The pronouncement of remission to the penitent, granting him release from the guilt of sin if he is truly contrite over his trespass, confesses to a priest, and promises not to revert to his former ways. The priest gives this absolution, not in his own name, but in the name of God, in accordance with the authority given to priesthood (Mt. 16:18, 18:18; Jn. 20:23). The prayer of absolution is said by the priest ïn his capacity as steward administering the church’s holy sacraments.
Absolution is given: (1) when a penitent believer has shown genuine remorse following confession and carried out a course of penance; (2) at the end of the evening and morning offering of incense, and prior to the pronouncement of the blessing; (3) after the office of midnight prayer, when the prayer of the absolution of ministers is said; (4) in the course of liturgies celebrated at any time; (5) to every communicant following his confession; (6) in various church sacraments, such as Baptism, the Unction of the Sick, and Matrimony; (7) during other prayers performed by the church, such as the service of the foot-washing on Maundy Thursday, the blessing of the water, and genuflection (sajdah).
In the Coptic church, as in other Eastern Orthodox churches, the priest follows the precatory method of absolution. After he has heard the penitent’s confession, and read the appropriate prayer, his answer to the request of absolution is, “May God absolve you.” That forgiveness of sins is the authority and grace of God alone is the firm position of the Coptic church based upon specific sources in Scripture. When David confessed to Nathan saying, “I have sinned against the Lord,” Nathan’s reply was, “The Lord also has put away your sin, you shall not die” (2 Sm. 12:13). Saint Paul, likewise, stresses unequivocally that the clergy are but servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 14:1, 9:17, Ti. 1:7).
The Roman Catholic church used to adhere to this method in the past, but now it follows the indicative method of absolution, whereby the priest says in the vernacular to a penitent who requests absolution, “Ego absolvo te” (“I absolve you”) instead of, as in the past, “Christus absolvit te” or “Deus absolvit te.”
Prayers of Absolution
With the penitent kneeling before the entrance to the sanctuary, the confessor priest holds the cross and starts by saying the prayer of thanksgiving and Psalm 51, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness,” and the intercession for the sick, and, placing the cross on the penitent’s head, he reads the three following absolution prayers that are addressed to God the Son:
Yes Lord, the Lord who hath given authority unto us to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon all the power of the enemy, crush his heads beneath our feet speedily and scatter before us his every design of wickedness that is directed against us, for Thou art King of us all, Christ, our God, and to Thee we send up the glory and the honor and the adoration, with Thy good Father and the Holy, life-giving, and consubstantial Spirit, now and at all times, and unto the age of all ages. Amen.
Thou, Lord, who hast bowed the heavens, descended and become man for the salvation of mankind. Thou sittest upon the Cherubim and the Seraphim, and beholdest the lowly. We lift up the eyes of our hearts unto Thee, Lord, who forgiveth our iniquities and saveth our souls from corruption. We worship Thine unutterable compassion, and pray Thee to grant us Thy peace, for Thou hast granted everything unto us. Accept us, God our Savior, for we know none other but Thee. Thy Holy Name we utter. Turn us, God, unto fear of Thee and desire of Thee. Be pleased that we abide in the enjoyment of Thy good things. Thy servant, [name], who has bowed his head beneath Thy hand, lift him in good conduct and adorn him with virtues. And may we all be worthy of Thy Kingdom of Heaven through the good-pleasure of God, Thy good Father, with Whom Thou art blessed with the Holy, Life-giving Spirit, Consubstantial with Thee, now and forever, and unto the age of all ages. Amen.
Master, Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son and Word of God the Father, who hath severed every bond of our sins through His redeeming and life-giving sufferings, Who breathed into the faces of His holy disciples and pure apostles saying to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whosoever’s sins you forgive they shall be forgiven, and whosoever’s sins you withhold they shall be withheld.” Now also, our Master, Thou hast given, through Thine holy apostles, grace to those who labor in the priesthood, in every age, in Thine holy church, to forgive sins upon the earth, and to bind and to loose every bond of iniquity. Now also, we pray and entreat Thy goodness, O Lover of mankind, for Thy servant [name], and my weakness, we who bow our heads before Thy holy glory. Grant us Thy mercy, and loosen all the bonds of our sins, and, if we have committed any sin against Thee knowingly or unknowingly, or through anguish of heart, indeed, in word, or through faint heartedness, do Thou, the Master who knoweth the weakness of men, as a good God and lover of mankind, grant us the forgiveness of our sins. Bless us, purify us, absolve us, and absolve Thy servant [name]. Fill us with Thy fear, and guide us to Thy good Will, for Thou art our God. Glory, honor, dominion, and adoration are due to Thee with Thy good Father and the Holy Spirit. . . .
Absolution Prayers in the Liturgy
Whereas the aforementioned prayers are said silently, two other prayers are read aloud at certain places during the liturgy.
The first is the prayer of absolution of the ministers. At the conclusion of the offertory-consecratory prayer, all those ministering in the sanctuary go out with their faces looking to the east. Then the officiating priest (or high-priest) prays the following absolution:
May Thy servants, O Lord, ministering this day, the hegumenos, the priest, the deacons, the clergy, the congregation, and my own weakness, be absolved and blessed from the mouth of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, from the mouth of the One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, the mouths of the twelve apostles, of the beholder of God, Mark the Evangelist, the holy Apostle and Martyr, of the Patriarch Saint Severus, of our teacher Dioscorus, of Athanasius the Apostolic Saint, of Saint Peter the high- priest and seal of the Martyrs, of Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Cyril, Saint Basil, Saint Gregory, from the mouths of the three hundred and eighteen who met at Nicaea, the one hundred and fifty who met at Constantinople, and the two hundred who met at Ephesus, from the mouth of our honored high-priest and father [Anba . . . ] and his assistant in the apostolic ministry, our honored metropolitan [Bishop] and father [Anba . . . ], and from the mouth of my own weakness. For blessed and full of glory is Thy Holy Name, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. . . .
The second is the prayer of absolution to the Father said after the fraction prayer, which is concluded by the Lord’s Prayer:
Master, Lord God, the Almighty, healer of our souls, our bodies and our spirits, Thou hast said to our Father Peter, through the mouth of Thy Only-begotten Son our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, “Thou art Peter, and on this rock I build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. I will deliver the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to thee, what thou bindst on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what thou loosest on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” May, O lord, Thy servants, my fathers, and brethren, and my own weakness, be absolved from my mouth, through Thy Holy Spirit, O good and lover of mankind. O God, who hast borne the sin of the world, vouchsafe to accept the repentance of Thy servants—as a light toward knowledge and remission of sins. For Thou art a kind and merciful God, forbearing, righteous, and compassionate. If we have sinned against Thee in word or in deed, do forgive us, for Thou art good and lover of mankind. Absolve us, O God, and absolve all Thy people [here the priest makes mention of the names of living and dead persons, and himself] of every sin, every curse, every ungratefulness, every false oath, every encounter with ungodly heretics. Bestow upon us, O Lord, a good mind and a power of understanding, to flee from every iniquity till the end, and to do those things which satisfy Thee every time. Write our names together with all the hosts of Thy Saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord . . .
The absolution of ministers is designed to include, besides the clergy and deacons, the whole congregation. This is an ample illustration of the importance that the Coptic church attaches to the presence and participation of the congregation during the service.
They are not passive onlookers, but active partakers, forming an integral part of the service, and have their own responses to chant throughout the entire liturgy. The Eucharist, being the sacrament of the true Body of Christ, is also the sacrament of the church as a whole, with Christ at its head.
The Coptic rite is the only rite, with the exception of the fourth-century rite of North Africa, that includes the prayer of absolution to the Son, immediately after the fraction prayer, which is analogous to the inclusion of the prayer of absolution of ministers—with such comprehensive nature as we have seen above—right at the conclusion of the offering of the sacrificial Lamb.
The prayer of absolution of ministers is further evidence that a minister of the church, of whatever rank, may take part in the eucharistic service without obtaining proper absolution.
In the DIDACHE, which is the oldest eucharistic rite for Sunday services, dating to the first century, both confession and conciliation occur immediately before the partaking of Holy Communion, so as to guarantee absolute purity of the sacrifice.
- ‘Abd al-Masih al-Mas‘udi. Al-Khuulaji al-Muqaddas. Cairo, 1902. ‘A Sulayman. Salawat al-Kanisah. Cairo, 1943.
- Brightmann, L. E. W. Liturgies Eastern and Western, Vol. 1. Oxford, 1896.
- Cabrol, F. “Absolution.” In Dictionnaire d’archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, Vol. 1. Paris, 1907.
- Gregorios, Anba. Al-Qiyam al-Ruhiyyah fi Sirr al-Tawbah. Cairo, 1980.
- Manqariyus Awadallah. Manarat al- Aqdas fi Sharh Tuqus al- Kanisah al-Qibtiyyah wa-al-Quddas. Cairo, 1981.
- Matta al Miskin. Al-Ifkharistiyyah. Cairo, 1977.