Witches in the Basement

Hans Baldung Grien – Hexen (Witches; woodcut, 1508)

When I was a child, I enjoyed playing in the basement. There were nooks and crannies to hide in, and decades of accumulated stuff to explore. It was a little spooky down there, and I was convinced that witches lived down there. But as long as the lights were on, I was unafraid. When I had to go back upstairs, I had a problem. The switch for the lights was at the bottom of the stairs, so I had to turn off the lights before I was safely upstairs. When I flipped that switch and the light went off, I was sure that the witches would come grab me if I didn’t get up the stairs in about five seconds. Every time I came up from the basement, I turned off the lights and sprinted up the stairs as fast as I could, just to be safe from the witches. I must have been fast enough, because I’m still alive today!

Like the witches in the basement, sins and temptations can’t grab me if the light of Christ is shining in the basement of my soul. When we confess our sins openly to Christ in the presence of a witness (the priest) the light comes on, and our sins can’t get a hold of us. Our problem comes when we hide our sins out of shame or pride. This is why David prayed, “Cleanse me from my hidden faults.” (Psalm 19/18) When we look honestly at ourselves and confess our shortcomings, we begin to get freedom from the sins and temptations we try to hide from others.  As St John Cassian wrote, “The devil, subtle as he is, cannot ruin or destroy [someone] unless he has enticed him either through pride or through shame to conceal his thoughts.”

Confession is not meant to produce guilty feelings. It is a safe place to be open about the secrets that bother us and cause sinful behavior. Honest confession cleanses us from hidden faults.


The son of a Church of the Brethren pastor, Fr. David Chandler Poling (SVOTS ’12) grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Emilita, married in 2000, and moved to New York City in 2002. A few years later they joined the OCA at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection. They have three children: Elias, Mariam, and John. Fr. David is the acting rector of St. Innocent Mission in Oneonta, New York. You can read more of his writing, where this reflection originally appeared, on his blog: Fruits of the Spirit.