Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Fr. George Mastrantonis on Ancestral Sin

The following is excerpted from A New-Style Catechism on the Eastern Orthodox Faith for Adults by Fr. George Mastrantonis (St. Louis, MO: The OLOGOS Mission, 1969 [1977]).


"And he (God) made from one (“blood”, KJV) every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth", Acts 17:26.

Holy Scripture has recorded that the human race derived from one couple created by God. This teaching has been held by the Church as a revealed truth from which Christian doctrines have been formulated. The unity in the continuity of the human race from the first-created, Adam and Eve, is a sound teaching of the Church. The salvation of man in Christ depends on this unity of Adam and Eve, who "fell" into sin. All men died in Adam, thus all men are resurrected and have life in Christ, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous," Rom. 5:19. This "fall" of man, inherent in the generations of the human race, relates to the body. However, there is no definite teaching, doctrine or dogma to determine explicitly the soul's derivation. Theories concerning the soul, dating before the beginning of Christianity, are as follows: pre-existence of the soul; creation of the soul at the time of birth; transposing of the soul to something else. The Church has not accepted these theories.


''... by one man's disobedience many were made sinners", Romans 5:19.

Adam was created innocent by nature, and was endowed with capabilities to advance and develop his divine qualities. Man, through his own abilities and free will, could become perfect in full knowledge. Adam was created with the gift of free will. This implies he was expected to exercise free will and be tested in his efforts to reach his destination. Adam was well-equipped to keep intact his endowments and to advance his excellences. He was tested by his environment and his inner self (cf. Ja. 1:14). The fact that Adam was created with free will indicates he was tested by an opponent of the same nature and equal abilities. As Adam was a person, his opponent was a person, armed with equal powers. The difference is that man's opponent was a perverted figure with twisted ways not controlled by ethics. He was envious and clever. Scripture figuratively presents this opponent, a fallen angel, in the forms of serpent, demon, satan and devil. His weapons were arrogance and disobedience. This demon used all types of lies to make Adam and Eve fed arrogant and disobedient, above and beyond the God Who created them. The figurative form of the demon as a serpent is unusual; this demon had free will, the ability to think and talk and to tempt others.

Various Forms of the Temptor of Man

In the New Testament the serpent represents the temptor, the devil, satan, who deceived man. For "the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning", 2 Cor 11:3; "the woman was deceived and became a transgressor", 1 Tim. 2:14 "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world", Rev. 12:9 (cf. Rev. 20:2); "He (the serpent) was a murderer from the beginning", Jn. 8:44b. Hatred is the main characteristic of the devil, for "through the devil's envy death came to the world, and those who belong to his party experience it", Wis. Sol. 2:24, "Sin began with a woman, and because of her we all die", Wis. of Sir. 25124 (cf. Phil. 2: 16). Many passages refer to Satan as temptor and deceiver appearing in various forms.


“You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree"; however, “she (Eve) (and Adam) took of its fruits and ate”, Genesis 3:3, 6.

The devil hid himself in the form of a serpent; his aim was to persuade Adam and Eve to become arrogant and disobedient. How- ever, Adam was persuaded because of his selfishness and inclination to be independent from God. Adam's objective was to achieve perfection and happiness by himself, not to advance through the Grace of God. Arrogance, disobedience, selfishness and independence changed Adam's intentions away from reaching perfection and happiness in a state of innocence and blessings with the assistance of divine Grace. Therefore, the sin of Adam weakened his will and he became a captive of his own weakness and the temptor. Adam's sin was a mortal one which penetrated his existence, and that of generations henceforth. The transmission of this mortal sin of Adam to all generations is the fundamental revealed teaching of Scripture.

Scriptural Witness to Man’s Weakness

Scripture states "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually", Gen. 6:5. "For the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth", Gen. 8:21, and "for no man living is righteous before thee", Ps. 143:2 (LXX, 142:2), and again, "Your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness", Isa. 59:3 (cf. Prov. 20:9; Eccles. 7:21) ; "The scripture consigned all things to sin", Gal. 3:22. Mankind is under the power of sin, for "none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God…there is no fear of God before their eyes", Rom. 3:10-11,18. As for the direct transmission of sin to the generations of mankind: "For who shall be pure from uncleanness? Not even one; if even his life should be but one day upon the earth", Job 14:4 LXX, and "in sin did my mother conceive me", Ps. 51:5 (LXX, 50:5). Jesus answered the question how can a man be born, anew, by saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God”, Jn. 3:5-6. “We all once lived in the passions of the flesh, following the desires of body and mind”, Eph. 2:3.


"But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins", Matthew 9:6.

Many passages of Scripture teach that the sin of Adam was bequeathed to man and that man is aware of it and constantly asks for forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins is beyond human power; it is only God's Will that forgives. The negative view of forgiveness is inadequate. Forgiveness should lead to the Kingdom of God through rebirth granted only by Jesus Christ. The corruption of human integrity by sin is a teaching of Scripture. Apostle Paul said, "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 classic passage presents Adam as the perpetrator of the sinfulness of human nature and refers to the personal sins of man, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous", Rom. 5:19. The Church, regarding the sinfulness of man's nature as a result of Adam's sin, decreed that "whoso affirms that those newly-born and baptized contract nothing from Adam's transgressions, which needs to be washed away by baptism, is to be execrated, for through one both death and sin invaded the whole world" (Epitome of Sacred Canons, Synod of Carthage, Canon 121 ) .


Ancestral Sin is not an imaginary one created by human elements. Ancestral Sin is real in man's nature, and not only inherited from previous generations. It is a personal experience in the life of every individual, for man's own iniquities are woven with the original sin of Adam. This sin is apparent in man's tendency to violate God's laws. The heart of sin is the removal of sinful man from God's Will and Grace. It is a violation of the laws of God. Ancestral Sin is the perverted nature in sinful man which causes him to turn to himself and away from God. The fall of Adam is in reality his expulsion from the sight of God and His Grace. Adam was created with the power of free will and free choice, and this set the stage for his sinful action. This free will remains as the challenging force in man even after Adam's fall. The excellences and qualities of Adam as he was created were diminished and became blurred after his fall; still, man retained a spark to distinguish between good and evil. Scripture was revealed and written for the salvation of him who seeks spiritual betterment. For the sinful man who turns to God for salvation, Scripture and the Grace of God help him to recognize and accept with repentance and obedience his salvation by Christ.


"And the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden,” Genesis 3:8b.

As a result of man's "fall", the feeling of guilt engulfed his being. This feeling of guilt created in "fallen" man the desire to prepare within himself the basis for the acceptance of God's Grace. The feeling of guilt verifies that man did not lose all his divine gifts, for he retained the spark to seek "perfection" in discerning between good and evil. The desire of "fallen" man to cultivate the "good soil" is the result of this guilt feeling, which is expressed in obedience and humbleness as he dedicates his whole being to seeking repentance, as recorded in the Parable of the Sower (cf. Lk. 8:4-15). The feeling of guilt is a gift in leading one to acceptance of Christ's Gospel of salvation, as pain is a gift for the protection of one's health. The feeling of guilt is witnessed in the conscience of man, which is a reflection of his weaknesses. This burden of guilt, which is the weakness continuously reflected in the human race, created the need for man's atonement. This need of atonement to re-establish man's communion with God still is the great need of man, who alienated himself from God. Men "were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works'', Col. 1:21, KJV, and man became "alienated from the life of God", Eph. 4:18, KJV, without any hope until the coming of the Messiah by Whom "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son", Rom. 5:10. Therefore, wherever sin is recognized, the feeling of guilt is apparent and projects the desire for repentance with humbleness and obedience for man's redemption.


“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", Romans 5:18.

Ancestral Sin has its consequences in penances and satisfactions. The punishment of this original sin is death as revealed in Scripture. "For the wages of sin is death", Rom. 6:23. There are various degrees of death: spiritual death severing the bond between God and man; everlasting death, the everlasting separation between God and man, "For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation", Rom. 5: 16b; physical death of the separation between the soul and body, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die", Gen. 2:17b. These three degrees of death are the consequences of man's sin. Death is a severe punishment of sin, which could portray God as being without mercy. However, God foresaw the fall of Adam and its consequences, death, and provided the means of salvation for the human race from the very beginning and for all time. Death is a severe punishment equal to the great sin of Adam in Paradise. Therefore, for the salvation of man God had His Son become Incarnate and undergo humiliation, saving sinners and making them heirs of the Kingdom of God. This salvation in the name of Christ was the highest reconciliatory act of God, which is greater than what Adam in Paradise could have achieved in God's promise of "in our (God's) likeness". In this reconciliatory act in Christ, everlasting death is conquered and overthrown, for "Death is swallowed up in victory, 'O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ", 1 Cor. 15:54b-57.

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