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A mans only wish is to confess ninety-nine sins to a priest.
“I have sins to confess.”
“Tell me, what evil have you done?”
It’s St. Petersburg, right before the fall of Communism. Father Fedor, an Orthodox priest at St. Catherine’s Cathedral, is locking up after the late night mass when he hears a stranger’s voice call out to him. The man begs to confess immediately, afraid that if he waits he will become a lost soul.
Of course Father Fedor accepts, but what he doesn’t know, what he isn’t expecting, is that this madman has committed the same sin ninety-nine times.
The St. Petersburg Confessions is a gripping tale that clocks in at 20,000 words or 110 pages long.
It was a little past midnight. A half hour had passed since I had finished the late service at the church. The congregation had gone home content. Happy? That was questionable. This was communist Russia and there was always unease. Little did we know it would get worse when the government fell.
I had completed my nightly paperwork and left it neatly on the desk for Deacon Vitaly to review the next morning, as he always liked to do. I stood up and stretched, letting out a squeak. I could feel my body aging, turning against me. The pain in my joints was noticeable in the cold mornings. How much longer before it was noticeable at all times?
It was late, and time I headed home. When I headed to the front doors to lock them, that’s when I heard a faint voice behind me say, “Father.”
I didn’t recognize the person. In fact, I was a little surprised to hear someone. The last of the visitors had left long ago and I was the only one on duty that night.
When I turned around, there was no one standing there. I thought it strange because the voice sounded so clear, as if the person were only a few feet from me. When I turned back toward the door, I heard the voice address me again. “I need to speak to you.”
I spun around quickly this time, hoping to catch the prankster before he hid, but there was no one there. “Who are you?” I called out.
The voice spoke again. “It’s important that I speak to you, Father, but I cannot reveal my identity.”
“Why?” I asked as I walked away from the door, searching.
“I have sins to confess.”
“You must confess, but you must do this to your spiritual guide, the one you’ve entrusted. What parish do you belong to?”
“I don’t have one. Will you help me, Father?”
I reached the center of the nave, wondering where this man was. There were no pews to hide between even if he chose to. His voice seemed to come from every direction.
“What is your name?”
“You need not know my name or see my face, Father. But I must confess. I’m worried I will commit these terrible sins again.”
I walked slowly toward the sanctuary. “But that is how confession is done. You stand near the lectern facing the wall of icons and I stand next to you. You confess to Jesus Christ, not I.”
“But Jesus Christ is on the cross that hangs from your neck.”
“That is for extreme circumstances.”
“Father, you must trust that what I have to tell you is extreme. We can use the sanctuary, where it is dark. Please…”
The voice trembled when it spoke to me. Whoever it was seemed troubled. I opened the middle gate in the wall of icons and entered the sanctuary behind. I could see him now. The voice had a shape—it’s all I could make out. I took a seat in the corner opposite it. There was something about this man that did not feel right. A sudden coldness had overcome me. His presence was stronger than any I had ever felt. This man had done a fair amount of wrong.
I was almost afraid to ask… but I did. “Tell me, what evil have you done?”