CONFESSION AND PENITENCE
Confession is actually considered one of the sacraments of the Church, where the priest gives the absolution to the penitent. The Coptic Church believes that Christ gave this authority of loosening and binding to his disciples (Matt. 16:19). After his Resurrection, Christ also sent out his disciples, giving them the authority to forgive and retain sins (John 20:22-23). The pastoral letters of Paul mention the excommunication of Christian sinners (1 Tim. 5:19-22). There may also be an allusion to group confession in Acts 19:18. In the third century, Tertullian was the first Christian author to use the word exomologese, denoting confession in front of the congregation with the bishop subsequently pronouncing the absolution.
It is well known that a spiritual guide for the monks has always existed. The Eastern tradition, following Clement’s and Origen‘s lead, emphasized the church’s ministers as healers and the importance of spiritual direction. According to K. Holl, it was St. Basil the Great who established this practice; however, many scholars reject this idea, showing that it was only for the monks.
Theodore of Mopsuestia, in his catechetical homilies, mentioned some words of the auricular confession. The first clear reference in Coptic history is from the 12th century, when there was a debate between Mikh’il, Metropolitan of Damietta, and Marqus ibn Qunbar about the necessity for auricular confession. Mark borrowed this practice from the Melchite Church in Egypt along with many other things, but he was excommunicated from the Coptic Church and died in 1208.
According to Abu Salih al Armani, Marqus ibn Qunbar wrote a book entitled Book of Confessions and also Book of the Master and Disciple. Patriarch Cyril ibn Laqlaq published Book of the Master and Disciple in the year 1240 with the help of Al-As‘ad ibn al-‘Assal and Bulus al-Bushi. The book was considered for a long time as lost but Ugo Zanetti and M. Swantson have identified two manuscripts of this important book.
After a long period of neglect, the sacrament of Confession has recently been revived, and is today practiced by Copts privately in front of a priest, and concluded by the priest reading inaudibly the absolution of the Son.