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Question 57.

Dear Fr Christopher,
In cases of imminent death of a Christian is a priest who has not been granted the authority to hear confessions allowed to hear their confession and read the prayer of absolution?

Thanks a lot.


Answer to Question 57.

Dear Eleftheria,

Strictly speaking, if a Priest has not received the blessing to hear confessions then he cannot hear someone’s confession even if that person is on his death bed. Ideally a Christian should live a sacramental life with regular confession and participation in the Holy Mysteries thus he will be ready to pass over to eternity at whatever moment the Lord decides to take him. More than most this is not always the case and many people do not prepare for the hour of death until it is too late.
If a Priest who has not the blessing to hear confessions is called to a dying person he should give him Holy Communion, but not hear his confession until he has exhausted all the options available. If for example the person is in a large town then there are other priests who he can be called to hear the confession. If the person is in a village then again a neighbouring priest can be summoned. Of course these examples can work in Orthodox countries like Greece and Cyprus where there are many priests available.
But then you will ask: “What if there is no time to call another Priest?” From experience, people rarely drop dead in an instance. Many times the family and doctors believe that the person is ready to go, but the person hangs on for many more hours on even days. No one can predict the exact time for when a person is to die.
Then there is the question: “what if the person is in a remote area with no other priest available for miles?” Indeed there are such places especially in Non-Orthodox countries like Africa where Orthodox Priests are scarce and distances from one parish Church to the next can be hundreds of miles. In such places the Priest should be a father confessor and if he isn’t then the weight and responsibility falls directly with the Bishop under whose jurisdiction the parish belongs. Priests are not allowed to do as they wish: they perform the Sacraments on behalf of the Bishop who is the ultimate authority.
If after exhausting every possibility and there is no way of reaching another Priest then the non-father confessor Priest has two other options. Firstly he can hear the confession without giving absolution. This is a practice that is done even on Mount Athos where a monk has as his spiritual father an enlightened monk, but will then go to a father confessor for the prayer of absolution. This was the practice of Blessed Father Sophrony with Saint Silouan who was just a tonsured monk and not a Priest. After hearing the confession the Priest can say the general prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Shepherd and Lamb, who takest away the sin of the world...” which in the service books is assigned to be said before the confession, but which many Priests say as a general prayer of confession for the congregation before Holy Communion. The Prayer mentions the forgiveness of sins and can be considered as a form of absolution. (See Prayer)
Secondly the Priest can hear the confession and give absolution in the usual way, but at the first opportunity he should inform his Bishop of what he has done and why. The Bishop will then tell him what to do in future or out of necessity may decide to make him a father confessor.

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher