Thursday, March 30, 2006

Theonomy in Orthodox Christian Ethics: St. Leo the Great on the Abiding Validity of the Law of God

As therefore there is no believer, dearly-beloved, to whom the gifts of grace are denied, so there is no one who is not a debtor in the matter of Christian discipline; because, although the severity of the mystic Law is done away, yet the benefits of its voluntary observance have increased, as the evangelist John says, “Because the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” For all things that, according to the Law, went before, whether in the circumcision of the flesh, or in the multitude of victims, or in the keeping of the Sabbath, testified of Christ, and foretold the grace of Christ. And He is “the end of the Law,” not by annulling, but by fulfilling its meanings. For although He is at once the Author of the old and of the new, yet He changed the symbolic rites connected with the promises, because He accomplished the promises and put an end to the announcement by the coming of the Announced. But in the matter of moral precepts, no decrees of the earlier Testament are rejected, but many of them are amplified by the Gospel teaching: so that the things which give salvation are more perfect and clearer than those which promise a Saviour. [Sermon LXIII.5]

We must not then pass over in the case of any one that which is laid down in the general ordinances: nor is that advancement to be reckoned lawful which has been made contrary to the precepts of GOD’S law. [Letter XII.2]

Men must not be allowed to lie hid who do not believe that the law given through Moses, in which GOD is shown to be the Creator of the Universe, ought to be received: [Sermon IX.4]

The teaching of the Law, dearly beloved, imparts great authority to the precepts of the Gospel, seeing that certain things are transferred from the old ordinances to the new, and by the very devotions of the Church it is shown that the LORD Jesus Christ “came not to destroy but to fulfil the Law.” For since the cessation of the signs by which our Saviour’s coming was announced, and the abolition of the types in the presence of the Very Truth, those things which our religion instituted, whether for the regulation of customs or for the simple worship of GOD, continue with us in the same form in which they were at the beginning, and what was in harmony with both Testaments has been modified by no change. [Sermon XVII.1]

For Moses and Elias, that is the Law and the Prophets, appeared talking with the LORD; that in the presence of those five men might most truly be fulfilled what was said: “In two or three witnesses stands every word.” What more stable, what more steadfast than this word, in the proclamation of which the trumpet of the Old and of the New Testament joins, and the documentary evidence of the ancient witnesses combine with the teaching of the Gospel? For the pages of both covenants corroborate each other, and He Whom under the veil of mysteries the types that went before had promised, is displayed clearly and conspicuously by the splendour of the present glory. Because, as says the blessed John, “the law was given through Moses: but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” in Whom is fulfilled both the promise of prophetic figures and the purpose of the legal ordinances: for He both teaches the truth of prophecy by His presence, and renders the commands possible through grace. [Sermon LI.4]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More Patristic Quotations on Divine Justice, Substitution and Propitiation as Aspects of the Atonement

When I was sick in the flesh, the Savior was sent to me in the likeness of sinful flesh, fulfilling such a dispensation, to redeem me from slavery, from corruption, and from death. And he became to me righteousness, and sanctification, and salvation. Righteousness, by setting me free from sin through faith in him. Sanctification, in having set me free through water and the Spirit and his Word. And salvation, his blood being the ransom of the true Lamb, having given himself up on my behalf. An expiatory sacrifice for the cleansing of the world, for the reconciliation of all things in heaven as well as on earth, the mystery hidden before the ages and generations, fulfilled at the ordained time.
(St. Epiphanios of Cyprus, Panarion 3:1:2)

Jesus took on himself even death, that the sentence of condemnation might be carried out, that he might satisfy the judgment that sinful flesh should be cursed even unto death. Nothing therefore was done contrary to the sentence of God, since the condition of God’s sentence was fulfilled.
(St. Ambrose of Milan, De Fuga 44)

He it is that was crucified before the sun and all creation as witnesses, and before those who put Him to death: and by His death has salvation come to all, and all creation been ransomed. He is the Life of all, and He it is that as a sheep yielded His body to death as a substitute, for the salvation of all, even though the Jews believe it not.
(St. Athanasios the Great, De Incarnatione XXXVII.7)

Thus then the Lord also, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God;’ but when the Father willed that ransoms should be paid for all and to all, grace should be given, then truly the Word, as Aaron his robe, so did He take earthly flesh, having Mary for the Mother of His Body as if virgin earth, that, as a High Priest, having He as others an offering, He might offer Himself to the Father, and cleanse us all from sins in His own blood, and might rise from the dead.
(St. Athanasios the Great, Contra Arianos II.7)

For the Word, perceiving that no otherwise could the corruption of men be undone save by death as a necessary condition, while it was impossible for the Word to suffer death, being immortal, and Son of the Father; to this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all, and might, because of the Word which was come to dwell in it, remain incorruptible, and that thenceforth corruption might be stayed from all by the Grace of the Resurrection. Whence, by offering unto death the body He Himself had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from any stain, straightway He put away death from all His peers by the offering of an equivalent. For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death.
(St. Athanasios the Great, De Incarnatione IX.1,2)

He is Sanctification, as being Purity, that the Pure may be contained by Purity. And Redemption, because He sets us free, who were held captive under sin, giving Himself a Ransom for us, the Sacrifice to make expiation for the world. And Resurrection, because He raises up from hence, and brings to life again us, who were slain by sin.
(St. Gregory Nazianzen, Discourses XXX.20)

The Lord was bound to taste of death for every man—to become a propitiation for the world and to justify all men by His own blood.
(St. Basil the Great, Letters CCLX.9)

But at the sixth hour the spotless Sacrifice, our Lord and Saviour, was offered up to the Father, and, ascending the cross for the salvation of the whole world, made atonement for the sins of mankind, and, despoiling principalities and powers, led them away openly; and all of us who were liable to death and bound by the debt of the handwriting that could not be paid, He freed, by taking it away out of the midst and affixing it to His cross for a trophy.
(St. John Cassian, Institutes, III.3)

Moreover, in the Epistle to the Hebrews we may learn the same truth from Paul, when he says that Jesus was made an Apostle and High Priest by God, “being faithful to him that made Him so.” For in that passage too, in giving the name of High Priest to Him Who made with His own Blood the priestly propitiation for our sins, he does not by the word “made” declare the first existence of the Only-begotten, but says “made” with the intention of representing that grace which is commonly spoken of in connection with the appointment of priests. For Jesus, the great High Priest (as Zechariah says), Who offered up his own lamb, that is, His own Body, for the sin of the world; Who, by reason of the children that are partakers of flesh and blood, Himself also in like manner took part with them in blood (not in that He was in the beginning, being the Word and God, and being in the form of God, and equal with God, but in that He emptied Himself in the form of the servant, and offered an oblation and sacrifice for us), He, I say, became a High Priest many generations later, after the order of Melchisedech.
(St. Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, VI.2)

Every action, therefore, and performance of miracles by Christ are most great and divine and marvellous: but the most marvellous of all is His precious Cross. For no other thing has subdued death, expiated the sin of the first parent, despoiled Hades, bestowed the resurrection, granted the power to us of contemning the present and even death itself, prepared the return to our former blessedness, opened the gates of Paradise, given our nature a seat at the right hand of God, and made us the children and heirs of God, save the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(St. John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa, IV.11)

For as it cannot be denied that “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us,” so it cannot be denied that “GOD was in CHRIST, reconciling the world to Himself.” But what reconciliation can there be, whereby GOD might be propitiated for the human race, unless the mediator between GOD and man took up the cause of all? And in what way could He properly fulfil His mediation, unless He who in the form of GOD was equal to the Father, were a sharer of our nature also in the form of a slave: so that the one new Man might effect a renewal of the old: and the bond of death fastened on us by one man’s wrong-doing might be loosened by the death of the one Man who alone owed nothing to death. For the pouring out of the blood of the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous was so powerful in its effect, so rich a ransom that, if the whole body of us prisoners only believed in their Redeemer, not one would be held in the tyrant’s bonds: since as the Apostle says, “where sin abounded, grace also did much more abound.” And since we, who were born under the imputation of sin, have received the power of a new birth unto righteousness, the gift of liberty has become stronger than the debt of slavery.
(Pope St. Leo the Great, Letters, CXXIV:3)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Vladimir Moss: Is Hell Just?

In our time, the doctrine of eternal punishment is out of vogue. To many, including a large number of Orthodox Christians, it is a teaching that smacks of a capricious, petty, and cruel tyrant-God; a teaching they find wholly unacceptable. Rather than come to terms with God's revelation of Himself in Scripture and Holy Tradition, they find novel ways in which to water down, yea even negate the dogma of Hell (Gehenna). And this despite the fact that the Person in the Bible Who had more to say than any other about eternal damnation and the fire that dieth not was Jesus Christ Himself.

Among the popular treatises that teach these new and candy-coated reinterpretations of the Holy Church's doctrine of eternal punishment are Alexander Kalomiros' The River of Fire, and Peter Chopelas' Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible.

In the following essay, Dr. Vladimir Moss has provided a much needed corrective.

IS HELL JUST? by Vladimir Moss

Of all the Christian dogmas, none has elicited more perplexity over the centuries than the doctrine of eternal punishment. Thinkers from Origen to the contemporary ecumenists have tried somehow to get round the unequivocal statements of the Gospel that those who will stand condemned at the Last Judgement will be cast into the eternal fire, from which there will be no deliverance unto the ages of ages. In attempting in this way to deny the eternity of the torments of hell, these thinkers have employed a number of arguments, of which the most commonly encountered are the following: -

1. The Argument from God’s Compassion. According to this argument, it is contrary to God’s nature to consign anyone to hell for ever. After all, what human father would ever divide his children into sheep and goats? What human bridegroom, even the most insanely jealous, would wish eternal torments on his bride? And even if some such could be found, what has this to do with God? Is He not perfect love, infinite mercy, unbounded compassion?

The commonest answer to this very common perplexity is to say: God is not only perfect love, He is also perfect justice; and while in His love for mankind He wishes that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2.4), the fact remains that very many "resist the truth" (II Timothy 3.8), and so cannot be saved, becoming subject to the full severity of His justice. The satisfaction of justice is an absolute demand of the Divine Nature, not because God is a bloodthirsty tyrant seeking revenge in a human, fallen manner, - God is not subject to any human passion, - but because evil and injustice are utterly alien to His Nature. As St. John of Damascus puts it: "A judge justly punishes one who is guilty of wrongdoing; and if he does not punish him he is himself a wrongdoer. In punishing him the judge is not the cause either of the wrongdoing or of the vengeance taken against the wrongdoer, the cause being the wrongdoer's freely chosen actions. Thus too God, Who saw what was going to happen as if it had already happened, judged it as if it had taken place; and if it was evil, that was the cause of its being punished. It was God Who created man, so of course he created him in goodness; but man did evil of his own free choice, and is himself the cause of the vengeance that overtakes him." [1]

Now such an answer was quite sufficient for generations of Christians brought up in the fear of God, and believing in the goodness of His judgements without presuming to understand them. For them the fact of impenitence, and its link with Divine judgement, was as self-evident as the link between penitence and Divine mercy. And if there were still many things they did not understand, this was only to be expected. After all, how can the pot be expected to understand the potter (Romans 9.20-21)? The judgements of God are a great abyss, and it is not for sinful mortals to plumb their depth.

If we question God’s judgements, then we are implicitly placing ourselves in judgement over Him, as if we could be more just than He. What folly could be greater than this? “Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, He put no trust in His servants; and His angels He charged with folly. How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust? (Job 4.17-19). “For who shall say, What hast Thou done? Or who shall withstand His judgement? Or who shall accuse Thee for the nations that perish, whom Thou hast made? Or who shall come to stand against Thee, to be revenged for the unrighteous men? (Wisdom of Solomon 12.12).

It was by meditating on such passages of Holy Scripture that our forefathers guarded themselves from highmindedness. We are not so humble today. In proportion as our pride in ourselves and our capacities has increased, so has our trust in, and reverence for, the judgements of God decreased. Our attitude is: if I cannot understand this, or if it offends my moral sense, then even if God has declared it to be so, it cannot be so; there must be a mistake.

Hell offends not only our sense of justice, but also our self-esteem (the two are closely connected). Whereas the holy Apostles, though innocent of betraying their Master, still had the humility and awareness of their profound weakness to ask: "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26.22), we both absolve ourselves of any really serious sin, and, like the Popes of old, give indulgences to the whole of the rest of humanity. Although the holy Apostle Peter says that even the righteous will scarcely be saved (I Peter 4.18), we consider that even unbelievers will be saved. Perhaps a few of the worst sinners, we concede, might be worthy of hell - the Hitlers and Stalins of this world. But is it possible to believe that the nice, caring, enlightened men of late twentieth-century civilisation are worthy of hell? Away with the thought!

Speaking of hell and its eternity, St. John Chrysostom writes: - "Do not say to me, 'How is the balance of justice preserved if the punishment has no end?' When God does something, obey His demand and do not submit what has been said to human reasoning. In any case, is it not in fact just that one who has received countless good things from the beginning, has then done things worthy of punishment, and has not reformed in response either to threats or to kindness, should be punished? If it is justice you are after, we ought all on the score of justice to have perished at the very outset. Indeed even that would have fallen short of the measure of mere justice. For if a man insults someone who never did him any wrong, it is a matter of justice that he be punished. But what if he insults his Benefactor, Who without having received any favour from him in the first place, has done countless things for him - in this case the One Who was the sole source of his existence, Who is God, Who endowed him with a soul, Who gave him countless other gifts and purposed to bring him to heaven? If after so many favours, he not only insults Him but insults Him daily by his conduct, can there be any question of deserving pardon?

"Do you not see how He punished Adam for a single sin? 'Yes', you will say, 'but He had given him paradise and made him the recipient of very great kindness.' And I reply that it is not at all the same thing for a man in the tranquil possession of security to commit a sin and for a man in the midst of affliction to do so. The really terrible thing is that you sin when you are not in paradise but set amidst the countless evils of this present life, and that all this misery has not made you any more sensible. It is like a man who continues his criminal behaviour in prison. Moreover you have the promise of something even greater than paradise. He has not given it to you yet, so as not to make you soft at a time when there is a struggle to be fought, but neither has He been silent about it, lest you be cast down by all your labours.

"Adam committed one sin, and brought on total death. We commit a thousand sins every day. If by committing a single sin he brought such terrible evil on himself and introduced death into the world, what should we, who live continually in sin, expect to suffer - we who in place of paradise have the expectation of heaven? This is a burdensome message; it does upset the man who hears it. I know, because I feel it myself. I am disturbed by it; it makes me quake. The clearer the proofs I find of this message of hell, the more I tremble and melt with fear. But I have to proclaim it so that we may not fall into hell. What you received was not paradise or trees and plants, but heaven and the good things in the heavens. He who had received the lesser gift was punished and no consideration exempted him; we have been given a greater calling and we sin more. Are we not bound to suffer things beyond all remedy?

"Consider how long our race has been subject to death on account of a single sin. More than five thousand years have passed and the death due to a single sin has not yet been ended. In Adam's case we cannot say that he had heard prophets or that he had seen others being punished for their sins so that he might reasonably have been afraid and learnt prudence if only from the example of others. He was the first and at that time the only one; yet he was still punished. But you cannot claim any of these things. You have had numerous examples, but you only grow worse; you have been granted the great gift of the Spirit, but you go on producing not one or two or three but countless sins. Do not think that because the sins are committed in one brief moment the punishment therefore will also be a matter of a moment. You can see how it is often the case that men who have committed a single theft or a single act of adultery which has been done in a brief moment of time have had to spend all their lives in prison or in the mines, continually battling with hunger and every kind of death. No one lets them off, or says that since the crime was committed in a brief moment the punishment should match the crime in the length of time it takes.

"'People do act like that,' you may say, 'but they are men, whereas God is loving towards mankind.' Yes, but even the men who act in this way do not do so out of cruelty but out of love for mankind. So since God is loving to mankind He too will deal with sin in this way. 'As great as is His mercy, so great also is His reproof' (Sirach 16.12). So when you speak of God as loving towards mankind, you are actually supplying me with a further reason for punishment, in the fact that the One against Whom we sin is such as this. That is the point of Paul's words: 'It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God' (Hebrews 10.31). I ask you to bear with these words of fire. Perhaps, yes, perhaps they may bring you some consolation. What man can punish as God has been known to punish? He caused a flood and the total destruction of the human race; a little later He rained down fire from on high and utterly destroyed them all. What human retribution can compare with that? Do you not recognise that even this case of punishment is virtually endless? Four thousand years have passed and the punishment of the Sodomites is still in full force. As His loving kindness is great, so also is His punishment..." [2]

St. Barsanuphius of Optina said: “We think too abstractly about the torments of hell, as a result of which we forget about them. In the world they have totally forgotten about them. The devil convinces everyone there that neither he himself nor the torments of hell exist. But the Holy Fathers teach that one’s betrothal to Gehenna, just as to blessedness, begins while one is still on earth – that is, sinners while still on earth begin to experience the torments of hell, while the righteous experience blessedness, only with this difference – that in the future age both the one and the other will be incomparably more powerful…

“At the present time, not only among lay people, but even among the young clergy the following conviction is beginning to spread: eternal torment is incompatible with the boundless mercy of God; consequently, the torments are not eternal. Such a misconception proceeds from a lack of understanding of the matter. Eternal torments, and eternal blessedness, are not things which proceed from without, but exist first and foremost within a man himself. ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17.21). With whatever feelings a man instills within himself during his life, he departs into eternal life. A diseased body torments one on earth, and the more severe the disease is, the greater the torment is. So also a soul infected with various diseases begins to be cruelly tormented at its passage into eternal life. An incurable physical ailment ends with death, but how can a sickness of the soul end, when there is no death for the soul? Malice, anger, irritability, lust, and other infirmities of the soul are vermin which will creep after a man even into eternal life. Hence, it follows that the aim of life consists in crushing these vermin here on earth, so as to purify one’s soul entirely, and before death to say with our Savior, ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me’ (John 14.30). A sinful soul, not purified by repentance, cannot be in the company of the saints. Even if it were placed in Paradise, it would itself find it unbearable to remain there, and would try to get out.” [3]

“Even the bodies of sinners will experience torment. The fire will be material; there will not only be pangs of conscience, and so forth. No, this will really be perceptible fire. Both the one and the other will be real. Only, just like the body, the fire will be far more subtle, and everything will bear only a certain resemblance to earthly things.” [4]

2. The Argument from the Saints’ Compassion. According to this argument, heaven would not be heaven for the righteous as long as they knew that the sinners were being tortured in hell. Being filled with compassion, their bliss would be spoiled as long as there was even one sinner still suffering torment. So God in His compassion, and so as to give His chosen ones a perfect and unspoiled reward, will forgive all men eventually.

However, the Fathers teach that that feeling of compassion which is so necessary while there is still life and hope will be taken away by God when there is no more use for it. For if, as St. John of Damascus says, "in hades [i.e. after death but before the Last Judgement] there is no confession or repentance" [5], then much less will there be confession and repentance after the Last Judgement in gehenna. And if there is no repentance how can there be forgiveness?

Thus St. Gregory the Great writes, in his commentary on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man: "We must ponder these words: 'They who would pass from hence to you cannot' (Luke 16.26). For there is no doubt that those who are in hell long to enjoy the lot of the blessed. But since the latter have been received into eternal happiness, how can it be said that they desire to pass over to those in hell? It must be that, as the damned desire to go to the dwelling of the elect, to escape from that place of suffering, so the just wish to cross over in mercy to that place of torments, to bring them the freedom they desire. But those who wish to cross from heaven to hell can never do so; for although the souls of the just are aflame with mercy, nevertheless they are so united to the divine justice and guided always by rectitude, that they are not moved by any compassion towards the reprobate. They are in complete conformity with that judge to whom they are united, and so they cannot have compassion for those whom they cannot free from hell. They consider them as strangers, remote from themselves, since they have seen them repelled by their Maker who is the object of their love. So neither the wicked can cross over to the felicity of the blessed: because they are shackled by an irrevocable condemnation, nor the just go to the unjust: because they cannot feel compassion for those whom the divine justice has rejected..." [6]

3. The Argument from Ignorance. This argument can be summarised as follows: "Neither are the works of faith necessary for salvation, nor even faith. For most men have never had the Gospel preached to them, and so belong to other faiths simply out of ignorance, because they were born into non-Christian societies or families. The All-loving and All-just God will certainly not judge them for that. Indeed (continues the argument in some of its forms), all that is necessary for salvation is good faith, by which we do not mean the one true faith (for there is no such thing), but sincerity, even if that sincerity is manifested in non-Christian beliefs and actions: blessed are the sincere, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."

However, Divine Revelation attaches little value to sincerity per se: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes" (Proverbs 12.15), says Solomon, and: "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is the ways of death" (Proverbs 14.12). In any case, if true faith in Christ were not absolutely necessary for salvation, and one could be saved without knowing Him, then it would not have been necessary for the Martyrs to confess Him, for the Apostles to preach Him, or for Christ Himself to become incarnate for our sakes.

"Are you saying, then” retort the ecumenists, “that all the Hindus and Buddhists will be damned?!"

We neither assert this nor deny it, preferring to "judge nothing before the time" (I Corinthians 4.5), and to follow St. Paul's rule: "what have I to do to judge them that are without?… Them that are without God judgeth" (I Corinthians 5.12-13). We know with complete certainly about the perdition of only a few men (Judas, Arius, etc.), just as we have complete certainty about the salvation of only a few men (those whom the Church has glorified as saints). As Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava wrote, when asked about the salvation of the Jews: "When St. Anthony the Great was thinking about questions of this kind, nothing concerning the essence of these questions was revealed to him, but it was only told him from on high: 'Anthony, pay attention to yourself!', that is, worry about your own salvation, but leave the salvation of others to the Providence of God, for it is not useful for you to know this at the present time. We must restrict ourselves to this revelation in the limits of our earthly life." [7]

Nevertheless, when compassion for unbelievers is taken as a cloak from under which to overthrow the foundations of the Christian Faith, it is necessary to say something more, not as if we could say anything about the salvation or otherwise of specific people (for that, as Archbishop Theophanes says, has been hidden from us), but in order to re-establish those basic principles of the Faith, ignorance of which will undoubtedly place us in danger of damnation.

Ignorance - real, involuntary ignorance - is certainly grounds for clemency according to God's justice, as it is according to man's. The Lord cried out on the Cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23.24); and one of those who were forgiven declared: "I obtained mercy because I acted in ignorance” (I Timothy 1.13; cf. Acts 3.17, 17.30). For our Great High Priest is truly One "Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way" (Hebrews 5.2).

However, there is also such a thing as wilful, voluntary ignorance. Thus St. Paul says of those who do not believe in the one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, that "they are without excuse" (Romans 1.20), for they deny the evidence from creation which is accessible to everyone. Again, St. Peter says: "This they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men" (II Peter 3.5-7). Again, claiming knowledge when one has none counts as wilful ignorance. For, as Christ said to the Pharisees: "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth" (John 9.41).

Wilful ignorance is very close to conscious resistance to the truth, which receives the greatest condemnation according to the Word of God. Thus those who accept the Antichrist will do so "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (II Thessalonians 2.10-12). And if it seems improbable that God should send anyone a strong delusion, let us remember the lying spirits who, with God's permission, deceived the prophets of King Ahab because they only prophesied what he wanted to hear (I Kings 22.19-24).

Conscious, willing resistance to the truth is the same as that "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" which, in the words of the Lord, "shall not be forgiven unto men" (Matt.hew12.31). As Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) explains: "Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, or 'sin unto death', according to the explanation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (VIII, 75), is a conscious, hardened opposition to the truth, 'because the Spirit is truth' (I John 5.6).” [8] It is not that God does not want to forgive all sins, even the most heinous: it is simply that he who bars the way to the Spirit of truth is thereby blocking the way to the truth about himself and God, and therefore to the forgiveness of his sins. As St. Augustine says: "The first gift is that which is concerned with the remission of sins... Against this gratuitous gift, against this grace of God, does the impenitent heart speak. This impenitence, then, is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." [9]

Wilful ignorance can be of various degrees. There is the wilful ignorance that refuses to believe even when the truth is staring you in the face – this is the most serious kind, the kind practised by the Pharisees and the heresiarchs. But a man can also be said to be wilfully ignorant if he does not take the steps that are necessary in order to discover the truth – this is less serious, but still blameworthy, and is characteristic of many of those who followed the Pharisees and the heresiarchs.

Thus we read: "That servant who knew his master's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and he to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12.47-48). To which the words of St. Theophylactus of Bulgaria are a fitting commentary: "Here some will object, saying: 'He who knows the will of his Lord, but does not do it, is deservedly punished. But why is the ignorant punished?' Because when he might have known he did not wish to do so, but was the cause of his own ignorance through sloth." [10]

Or, as St. Cyril of Alexandria puts it: "How can he who did not know it be guilty? The reason is, because he did not want to know it, although it was in his power to learn." [11] To whom does this distinction apply? St. Cyril applies it to false teachers and parents, on the one hand, and those who follow them, on the other. In other words, the blind leaders will receive a greater condemnation than the blind followers - which is not to say, however, that they will not both fall into the pit (Matthew 15.14). For, as Bishop Nicholas Velimirovich writes: "Are the people at fault if godless elders and false prophets lead them onto foreign paths? The people are not at fault to as great an extent as their elders and the false prophets, but they are at fault to some extent. For God gave to the people also to know the right path, both through their conscience and through the preaching of the word of God, so that people should not blindly have followed their blind guides, who led them by false paths that alienated them from God and His Laws." [12]

Are Hindus and Buddhists who have lived their whole lives in non-Christian communities wilfully ignorant of the truth? Of course, only God knows the degree of ignorance in any particular case. However, even if the heathen have more excuse than the Christians who deny Christ, they cannot be said to be completely innocent; for no one is completely deprived of the knowledge of the One God. Thus St. Jerome writes: "Ours and every other race of men knows God naturally. There are no peoples who do not recognise their Creator naturally." [13] And St. John Chrysostom writes: "From the beginning God placed the knowledge of Himself in men, but the pagans awarded this knowledge to sticks and stones, doing wrong to the truth to the extent that they were able." [14] And the same Father writes: "One way of coming to the knowledge of God is that which is provided by the whole of creation; and another, no less significant, is that which is offered by conscience, the whole of which we have expounded upon at greater length, showing how you have a self-taught knowledge of what is good and what is not so good, and how conscience urges all this upon you from within. Two teachers, then, are given you from the beginning: creation and conscience. Neither of them has a voice to speak out; yet they teach men in silence." [15]

Many have abandoned the darkness of idolatry by following the voices of creation and conscience alone. Such, for example, was St. Barbara, who even before she had heard of Christ rejected her father's idols and believed in the One Creator of heaven and earth. For she heeded the voice of creation: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaimeth the work of His hands" (Psalm 18.1). And she heeded the voice of her conscience, which recoiled from those "most odious works of witchcrafts, and wicked sacrifices; and also those merciless murderers of children and devourers of man's flesh, and the feasts of blood, with their priests out of the midst of their idolatrous crew, and the parents, that killed with their own hands souls destitute of help" (Wisdom of Solomon 12.4-6). But her father, who had the same witnesses to the truth as she, rejected it - to the extent of killing his own daughter. [16]

Thus there is a light that "enlightens every man who comes into the world" (John 1.9). And if there are some who reject that light, abusing that freewill which God will never deprive them of, this is not His fault, but theirs. As St. John Chrysostom says, "If there are some who choose to close the eyes of their mind and do not want to receive the rays of that light, their darkness comes not from the nature of the light, but from their own darkness in voluntarily depriving themselves of that gift." [17]

This mystery of the voluntary rejection of the light was revealed in a vision to a nun, the sister of the famous novelist Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, who rejected the teaching of the Orthodox Church and died under anathema: "When I returned from the burial of my brother Sergius to my home in the monastery, I had some kind of dream or vision which shook me to the depths of my soul. After I had completed my usual cell rule, I began to doze off, or fell into some kind of special condition between sleep and waking, which we monastics call a light sleep. I dropped off, and beheld... It was night. There was the study of Lev Nikolayevich. On the writing desk stood a lamp with a dark lampshade. Behind the desk, and leaning with his elbows on it, sat Lev Nikolayevich, and on his face there was the mark of such serious thought, and such despair, as I had never seen in him before... The room was filled with a thick, impenetrable darkness; the only illumination was of that place on the table and on the face of Lev Nikolayevich on which the light of the lamp was falling. The darkness in the room was so thick, so impenetrable, that it even seemed as if it were filled, saturated with some materialisation... And suddenly I saw the ceiling of the study open, and from somewhere in the heights there began to pour such a blindingly wonderful light, the like of which cannot be seen on earth; and in this light there appeared the Lord Jesus Christ, in that form in which He is portrayed in Rome, in the picture of the holy Martyr and Archdeacon Laurence: the all-pure hands of the Saviour were spread out in the air above Lev Nikolayevich, as if removing from invisible executioners the instruments of torture. It looks just like that in the picture. And this ineffable light poured and poured onto Lev Nikolayevich. But it was as if he didn't see it... And I wanted to shout to my brother: Levushka, look, look up!... And suddenly, behind Lev Nikolayevich, - I saw it with terror, - from the very thickness of the darkness I began to make out another figure, a terrifying, cruel figure that made me tremble: and this figure, placing both its hands from behind over the eyes of Lev Nikolayevich, shut out that wonderful light from him. And I saw that my Levushka was making despairing efforts to push away those cruel, merciless hands... At this point I came to, and, as I came to, I heard a voice speaking as it were inside me: 'The Light of Christ enlightens everyone!" [18]

If the Light of Christ enlightens everyone, then there is no one who cannot come to the True Faith, however unpromising his situation. If a man follows the teachers that are given to everyone, creation and conscience, then the Providence of God, with Whom "all things are possible" (Matthew 19.26), will lead him to the teacher that is given at the beginning only to a few - "the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth" (I Timothy 3.15). For "it is not possible," writes St. John Chrysostom, "that one who is living rightly and freed from the passions should ever be overlooked. But even if he happens to be in error, God will quickly draw him over to the truth." [19] Again, as Chrysostom's disciple, St. John Cassian, says: "When God sees in us some beginnings of good will, He at once enlightens it, urging it on towards salvation." [20]

This point was developed in an illuminating manner by Cassian's French contemporary, Prosper of Aquitaine: "The very armies that exhaust the world help on the work of Christian grace. How many indeed who in the quiet of peacetime delayed to receive the sacrament of baptism, were compelled by fear of close danger to hasten to the water of regeneration, and were suddenly forced by threatening terror to fulfil a duty which a peaceful exhortation failed to bring home to their slow and tepid souls? Some sons of the Church, made prisoners by the enemy, changed their masters into servants of the Gospel, and by teaching them the faith they became the superiors of their own wartime lords. Again, some foreign pagans, whilst serving in the Roman armies, were able to learn the faith in our country, when in their own lands they could not have known it; they returned to their homes instructed in the Christian religion. Thus nothing can prevent God's grace from accomplishing His will... For all who at any time will be called and will enter into the Kingdom of God, have been marked out in the adoption which preceded all times. And just as none of the infidels is counted among the elect, so none of the God-fearing is excluded from the blessed. For in fact God's prescience, which is infallible, cannot lose any of the members that make up the fullness of the Body of Christ." [21]

However, there are few today who have a living faith in God's ability to bring anyone to the faith, whatever his situation. It may therefore be useful to cite the famous example of God's favour to the Aleuts of Alaska, to whom He sent angels to teach them the Orthodox Faith in the absence of any human instructor. Fr. John Veniaminov (later St. Innocent, metropolitan of Moscow (+1879)) relates how, on his first missionary journey to Akun island, he found all the islanders lined up on the shore waiting for him. It turned out that they had been warned by their former shaman, John Smirennikov, who in turn had been warned by two "white men", who looked like the angels on icons. Smirennikov told his story to Fr. John, who wrote: "Soon after he was baptised by Hieromonk Macarius, first one and later two spirits appeared to him but were visible to no one else... They told him that they were sent by God to edify, teach and guard him. For the next thirty years they appeared to him almost every day, either during daylight hours or early in the evening - but never at night. On these occasions: (1) They taught him in its totality Christian theology and the mysteries of the faith... (2) In time of sickness and famine they brought help to him and - though more rarely - to others at his request. (When agreeing to his requests that they help others, they always responded by saying that they would first have to ask God, and if it was His will, then they would do it.) (3) Occasionally they told him of thing occurring in another place or (very rarely) at some time in the future - but then only if God willed such a revelation; in such cases they would persuade him that they did so not by their own power, but by the power of Almighty God.

"Their doctrine is that of the Orthodox Church. I, however, knowing that even demons believe - and tremble with fear [James 3.19], wondered whether or not this might be the crafty and subtle snare of him who from time immemorial has been Evil. 'How do they teach you to pray, to themselves or to God? And how do they teach you to live with others?' He answered that they taught him to pray not to them but to the Creator of all, and to pray in spirit, with the heart; occasionally they would even pray along with him for long periods of time.

"They taught him to exercise all pure Christian virtues (which he related to me in detail), and recommended, furthermore, that he remain faithful and pure, both within and outside of marriage (this perhaps because the locals are quite given to such impurity). Furthermore, they taught him all the outward virtues..." [22]

Very apt was the comment of one of the first who read this story: "It is comforting to read about such miraculous Divine Providence towards savages, sons of Adam who, though forgotten by the world, were not forgotten by Providence." [23]

These cases lead us to draw the following conclusions: (1) The Providence of God is able to save anyone in any situation, providing he loves the truth. Therefore (2), although we cannot declare with categorical certainty that those who die in unbelief or heresy will be damned, neither can we declare that they will be saved because of their ignorance; for they may be alienated from God "through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4.18), and not simply through the ignorance that is caused by external circumstances. And (3) if we, who know the truth, say that such people do not need to become Christians in order to be saved, then we shall be guilty of indifference to the truth; for which we shall certainly merit damnation. For while we cannot presume to know the eternal destinies of individual men, we do know this, that the Word of God is true that declares: "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16.16). And again: "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God" (John 3.5). And again: "Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father Who is in heaven" (Matthew 10.33).

Moreover, to the unlying Word of God we may add the witness of Holy Tradition, in the form of the experience of Theodora, the spiritual daughter of St. Basil the New, who, after passing through the toll-houses and being returned to her body, was told by the angels: "Those who believe in the Holy Trinity and take as frequently as possible the Holy Communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, our Saviour's body and Blood - such people can rise to heaven directly, with no hindrances, and the holy angels defend them, and the holy saints of God pray for their salvation, since they have lived righteously. No one, however, takes care of wicked and depraved heretics, who do nothing useful during their lives, and live in disbelief and heresy. The angels can say nothing in their defence... [Only those] enlightened by the faith and holy baptism can rise and be tested in the stations of torment [that is, the toll-houses]. The unbelievers do not come here. Their souls belong to hell even before they part from their bodies. When they die, the devils take their souls with no need to test them. Such souls are their proper prey, and they take them down to the abyss." [24]

Some believe that even those condemned to hell after their death, may yet get a “second chance” at the Last Judgement, through the prayers of the saints and the Mother of God. The present writer knows no patristic witness that would clearly confirm or refute such an idea. However, we know from St. Simeon the Theologian that if a man is making progress towards the truth in this life he will not be deprived of further progress in the life to come: "It is a great good thing to believe in Christ, because without faith in Christ it is impossible to be saved; but one must also be instructed in the word of truth and understand it. It is a good thing to be instructed in the word of truth, and to understand it is essential; but one must also receive Baptism in the name of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, for the bringing to life of the soul. It is a good thing to receive Baptism and through it a new spiritual life; but it is necessary that this mystical life, or this mental enlightenment in the spirit, also should be consciously felt. It is a good thing to receive with feeling the mental enlightenment in the spirit; but one must manifest also the works of light. It is a good thing to do the works of light; but one must also be clothed in the humility and meekness of Christ for a perfect likeness to Christ. He who attains this and becomes meek and humble of heart, as if these were his natural dispositions, will unfailingly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and into the joy of the Lord. Moreover, regarding all those who are running on the path of God according to the order I have indicated, if it happens that natural death should cut off their course in the midst of this, they will not be banished from the doors of the Kingdom of God, and these doors will not be closed before them, according to the limitless mercy of God. But regarding those who do not run in such a way, their faith also in Christ the Lord is vain, if they have such..." [25]

4. The Argument from the Supremacy of Love over Justice. Another argument goes as follows. "Let us suppose that most men are not worthy to enter the Kingdom of heaven, if only because they will find nothing akin to their own corrupted nature there. Nevertheless, God is love, and he would never cast the creatures He has created and still continues to love into the unimaginably terrible torments of hell, whose purpose, since they are unending, cannot be the rehabilitation of the sinner, nor deterrence of future evil. We do not deny that the Scriptures speak in many places of the existence of just such a hell, and of a great multitude entering into it. But we cannot but hope and believe (for 'love believeth all things, hopeth all things' (I Corinthians 13.7) that these images are placed before us simply as a deterrent, and that in the end hell will be an empty place, not only spiritually but also physically. God has shown, by His Death on the Cross, that His love for us is greater than His love for the abstract principle of justice. Is it possible that he would finally deny that, admit that His Sacrifice had been in vain (for the great majority of people, at any rate), and allow cold justice to triumph over love?"

In attempting to answer this objection, we must first arm ourselves with the most basic weapon of the Christian life: the fear of God. The fear of God is not an abject trembling before a despotic tyrant. It is a rational, heartfelt awareness that we all, and every part of our lives, are in the hands of a Being Who infinitely transcends everything that we can say about Him, and even the very categories of our discourse. This applies not only to clearly inexplicable and unimaginable acts of His such as the creation of the world out of nothing. It also applies to those definitions of His nature which seem to correspond to something in our experience, such as: "God is love".

If human love can sometimes seem to be incompatible with justice, this is not so with Divine love. For what is the whole economy of God’s incarnation, life on earth and death on the Cross if not perfect love in pursuit of perfect justice - an extraordinary, humanly speaking paradoxical justice, it is true, but for that very reason characteristically Divine justice? For He, the Just One, Who committed no sin and had done everything to deter us from it, out of love for man died to blot out all the sins and injustices of the whole world. When we could not pay the price, He paid it for us; when we were dead in sin, He died to give us life; "for Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust" (I Peter 3.18).

The Church has expressed the paradoxicality of God’s justice with great eloquence: "Come, all ye peoples, and let us venerate the blessed Wood, through which the eternal justice has been brought to pass. For he who by a tree deceived our forefather Adam, is by the Cross himself deceived; and he who by tyranny gained possession of the creature endowed by God with royal dignity, is overthrown in headlong fall. By the Blood of God the poison of the serpent is washed away; and the curse of a just condemnation is loosed by the just punishment inflicted on the Just. For it was fitting that wood should be healed by wood, and that through the Passion of One Who knew not passion should be remitted all the sufferings of him who was condemned because of wood. But glory to Thee, O Christ our King, for Thy dread dispensation towards us, whereby Thou hast saved us all, for Thou art good and lovest mankind." [26]

Here there is no contradiction between love and justice. And if there is no contradiction between them in the Redeeming Passion of Christ on the Cross, then there is likewise no contradiction between them in His Coming again to judge men in accordance with their response to His Passion. But in order to understand this it is necessary, first, to rid ourselves of the idea that God’s just wrath against impenitent sinners is comparable to the sinful human passion of vengefulness. Such vengefulness is condemned by the Word of God (Romans 12.17-21), and cannot possibly be attributed to the Divine Nature, which is alien to all fallen human passion. We must at all times hate the sin and not the sinner; we must wish for the destruction of sin and not of sinners. If we wish to identify our will with the Will of God, then our first desire must be for the salvation of all sinners, including our enemies, paying special attention (lest we become hypocrites) to those sinners we know best and for whom we are primarily responsible - ourselves.

"The wrath of God,” writes Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava, “is one of the manifestations of the love of God, but of the love of God in its relationship to the moral evil in the heart of rational creatures in general, and of man in particular." [27] That is why the martyrs under the heavenly altar, filled as they are with the love of God to the highest degree, are at the same time filled with a holy wrath: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6.10). And yet, as the Venerable Bede writes, "the souls of the righteous cry out these words, not out of hatred for enemies, but out of love for justice". [28]

This love of justice is natural to man, for it is made in the image of God’s own love of justice. The love of justice proceeds naturally from the Nature of God, like heat from the sun. Thus to say that God should be loving but not just is like saying that the sun should give light but not heat. It is simply not in the nature of things. What is in accordance with the nature of God is that He should divide the light of His grace from its fiery heat at the Last Judgement, giving the light only to the blessed and the heat only to the damned.

As St. Basil the Great writes, commenting on the verse: “The voice of the Lord divideth the flame of fire” (Psalm 28.6), writes: “The fire prepared in punishment for the devil and his angels is divided by the voice of the Lord. Thus, since there are two capacities in fire, one of burning and the other of illuminating, the fierce and punitive property of the fire may await those who deserve to burn, while its illuminating and radiant part may be reserved for the enjoyment of those who are rejoicing.” [29]

The Lord placed justice on a par with mercy and faith (Matthew 23.23), and it was the Ephesian Church’s hatred of injustice that redeemed it in His eyes; for “this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2.6). This lesson is particularly important for our century, when the Orthodox Church has been persecuted by the ecumenists with their indifference to the truth, on the one hand, and the sergianists with their indifference to justice, on the other. We have to kindle in ourselves a holy and dispassionate zeal for the truth and hatred of injustice.

Thus, as Archbishop Theophanes writes in reply to the question “Can one have a negative feeling in relation to the enemies of the Russian people and the Orthodox Church or must one suppress in oneself this feeling, repeating the words: ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’?”: “To have a negative feeling towards the enemies of God and of the Russian people is natural. And on the contrary not to have a negative feeling is unnatural. Only this feeling must be correct. And it will be correct when it has a principled, not personal character, that is, when we 'hate' the enemies of God and of the Russian people not for their personal offences against us, but for their hostile attitude towards God and the Church and for their inhuman attitude towards Russian people. Therefore it is also necessary to fight with these enemies. Whereas if we do not fight, we will be punished by God for our lukewarmness. He will then take His vengeance not only on them, but also on us..." [30]

The whole burden of the Old Testament Prophets was an impassioned, yet holy lament against the injustice of man against God and against his fellow man. And if anything to the Prophets was proof of the corruption of Israel, it was that, instead of repenting of their own injustice, they accused the Just One of injustice. Thus the holy Prophet Ezekiel laments: “The house of Israel saith, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not My ways equal? Are not your ways unequal? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 18.29-30). And the holy Prophet Malachi laments: “Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied Him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgement?” (Malachi 2.17).

The God of judgement is within us, manifest in that extraordinarily powerful love of justice that is created in the image of God’s love of justice. Faith teaches, and human nature cries out for, a last and most glorious Judgement in which all tears will wiped away from every innocent face (Revelation 21.4), and every apparently meaningless suffering will find its meaning and reward. Again, faith teaches, and human nature cries out for, a last and most terrible Judgement in which those who laughed over the sufferings of others will weep (Luke 6.25), and those who feasted on human flesh will gnash their teeth in eternal frustration. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." (Galatians 6.7,8)

Thus the Last, Most Terrible Judgement is a mystery proclaimed by the Word of God and grounded in the deepest reality of things. It both proceeds from the nature of God Himself, and is an innate demand of our human nature created in the image of God. It is the essential foundation for the practice of virtue and the abhorrence of vice, and the ultimate goal to which the whole of created nature strives, willingly or unwillingly, as to its natural fulfilment. Without it all particular judgements would have a partial and unsatisfactory character, and the reproaches of Job against God, and of all unbelievers against faith, would be justified. And if the Last Judgement is different from all preceding ones in that in it love seems to be separated from justice, love being distributed exclusively to the righteous and justice to the sinners, then this is because human nature itself will have divided itself in two, one part having responded to love with love, to justice with justice, while the other, having rejected both the love and the justice of God, will merit to experience His justice alone...

And if, like Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, we still cannot come to terms with the tears of an innocent child, this is not because our love is too great, but because our faith in God's justice is too small. God’s ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His justice, we must humbly accept, is not our justice. At some times we cannot understand why the innocent suffer; at others – why the guilty get away with it. At some times we cannot understand why great sinners are forgiven in a moment; at others – why those who seem to us to be less guilty appear destined for the eternal fire. The only right way to respond to this is to recognise humbly that the creature cannot and must not argue with his Creator, and to say with the Psalmist: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgements” (Psalm 118.137)…

[1] St. John of Damascus, Dialogue against the Manichaeans, 37.
[2] St. Chrysostom, Homily IX on Corinthians, 1-3. Translated in Maurice Wiles & Mark Santer (eds.) Documents in Early Christian Thought, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
[3] Victor Afanasiev, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000, pp. 283, 309.
[4] Afanasiev, op. cit., pp. 735-736.
[5] St. John of Damascus, P.G. 96, 1084B. Cf. Psalm 6.4.
[6] St. Gregory, Parables of the Gospel, Dublin: Scepter Publishers, pp. 155-56.
[7] Archbishop Theophanes, Pis’ma Arkhiepiskopa Feofana Poltavskogo, Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1976, p. 31 (in Russian).
[8] Metropolitan Anthony, "The Church's Teaching about the Holy Spirit", Orthodox Life, vol. 27, no. 3, May-June, 1977, p. 23.
[9] St. Augustine, Homily 21 on the New Testament, 19, 20. See also St. Symeon the New Theologian, Discourse XXIII, 1. There are other interpretations of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which complement and follow from this one. Thus St. Ambrose (On Repentance, II, 24), followed by St. Augustine (Homily 21 on the New Testament, 28), regards heretics and schismatics as blasphemers against the Holy Spirit insofar as they deny the Spirit and Truth that is in the True Church.
[10] St. Theophylactus, Explanation of the Gospel according to St. Luke, 12.47-48.
[11] St. Cyril, Homily 93 on Luke. Translated by Payne Smith, Studion Publishers, 1983, p. 376.
[12] Bishop Nicholas, The Prologue from Ochrid, Birmingham: Lazarica Press, 1986, vol. II, p. 149.
[13] St. Jerome, Treatise on Psalm 95.
[14] St. Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Romans, 2.
[15] St. Chrysostom, First Homily on Hannah, 3.
[16] The Lives of the Women Martyrs, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1991, pp. 528-542.
[17] St. Chrysostom, Homily 8 on John.
[18] I.M. Kontzevich, Optina Pustyn' i ee Vremia, Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1970, pp. 372-73 (in Russian).
[19] St. Chrysostom, Homily 24 on Matthew, 1.
[20] St. Cassian, Conferences, XIII, 8.
[21] Prosper, The Call of the Nations, II, 33.
[22] Paul Garrett, St. Innocent, Apostle to America, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1979, pp. 80-81.
[23] Garrett, op. cit., p. 85, footnote.
[24] Quoted by David Ritchie, "The 'Near-Death Experience'", Orthodox Life, vol. 45, no. 4, July-August, 1995, pp. 22-23.
[25] St. Symeon, The Sin of Adam and our Redemption, Platina, Ca.: St. Herman of Alaska Press, 1979, pp. 57-8.
[26] Menaion, September 14, Great Vespers of the Exaltation of the Cross, "Lord, I have cried", "Glory... Both now..."
[27] Archbishop Theophanes, "On the Redemption"; quoted in Fr. Anthony Chernov, Archevêque Theophane de Poltave, Lavardac: Monastère de St. Michel, 1988, p. 146 (in French).
[28] St. Bede, On Genesis 4.10.
[29] St. Basil, On Psalm 28.6; translated in Jurgens, op. cit., vol. II, p. 21.
[30] Archbishop Theophanes, Pis'ma, op. cit., p. 40.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Original Sin in the Eastern Orthodox Confessions and Catechisms

The following is from Our Orthodox Christian Faith: A Handbook of Popular Dogmatics by Athanasios S. Frangopoulos, theologian and teacher. Published by The Brotherhood of Theologians, "O Sotir", in Athens, Greece, 1984.

Chapter 9, The Original Sin:

4.d. Guilt. The original sin which brought about man's depravity also brought about his guilt. Man, through his transgression, became guilty before God as a transgressor of the divine command, guilty and accused before the justice of God the Lawgiver. The transgression contained guilt within it. Both are simultaneous. As soon as he committed the transgression he sensed guilt. within him. His conscience thundered out and said: "Sinner, you are guilty and stand accused before God". It was this sense of guilt that made the first couple realize that they were naked, and hasten to hide before the face of God. Thus, wherever sin is to be found, there, too, exists guilt. The sin that Adam committed in Paradise did not result only in the depravity and moral perversion of man. It ushered also guilt and then God's sentence and condemnation. This is felt by every man who sins. Immediately, remorse and pangs of conscience set in: a clear proof and confirmation of guilt. And the consequence of guilt is condemnation and punishment.

And this is the final phase of sin relevant to the body. Man was created from earth and unto the earth he is entrusted. God said this when He pronounced His verdict upon Adam: «ln the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread until thou return to the earth out of which thou was taken, for earth thou art and to earth thou shall return» (Gen. 3, 19).

4.e. The inheritance of Original Sin. The saddest and ugliest aspect of Original sin is its transmission from the first man to his descendants and; from generation to generation to the entire human race: a hereditary transmission as a state and sickness of human nature and as a personal guilt of every man. That is to say, not only Adam sinned but in his person all his offsprings, all men who were to be descended from Adam. This means that Adam did not sin only as an individual but as progenitor and representative of the human race. For this reason God imputed upon all men the sin of the one. And to verify this Holy Scripture states: "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3, 23). These words of the holy Apostle while certainly presenting the universality of sin do not tell us whence came this universal unhappy legacy. This the Apostle clearly defines further along when he says that it springs from the fall of the first parents. "Wherefore," says the divinely-inspired Apostle, "as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5, 12); that is, in the person of Adam all his descendants were included and all inherited the sin of Adam and the results of that sin which are guilt, corruption and the depravity of our nature, the tendency and inclination towards evil and finally death. Thus, as we have already said, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God". In the psalms we find the verse that says: "For behold I was conceived in iniquities and in sins did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 50, 5), and which can be applied to each and every one of us. Job, aware of the weight of sin, asks, "Who is pure from uncleaness?" and gives the answer himself: "Not even one; if even his life should be but one day upon the earth" (Job 14, 4-5). Furthermore, the Evangelist St. John emphasizes that we all have need to be reborn in water and the Spirit, for through birth the pollution of sin is transmitted to all of us, for "that which is born of flesh is flesh" (John 3, 6), and every sinful man is by nature subject to divine wrath in accordance with the saying "we were by nature the children of wrath" (Eph. 2, 3).

Of course this is an incomprehensible mystery. How could men who weren't even born and consequently had neither thought nor will - necessary elements for sin - sin? How am I guilty of the sin of another, of a sin of which I personally possess no consciousness? That at sometime, somewhere I sinned and am thus justly guilty and subject to divine wrath? This is indeed an inexplicable mystery. Yet it is a fact that God imputed Adam's sin upon the entire human race, and this imputation is a mysterious one; yet its transmission is completely natural. We have already brought forth similar examples and have said that a cloudy stream springs forth from a cloudy spring and that from a rotten root rotten branches and fruit blossom forth, and that from sick parents sick children are born. Such is the case here. With infected leaven all the dough will become infected; hence if the ancestors and progenitors were sinful and corrupt so will all the descendants be. Naturally and out of unavoidable necessity and consequence.

But let us not look only at the evil heritage which we all of course deeply sense within us and for the weight and wretched consequences of which we often weep. Let us also look upon our good and excellent heritage which we enjoy as Christians unto eternal life and salvation. The former is for us a curse, the latter a blessing. Cause of the first, our carnal progenitor, the first Adam. Cause of the latter, the blessing and the grace, is the second Adam and our progenitor, the Lord Jesus Christ. The evil inheritance we possess as carnal men, the good inheritance as spiritual Christians. We bear the curse because of our descent. The blessings we possess through faith and submission to Christ the Saviour.

The following is from The Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church, also known as the Catechism of Metr. St. Philaret of Moscow, Examined and Approved by the Most Holy Governing Synod, and Published for the Use of Schools, and of all Orthodox Christians, by Order of His Imperial Majesty. (Moscow, at the Synodical Press, 1830).

153. Wherefore did the Son of God come down from heaven?

For us men, and for our salvation, as it is said in the Creed.

154. In what sense is it said that the Son of God came down from heaven for us men?

In this sense: that he came upon earth not for one nation, nor for some men only, but for us men universally.

155. To save men from what did he come upon earth?

From sin, the curse, and death.

156. What is sin?

Transgression of the law. Sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John iii. 4.

157. Whence is sin in men, seeing that they were created in the image of God, and God can not sin?

From the devil. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. 1 John iii. 8.

158. How did sin pass from the devil to men?

The devil deceived Eve and Adam, and induced them to transgress God's commandment.

159. What commandment?

God commanded Adam in Paradise not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and withal told him, that so soon as he ate thereof he should surely die.

160. Why did it bring death to man to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Because it involved disobedience to God's will, and so separated man from God and his grace, and alienated him from the life of God.

161. What propriety is there in the name of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Man through this tree came to know by the act itself what good there is in obeying the will of God, and what evil in disobeying it.

162. How could Adam and Eve listen to the devil against the will of God?

God of his goodness, at the creation of man, gave him a will naturally disposed to love God, but still free; and man used this freedom for evil.

163. How did the devil deceive Adam and Eve?

Eve saw in Paradise a serpent, which assured her that if men ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would know good and evil, and would become as gods. Eve was deceived by this promise, and by the fairness of the fruit, and ate of it. Adam ate after her example.

164. What came of Adam's sin?

The curse, and death.

165. What is the curse?

The condemnation of sin by God's just judgment, and the evil which from sin came upon the earth for the punishment of men. God said to Adam, Cursed is the ground for thy sake. Gen. iii. 17.

166. What is the death which came from the sin of Adam?

It is twofold: bodily, when the body loses the soul which quickened it; and spiritual, when the soul loses the grace of God, which quickened it with the higher and spiritual life.

167. Can the soul, then, die as well as the body?

It can die, but not so as the body. The body, when it dies, loses sense, and is dissolved; the soul, when it dies by sin, loses spiritual light, joy, and happiness, but is not dissolved nor annihilated, but remains in a state of darkness, anguish, and suffering.

168. Why did not the first man only die, and not all, as now?

Because all have come of Adam since his infection by sin, and all sin themselves. As from an infected source there naturally flows an infected stream, so from a father infected with sin, and consequently mortal, there naturally proceeds a posterity infected like him with sin, and like him mortal.

169. How is this spoken of in holy Scripture?

By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Rom. v. 12.

170. Had man any benefit from the fruit of the tree of life after he had sinned?

After he had sinned, he could no more eat of it, for he was driven out of Paradise.

171. Had men, then, any hope left of salvation?

When our first parents had confessed before God their sin, God, of his mercy, gave them a hope of salvation.

The following is from Chapter VI of the Acts and Decrees of the Synod of Jerusalem (A.D. 1672).


Dositheus, by the mercy of God, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to those that ask and inquire concerning the faith and worship of the Greeks, that is of the Eastern Church, how forsooth it thinketh concerning the Orthodox faith, in the common name of all Christians subject to our Apostolic Throne, and of the Orthodox worshippers that are sojourning in this holy and great city of Jerusalem (with whom the whole Catholic Church agreeth in all that concerneth the faith) publisheth this concise Confession, for a testimony both before God and before man, with a sincere conscience, and devoid of all dissimulation.


We believe the first man created by God to have fallen in Paradise, when, disregarding the Divine commandment, he yielded to the deceitful counsel of the serpent. And hence hereditary sin flowed to his posterity; so that none is born after the flesh who beareth not this burden, and experienceth not the fruits thereof in this present world. But by these fruits and this burden we do not understand [actual] sin, such as impiety, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, adultery, fornication, enmity, and whatsoever else is by our depraved choice committed contrarily to the Divine Will, not from nature; for many both of the Forefathers and of the Prophets, and vast numbers of others, as well of those under the shadow [of the Law], as under the truth [of the Gospel], such as the divine Precursor, and especially the Mother of God the Word, the ever-virgin Mary, experienced not these, or such like faults; but only what the Divine Justice inflicted upon man as a punishment for the [original] transgression, such as sweats in labour, afflictions, bodily sicknesses, pains in child-bearing, and, in fine, while on our pilgrimage, to live a laborious life, and lastly, bodily death.

The following is from the Orthodox Confession of Faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church also known as the Confession of Metr. Peter Mohyla, ratified by the Council of Jassy, 1642.

Q. 23. What is the state of man's innocence?

R. The state of innocence is twofold, according to St. Basil. First of all, there is the detachment in mind and intention from all sins through the lengthy practice of good deeds. Secondly, there is the absence of the experience of evil, either because of age or other reasons. It is in this second way that Adam's state of innocence before sin is taken, in all perfection and original justice as regards the intellect as well as the will. All knowledge is present in the intellect as is all goodness in the will. For since Adam knew God very well (to the degree that he was fittingly allowed), in knowing God he knew everything through him, this being a mark of the divine being. And when the animals were brought forward to be properly named, he assigned each one a name through his knowledge of their natures. His only concern was the knowledge of God and the pondering of his graces. As far as the will was concerned, it followed the principle that it was truly free and that man was free to sin or not to sin, as treated in Sacred Scripture: Do not say that God is the source of my lie, because "you must not do the things which he hates." And later: "God made man from the beginning in the hand of his own counsel, if you wish to keep the commandments and perform the accepted fidelity." And later: "Before man are life and death, good and evil; whatever he chooses will be given to him. God commanded nobody to do wickedly and gave nobody the license to sin." And so in this state of innocence, man was similar to the angels. As soon as he sinned, he became mortal that very instant through deception in the state of sin. For so says Sacred Scripture: "The wages of sin are death." Then he immediately lost the perfection of reason and knowledge, his will becoming more inclined to evil than to good. Thus was the state of innocence changed, through the experience of evil, into the state of sin, and perfect man appeared so worthless that he could now say with the Psalmist: "I am a worm, not a man."

Q. 24. Are all men subject to the same sin of Adam?

R. Just as all men were in the state of innocence with Adam, so when he sinned, all men sinned in him and have remained in that state of sin. They are subject, therefore, not only to sin but also the punishment for sin, which is expressed in God's decree: "On whatever day you shall eat of it, you will die the death." Repeating the same, the holy Apostle says: "Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin - death, so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned." For this reason we are conceived in the maternal womb and born even today in this sin, as the Psalmist says: "For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me." This sin is called original for these reasons: first, because before this time man was stained by no sin, although the devil sinned, through whose initiative the sin known as original arose in man. Adam, the perpetrator of the sin, is subject to it as also are we, his posterity. Secondly, it is called original because no man is conceived without it.

The following is from The Orthodox Catechism: Basic Teachings of the Orthodox Faith by Metropolitan Archbishop Sotirios of The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto, Canada, 1989.

Original Sin And Its Consequences

The disobedience and transgression of Adam and Eve is called Original Sin. What happened? As we have previously said, God gave Adam and Eve permission to eat the fruit of all trees except the fruit of the tree "of the knowledge of good and evil." Here is what the Bible says: "You may freely eat of every tree of the Garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die"(Genesis 2:16-17). In other words, God said to Adam and to Eve, "You may eat the fruit of all of the trees that are in the Garden and that are edible; it is only the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that you should not eat. On the day that you do eat it, you shall die."

A guilty person wants an accomplice. Satan, who had been an angel and had disobeyed God, becoming Satan, felt guilty and terribly alone. He could keep company only with the other Satans, the demons. His nature had been perverted; he was unable and is unable ever to think about goodness. He always thinks and desires evil. He always seeks evil for others. He was jealous of man. He saw that he was so very happy in Paradise in the company of God. So he put his evil plans into action. As the spirit that he is, he entered the body of a snake. Then he climbed the tree of "the knowledge of good and evil." He waited there. Eve came and peered at the tree. Satan intruded upon her curiosity. He asked her, "Tell me, Eve, is it true that God told you not to eat the fruit of all of the trees?" Eve answered, "No. He told us to eat the fruit of all the trees except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because if we did we would die." The serpent said, "You shall not die. God knows that on the day that you eat of that fruit, your eyes will open and you will become as gods. You will know good and evil." Eve liked Satan's sweet and slanderous words. She stretched out her hand. She took a fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. She ate some, and she also gave some to her mate, Adam. They ate together. Immediately, "their eyes were opened" and they realized that they were naked (Genesis 3:1-7).

Because many people say that the Bible is being metaphorical and that by the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil the Bible refers to the sexual relationship of Adam and Eve, we repeat here that this is not true. God had decreed the sexual relationship of Adam and Eve when he told them to "increase and multiply." Then what shall we say is the original sin? It is the denunciation of God. If you will, it is the attempt of man to disenthrone God and to enthrone himself in His place, to become God in the place of God. It is not merely that he ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. St. John Chrysostom says about Eve, "She was filled with grandiose imaginings, hoping to be equal to God." Hoping to be equal to God, she lost her senses.

That is original sin. And its consequences? A.) Spiritual death. That is, the separation of man from God, the source of all goodness. B.) Bodily death. That is, the separation of the body from the soul, the return of the body to the earth. C.) The shattering and distortion of the "image." That is, darkness of mind, depravity and corruption of the heart, loss of independence, loss of free will, and tendency towards evil. Since then "the imagination of man's heart is evil "(Genesis 8:21). Man constantly thinks of evil. D.) Guilt. That is, a bad conscience, the shame that made him want to hide from God. E.) Worst of all, original sin is hereditary. It did not remain only Adam and Eve's. As life passes from them to all of their descendants, so does original sin. We all of us participate in original sin because we are all descended from the same forefather, Adam. This creates a problem for many people. They ask, Why should we be responsible for the actions of Adam and Eve? Why should we have to pay for the sins of our parents? they say. Unfortunately, this is so, because the consequence of original sin is the distortion of the nature of man. Of course, this is unexplainable and belongs to the realm of mystery, but we can give one example to make it somewhat better understood. Let us say that you have a wild orange tree, from which you make a graft. You will get domesticated oranges, but the root will still be that of the wild orange tree. To have wild oranges again, you must regraft the tree. This is what Christ came for and achieved for fallen man, as we shall see in the following sections.

Our Creator and Maker, ours is the fault. Adam and Eve, listening to Satan, blasphemed. Out of egotism, they allowed themselves to be misled. They distorted the "image." They darkened the beauty of the soul. They weakened the nature of mankind. Because of them, we became unrecognizable. "The imagination of our heart is evil." We constantly think of evil. We feel so guilty. We are so far away from You. We have been grafted to evil. We have lost our self-control and our free will to do good. We thank You for Your love, and for sending Your Only-begotten Son to regraft us to goodness. For giving us the possibility of returning to You. You, Lord "want every man to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Do not deprive us of this. Do not deprive anyone of salvation. We thank You Lord.

The following is from An Online Orthodox Catechism, adopted from The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to the Teaching and Spirituality of the Orthodox Church, by Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), of Vienna and Austria, 2002.


The biblical story of the Fall prefigures the entire tragic history of the human race. It shows us who we were and what we have become. It reveals that evil entered the world not by the will of God but by fault of humans who preferred diabolical deceit to divine commandment. From generation to generation the human race repeats Adam’s mistake in being beguiled by false values and forgetting the true ones — faith in God and verity to Him.

Sin was not ingrained in human nature. Yet the possibility to sin was rooted in the free will given to humans. It was indeed freedom that rendered the human being as an image of the Maker; but it was also freedom that from the very beginning contained within itself the possibility to fall away from God. Out of His love for humans God did not want to interfere in their freedom and forcibly avert sin. But neither could the devil force them to do evil. The sole responsibility for the Fall is borne by humans themselves, for they misused the freedom given to them.

What constituted the sin of the first people? St Augustine believes it to be disobedience. On the other hand, the majority of early church writers say that Adam fell as a result of pride. Pride is the wall that separates humans from God. The root of pride is egocenticity, the state of being turned in on oneself, self-love, lust for oneself. Before the Fall, God was the only object of the humans’ love; but then there appeared a value outside of God: the tree was suddenly seen to be ‘good for food’, ‘a delight to the eyes’, and something ‘to be desired’ (Gen.3:6). Thus the entire hierarchy of values collapsed: my own ‘I’ occupied the first place while the second was taken by the object of ‘my’ lust. No place has remained for God: He has been forgotten, driven from my life.

The forbidden fruit failed to bring happiness to the first people. On the contrary, they began to sense their own nakedness: they were ashamed and tried to hide from God. This awareness of one’s nakedness denotes the privation of the divine light-bearing garment that cloaked humans and defended them from the ‘knowledge of evil’. Adam’s first reaction after committing sin was burning sensation of shame. The second reaction was his desire to hide from the Creator. This shows that he had lost all notion of God’s omnipresence and would search for any place where God was ‘absent’.

However, this was not a total rupture with God. The Fall was not a complete abandonment: humans could repent and regain their former dignity. God goes out to find the fallen Adam; between the trees of Paradise He seeks him out asking ‘Where are you?’ (Gen.3:9). This humble wandering of God through Paradise prefigures Christ’s humility as revealed to us in the New Testament, the humility with which the Shepherd seeks the lost sheep. God has no need to go forth and look for Adam: He can call down from the heavens with a voice of thunder or shake the foundations of the earth. Yet He does not wish to be Adam’s judge, or his prosecutor. He still wants to count him as an equal and puts His hope in Adam’s repentance. But instead of repenting, Adam utters words of self-justification, laying the blame for everything on his wife: ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’ (Gen.3:12). In other words, ‘It was You who gave me a wife; it is You who is to blame’. In turn, Eve lays the blame for everything on the serpent.

The consequences of the Fall for the first humans were catastrophic. They were not only deprived of the bliss and sweetness of Paradise, but their whole nature was changed and disfigured. In sinning they fell away from their natural condition and entered an unnatural state of being. All elements of their spiritual and corporeal make-up were damaged: their spirit, instead of striving for God, became engrossed in the passions; their soul entered the sphere of bodily instincts; while their body lost its original lightness and was transformed into heavy sinful flesh. After the Fall the human person ‘became deaf, blind, naked, insensitive to the good things from which he had fallen away, and above all became mortal, corruptible and without sense of purpose’ (St Symeon the New Theologian). Disease, suffering and pain entered human life. Humans became mortal for they had lost the opportunity of tasting from the tree of life.

Not only humanity but also the entire world changed as a result of the Fall. The original harmony between people and nature had been broken; the elements had become hostile; storms, earthquakes and floods could destroy life. The earth would no longer provide everything of its own accord; it would have to be tilled ‘in the sweat of your face’, and would produce ‘thorns and thistles’. Even the animals would become the human being’s enemy: the serpent would ‘bruise his heel’ and other predators would attack him (Gen.3:14-19). All of creation would be subject to the ‘bondage of decay’. Together with humans it would now ‘wait for freedom’ from this bondage, since it did not submit to vanity voluntarily but through the fault of humanity (Rom.8:19-21).


After Adam and Eve sin spread rapidly throughout the human race. They were guilty of pride and disobedience, while their son Cain committed fratricide. Cain’s descendants soon forgot about God and set about organizing their earthly existence. Cain himself ‘built a city’. One of his closest descendants was ‘the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle’; another was ‘the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe’; yet another was ‘the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron’ (Gen.4:17-22). The establishment of cities, cattle-breeding, music and other arts were thus passed onto humankind by Cain’s descendants as a surrogate of the lost happiness of Paradise.

The consequences of the Fall spread to the whole of the human race. This is elucidated by St Paul: ‘Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned’ (Rom.5:12). This text, which formed the Church’s basis of her teaching on ‘original sin’, may be understood in a number of ways: the Greek words ef’ ho pantes hemarton may be translated not only as ‘because all men sinned’ but also ‘in whom [that is, in Adam] all men sinned’. Different readings of the text may produce different understandings of what ‘original sin’ means.

If we accept the first translation, this means that each person is responsible for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. Here, Adam is merely the prototype of all future sinners, each of whom, in repeating Adam’s sin, bears responsibility only for his own sins. Adam’s sin is not the cause of our sinfulness; we do not participate in his sin and his guilt cannot be passed onto us.

However, if we read the text to mean ‘in whom all have sinned’, this can be understood as the passing on of Adam’s sin to all future generations of people, since human nature has been infected by sin in general. The disposition toward sin became hereditary and responsibility for turning away from God sin universal. As St Cyril of Alexandria states, human nature itself has ‘fallen ill with sin’; thus we all share Adam’s sin as we all share his nature. St Macarius of Egypt speaks of ‘a leaven of evil passions’ and of ‘secret impurity and the abiding darkness of passions’, which have entered into our nature in spite of our original purity. Sin has become so deeply rooted in human nature that not a single descendant of Adam has been spared from a hereditary predisposition toward sin.

The Old Testament writers had a vivid sense of their inherited sinfulness: ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Ps.51:7). They believed that God ‘visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation’ (Ex.20:5). In the latter words reference is not made to innocent children but to those whose own sinfulness is rooted in the sins of their forefathers.

From a rational point of view, to punish the entire human race for Adam’s sin is an injustice. But not a single Christian dogma has ever been fully comprehended by reason. Religion within the bounds of reason is not religion but naked rationalism, for religion is supra-rational, supra-logical. The doctrine of original sin is disclosed in the light of divine revelation and acquires meaning with reference to the dogma of the atonement of humanity through the New Adam, Christ: ‘...As one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous... so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom.5:18-21).

The following is from the Catechism Of The Greek Orthodox Church by the Rev. Constas H. Demetry, D. D., Doctor of the Ecumenical Throne.


Q. Were our First Parents happy, and why?

A. Our First Parents were happy because they were innocent.

Q. Did God give them any commands and why?

A. He commanded them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that He might test their obedience. (Many people think that the fruit which the First Parents ate in disobedience to God was the carnal connexion. This is not true, because the lawful carnal connexion of man and woman and procreation of children is in accordance with the will of God, since God, as soon as He created the First Parents, blessed them and said to them:"Be Fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.." ...Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 28.

Q. Did they remain faithful to God? A. No, they fell into temptation, disobeyed, and sinned.

Q. What good would they have had if they had obeyed?

A. Their bodies would have become immortal like their souls, and they would have insured for themselves forever the happiness which they had.

Q. What did they suffer through the sin of disobedience?

A. 1. Their minds became darkened and they lost God. 2. Their hearts became perverted and they began to love the evil more than the good. 3. They fell into sickness and various other evils. 4. Their bodies became mortal. 5. Their souls were condemned to moral death, which is separation from God, i.e. eternal misfortune.

Q. Did only our First Parents suffer from their disobedience?

A. Unfortunately the whole human race born since has also suffered. They inherited the same evils, just as they would have inherited immortality and happiness, if our First Parents had obeyed; because just as impure water proceeds from an impure fountain so also sinful men are born of sinful ancestors.

Q. Did the rest of creation suffer anything from the disobedience of our First Parents?

A. Assuredly; and because of this, since then, "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.", as the Apostle Paul writes in the Book of Romans, Chapter 8, Verse 22.

Q. What is that sin of disobedience, with all the evils which it brought, called?

A. The original sin.

Q. Are we responsible for the original sin?

A. Personally none; because we did not personally commit the sin of our First Parents; but we are charged with it by inheritance because we were in Adam and Eve when they sinned, and for this reason the Apostle Paul writes: "..all have sinned." ...Book of Romans, Chapter 5, Verse 12. Page 16

Q. Has anyone been exempted from the original sin?

A. Only Jesus Christ, because He was incarnate of the Holy Spirit, which, being God, is without sin, and of the Virgin Mary after her cleansing of original sin by the Holy Spirit when the Angel announced to her the conception and birth of Christ.

Q. Does man also carry the burden of other sins besides the original sin?

A. Assuredly; personal sins. (The personal sins are mortal and non-mortal. Mortal are those which destroy any hope of repentance, because they bring the death of the soul, namely, moral, eternal death. But every sin may be forgiven by since repentance.

Q. What do personal sins lead to?

A. Personal sins lead to passion.

Q. What is passion and what evils does it inflict?

A. Passion is a bad habit, acquired through the repetition of sin. It takes away freedom and inflicts the same evils as the original sin.