Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Can a priest pray the absolution for a person who has committed a capital murder, given that that person did not surrender his actions to local authorities? Our understanding is that church is not a safe haven for criminals through confession. Also, is it a standard procedure that a priest denies the absolution to that person until he/she surrender to local authority?

Another controversial issue is a priest praying absolution for a confessing person who has committed multiple adulteries without informing the spouse involved. Are we treating sins differently? Isn't all sins equal in the eyes of the Lord?

The last controversy is the life of St. Mosses the Black. His pre-Christian life involved multiple capital crimes; he not only didn't surrender to authority, but also became the head of a monastery and a famous Christian figure.

The Sacrament of Repentance consists of two parts: a) the verbal confession of all sins, and b) the prayer of absolution administered by the priest. To be effective, Repentance should extend from one's awareness of their sinfulness, to include a deep feeling of regret and a sincere desire to change.

There is no sin beyond forgiveness. What is crucial here is sincere regret for committed sins and firm decision to become a better Christian. St. John Chrysostom says the following: "For even this guilt [blasphemy against the Holy Spirit] was forgiven to many repentant Jews. Many of them who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit [during Jesus Christ's preaching] later believed, became Christians and everything was forgiven to them" (Sermon on the Gospel of Matthew).

In the case of a person with a capital murder, the priest will advise that person to report to the authorities, but under no obligation would he breach the confidentiality established between both of them. Regarding the sins revealed to him in sacramental confession, the priest is bound to inviolable secrecy. The priest is free to speak of a person's sin only if formally given permission by the confession person himself to do so.

Sins are not treated differently. Continuing to commit adultery is certainly not a sign of a sincere desire to repent, and the priest will use his wisdom before praying the prayer of absolution.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). New Testament Scriptures are full of examples of God's mercy to sinners. Saint Paul, before becoming an apostle, hated the Christian faith, persecuted the Church and took part in the murdering of the first martyr, Saint Stephen. Later he was forgiven by God and received abundant grace from Him.

The specific circumstances regarding St. Moses the Black's conversion are not known. St. Moses went to the wilderness of Scetis. St. Isidore guided St. Moses safely during a very turbulent time in his life. Frequently, he exploded in tears, and had to find relief in kneeling before his guide, St. Isidore, and confessing his sins. When the time for his baptism came, St. Moses confessed all his past evil deeds publicly in the church. During his confession, St. Macarius saw a tablet that was all black representing the sins of St. Moses. An angel was seen wiping off every sin as it was confessed
by St. Moses, until finally the tablet was completely white.

He led a life of complete repentance and humility. One of his sayings may summarize his spirituality: "Humility of heart precedes all virtues, and the desire of the belly is the source of all passions. Pride is the basis of all vices and love is the origin of all goodness". The church considers him a great saint, and although his pre-Christian life was sinful, our Lord Jesus Christ forgave him after his sincere repentance.
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