refugees due to war, poverty, natural catastrophe and ethnic issues as well as various ecological questions are challenges for new ways and approaches of interpretation to the moral questions of modern man. He is essentially a disturbed man with his existential fear and ontological solitude. The traditional concept of man that he is created by God and that the creator has an original and eternal design for man is now challenged.
Human autonomy and individual freedom are well and good. It is also promising that modern man has a more enlightened social consciousness. However an exaggerated re-vindication of human autonomy is misleading and leads to the ‘weakening of the sense of man’. The concept of human freedom without consideration for truth and responsibility is false. In the contemporary cultural context, we see a strong tendency of the ‘dissociation of ethics from truth’ as one of the main challenges in the field of moral theology and it calls for a true prophetic credibility in the ethical convictions of the Church.
The true integration of freedom and truth needs sound moral formation. An un-reflected Christian life is almost impossible to live. We need to find the raison d’être of being a Christian and leading a moral life. Each one should be trained in right and responsible moral judgement and it should not be independent of objective truths and immutable moral principles (GS, 36, 78-79, DH, 3, 14; AA, 7; VS, 12, 40, 43). In the words of VS, “there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth; the categorical, unyielding and uncompromising defence of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered as the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom” (VS, 96. See also VS, 51-52, 75-83, 84-89). It is not to be a ‘common place morality’, based on ‘sociological or behavioural normality’ but based on gospel values and on the fundamental moral principles of the Church (VS, 112).
Man by nature is a constant seeker after truth. Therefore moral formation is a ‘continuous search for moral truth’ in the light of divine revelation, human experiences and the findings of human sciences. However, we need a more positive personalistic and pastoral approach to morality rather than a mere legalistic interpretation of divine commandments and of the objective moral laws (VS,16, 18; RP, 31, II). In moral evaluations, we should consider not only a single individual act but also the whole person in his overall existential situation. We need a healthy balance between ethical normativity and the concrete reality of the human situation, between the moral evaluation and the ‘pastoral accompanying’. It naturally involves a creative tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. What we need is the freedom and faithfulness of the children of God. As VS reminds us, we are ‘sons in the Son’ in whom we see a proper integration of the freedom of man with truth and responsibility (nos. 95-98).
Deficiencies in the practice and administration of penance down through the centuries has also been a cause of the crisis (RP, 18). This sacrament has not been felt as a healing event for a vast majority of the faithful. Some are not happy with the traditional form of penance as an efficacious sign of conveying grace. RP points out two important factors for the emergence of such a situation, namely, the negation of the ecclesial sense of sin and conversion and a routine ritualism.
Part of the crisis with regard to the sacrament of repentance is that it has lost much of its ecclesial character and has become the most individualised of all the sacraments. This may be the only liturgical and sacramental sphere in which the faithful is asked to express himself personally. Also in other sacraments, the faithful is asked for a faith proclamation or consent but always in a communitarian context. As D. Marmion observes, “the post-Tridentine preoccupation with integral confession and judgement sharpened the view of sin as a purely isolated individual act. This led to a mechanical, legal and formal understanding of the penance”.
As we understand, the Church from her beginning had to strike a balance between the two extremes of rigorism and laxism in different ecclesial structures within different socio-cultural situations. The early Church had the firm conviction that the sin and holiness of each Christian affected the Church as a whole, while the medieval penitential practices reduced confession to a merely private act, a priest-penitent encounter with its concomitant judicial aspects. The integrity of private confession became the hallmark of the period. The council of Trent also confirmed officially the judicial character of individual and integral confession and of absolution. Frequent private confession was promoted as an act of piety. The ideal vision of a gradual journey of conversion became isolated from the ecclesial life of the community, reduced to a ritual, almost totally privatised. The invention of the confessional and its arrangement also presented an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. Besides, the late medieval penitential practices, perhaps, caused more anxiety and guilt among the faithful. Thus, in a way, the evangelical and ecclesial sense of sin and conversion has been reduced. Centuries later, Vatican II emphasised both the personal and ecclesial aspects of sin and conversion and called for a renewal in the rite of administration (LG, 11). Reconciliatio et paenitentiae and the contemporary teachings on the sacrament of repentance strongly emphasise the need to have a sound balance between the personal and ecclesial characters as well as the healing and judging aspects in the administration of this sacrament.
The sacraments of the Church are never private affairs but faith celebrations of the ecclesial community in a liturgical background. The sacrament of repentance is not a single and private event, mechanically relieving individuals of anxiety and guilt. It is not a “confession factory” or a “magical machine” that automatically produces absolution. The legalistic and magical tendencies in the practice of confession are to be avoided. We should also avoid the exaggerated importance of the ‘frequent’, ‘pious’ and ‘devotional’ confessions. However, a healthy emphasis is always praiseworthy without prejudice to its valuable role in the spiritual growth and in the Christian formation of the faithful.
Even if the efficacy of the sacrament theoretically depends mainly upon the faith, disposition and preparation of the penitent, it is also measured practically by the way and manner of its administration by the priest. As W. Kasper says, ‘faith is the soul of penance and love is its Gestalt’. It is a sacrament of faith, as all other sacraments. Both the penitent and confessor have to co-operate generously with the grace of God, operative in the sacrament of repentance. The penitents should sincerely strive for reconciliation with their neighbours as a sign of their reconciliation with God. The confessor should be able to convey the experience of the saving and healing grace and the love of the merciful God. It challenges us for a better understanding of the sacramental efficacy on the part of the faithful and more enthusiasm and disposability on the part of the priests in the exercise of this exigent and delicate ministry. The Pope asks for a renewed pastoral courage in ensuring that the day-to-day teaching of Christian communities persuasively and effectively presents a sound doctrine on the practice of this sacrament. Pastors should arm themselves with more confidence, creativity, phantasy and perseverance in presenting it and leading people to appreciate it (NMI, 37).
2. Historical Part
The whole dogmatics and ecclesiastical discipline with regard to the sacrament of repentance are, in fact, of gradual development down the centuries in different forms under various ecclesial and cultural situations (CCC, 1447; RP, 30; Misericordia Dei, Introduction). In addition to this, as we know well that the whole notion of ‘seven sacraments’ itself is of gradual theological growth. Hence the SR has witnessed for varieties of means in different ecclesial and socio-cultural situations. This sacrament has had a long and chequered history but with all its essential nature. Sacramental discipline on repentance has always taken into account, two distinct, yet closely interwoven realities: first, the inner renewal of the sinner whose relation to God and to his fellow men, severed by sin, is restored through conversion and repentance; second, the ecclesiastical discipline by which this reconciliation of the sinner takes place within the Christian community. It is true that in the course of its development, various theological disputes and mutations took place with regard to the various questions related to this sacrament, especially in the middle ages. The Church from the very beginning had to confront and take a stand between the two extremes of rigorism and laxism in order to have a realistic pastoral attitude. Therefore, tensions in the understandings and practices of this sacrament are not new.
In this section, first we will take a look at the historical development of the sacrament of repentance in its general historical context, followed by an analysis of the general Eastern understanding of the SR. Then we will concentrate on the East Syriac understanding of the SR. Since many detailed studies on the history and theology of the East Syriac practice of the sacrament of repentance have already come out, we will be concentrating mainly from a moral theological perspective. Then in the third section, we will deal with the liturgical practices of repentance among the St. Thomas Christians in the pre-Diamper period, followed by a brief analysis of the present practice of the SR in the Syro-Malabar Church
When we analyse the history of the sacrament of repentance, we understand how fluctuating its history has been. P. Rouillard, after having analysed the diverse human and ecclesial situations from the very beginning of the Christian community until the present, observes that there is a real ‘geography and history of various penitential practices’. In this section, we analyse the history of the SR in five periods. This may not be an exact periodization of the history of the SR. However we make this study just to understand the pivotal points of its history. The development of Moral theology as a separate discipline is also very much in line with the historical contour of the SR.
In this period, we see the basic NT awareness of the possibility of the forgiveness of sins and the rudimentary forms of the SR. It must be with great confidence in the forgiveness of sins that the early Christians confessed their sins and it might be suggested in Lk, 5: 17-26-the paralytic; Lk, 7: 36-40-the sinful lady; Lk, 15: 11-32-the prodigal son).
In the first Christian community, we see the custom of praying to God the Father (Mt, 6: 12; Acts, 8:22), mutual forgiving (Mt, 6: 14-15, 18: 35, Mk, 11: 25-26), fraternal correction (Mt, 18: 15-17), the confession of sins among one another and mutual praying (Mt, 3: 6, Mk, 1: 5; Acts, 19:18; Jas, 5: 15-16; 1 Jn, 1: 9; 5: 16-17), doing acts of Charity (Mk, 3: 8, Lk, 7: 47, Acts, 26: 20, Jam, 2: 25; Rev,2: 5) for the forgiveness of sins. The early Christians considered baptism as the first means for the remission of sins and for a new life of communion as children of God (Acts, 2: 37-42). For them, baptism was the first occasion through which all sins were washed away. Later, the necessity of the sacrament of repentance arose, when the question of the post-baptismal sins appeared. Here repentance became a kind of ‘second baptism’, a ‘laborious baptism by tears and great pain’ and a ‘second plank (of salvation) after the shipwreck’.
The apostolic Church definitely had an idea of an ecclesial community (Acts, 2: 42-47, 4: 32-37). It was mainly a Eucharistic community of faith, where the faithful encounters the salvation and friendship of Christ. Any behaviour that was not up to the moral standard of this worshipping community was considered to separate the doer of the action from the community. Once they were separated, the spiritual leaders of the community thought of a means for receiving them back into the fold. In other words, a grave offence was sanctioned by an exclusion from the Holy Eucharist and forgiveness symbolised by a solemn re-admission into the Holy Eucharist. The purpose of this solemn exclusion from the ecclesial community was not merely legal but to make the person aware of his spiritual deviation and to lead him to true repentance and thereby to reincorporate him into full ecclesial and eucharistic communion. Thus we see a vivid eucharistic orientation of the sacrament of repentance in its origin and purpose. A fuller and worthier participation in the Holy Eucharist was the main motive behind the origin of the penitential discipline of the Church.
It also had an aspect of fraternal love and correction. The sinner, after undergoing some acts of repentance, could be re-introduced into the bosom of the Church. So it is clear that the excommunication had not any vindictive purposes but was practised as a medicine, to lead the sinner into conversion and salvation (Cf. 1 Cor, 5: 1-13; 11: 26-34; 2 Cor, 2: 1-11, 7: 8-12; 2 Thes, 3: 6-15). The early Church understood the theological sense of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ (Mt, 16: 18, 18: 18) more in a positive sense and not merely in a juridical and legal sense. On this subject, K. Rahner observes;
…‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ are not two sides of an alternative but two phases of the one reaction whereby the holy Church answers the sin of one of her members. At least this is so in the intention of the Church. When she binds, she binds in order to be able to loose… The second stage of the one process depends on the repentance of the sinner. But the binding already aims at the loosing and the latter presupposes the former. The early Church always stressed the fact that the Christian who is weighed down with grave guilt must be bound so that he might be effectively loosed.
These Eucharistic and medicinal dimensions are true of all ecclesiastical disciplines and penalties.
It is from this concept of exclusion from and inclusion into the eucharistic community that the sacrament of reconciliation evolves gradually. Separate penitential rites and approaches were evolved and developed in the particular Churches according to the cultural genius thereof and the circumstances of history. So from the very beginning, there was a variety of different rites and means for the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation. P. Rouillard also speaks of the presence of a variety of penitential forms and systems that existed in the course of its development. The penitential discipline of the Church was developed within different structures and models of penance, in different historical and socio-cultural contexts. The early Christians had the basic conviction that the Church, which is the continuation of the healing and saving presence of Christ among the people for all times, had authority over the sins of her members, while always being compassionate and merciful towards sinners. Their conception of sin and holiness was theological, having both personal and ecclesial dimensions. They gave an ecclesial interpretation of sin, as affecting the whole community of the faithful and they experienced reconciliation also as a gradual communitarian process. They saw sin as an alienation from the community as well as from God. So reconciliation was not only with God but also with the community of the faithful. Therefore they saw forgiveness of sins and reconciliation as two phases of the same ecclesial event.
The fathers of the Church generally believed that Christians who fell into serious sins after baptism could be reconciled again with God and the community, through repentance and doing penance. Repentance was a predominant theme among them (Didache, Shepherd of Hermas, Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians, letters of St. Ignatius, Epistle of Barnabas). The ancient tradition seen among the early fathers bears witness to the possibility of a paenitentia secunda for grave sins and the pardon of sins from God. However no mention is seen regarding the Ch’s practice of confession. But some of the early ecclesiastical writers like Tertullian were so rigorous that they rejected the possibility of repeating it. However, in the course of time, this rigorous attitude, particularly the un-repeatability of penance, was gradually abandoned and eventually disappeared.
From the third century onwards, we see an established mode of doing penance with priority given to ‘works of penance’. As a result, a relatively more rigid system of canonical penance for grave sins (the great triad of murder, apostasy and adultery= tria capitalia) came into being. Various local councils and synods made the necessary juridical regulations. With the council of Nicaea (325), the public canonical penance became almost a general discipline in the Church. This ecumenical council upheld the Church’s authority to forgive sins and a general consensus on the basic attitudes and the practical norms with regard to the reconciliation of the apostates and other public sinners was reached. C. Vogel describes the organisation of official penitence during this period in three chronologically separate moments: i. entry into the order of penitents on Ash Wednesday with the bishop’s consent in the course of a common ceremony ii. remaining for a shorter or longer time in the order of penitents (mourners, hearers, fallers, bystanders, etc) iii. After having done the imposed penance, the re-admission of the penitents into the community through the laying on of hands by the bishop, ordinarily on Holy Thursday before the whole community. The entire process of reconciliation, except the confession of faults, was public in the sense that the penitents occupied a special place in the Church, the community interceded for them and they were publicly reconciled. Since this process could not always be repeated, sinners who were still young were excluded from the penitence because of a possible return to sin in which case, the Church could do nothing for them. The rigour and consequence of the state of penitence (for eg. sexual abstinence for years or even for life) had the effect that the faithful often deferred baptism, repentance, and reconciliation to the end of their lives.
The public penance system developed mainly in the Mediterranean region of the Roman world, taking inspiration from the Roman civil approach to the societal offenders. They also might have been influenced by the Jewish practices of penitential rites, the institutional discipline of rabbinic Judaism and the practices of the essenic communities, etc.
By the 6th and 7th centuries, the rigorous discipline of public canonical penance gradually became less and less common. Though the canonical penance system was occasionally found in the middle ages, it slowly gave way to the practice of repeated private confession of sins. The first reference for the practice of the private penance is seen in a canon of the council of Toledo (589). In the 7th century, Irish missionaries, inspired by the Eastern monastic tradition, brought to continental Europe the ‘private’ practice of penance, which did not require public and prolonged completion of penitential works before reconciliation with the Church. From that time on, this sacrament has been performed in secret between the penitent and the priest. This new practice envisioned the possibility of repetition and so opened the way to regular frequenting of this sacrament. It allowed the forgiveness of grave sins and venial sins to be integrated into one sacramental celebration. The private confession of sins, introduced first by the Celtic monks of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the Frankish lands, later spread to the other parts of the world through the Western missionaries.
Private penance was essentially monastic in character, taking its origin from the monasteries of the East, where there was the custom of confessing among the monks themselves for the ‘manifestation of their conscience’. Originally this tradition had only a non-sacramental character, namely, that of confidential spiritual direction and guidance but in the course of time, it acquired a sacramental character. Later, John Cassian (+435) transplanted it to the Gallic monasteries, from where the monks adapted it for the Celtic monasteries. As K. McDonnell comments, private penance “is designed by the monks for the monks, drawing on monastic authorities, most especially John Cassian”.
This transition period from public to private penance saw the development of various Libri Paenitentiales, from the context of monasteries, which were more punitive and legal in character. Later the discipline of Summae Confessorum, the manuals for the confessors or the compendium of the confessors, became prevalent. They were used for the scaling, cataloguing and measuring of sins. During this period, the role of the priest in the confessional as a judge was more emphasised. K. McDonnell remarks:
The authors (of Summae Confessorum) transfer the judicial role of a secular judge to the confessor and they over-systematise the theology, without sufficient reference to the ‘analogy of faith’. The whole judicial procedure is present: a legal brief of facts, cross-examination of the accused, inquiry into the accountability and inner dispositions, setting limits to the future behaviour and a juridical verdict is at issue. The lists of the sins of the Summae Confessorum and the quest for integrity are in service of this legal discipline. In pursuit of this forensic precision, one loses sight of the sign value of the deeper encounter between the repentant sinner and a loving Father within the mediation of the Church, mediation with limits.
A ‘tariff system of penance’ (corresponding penance, prescribed by the penitentials was given according to the list of sins) was the identifying characteristic of the penitential discipline of this period. Confession of sins to a priest in private was practised mainly as an expression of the acceptance of sins on the part of the sinner. It helped the priest to understand the actual state of the sinner so that due penance could be suggested. The interrogations for the integrity of the confession became decisive and the expiatory value of the acts of penitence was emphasised.
From the 13th century onwards, we see a re-organisation of penitential practices and a structure of private confession, giving absolution immediately after the confession, leaving the penance to be done later. During this period, we notice a shift of emphasis to questions concerning the internal dispositions of the penitent, contrition or attrition, which were required for the forgiveness of sins. The scholastic period placed emphasis on the individual’s guilt feeling and the anxiety over salvation. Confession became a ‘priest-penitent encounter’ and more judicial in its administration. The precept of annual confession came into force during this period especially after the council of Lateran IV (1215). In this period, emphasis was placed on the ‘matter and form’ of the sacrament, the notion of eternal and temporal punishments, the conception of penance as a satisfaction or expiation for temporal punishment etc. Clericalism was also prevalent. The council of Florence (1438-1445) declared the acts of the penitent as the ‘quasi matter’ of the sacrament, whereas the words of absolution were seen as the ‘form’. This council put forward the interpretation of the ‘seven sacraments of the new covenant’ alongside the Thomistic line of thinking. It kept a balance between the pre-Thomistic conception which placed the essence of the sacrament on the side of the penitent and his acts of contrition, confession and satisfaction and the later Scotist view, according to which the essence of the sacrament consists in absolution, while the acts of the penitent are considered merely as a preparatory disposition.
This period also witnessed some negative results like the exaggeration of the multiplicity of sins, hypothetical casuistry designed to exhaust every possible circumstance, the anxiety and anguish produced in sinners and even in confessors through excessive fear of God’s judgement and eternal punishment. All these led to the rise of various reactions against the then existing practices of confession, culminating in the challenges made by Martin Luther and other reformers. The council of Trent (1545-1563) was convened in this context. In the reformation background, it re-affirmed the sacramentality of private penance and proposed it as the ordinary way of receiving forgiveness for serious sins. As D. Borobio observes, “Trent’s reaction to the reformers’ position was defensive (of the current teaching and practice), coherent (with classic scholastic interpretation) and dogmatic (affirming the basics with authority)”. From then on, the Tridentine doctrine has remained as the dogmatic basis for the magisterial teachings on the sacrament of repentance.
The council of Trent in its fourteenth session, taught that the sacrament of repentance was instituted by Christ as necessary for all men who have stained themselves by mortal sin and re-affirmed the ‘matter and form’ theory of scholastic theology. It affirmed contrition, confession and satisfaction for sins as the three important acts of the penitent and emphasised as well the necessity ex iure divino of individual and integral confession. The role of the priest, who acts in persona Christi by the power received from Christ through the Church, is defined as praesides et iudex and the act of absolution as actus iudicialis. Thus this sacrament gradually acquired a thorough ‘judicial character’. In this period, we see more emphasis on private penance for various reasons. Frequent confession was also promoted as an act of piety. Besides in the year 1576, Charles Borromeo, the Archbishop of Milan, decreed that every church is to have a confessional box. This marked the zenith of the privatisation of the SR.
From the council of Trent till Vatican II (1962-1965), we do not see any historically important official teaching on the sacrament of repentance except a few references in some of the magisterial teachings. After four centuries, Vatican II re-emphasised the personal and communitarian dimensions of this sacrament (LG, 11) as against the privatisation of its celebration and suggested the need for reform in the rites of penance. The Constitution on the Liturgy decrees that a new rite, more “expressive of the nature and effect of the sacrament” must be prepared to overcome the dangers of routine performance and individualism inherent in the present practice (SC, 72). Again through the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (1984), Pope John Paul II pointed out both the personal and ecclesial characters of the sacrament of repentance and proposed his preference for a ‘healing of the medicinal character’ of the sacrament to a judicial approach. The Apostolic Letter of John Paul II Misericordia Dei (2002) in the form of motu proprio, summarises once again the catholic doctrine of the sacrament of repentance. Emphasising ‘individual and integral confession as the sole ordinary means for the forgiveness of serious sins’, he refers also to the action of the minister ‘who judges and absolves, tends and heals in the name of Christ’.
2.2. Some Characteristic Features of Eastern Understanding of the SR
We have just looked at a general picture of the historical development of the sacrament of repentance, especially in the Western context. The Western Christian tradition, due to the difficulties of public canonical penance and to the larger influence of the religious, gradually gave way to private penance. The scholastic interpretation of the Gospel and redemption in Christ gave a more juridical character to the sacrament of repentance. An overemphasis on the expiatory role of confession and penance in overly legalistic terms may have at one time contributed to an unhealthy fear of the sacrament. However, the Eastern traditions tried to keep alive the theological and ecclesial dimensions of sin and forgiveness and had upheld the Gospel message of true metanôia and authentic conversion of heart. Instead of the scholastic subtlety, we see a biblical freshness in all its theological reflections.
It is true that in general, the Eastern discipline with regard to penitential practices was severe but it was always seen in a medicinal and pastoral perspective as a physician prescribes medicine for the patient. Added to this, in Eastern moral theological reflections, it is difficult to find a systematic reflection on the ‘human acts’ as we see in the Thomistic thinking pattern. So also the East has not developed a detailed doctrine of sin and the sacrament of repentance in scholastic terms. More than a deliberate and wilful evil act, sin is understood in the East as an expression of spiritual sickness and human weakness (Mt, 9:12, MK, 2: 17; Lk, 5:31; Num, 15: 22-31). It is seen primarily as an inner state of the soul and as passions of the soul. The Eastern tradition sees sin mainly as a sickness or a wound of the soul that is to be healed and cured mercifully, rather than as a crime to be judged and punished in terms of tribunal justice. An observation of J. Meyendorff is noteworthy. He says:
Confession and penance in the East were interpreted primarily as a form of spiritual healing. For, sin itself in Eastern Christian anthropology is primarily a disease and a passion. Byzantine theologians never succumbed to the temptation of reducing sin to the notion of a legal crime, which is to be sentenced, punished or forgiven. Yet they were aware that the sinner is primarily a prisoner of satan and as such mortally sick. For this reason, confession and penance, at least ideally, preserved the character of liberation and healing rather than that of judgement. Hence the great variety of forms and practices and the impossibility of confining them within static theological categories.
In the Eastern perspective, sin was also understood as a denial of faith, a lack of faithfulness or an infidelity. Apostasy was considered as ‘the sin’ and the remission of sins was effected through reconciliation with God and with the community of the faithful, which was given through the mediation of the priest to whom the power of forgiveness was officially entrusted by the Church. Therefore the penitential liturgies and various rites of reconciliation in the East were also known as ‘the service of reconciliation for apostates’.
The Eastern Churches understandably do not have the notion of confession as a judicial act, this being the dominant attitude to this sacrament in the West. On the other hand, the therapeutic character of penance is a fundamental and decisive character of the Eastern discipline. Of course, the various prayers in the liturgy of penance refer to the power that has been granted to the Church but it is not conceded that actual forgiveness of sins follows merely from a judicial and declarative statement made by the priest. The Church intercedes before God for the sinner’s forgiveness and God himself forgives the sins. In the Eastern practice, the motive behind the sacrament of repentance was not only the absolution of sins but also interceding before God together with the penitents, the inner healing of spiritual disease and the spiritual direction.
Far from being a judicial interrogation, confession of sins is understood in the East as a medicinal dialogue in order to heal the spiritual wounds of the penitent. This dialogue enables the priest to apply the spiritual medicine wisely and with discernment to the spiritual wounds of the penitent. Therefore, confessors in the Eastern tradition were called pneumatikoi, holy and experienced men and women, spiritual guides, ministers of the soul, capable of perceiving in each case, what therapy should be applied to heal the people from their evil ways. In the original monastic tradition of the East, such a guide, renowned for his holiness and experience, had never necessarily been an ordained priest.
Forgiveness and reconciliation were seen as a gradual healing process through repentance, prayer and various penitential acts. The penance imposed upon them was the increased exercise of godliness in prayer, reconciliation with those with whom they had been at variance, fasting, abstinence, keeping vigils, alms-giving, doing charitable works, the practice of the Christian virtues and frequent attendance at the Holy Eucharist as a token of the sincerity of their repentance, etc. Penitential acts were given not only to expiate for the sins but also as pedagogical means to re-introduce the sinner into the true Christian life with all its diverse forms, of which the first one is the repentance. The ascetical practices are generally seen in the East as a medicine against the infirmities of fallen human nature. Hence the sacrament of repentance in the East had the curing of the soul as its primary aim, namely to heal the diseases and passions of the soul and to restore the penitent to the original purity of baptism.
It is right to say that true healing presupposes a proper judgement of the actual spiritual situation of the penitent and a proper application of the spiritual medicine. However, it is not a judgement in the strict legal sense of the term but in an analogous way. An experienced confessor knows that the original motivations of sin are really not all that which are apparent but that which lie beneath. Sins are symptoms or signs that point to deep lying inner diseases and human frailties. He, as an experienced physician of the soul, must diagnose and evaluate the penitent’s sins and discern recurrent patterns of the typical failings such as pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, lust, gluttony or self-indulgence and other sinful inclinations, all these being typical weaknesses and diseases of the soul, which fuel many individual sins and are thus to be eradicated.
Differing from the Western Church’s understanding of confession, the Eastern Churches had a much richer confessional practice that includes general as well as individual confession. This can be seen from an examination of the formulas for private confession that are derived from the community liturgies that were closely related either to the eucharistic celebration or to the liturgy of the hours. As W. Kasper comments, “to this day the Eastern Churches have maintained the sacramental forgiveness of sins through general absolution as an acceptable form of confession outside confessional”. However such general absolutions were generally preceded by an individual confession to and spiritual consultation from a priest in private. They were to be in a state of grace without any grave sin. However, as per the present discipline of the Church, general confession and general absolution are possible only on exceptional occasions. Even after the disappearance of the public canonical penance system, the Eastern tradition has always maintained the communitarian and public character of the sacrament of repentance in its different stages of celebration. On the whole, it may be said that the confession of sins having already been carried out before a priest in private, the final reconciliatory service of pardon was always celebrated in the context of a liturgical service.
There placed a greater emphasis on the ecclesial dimension of sin and repentance than in the West. They always preferred a communitarian manner of celebrating this sacrament to a private celebration. The graded penitential system (e.g. mourners, hearers, fallers, bystanders, participants, etc.) in the East and the various penitential liturgies of the Eastern Churches, celebrated mostly in connection with the Holy Eucharist and derived either from the divine office or from the community liturgies or independent of them, testify to this. Private penance was not considered obligatory or as something binding under mortal sin and excommunication, probably, because of the general characteristic of the Eastern tradition as less juridical in its canonical formulations. Actually, the East has not developed a strict doctrine of the individual form of penance. Therefore, they were not preoccupied with the number and species of sins, nor had they a rigid schematic classification of mortal and venial sins, which was treated mainly as a scholastic subtlety. Besides, we see an amazing variety of penitential prayers and confession formulas in the East. Even though the Eastern discipline in the sacrament of penance was less uniform, from province to province, its phases were often simultaneous rather than sequential. However, it is true that in the course of time, most of the Eastern Churches, especially those that were in communion with Rome, had been influenced either partially or completely by the Latin practices in the celebration of this sacrament.
It is possible that this medicinal conception of the sacrament of repentance could be an expression of the particular genius and temperament of the Christian East, an expression of their unique religious point of view. The differences in theological approaches (the theological and juridical approach of the West and the symbolic and therapeutic approach of the East, UR, 17; Instruction, n. 9) may have contributed for this different perception of the SR. The observation of R. F. Taft is worth mentioning here:
The Oriental catholic’s religious point of view is as universal in essential as the Westerner’s. But he is unwilling to associate this with the fruits of human organisation, law, order and uniformity. Tending to emphasise the mystery of the Church rather than its earthly form, he is less concerned with the disciplinary and administrative aspects of its life. He sees the Church not so much as a visible society headed by Christ than as his theophany, a coming of the eternal into time, an unfolding of the divine life through the deifying transformation of Christ. Life in the Church is spoken of in terms of glory, light, vision, union, transfiguration. The more juridical vocabulary of power, order, right, justice, sanction is less known to him.
The Eastern mind is less juridical in its general attitude and a legalistic approach to the salvation of man is foreign to it. V. Lossky highlights this aspect of Eastern theology in his criticism against Western theology, pointing out that the West, to a certain extent, has lost a proper pneumatological approach in the whole structure of theology. He says:
The Spirit is reduced to the function of a link between the two other persons and one-sidedly subordinated to the Son in his very existence in contempt of a genuine perichoresis…The goal of Christian way of life therefore becomes the imitation of Christ, no longer, deification by the Spirit. The people of God are subjected to the body of Christ, charisms are made subordinate to institution, inner freedom to imposed authority, propheticism to juridicism, mysticism to scholasticism, the laity to the clergy, the universal priesthood to the ministerial hierarchy and the college of bishops to the primacy of the Pope.
All the above-described eastern emphases are relevant also to the East Syriac tradition. The early East Syriac tradition speaks frequently about repentance and healing but not always in a sacramental context, may be more in an ascetical sense. Although the East Syriac tradition demanded from sinners the confession of sins to a priest and the acceptance of a penance, these were not necessary and obligatory for the remission of sins. There were cases in which the penitents received forgiveness of sins by themselves in particular situations such as the lack of prudent and wise priests to whom they could confess them. They emphasised sincere repentance and conversion of heart. They emphasised the need of this sacrament in order to receive the holy mysteries in a worthier and more fruitful manner. The approach to this sacrament was with the biblical imagery of the healing of wounds by the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Lk, 10: 25-37).
Added to this, the East Syriac tradition from its very beginning presents a case on its own in the practice and celebration of the forgiveness of sins for, this tradition appears to possess no separate rite for the private celebration of penance whatsoever. W. De Vries suggests that the political rivalry between the Persian and the Roman empires might have made an intensive contact of the East Syriac Church with the universal Church difficult. Therefore they developed a unique way for the administration of the sacrament of repentance. The general rule was to petition for the forgiveness of sins within the context of a communal confessional liturgy. There was only the ‘rite of absolution’, generally known as taksâ d’husâyâ = rite of absolution and this was intended mainly to be used for the reconciliation of the apostates, though it could also be used in connection with other sins. Being faithful to their authentic liturgical traditions, throughout the centuries they always maintained the practice of ‘public’ penitence, even when the Western Church and many other Eastern Churches had passed from public penance to the private celebration of penance. About this J. Isaac observes:
The practice of public penitence in other Churches has passed from public penitence to private penance; however in the East Syriac tradition there is no such development in that sense; in effect we do not find any other rite instituted for private penance, as in other Eastern and Western Churches; this Church remained faithful to her tradition of ‘public’ penitence.
A liturgical analysis of the rite of absolution, attributed to Patriarch Išo‘yab III (7th century), makes it clear that the structure both in its euchological and ritual parts, is public and communitarian in character. Its structure is more or less similar to the other sacraments of baptism, marriage and ordination and to the divine office. The rite of absolution consists of different sacerdotal prayers, hymns, anthems with antiphons, canons, doxology and the prayer of the faithful after which a prayer of absolution was said over the penitents. In the prayers, Jesus is addressed as the ‘good physician of souls’, ‘the compassionate one’, ‘the merciful one’, ‘the lover of mankind’, ‘the good shepherd’, etc. In an allegorical sense, this rite tells us of the duty of repentance, the hope of pardon held out by Christ to a truly repentant sinner, the authority of the priest to absolve sins and the need for confession of sins and of asking pardon with a contrite conscience. The role of the Church and the priest as intercessors for the sinners before God is also emphasised in the prayers. Besides exercising his role of petitioner on the sinners’ behalf, the priest is also required to take on a role similar to that of a doctor, whose function is to diagnose and remedy the spiritual sickness.
The East Syriac tradition has remained faithful to this rite of absolution throughout the centuries. We have documentary evidence of the practice of the rite of absolution from the 5th century onwards until the present day. Among the four different stages of penitence, (i.e. the accusation of sins, the imposition of penance, the accomplishment of penance and the final absolution), the accusation of sins having been done before a priest in private, the penitential practices and the final service of granting pardon remained essentially public and ecclesial. The communitarian character of penance and its practice is stronger in the East Syriac tradition than in any other ecclesial tradition. In spite of the complex history with regard to ‘private penance’ in the East Syriac tradition, one thing is sure that the final reconciliatory service was always in the context of a communitarian celebration.
The East Syriac tradition also possesses a clearly recognisable penitential rite in the eucharistic liturgy, occurring immediately after the epiclesis and before the communion. The rite itself is also beautifully connected with the breaking of the bread. In the East Syriac liturgical tradition, the public penitential rites form an integral part of the liturgical life and prayer of the Church and therefore they express the continued disposition of the pilgrim Church.
The early East Syriac fathers were not much concerned with formulating a detailed penitential doctrine against the background of a particular philosophical thinking. A holistic approach to the Christian life was their philosophy. The Syriac theology is soaked in the Bible and the syriac writings are full of scriptural allusions as well as more direct biblical references. They instructed the faithful to lead a Christian life based on the teachings of the Bible and the expressions of faith in the liturgical life of the Church. So we may not find any strict rational conceptual expressions in their teachings. However the teachings of the fathers were coherent and unanimous. All of them emphasised the sacramental efficacy of the priestly authority to forgive sins and the necessity of submitting sins to this power in order to attain divine pardon. The healing dimension of the sacrament was very common among their teachings. The role of the priest as physician, spiritual director and intercessor, the role of the Holy Spirit and the divine grace in healing and rendering peace of mind, the therapeutic character of repentance and penance, the laying on of hands over the penitents as an external sign of forgiveness, the sacerdotal prayer as a sign of re-admission into the Church, and the communitarian nature of its celebration, etc. are very often emphasised by them.
Until the time of Aphrahat (+ ca. 345), we do not have enough proof to explain how the East Syriac tradition practised the gospel message of repentance and conversion. We have only some scant references in some of the early Syriac works. Among the early Syriac fathers, Aphrahat, St. Ephrem and Narsai speak about the sacrament of repentance, though not of course, in the terms with which we are familiar today. Their vision of the sacrament of repentance places emphasis on its therapeutic dimension of healing the spiritual sickness and infirmities of the soul, caused by the frailties and passions of our fallen nature. THE HEALING NOTIONS IN THE EARLY SYRIAC WRITINGS
When we analyse the healing notions of the early Syriac works, we do not find a detailed dogmatic elaboration of the sacrament of repentance in them. However, a general understanding of sin as a spiritual sickness, repentance and forgiveness of sins as a gradual process of healing and Jesus and his ministers as physicians are evident in these works.
The idea of sin as a ‘spiritual sickness’ was present from the early Christian period onwards. The Odes of Solomon, one of the earliest Christian hymn books of baptismal hymns, perhaps written in Edessa within a Judeo-Christian background, give some hints of this idea. They use terms like sickness, pain, suffering, affliction, poison and venom to express the idea of spiritual sickness.
My heart was lifted up and enriched in the love of the Most High,
So that I might praise him with my name.
My limbs were strengthened,
That they may not fall from his power.
Sickness fled from my body,
And it stood firm for the Lord by his will;
Because his kingdom is firm.
Here the reference is evidently to physical healing. But the fact that the Odist’s heart is lifted up and he is pleased to praise the Lord by using his name manifests interior peace and health as an expression of spiritual healing.
Much more than the Odist, the author of the Acts of Thomas, an apocryphal book of the third century gives a detailed account of the healing imagery. Though there is a strong Mesopotamian milieu of passionate and proselytising Encratite tendencies in it, it speaks about the sickness of body and soul alike and the healing of both. The author of the Acts speaks of the ‘sick soul’ in the context of affliction, suffering and weakness but does not provide any evidence of what kind of sickness it is. The idea that sin makes man ill is evident in this early document. In the second Act, we see a discussion on the consequences of leading an immoral life that makes both the body and the soul sick, the effects of which are both spiritual and physical sicknesses.
Man and women and children, youths and maidens, shun fornication and covetousness and the service of demons; for under these three heads, comes all wickedness. For fornication blinds the intellect and darkens the eyes of the soul; it confuses the steps of the body and changes its complexion and makes it sick. And covetousness puts the soul into agitation in the midst of the body so that it takes what does not belong to it and is afraid lest it should be put to shame, when it returns the things to its owners. And the service of the belly makes the soul dwell in care and sorrow, fearing lest it should come to want and grasp at things that are far from it.
This early Christian document proposes repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus as the basic requirements for the forgiveness of sins and the consequent healing.
...repent and believe in the new preaching and receive the pleasant yoke and the light burden and live and die not. Gain and perish not. Come forth from the darkness and the light will receive you. Come to the Good and receive for yourselves grace and plant the cross in your souls.
Approaching the Lord with repentance and faith and thereby receiving his grace makes man worthy of receiving the divine gifts, restores him to life and heals him from sickness. It is the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us and gives us life. He is the Spirit of holiness and life.
No other image made such a deep impression on the early Christian tradition as did ‘Jesus as the physician’. The NT and the early Christian traditions had attributed this title to Jesus and his apostles. Jesus and his apostles are seen as physicians and healers of body and soul. In the early Syriac tradition also, ‘Physician’ is one of the major titles for Christ and for the spiritual leaders of the Christian community. This title of Jesus is attributed also to those who share in the healing authority and mission of Jesus Christ, such as apostles, bishops, presbyters, etc. It is true that Jesus is the source of all healing and his ministers are sharers in his healing authority and mission. They are considered as the mediators of the healing power of Christ.
The Acts of Judas Thomas is rich in poetic titles addressed to Christ, of which the most frequent one is ‘the healer of bodies and souls’. By Jesus’ kenosis and descent into the world, the author speaks of him as ‘becoming sick’ in order to serve as physician and medicine for his creation. Christ was sent to heal the whole of humanity. Likewise, Thomas was sent to India to perform healing, using the medicine of our Lord. Thus the Lord Jesus and the apostle Thomas are described as physicians and healers. They are the healers of both body and soul. The author differentiates theologically between Jesus as the perfect healer, the source of all healing and his apostle as the mediator of this healing power.
In Doctrina Addai, another early Syriac document, written in the early 5th century in Edessa in Syriac, we find references to Jesus as a healer of body and soul. Jesus is addressed as ‘the good saviour’ and ‘the good doctor’ , which is seen in the subsequent Syriac writers as well. The Didascalia Apostolorum, an important Church document of the early Church, composed in Syria around the third century, coming from a Syriac milieu and written originally in Greek, calls bishops ‘physicians in the Church’ and instructs them not to withhold ‘the cure’ from the faithful that repents, saying: “And you also, O bishop, are made the physician of the Church: do not therefore withhold the cure whereby you may heal them that are sick with sins but by all means cure and heal and restore them sound into the Church”. And again in chapter 10, we read: “…On this account, as a compassionate physician, heal all those who sin and distribute with all skill and offer healing for the remedy of their lives”. This document also speaks clearly about the forgiveness of sins through the laying on of hands. Grave sinners were to be cast out of the Church until they showed genuine signs of repentance. When they repented, they were to be received back into the communion of the Church through the laying on of hands by a bishop. Here the reference might be to the ancient practice of public penance in the early Christian community. They were forgiven by the action of the Holy Spirit; the recipient returns to the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and becomes once again the abode of the Holy Spirit as in baptism. HEALING IMAGERIES OF THE EARLY SYRIAC FATHERS
Here we treat of Aphrahat, St. Ephrem and Narsai, three great figures of the early Syriac Church. As we have already seen, Aphrahat, speaking mainly from the context of the ‘Sons and Daughters of the Covenant’, gives the first reference to the private confession of sins in the Syriac tradition and to the life of repentance. However, we cannot easily ascertain whether it denotes the earlier Syriac sacramental practice of private penance. Though Ephrem is also equally ambiguous in this regard, speaking extensively about sin and repentance, he gives sound theological basis and explanation for this sacrament. We refer briefly also to Narsai, one of the great theologians of the Early Syriac Church. He speaks vividly on the context and background of the sacrament of repentance.

Aphrahat (+345)
The Concept of Sin in Aphrahat
Christian life, for Aphrahat, is mainly a life in Christ. It is very interesting to note his description of faith, seen in his Demonstration on Faith. Inspired by 1Cor, 3: 11, he compares Christian faith to an edifice or building, which is being built up into perfection through various pieces of good works, while its foundation is placed on the firm rock, which is Christ. Christ is not only the foundation but also the indweller of the building. A person who becomes a dwelling place for Christ must see to what is fitting to the service of Christ. Aphrahat gives a long list of deeds of faith such as charity, purity, fasting, prayer, humility, moderation, patience, alms, penance, etc. which will please the dweller. He enumerates also the deeds that are contrary to the faith such as observance of hours, consultation of oracles, astrology and magic, fornication, vain doctrines, blasphemy, adultery, false witness, etc. Accordingly Aphrahat understands sin as a denial of faith. He understands sin also as a wound, inflicted on the spiritual life and the sinner as a sick person, who needs healing. As we have already seen, Christian life is also compared to a spiritual battle in which there is always the possibility of getting wounded.
As Aphrahat understands, sin is a real sickness of the soul and repentance brings about the forgiveness of sins and the healing. Repentance and the Holy Spirit are envisioned as the medicine for the spiritual healing of the wounded soul. As he says, the Holy Spirit that the faithful receives by the grace of God in baptism departs from him when he sins and he becomes sick. When the sinner repents upon his sins, the Holy Spirit comes back and heals him anew.
Therefore God has mercifully provided repentance as the spiritual medicine for the wounded man. Those who become injured in the battle of life need to reveal their wounds to the physicians in order to be healed. Therefore repentance is considered as a heavenly medicine. He writes:
All illnesses have their medicines and can be healed, once the wise doctor has discovered them. Likewise, those who are wounded in our contest have repentance as the medicine, which they lay on their abscesses and they are healed. O doctors, disciples of our Wise Physician, take up this medicine with which you shall heal the wounds of the sick. For the warriors who are smitten in battle at the hands of their adversary find a wise doctor who devises a remedy for them so that he may heal the wounded…Thus, my beloved, he who labours in our contest and his adversary comes against him and wounds him, should be given penance as a medicine, provided the compunction of the wounded person is great. For God does not reject the penitent….
A man who has been wounded by satan should not be ashamed to acknowledge his faults, seeking out penance as a medicine that costs nothing. He writes:
I further exhort you, who have been wounded, not to be ashamed to say, “we have been worsted in the contest”. Take the medicine that costs nothing, and repent and recover before you get killed. And you doctors, I remind you of what is written in the writings of Our Wise Doctor, that he does not withhold penitence. For, when Adam sinned, he invited him to repentance, saying, “where are you Adam”(Gen. 3: 9) but he hid his sin from “Him who searches out the heart” (Rom, 8: 27, Rev, 2: 23, I Chr, 28: 9) and laid the blame on Eve who led him astray. And because he did not confess his error, God decreed the sentence of death for him and for all his children.
In the OT, God always offered his healing to the covenant people by inviting them to repentance and conversion, through the chosen ones and finally through Jesus. This is continued through the apostles and the spiritual leaders of the community, who are ‘the disciples of the Wise Physician’. Recalling to mind the NT healing imageries, Aphrahat advises ‘the keepers of the heavenly keys’ to open the heavenly doors to the repentant sinners. “O steward of Christ, allow your fellow mortal, penitence and remember that your Lord did not reject the penitent” (Dem, 7: 25). This repentance is possible only in this world. When this world will come to an end, grace will disappear and justice will take its rule. Thus repentance is suggested as the best medicine for spiritual as well as physical healing. Repentance as medicine could be understood in two ways: the interior act of repentance on the part of the repentant sinner and the penance that the spiritual physician gives to the penitent.
ST. EPHREM (+373)
St. Ephrem, one of the leading fathers of the early Syriac Church, who deserves to be compared with his better known contemporaries like St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa is really a precious pearl among the fathers and the most valued gem among the Syriac fathers.
-His understanding of the 5 stags of the history of salvation
It is worth noting that St. Ephrem frequently uses the healing imagery in the context of sin and salvation. He explains sin and salvation in terms of sickness and healing. St. Ephrem uses this sickness-healing imagery to describe the process of salvation, looking back at man’s fall from the original state of health in the first paradise and looking forward to his complete restoration to good health in the eschatological paradise by the divine economy of salvation. He provides a healing analogy placing the divine salvation of humanity between the two poles of the present state of sickness and the eschatological state of the renewal of original health and pristine purity.
St. Ephrem sees sin mainly as the abuse or betrayal of herutâ = freedom, free will. For him sin and the evils in the world belong neither to God nor to the original nature of man but are caused by the freedom of man and by his free wilful decision. This idea of sin would be clearer in the light of the Ephremean concept of the intended role of humanity in the creation that has an extremely important role in the Ephremean thinking. According to him, Adam and Eve were created in an intermediary state, neither mortal nor immortal, with a free will. The exercise of this free will over the instruction ‘not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge’ would have rewarded them not only with the fruit of the tree of knowledge but also with the fruit of the tree of life and they would have become omniscient and immortal. Whether or not they would be raised to a higher state, God left it to the outcome of the exercise of free will. God wished that man might gain the higher state with his own personal effort by means of a contest, a crown that befitted his actions.
For God had not allowed him
To see his naked state,
So that, should he spurn the commandments,
His ignominy might be shown to him.
Nor did he show him the Holy of Holies,
In order that, if he kept the commandment,
He might set eyes upon it and rejoice.
These two things did God conceal,
As the two recompenses,
So that Adam might receive, by means of his contest
A crown that befitted his actions.
Had Adam chosen, of his own free will, to keep the commandments, God might have rewarded him with a higher state. But his pride and greed led him to break the commandment. He became aware of what he had lost by his disobedience; a knowledge of the higher state of glory, which he should have gained, if he had kept the commandments; a knowledge of the nakedness and shame that the breaking of the commandment brought upon him. The consequence of their action was a judgement, which was in fact self-imposed.
The act of disobedience by Adam was a deliberate act of his free will. St. Ephrem clearly asserts this aspect in his paradise hymns. He says:
The serpent could not
Enter paradise,
For neither animal nor bird
Was permitted to approach
The outer region of paradise,
And Adam had to go out to meet them.
Even if symbolically presented, it is easily presumable from these verses that Adam, of his own free will, had gone out to welcome the serpent and thereby paved the way for sin. It was not out of compulsion or real need that Adam and Eve transgressed God’s commandments but because of greed and contempt for the Creator. They held God, the goodness, to be false and satan the deceiver to be true. In paradise, God actually placed the tree of knowledge as a judge and as a veil and gate to the inner sanctuary. The tree of knowledge acts as the sanctuary curtain hiding the Holy of Holies, which is the tree of life (HParad, 3: 2-3). But Adam out of greed and pride boldly ran and ate of its fruit. St. Ephrem dramatically portrays this scene in the following words:
But when Adam boldly ran
And ate of its fruit
This double knowledge
Straightway flew towards him,
Tore away and removed
Both veils from his eyes:
He beheld the glory of the Holy of Holies
And trembled;
He beheld, too, his own shame and blushed,
Groaning and lamenting
Because, the two-fold knowledge he had gained
Had proved for him torment.
Adam is compared to King Uzziah of OT, who presumptuously tried to enter the Holy of Holies with disastrous results. Just as the king was deprived of kingship and became leprous, so also was Adam stripped of the glory of God and became leprous. Both fled and hid in the shame of their bodies. Adam had lost his original health and purity and became sick, leprous and repulsive. Thus for St. Ephrem, sin denotes a going away from an intended goal, an act of infidelity and an infringement of a faith-love relationship. He understands the result of sin mainly as a state of sickness.
St. Ephrem presents the fallen state of man as a state of sickness, a diminution in the true integrity of man and a sign or symptom of sickness. He considers life in paradise to be a life of perfect well-being in which Adam and Eve were created healthy and pure. In their good health, they even lacked the discernment of what suffering was. They were like ‘spiritual infants’. The pure and chaste air of paradise itself had a special fragrance and a medicinal effect. Even the mere proximity to paradise had a healing effect. In paradise, Adam and Eve had enjoyed perfect health of body and soul and all the blessings, symbolised by the robe of glory, where neither sickness nor suffering nor pains nor grief existed. But once they had listened to the voice of the Satan and sinned, they were expelled from the healthy state of paradise into a fallen state of sickness. Sin caused man to fall from the original paradise and made him sick. St. Ephrem states:
As the Church
Purges her ears
Of the serpent’s poison,
Those who had lost their garments,
Having listened to it and became diseased,
Have now been renewed and whitened.
The fallen state introduced mortality and afflictions of different types of illnesses and pains. On the cursed land, Adam and Eve tasted the reality of sickness and gained the knowledge of pain and suffering. Through them, the whole of humanity also became sick. In his Hymns on Virginity, he writes:
With three medicines, you healed our disease.
Human kind had become weak and sorrowful and was failing.
You strengthened her with your blessed bread,
And you consoled her with your sober wine,
And you made her joyful with your Holy Chrism.
Because of this universal human condition of spiritual sickness, other sicknesses, diseases and pain could affect man spiritually as well as physically. Humanity in its nakedness became weak and an object for sickness. Not only man’s physical body but also his soul and spirit had become sick.
Sometimes St. Ephrem calls sin ‘sickness’ and describes the sinner as sick. In the hymns on virginity, when he speaks about the treasure of virginity, he recollects the OT story of Amnon’s rape of Tamar (1Sam, 13: 1- 22) and describes it as follows:
In a lamb’s garment the crafty Amnon approached that ewe.
Scheming to lead her astray by her service, he performed his service.
The sick one, laid low, rose to the conflict
And laid hold of the crown that was found for his shame.
He personifies sin and considers it as somebody, who kills and swallows up people. The first sin was caused by a wilful act of disobedience. It was the first wound upon human nature. And sin continues its poisonous actions to wound man in many different ways. Sin is present in man’s life, particularly through various vices that cause spiritual sicknesses and blindness in man. The main vices that St. Ephrem enumerates are greed, jealousy, deceit, hatred, haughtiness, pride, wrath, anger, lust, mocking, blasphemy and abuse. Furthermore, he also considers the mere intellectual investigation and prying into God, as well as paganism and idolatry as vices, causing spiritual sicknesses. Thus mankind is wounded spiritually, mentally and physically by the various vices that have resulted from the original wound, inflicted upon humanity through the act of disobedience by the first parents.
Since man is in a state of sickness, man needs to be healed and redeemed. So salvation is seen as a gradual process of restoration from the diseased state of sickness to the original pristine state of good health. In the OT, God provided various physicians and medicines for his own covenant people. Finally Jesus came as the healer and the medicine of life to heal man from his wounds. He healed Adam’s wound and rescued the whole of humanity from its sick state and restored it to its original state of health. This healing process is being continued in the Church today in diverse ways and means.
St. Ephrem uses several imageries of healing both from the OT and NT. He says explicitly that the fragrance of paradise itself serves as a physician who is sent to give medicine to the sick state of the land that is under curse. St. Ephrem sees the OT patriarchs and prophets as physicians sent by God to heal the world. God by his mercy provides ways and possibilities for healing man. He calls the prophets the physicians of souls, who applied temporary and lasting remedies for man’s diseases.
But all these healings were partial and limited, compared to the healing brought by Jesus, the physician par excellence. For St. Ephrem, ‘physician’ is a favourite title for Jesus. By his incarnation, life and paschal mysteries, Jesus brought complete healing for both individuals and for the whole of humanity. St. Ephrem sees in the incarnation of Jesus, an apparition of the spiritual light, which conquers the darkness of human hearts and which has healed our sicknesses and spiritual wounds. The Lord Jesus underwent suffering and death in order to heal Adam’s wounds and to provide again the lost garment of glory for his nakedness. By his death, he expiated our sins and restored us to the original state of health. In his Commentary on Diatessaron, St. Ephrem sees in the myrrh of the magi, a symbolism of healing the broken state of man. Christ saved us through his wounds and he revived us by his death. Thus he healed and redeemed man physically, mentally and spiritually.
Jesus is not just the physician alone, he is also the medicine. Jesus is frequently described as ‘the medicine’ or ‘the medicine of life’. Jesus as ‘the medicine of life’ came down to heal our sickness and shone forth for the wounded. St. Ephrrem sings:
Greater is this day than every day,
For, on it the Compassionate One came out to sinners.
A treasure of medicine is your great day
On which the medicine of life shone forth for the severely wounded.
In many other places, Jesus is also referred to as the ‘medicine of life’ and the physician. As medicine, Jesus gives himself to us through the Holy Eucharist and the faithful participate everyday in it. Unlike other earthly doctors, He binds up our wounds with his medicines. In the Nativity Hymns he instructs the faithful not to hesitate to open our wounds to Christ the physician: “When our wound has been proclaimed, then our healer is magnified. Blessed is he who triumphed over our sins”.
St. Ephrem uses the title ‘physician’ to denote the apostles too. They are called ‘the physicians of the souls’, who provided remedies to heal the pains, which they came across. Bishops, the successors of the apostles and priests, their diligent co-workers, are also called physicians or spiritual healers. Referring to the words of Ezekiel, he instructs the bishops, saying:
Guard you the sheep that are whole and visit them that are sick and bind up them that are broken and seek out them that are lost. Feed them in the pastures of the scriptures and give them drink from the spring of true doctrine. Let the truth be a wall unto you. Let the cross be a staff unto you and the truthfulness be peace unto you.
In the Carmina Nisibena, he attributes to Jacob and Abraham, who were the local bishops of Nisibis, the healing ministry of applying remedies for man’s disease. The ministry of priesthood is also compared to that of physicians. St. Ephrem praises the Lord for the gift of priesthood. He says: “blessed are you that your healing is for all men. Your priests are devoted and ready for all that are in need of your healing” and he continues, “the priest in the likeness of Moses, purges the defilement of the soul”.
Referring to the repentance of the Ninivites, St. Ephrem speaks of the medicine of repentance, coming down from the height for the forgiveness of sins. In contrast to sin, repentance saves, restores and heals us. Repentance makes us beautiful. It re-adorns us with the robe of glory and helps us to re-enter paradise, just as the repentant thief entered it. Repentance causes the Lord to be more merciful and gracious. If someone repents, he says, “one drop of mercy annuls the book of his debts”.
He also distinguishes between repentance and momentary remorse. While repentance heals forever, momentary remorse helps only momentarily. “Acquire repentance that persists and not momentary remorse, for repentance heals our bruises by its constancy”. Even after being healed, doubt can turn man back into spiritual sickness. So he warns the faithful not to misuse the medicine of repentance. Because of the medicine of repentance, no one should increase his sins and wounds in the hope that God with his mercy will heal him.
For repentance and grace, Ephrem brings out two typical examples, that of the Ninivites and that of the sinful woman that comes repeatedly in his works. The ‘tears of repentance’ are considered to be rain for the ‘land of repentance’ that produces fruits, which is pleasing to the heavenly Father. The Lord is thirsty for the tears of repentance. The Ninivites repented and they were healed. In the case of the sinful woman, St. Ephrem also considers the repentance of the woman to be the reason for Jesus’ arrival into Simeon’s house. Jesus was not hungry for food, but for the tears of the sinful woman, that indicated her repentance. Tears and oil, along with her action, showed her repentance. The oil that she took with her when she went to Jesus became a medicine for her. She offered oil gratis and in return Jesus offered her the ‘treasury of healing’. St. Ephrem describes the oil of the sinful woman as a ‘bribe’ for her repentance and as a medicine for her wounds.
St. Ephrem proposes repentance as a medicine for the sickness of perverted wills. According to him, God punished the first parents because of their non-repentance. If they had repented and confessed their mistakes, God would have forgiven them. The delay of the Lord in coming, the remote sound of his footsteps and the questions that God posed before them were to give them an opportunity to repent. They failed to make a plea or supplication before the Lord. They failed to confess their faults before the Lord.
St. Ephrem sees repentance as something unique to human beings alone. Man alone can feel shame and blame about guilt. Repentance is compared to diligence. As diligence is capable of doing business in this world to achieve wealth, so too repentance is required to achieve spiritual success in the world. Both can be used only in this world. After death, both of them are useless. God wants us to repent in order that we may return to the original state of health and purity. In the paradise hymns, he brings the example of Nebuchednazar who returned to his kingdom, having repented. But whereas Nebuchednazar abhorred his place of exile, we have become so inured to sin that we actually take pleasure in our exile. We have to be rescued from it against our perverted wills. Here he brings out the examples of the OT heroes like Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samson, Jeremiah, Daniel and Jonah. St. Ephrem proposed penance and penitential practices as a second means for the remission of sins. According to him, sins committed after baptism are forgiven by great pain and labour. For him, monasticism is also a penitential institution. Entering into monastic life as a penitential practice was prevalent also in the early Christian tradition. Life in the wilderness enables us to find the way to repentance. On mountains and in deserts, one may recover one’s lost life and experience self-renewal.
St. Ephrem speaks often of the ‘hands of God’s grace that heal our ills’. The taibutâ = grace of God helps us to be tayyâbê = repentant of our sins and perverted wills. On the other hand, our tyâbutâ = repentance makes God, more tâbâ = good towards us. Thus he presents repentance as a gift of the grace of God and repentance in turn prepares the way for grace and mercy. This heavenly medicine cannot be bought at any price but only by repentance itself.
St. Ephrem prays, “Your grace brings me too back, who am held in captivity”. He says that after the sin, Adam became leprous and repulsive. But just as the law made provisions for the leper’s re-entry into the Israelite society, so too Christ the High Priest provides for the restoration of Adam:
The High Priest, the Exalted One,
Beheld him,
Cast out from himself:
He stooped down and came to him,
He cleansed him with hyssop,
And led him back to paradise.
Here God takes the initiative; the mystery of God’s loving kindness and mercy is revealed. The grace and mercy of God sustains and accompanies us everywhere. The overflowing grace and compassion of God reach even Gehanna. The entire aim of God had been to effect the means for Adam to return to the paradise. It was not to the intermediary state of primordial paradise that God wished humanity to re-enter but to the eschatological paradise to receive the gift of divinity from the tree of life, which God had originally intended for the primordial Adam and Eve.
NARSAI (+502)
Together with baptism and Eucharist, Christian priesthood is also one of the central theological themes in the liturgical homilies of Narsai in which he sings its innumerable glories. In his homily On the Mysteries of the Church and on Baptism, he says:
O you priest that does the priest’s office on earth in a spiritual manner and the spirits may not imitate you! O you priest, how great is the order that you administer of which the ministers of fire and spirit stand in awe. Who is sufficient to say how great is your order that has surpassed the heavenly beings by the title of your authority? The nature of the spirit is more subtle and glorified than you; yet it is not permitted to it to depict the mysteries like, as it is to you. An angel is great and we should say he is greater than you, yet when he is compared with your ministry he is less than you. Holy is the seraph and beauteous the cherub and swifter the watcher, yet they cannot run with the fleetness of the word of your mouth. Glorious is Gabriel and mighty is Michael as their name testifies, yet every moment they are bowed down under the mystery which is delivered into your hand….And if the spiritual impassible beings honour your office, who will not weave a garland of praises for the greatness of your order? Let us marvel every moment at the exceeding greatness of your order, which has bowed down the height and the depth under its authority.
Narsai, convinced of the glories of priesthood, emphasises, more than any other aspect, the mediatory role of priest. Many epithets that point to this role are repeatedly seen in his liturgical homilies. Priests are variously referred to as ‘the steward of the treasures’, ‘treasure keeper’ ‘the minister of the Holy Mysteries’, ‘mediator between God and man’, ‘intercessor before God’, ‘tongue and lip of God’, ‘pen to the hidden power’, ‘painter’, ‘eagle’, etc. He writes: “Out of our clay, he has made treasure keepers of his hidden things; and from it, he has appointed stewards to dispense life. He chose for him priests as mediators between him and our people”. Again he says: “The stewards are the priests, the ministers of the mysteries to whom is committed the treasury of the spirit to dispense”.
Besides the mediator role of the priests, Narsai highlights also strongly the healing dimension of priesthood, especially through the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and repentance. One of the primary missions of the priesthood is to pardon all sins and to heal the wounded man. They pardon sins and cleanse the spots of iniquity by the power of the Spirit and the help of God. In his homily On the Church and on the Priesthood, Narsai affirms that the priests are gifted with the power to forgive the iniquities of sinners so that they might increase the richness of righteousness and enrich themselves and their fellow men with excellent good things. The priests hold ‘the keys of the high’ and of ‘the treasury of mercies’. And at every hour they open the door of mercy before the beholders. As he says ‘the treasury of the Spirit’ and ‘the silver of mercy’ is committed into the hands of the priests to distribute. They bind and loose the sins by his word. The Priest is variously called in this homily ‘minister of mercy’, ‘tongue and lip of God’, ‘shepherd of the sheep’, ‘father’, ‘physicians of the soul’ etc. As a limb, the priest is chosen from the body of the sons of his race; as the head, he is commanded to direct his fellow servants; as a tongue he interprets and dispenses the truth of the spiritual doctrine before the children of God. By their words, men see the light of life and by their labours, they taste the sweet savour of the truth. Narsai writes:
To this end he gave the priesthood to the new priests that men might be made priests to forgive iniquity on earth. For the forgiveness of iniquity was the priesthood set among the mortals. Evil passions are born in man’s nature; and they are not cleansed without the drug of holiness. Man is not able to travel in the way without stumbling; and when he stumbles he has the need of mercy to heal his iniquity; and there is the need of a physician who understands internal and external diseases. For the cure of hidden and manifest diseases, the priesthood was established to heal the iniquity by a spiritual art. The priest is a physician for hidden and open diseases and it is easy for his art to give health to body and soul. By the drug of the Spirit he purges iniquity from the mind; and men put off garments of iniquity and put on truth…
As he says “by the title of priesthood, God opened the treasury of his great riches that every man might receive forgiveness of iniquity through a son of his race”. It is a marvel of the great love of the God of all that he has given authority to the work of his hands to imitate him.
Narsai in his Homily on Baptism also deals with the themes of repentance and penance, being done by the sinners and their attitudes after penance. He describes the priests as advocates before God, pleading for the divine mercies on them. Narsai sees repentance as ‘the drug upon the disease of the soul’ and the ‘drug of the soul’. Therefore he invites sinners to show their weaknesses to the physicians who can heal them:
Let every man receive with good grace the correction of his iniquity and himself beseech the physician that he will lay a salve upon his sore. The priest is a physician who heals the diseases that are in the midst of the soul and it behoves him that is sick in his mind to run to him continually. He knows how to lay the drug of the Spirit upon the thoughts and he cuts off iniquity with the iron of the divine mercy. You sick of soul, come, draw near to them that have knowledge and show the spots of your mind to the hidden glance. You that travel in the way, come and join the company of the wise and make a prosperous journey to the appointed place of life everlasting.
Centuries after, quoting the verses of Narsai, Abdišo‘ (+1318) also writes in the same vein:
The human race is apt to err and easily inclined to sin and it is hardly possible that all should not be tried with spiritual diseases and on this account the healing priesthood was given to heal freely…The gate of repentance leads to heaven and imparts heavenly happiness...Hence it is incumbent upon believers when through the infirmity of their human nature, which all cannot keep upright, they are overcome of sin, to seek the Christian dispensary and to open their diseases to the spiritual physicians that by absolution and penance they may obtain the cure of their souls and afterwards go and partake of the Lord’s feast in purity, agreeably with the injunction of the eminent doctor (here he has Narsai in mind), who writes thus: “Our Lord has committed the medicine of repentance to learned physicians, the priests of the Church. Whomsoever, therefore the Satan has cast into the disease of sin, let him come and show his wounds to the disciples of the Wise Physician who will heal him with spiritual medicine”. These things will most assuredly result if they are done in faith and not after a worldly manner...
Abdišo‘ instructs the faithful that the priests of the Church are entrusted with the ‘medicine of repentance’ to cure the sins of men and therefore the faithful have to reveal the infirmities of their soul to these spiritual physicians and hence to receive the medicine of penance for the health of their soul. He even calls this sacrament the ‘Christian Dispensary’.
The canonical discipline of the East Syriac Tradition brings out several disciplinary norms with regard to penance, especially with regard to apostates, adulterers, persons in illegal marital situations, etc. The Synod of Mar Isaac in 410 accepted the canons of Nicaea on penance. Various Synods, especially those of Mar Yabalaha in 420, of Mar Dadišo‘ in 424, of Accacius in 486, of Mar Abba in 544 and of Mar Išo‘yab I in 585 passed several disciplinary norms regarding excommunication and penance for serious sins. The Synod of Yabalaha clearly speaks about the healing imageries of penance.
There were great liturgiologists among the Patriarchs of the East Syriac tradition. The liturgical instructions and canons of Mar Abba (+544), Mar Joseph I (+548), Mar Ezekiel (+576), Mar Išo‘yab I (+596), Mar Sabarišo‘ (+595), Mar Išo‘yab III (+660), Mar Timothy I (+823), Mar Išo‘dad of Merv (9th century), Mar Išo‘barnun (+828), Mar Makkika I (1092-1109), Mar Išo‘yab IV (11th century), Ibn at Tayyib (+1043), Mar ‘Abdišo‘ (+1318), Mar Timothy II (1318-1332) and various other manuscripts speak of the penitential practices of the East Syriac tradition. Among them, Patriarch Išo‘yab III deserves special mention. It was he who took great pains to formulate the liturgical text of the rite of absolution in the East Syriac tradition.
An analysis of the East Syriac liturgical and canonical tradition testifies clearly to the practice of public canonical penance. The dismissal service of the unworthy during the eucharistic celebration, commented on in the liturgical homilies of Narsai (+ ca. 502), An Exposition of Mysteries, attributed to him, is a clear witness to the existence of the practice of public canonical penance in the East Syriac tradition of the 5th century. In his commentary, he writes:
And again in a different manner another proclamation is made: let everyone who has not received the ‘sign of life’ depart from hence; and everyone that has repented and returned from unorthodox heresy, until he is signed he shall not partake of the Mysteries of the Church; everyone, again, who has denied his faith and has returned to his former condition, until he is not absolved by the sign of the Church he shall not partake.
The rite of absolution, used in the East Syriac tradition also points to the public penance system. It consisted mainly of two forms, absolution for those who had wilfully denied their true faith and the absolution for grave public sinners. It was also used for the reconciliation of ordinary sinners. The prescribed penance having been done, public sinners who had committed grave offences, were absolved by the priest during the eucharistic liturgy on a Sunday or on a solemn feast day and were re-admitted into the Christian community and then to the participation in the Holy Mysteries. According to the early Christian tradition, they were admitted to the eucharistic Communion on the Easter eve. Re-admission into the Christian fold was through syâm îdâ = laying on of hands and slotâ = prayer. All were blessed with the sign of cross. The difference was that anyone who had denied the faith willingly, would afterwards have been signed with the holy oil.
Also in the East Syriac tradition, the earlier practice of public canonical penance had undergone a change after the 6th century, as in other traditions and it was no longer used as in the ancient way. However they did not develop any separate rite for private penance. As we have said earlier, they preserved intact the practice of ‘public’ penitence with its private self accusation of sins. Aphrahat seems to be the first one, who spoke about private confession in the Syriac tradition. Authors like J. Parisot, I. Ortiz De Urbina and W. De Vries agree on this. R. Murray in his careful appreciation, says that Aphrahat might have been writing as an ascetic to ascetics, in a context, urging them to keep in mind the seriousness of their special commitment at baptism and of their ‘manifestation of conscience’ to a spiritual guide. Here arises the theological question as to whether this ascetical ‘manifestation of conscience’ is related to the Church’s power to forgive sins or not. Aphrahat was speaking mainly from the context of the ‘Sons and Daughters of the Covenant’, especially in the context of the fallen covenanters. So we cannot easily ascertain whether this denotes an earlier sacramental practice of private penance. Besides, the complete rite of absolution used in the East Syriac tradition is found only in later manuscripts such as Mardin-Diarbakir 31.47 from the twelfth century onwards. Hence it is rather difficult to arrive at a sure conclusion. However, the argument of ‘silence’ or ‘absence’ does not prove ‘non-existence’. However, it is true that Syriac Churches seem to have been the first to introduce ‘private confession’, apparently in a form not unlike that which the Irish monks were to develop and give to the whole Western Church.
There is a rich treasure that lies hidden in the variety of penitential rites, which the St. Thomas Christians practised, adapting themselves to their culture, genius, tradition and history. They used different forms for the celebration and experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness of sins. As we have already observed, a variety of penitential practices is one of the Eastern peculiarities. About this R. Taft observes: “In addition to confession, the East knows a bewildering variety of communal penitential services in connection with the Eucharist, the pre-sanctified liturgy, the liturgy of the hours, the liturgical year or independent of them”. It was the common heritage of the universal Church until the narrowing down of the forgiveness of sins to individual confession with the council of Trent.
It can be rightly inferred that St. Thomas, the apostle also gave the gospel message of true repentance to the first Christian communities of ‘India’. The first Christians of Malabar may have practised the penitential attitude of the first centuries. But how and in what manner they did so, we can only surmise as we have only scanty evidence. In the apostolic and post-apostolic periods, the Thomas Christians would have been greatly influenced by the Jewish and Hindu rituals. The traditions, which we find in the Acts of Thomas throws light on their practices of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This document gives some hints like a general self accusation of sins and a plea for forgiveness, doing penance and forgiveness of sins through the imposition of hands followed by Eucharist. The early Christian concept that the Holy Eucharist is the ‘medicine of life’ that remits venial sins is also found in it.
After the ecclesial contacts with the Churches of the Persian Empire, the liturgical rites of the St. Thomas Christians for the celebration of the sacraments were enriched. They may have naturally adopted the penitential discipline of the East Syriac Church but with local adaptations. The prelates from the Persian Church encouraged the native Christians to enrich the basic East Syriac liturgical tradition with their own local cultural adaptations. Therefore it can be said with all probability that the East Syriac discipline on the sacrament of repentance existed in the Malabar Church with adaptations until her contacts with the Western missionaries in the 16th century, who introduced the Latin form of confession among the Thomas Christians. Here we take a short look at the various liturgical practices of the forgiveness of sins that existed among the Thomas Christians in the pre-Diamper period until the introduction of the Tridentine teachings and the Latin form of confession through the Synod of Diamper.
As elsewhere during the first centuries, the system of public canonical penance also existed among the St. Thomas Christians. Public and grave sinners were subjected to the punishment of exclusion from the Christian community and the Holy Eucharist, which were remitted by Yogam, the assembly of elders, headed by the priests. When the imposed penance was completed, the whole community received the sinners back into the community and to the participation in the divine mysteries through a common reconciliatory service. An account of the practice is seen in the narration of Paulinus of St. Bertolomeus:
All the Thomas Christians formed a sort of Christian republic. All their Churches used to join together to defend anyone in the Church that had offended. The parish priest with the elders judged all cases and composed all differences among the people. With the knowledge of the bishop or the parish priest or the missionary, they used to excommunicate the evil doers. Such excommunication was called pallikupurathakkunnu, i.e. to send out of the Church. The excommunicated could not receive the sacraments of confession and communion. They would not be given casturi (peace) at the end of the mass. Priests would not enter their houses nor bless their marriages nor take part in their chattams (death anniversary celebration). They had no voice in the community nor could they sit in yogam (parish council). But they could hear mass and speak with others. Before being absolved, the excommunicated had to make satisfaction for the theft or scandal or offence or sin committed by them. Kneeling at the door of the Church on Sunday or on a feast day, they had to ask for re-admission into the community. Then the priest, kaikarer (economi) and the muppanar (elders) examined the case, its circumstances as well as the economic conditions of the penitents. The rich would be asked to give to the Church a certain measure of oil or an umbrella of silk or something pertaining to Divine Worship. The poor would be asked to stand at the door of the Church carrying a big wooden cross…. After verifying that the penance imposed was fulfilled, the bishop or the missionary or the parish priest would absolve the penitents beating them mildly with a small bundle of sticks at the entrance of the Church in the presence of all.
The public penance was given for grave and public sins, especially the triad, apostasy, murder and adultery. For the reconciliation of grave and public sinners, the Thomas Christians used the same rite of hûsâyâ (rite of absolution) that was being used in the Persian Church. The rite of hûsâyâ was celebrated on Sundays, on feast days of our Lord and other important occasions, by which sinners and the gathered community were prepared for a worthy reception of Holy Communion. As W. De Vries points out, the rite of hûsâyâ according to the East Syriac tradition, consisted of four stages: approaching a priest in private for penance, the assigning of a penance, fulfilling the penance and receiving absolution before the communion. Besides, Holy Saturday was observed in the Syriac Churches as the annual day for the pardon of sins and there was also the celebration of the rite of hûsâyâ. This annual reconciliatory service was administered in connection with the Eucharistic celebration on the Holy Saturday.
It was customary among the Thomas Christians of the pre-Diamper period to make ‘confession of sins’ before they received Holy Communion. However it is difficult to specify what kind of confession had been in use among them, that is to say, whether it was general or individual. Since the preference in the Eastern Churches was for a communitarian celebration, the system of private penance may not have been so common among the Thomas Christians. Besides, as we have already seen in the previous chapter, the East Syriac tradition did not develop a separate rite for private penance. Probably the practice of private confession may already have become less common among the Thomas Christians even before the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries due to various historical reasons. The false labelling of ‘Nestorians’ upon the Thomas Christians, ignorance and pastoral negligence on the part of the priests, lack of a sufficient number of priests, etc. all contributed to this state. Due also to their special geographical situation and the consequent estrangement from the main centres of Christianity and to their life in the midst of non-Christians, the Thomas Christians may not have had regular instruction in Christian doctrines. Hence certain articles of faith were obscured and some superstitious practices crept in among them. In addition to this, we get some hints from the history of the East Syriac Church that testifies to the abolition of private penance in this Church by a powerful Arab Tyrant. An ill informed reader of the decrees of the Synod of Diamper might be led to doubt whether there was the practice of the sacrament of repentance at all. There are also a few scholars and missionaries, who say that this sacrament was unknown among the Thomas Christians until the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries. The zealous Portuguese missionaries with all their good motivations could not understand the diverse ecclesial traditions and the various local adaptations of the liturgical rites of reconciliation other than the Latin form of private confession.
There are many proofs for the existence of the sacrament of private penance in the pre-Diamper period. F. Raulin reports in his book Historia ecclesiae Malabaricae cum synodo Diamperitana the testimony of Joseph the Indian, at the beginning of the 16th century that the St. Thomas Christians were also practising the sacrament of repentance like the Latins in the West. There are also other testimonies of the Western missionaries, foreign visitors and historians that testify to the practice of the sacrament of repentance among the Thomas Christians. But it is historically true that the rite of private confession among the Thomas Christians was not so well developed as in the other parts of Christendom. On this subject, P. J. Podipara, commented: “However, the rite of private confession among them was not developed to the same level as elsewhere. But it does not mean that it was not practised ”. So we can rightly say the Thomas Christian tradition also had the form of private penance but it may not have been as fully developed as in the West and it may have been different from the Western form, with which we are familiar today.
However, one thing is to be noted, i.e. that in the pre-Portuguese period there were a variety of general and individual forms for celebrating the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God and the ecclesial community among the Thomas Christians. Private confession in Malabar was generally known as ‘pizhamoolal’. The sinner approached the priest and prostrated before him and made a general self-accusation with a plea for penance and forgiveness. He remained there, beating his chest with remorse. The priest then asked clarifications to the penitent on the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church. When the question affected the penitent, he would raise an ‘um’ sound, similar to the ‘yes’, indicating one’s consent. Then the priest gave a specific penance and absolution was granted immediately only when there were no other penitents. Otherwise it was always in a communal celebration. A Syriac manuscript, written in 1613 by Rampan Ouseph Qsnaya, gives a descriptive account of the order of the sacrament of repentance practised in the ancient Church of Malabar. It testifies that all the faithful had to go to confession during the great Lent and before the Christmas. If the penitent had been excommunicated or any ecclesiastical censure had been imposed, the priest first said prayers absolving him from it and then the penitent confessed his sins privately to the priest. The priest then inquired about the circumstances of the sins in order to understand the spiritual condition of the penitent and to give apt remedies for the amendment of his life. Finally, holding his hand over the head of the penitent he would say ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God absolves you from your sins’. Even when the sins were not public, there was also the practice of repenting over the sins, doing penance and then accusing themselves of their sins in general before a priest asking forgiveness. The priest read Bible passages from the altar of the Lord and said the prayer of absolution over them. There was also the system of priest penitentiaries among the Thomas Christians. After hearing the confession and giving penance, the priest took the penitents to the bishop for the rite of hûsâyâ.
Some of the historical documents speak of a special incensing service on Sundays in connection with the Eucharistic celebration. On Sundays, people gathered together around a furnace in the middle of the Church before the altar and confessed in a general way their sins aloud. Putting incense therein, they asked pardon from God and from the Church. While doing so they embraced the smoke with their hands folded in the form of a cross over their chest. When they showed remorse, mutual peace and reconciliation, the priest absolved them with a priestly prayer. Besides these, there was also the annual penitential service of the rite of genuflection during the Pentecostal mass, coming immediately after the sancta sanctis. Throughout the centuries, the practice of genuflection was considered to be a sign of repentance, humility, servitude and supplicatory prayer. This rite reminds the faithful of the end of the joyous season of Easter and of the need to return to the penitential acts. This rite was also connected with the feast of Pentecost, the day on which the Church celebrates the descent of the Holy spirit, who forgives sins (Jn, 20: 22-23). The prayers in this ceremony allude repeatedly to the connection between the sending of the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins.
From the general context of evidence, it can be rightly concluded that in tone with the Eastern tradition, both communitarian and private celebrations of the sacrament of repentance existed among the St. Thomas Christians. Still the preference was for general confession, confessing their sins to God in a communitarian celebration in an intoned voice. However for grave sins, private confession of sins to a priest was necessary. In spite of the introduction of the Tridentine form of private confession by the Portuguese missionaries, the practice of general confession and absolution survived among the St. Thomas Christians till the 18th century. On the subject of the sacramental practice of the pre-Portuguese period, V. Pathikulangara observes: “From the documents we have, it seems that there was no obligatory private confession for them till the 16th century. What they had was a rite of general confession. Besides each one would have been free to confess his sins and to receive personal direction privately from the priests”. The observation of F. Nikolasch seems to be relevant here. He says, “we should not be too quick to equate the sacrament of penance with private confession; such an equation may well be in accordance with the Western tradition since scholastic times but it is not what the early Church held and neither does it reflect the belief of the Eastern Churches”. Hence those documents that deny the existence of this sacrament among the Thomas Christians cannot disprove the sacramental practice of repentance among the Thomas Christians.
Christian life is a gradual journey of constant conversion and continuous renewal. And therefore penitential orientations accompany the whole Christian life in all its manifestations, personal and ecclesial. This is a common feature of all the liturgies of both East and West. This penitential orientation implies a continuous ‘turning to the Lord’, an unceasing acknowledgement of one’s own sins and the need of changing one’s way of life. The penitential attitude is not limited to the sacrament of repentance but is extended throughout daily life and the whole liturgico-sacramental life of the year. The CCC describes a variety of penitential forms in Christian life such as fasting, prayer, almsgiving, gestures of reconciliation, Eucharist, reading Scripture, seasons and days of penance, penitential pilgrimages, etc. Such an attitude is found throughout the liturgical year but in a particular way during the times of preparation for great feasts. For this reason, the Church as an experienced teacher of humanity and sanctity, suggests different penitential means, old but ever new, during the liturgical life of the year. The recital of Psalm 51 several times a day, listening to the word of God, personal prayer, doing penance, vigilance, pious acts such as moderation in food and drink, abstinence from sensual pleasures, alms-giving, works of mercy, pilgrimages to holy places, all contribute to securing the grace of forgiveness from God.
The venerable religious traditions of India taught by the sages of Hinduism and Buddhism may have also influenced the Thomas Christians. Added to these, ascetical theology and life style are very familiar to the East Syriac tradition to which the Thomas Christians also belong. The Thomas Christians led a very severe and rigid ascetical life. It was not a legal rigidity of the observance of the law but an inherent attitude and a way of life. The penitential life of the Thomas Christians was part of their spirituality. They actually fostered a deep penitential and ascetical life centred around the liturgical year. It was not an isolated aspect of the spiritual life but was intrinsic to their liturgical and prayer life. This strong ascetical character of the Thomas Christians points to the Jewish-Christian influences upon their faith. For ordinary daily sins, people themselves were doing penance like abstinence, fasting, prayer, alms-giving, acts of charity, works of mercy, pilgrimages to holy places etc.
They had a number of fasts in their annual liturgical year. P. J. Podipara speaks of a long list of fasts that existed among the Thomas Christians. More important among them are the following: 24 days before Christmas, 49 days before the Easter, 14 days before the Assumption of Blessed Mary, 7 days before the feast of the nativity of Our Lady, 3 days of fast on the third week of the Great Lent, known as the fast of Nineveh, the vigil of certain feasts like Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration, the feast of the patron saint of the church, etc. and all the Wednesdays and Fridays of the year. Days of fast were also days of abstinence from meat, fish and all milk products. They used to abstain also from tobacco, chewing substances and even from conjugal acts. These fasts were held with a moral sense of obligation, though not under the pain of mortal sin. Holy week was specially observed with utmost care, austerity and special ceremonies. The Thomas Christians so faithfully observed the fasts that they were known as the ‘great lovers of fasting’.
As we have already observed, among the Thomas Christians, the Tridentine form of private confession was introduced by the synod of Diamper (1599) under the fear of mortal sin and excommunication. This synod formulated decrees to conform the Malabar discipline to that of the Roman Church. The synod made it clear that no one, being guilty of any mortal sin, no matter how repentant, could receive the Eucharist without previously going to confession. In the session on confession, the precept of yearly confession was promulgated and was made obligatory for all from eight years upwards and in addition, frequent confession was encouraged. The first decree reads as follows:
Whereas an entire sacramental confession is of divine right and necessary for all those who after baptism fall into any mortal sin and holy mother Church commands all faithful Christians, who are come to an age of reason, upon pain of mortal sins to confess at least once a year in the time of Lent or at Easter, when all that are capable are bound likewise to receive the most Holy Sacrament of the altar, declaring that all who neglect to do it were to be excommunicated; and notwithstanding, this precept has not hitherto been in use in this bishopric, in which no Christian has ever confessed upon obligation….
The Diamper teaching on the sacrament of repentance was mostly that of the Tridentine Council. Already at the council of Angamaly (1583), conducted during the period of Mar Abraham (1568-1597), with the help of the Jesuit priests, the precept of annual confession had been adopted in the Malabar Church. Again in the second synod of Goa in 1585, Mar Abraham was asked to prepare a better Syriac translation of the sacrament of repentance and other sacraments from the Latin rite. However this precept of annual confession became obligatory under the penalty of mortal sin and excommunication by the synod of Diamper.
Barely six months after the synod of Diamper, Msgr. Francis Roz was appointed bishop of the diocese of Angamaly on 20 December 1599 and was consecrated on 25 January 1601. He was a Jesuit priest from Catalonia, well known to the Malabar Christians as a professor, especially of Syriac and well versed in Malayalam, the local tongue of the people. He had worked closely with Archbishop Alexis De Menezes, the Archbishop of the Latin Archdiocese of Goa, for the ‘success’ of the synod of Diamper. Msgr. Francis Roz in his ‘Report on the Serra’ of 1603/1604 testifies that Mar Jacob (1503-1550) introduced the Latin formula of private confession, which he saw among the Portuguese missionaries and he translated the Latin formula of private confession from the Rituale Romanum into Syriac. Mar Joseph (1556-1569), his successor made a better translation of the formula. The document reads:
…Mar Jacob, who was governing this Church when the Portuguese came to India, introduced the sacrament of confession seeing that the Portuguese were confessing. Mar Abraham afterwards resisted this very much. By no means did he want to accept this sacrament, since they do not have it in Babylon. Nevertheless, God our Lord helped and confession was accepted. In the beginning in general and afterwards by and by they learned to confess well. Now it is common for all to confess. The said Mar Joseph translated from Latin into Chaldean the words of the formula of the confession better than they had been translated first by Mar Jacob…
According to Mar Joseph confession was to take place in front of the sanctuary or in a solitary place set apart for confession; the penitent knelt down, bowing his head and placing his hands on his breast. Fr. Antonius Zahara, a Jesuit missionary from Malta, who accompanied Mar Joseph to Malabar, helped him to introduce the Latin rite of private absolution by preparing the faithful for confession through preaching and hearing their confessions.
Bishop Francis Roz, the first Latin bishop of the Thomas Christians (1599-1624), continued with the steady Latinisation of the Malabar liturgy. After the synod, he was commissioned to implement the synodal decrees, to expunge the Syriac manuscripts and liturgical texts of all ‘Nestorian errors’ and to arrange for the translation of the Latin pontifical and other rituals into Syriac. There are two main documents that help us to understand the work of bishop Francis Roz on the liturgy of Malabar: the Raza text, promulgated in 1603 and his diocesan statutes published in 1606. In the rubrics of the Raza, he reconfirms the teaching of the synod of Diamper, stating: “Let only those who have confessed their sins properly dare to receive the Eucharist”. Again with regard to the sacrament of repentance, it was prescribed that the confessor should don the surplice and biretta. As for the confessional, there was to be a wooden plank about 5 feet in height with holes at its centre, separating penitent and confessor. And the image of the crucified Christ was to be fitted on the plank for the penitents to see. The penitents were to make the sign of the cross and recite half of the confiteor. The absolution formula was simply the translation of the Rituale Romanum.
The Diamperitan and Rozian liturgical reforms, in the wake of this gradual Romanisation, continued also in the subsequent centuries in various ways not only by the missionary Latin bishops of the Thomas Christians but also by their own indigenous bishops. Syriac translations of the Roman Pontifical, the Roman sacramentary, Roman liturgical prayers, ceremonies from the Rituale Romanum and many of the Western popular devotions were subsequently published. The general tendency was to conform to the liturgical traditions of the Roman Church. Thus in 1775, a year after the printing of the Malabar missal from the Vatican, the sacramentary was printed, which also included the rite of confession. It was the Syriac translation of the Rituale Romaunm. The second edition of the sacramentary, published in 1845 also contained several sacramentals in the Latin pattern. Later Archbishop Bernardine Baccinelli, Vicar Apostolic of the Thomas Christians (1853-1868) in his decreta, containing the “remedies against disorders”, which he saw in Malabar parishes during his pastoral visits, ordered that there be a sufficient number of confessionals in all the Churches. Even after they had native bishops (1887) and a local hierarchy (1923), the Latinisation of the Malabar liturgy continued for various reasons.
Since the synod of Diamper, the Archdeacon and the faithful requested the Holy See repeatedly to restore their rite. It was the historic intervention of Pope Pius XI in December 1934, who stated that Latinisation was not to be encouraged in the Malabar Church, which subsequently helped this Church to find its own way in the restoration of her ecclesial identity. Later there appeared the various restored liturgical texts; divine office (1938), pontifical (1958), restored Qurbana (1962), funeral service (1966), etc. In 1968, the hierarchy of the Thomas Christians published a restored sacramentary in the vernacular language. The rite for private confession, published in 1968 also contained some Roman elements like the indicative form of the absolution formula. It was the Syriac translation of the Latin formula, introduced by Mar Jacob, revised by Mar Joseph and again re-edited by bishop Francis Roz after the synod of Diamper that was in use till 1968. In 1994, the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church published a draft text with three formulas of private absolution. An attempt to integrate the Eastern perspectives of the sacrament and to have a balanced approach to the sacrament can be seen. For example, a choice of different formulae of absolution are suggested; instead of the ego te absolvo form, the optative form is seen; the personal and ecclesial dimensions of its celebration are emphasised; the relevance of a common penitential service as a preparation for individual confession is proposed; the intercessory role of the confessor is reiterated; the healing and judging aspects of the priestly ministry are seen. After long studies and due deliberation in concerned forums, the revised official text of the sacrament of repentance was introduced in the Syro-Malabar Church with effect from 06 January 2005.