Posted June 15, 2023 by at United States » California in Theology



We need to first make a distinction between personal sins and the sin of Adam and Eve. God created all things good. He gave human beings freedom because, as I said before, without freedom there is no authentic love. Because of his love, God created mankind with free will to both choose to love God or reject Him. God didn’t make it hard for Adam to love him. He provided all things he needed, all the delights of Paradise and being in the presence of God and enjoying life with him. It was the Devil’s envy and powerful temptation which deceived Adam and Eve. Since they broke the trust, communion and relationship they had with God and listened to the Devil instead, they brought judgment onto themselves. And they themselves felt this estrangement from God in their minds and hearts even before they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. They saw themselves naked and were afraid. So the very act of rejecting God’s commandment, questioning his love for them and believing the lie of the devil caused something in the natural order and creation to break. The love and harmony and trust between God and Man was broken and this had a ripple effect on everything else in creation. The animals now were afraid of Adam because they saw the disobedience in him. The Church Fathers say that Adam and Eve were expelled from God’s presence in order that they might die. This act of expelling them was an act of mercy. Because if God allowed them to remain in his presence, they would have remained in a state of disobedience forever. Therefore, he removed them from his presence in order that they might die and not live in sin and disobedience forever.

The Orthodox belief is that human beings DID NOT inherit this guilt and sin of Adam. Instead, we inherit its consequence. The consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve was the darkeneing and distortion of the emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical faculties of the human person. All these became darkened, weakened and broken. The healthy and natural energies that we were created with also became distorted into debased passions such as pride, lust, anger, fear, envy, etc. Of course, our bodies also began to deteriorate and eventually die.

How are we saved from sin?

Some may say that “sinners can’t help but sin.” To some extent this is correct. We are born with a propensity towards sin because of the weakness of our fallen flesh. So while we’re already down, the devil comes and kicks us even more with his temptations. We are born completely hopeless, in a dying body, that is full of the passions which lead us to sin. Then, however, Christ comes along. And this is where the biggest difference lies between the Protestant heresy and the Orthodox truth:

Christ is the new Adam. When we are baptized, we are crucified and die with Christ in the water. When we come out of the water, we are resurrected with Him. Baptism joins us to Christ’s body in a real and physical and spiritual way. Our old nature, the old IMAGE that we were born with dies in the water and is now restored into the new IMAGE of GOD which is Christ. We are now given the potential to grow more and more into the LIKENESS of God through Christ. Thereby, through baptism, the image and likeness of mankind’s original beauty is reclaimed. The life of the Orthodox Christian after baptism is one of constantly preserving and increasing the grace that was received in that cleansing of the baptismal waters and growing in sanctification, day by day, through our efforts of living a life of purity, prayer and worship, and good works and the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives which continually visits us with grace and forgiveness (received through the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion).

We were born with this propensity to sin, the weakness of the flesh, but through Christ, Orthodox Christians are given the power to become fully human, to not be a slave to the flesh, to have self-control and power over our weakness, to excel and become holy, to repel the demons and live out our identity as sons and daughters of God.

The Protestant baptism, unfortunately, is not understood in this way but is seen simply as a devotional act which is void of any transformative power. This incorrect belief was a critical departure from the teaching and practice of the Church for 1500 years before Martin Luther and a tragic mistake of the Reformers after him.

The heart of the matter comes down to our free will. Our bodies don’t make it easy and we have to deal with the constant temptations of the demons. However, here is where the Orthodox understanding of God’s love is also important:

Sin is not something God wants to punish us for but heal us from. We view sin as an illness of the soul that needs to be treated and healed and not something to be condemned to hell for. Do you see the difference in focus and approach? Christ comes to heal our souls and bodies by joining us to his own, perfect body. The Greek word for sin is amartyia which means “missing the mark.” The mark is Christ. When we sin, we fall short of being like Christ to whom we were joined at baptism. So when an Orthodox Christian sins, he or she immediately asks for forgiveness from God by saying “Lord, have mercy.” So what then is mercy? When we ask for mercy, it’s not understood as me being a cursed, no-good, sinner who is deserving of hell and I’m groveling and pleading with God to please not punish me. No! The word “mercy” in both Greek and Aramaic signifies love and healing. In Greek “eleison” has in its root the same word for oil and oil was used for healing in the ancient world. In Aramaic, the word mercy is “rakhem” which literally means love. So when we say, “Lord have mercy” it means, Lord heal me, help me, love me.

This is why the role of the Church is so important. The Church is the hospital where we come to be healed by Christ. He accepts us no matter who or what we have done. All he wants is for us to come to the Father with humility and love. But this requires us to learn more about what we mean by “Church.”

Any sin that we commit freely and with full knowledge and consent, we are responsible for. Yet God isn’t eager to destroy us for it. Rather, he wants to heal our body and soul from the consequences of that sin. Because everything we do in the body leaves a stain on our souls. And our souls are eternal. Further, the Orthodox teaching is that sins can actually cause physical illnesses. Whatever we do in the body in this life, we will take with us for eternity. If we live only to satisfy the lusts of the body, the soul becomes weak and sick in this life and we enter the next life in this way. But when we orient ourselves to living holy and pure lives, striving to be more and more like Christ, then we prepare our souls to be able to stand once again in the presence of the Almighty God on the day we die. The Orthodox focus is on freedom. Being freed from the passions, freed from the power of the flesh, freed from the power of the demons. Because we were created free and were meant to enjoy freedom and not be slaves to the devil through sinning in the body.

This brings me to the Orthodox understanding of Hell. We do not conceive of it as a place but a condition, a state of being. God is in all places. There is no where that God isn’t, otherwise, he wouldn’t be God. Hell is what a sinful soul feels when it stands in the presence of God. It cannot bear his holiness, light, and purity. It feels his light as a burning fire instead of a warm embrace. Such a person didn’t allow God’s grace to touch the soul during his/her life. Therefore the soul cannot be recognized by God and vice versa. “Then I will tell them plainly, depart from me, I do not know you” (Matthew 7:23).

Are we deserving of Hell?

We are not deserving of hell as soon as we sin. We are not deserving of hell period. The Devil is deserving of hell. Note how Christ says,” depart from me you cursed to the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41). But we either live a life where we join ourselves to the demons and their will or to Christ. We are given that freedom to choose life or choose death. In the Orthodox understanding, Christ came primarily to save us from the power of death and the devil. The fact that he was the lamb that atoned for our sin is true. But the Orthodox focus is on our new life and power in Christ and the joy of the resurrection. It comes down to emphasis and focus. The Catholic/Protestant focus is very much on guilt and atonement for sin and a fear of death and hell, something that developed in the middle-ages. The original, Orthodox focus is on life, healing, love and forgiveness of God which transforms us through our efforts and the grace of God.

Being saved has therefore always been understood differently that the protestant teaching. I was saved on the cross. I am being saved through my efforts and the grace of God, and, I will be saved when Christ comes again. Salvation is not a one time, emotionally-driven event of mental assent when I accept Jesus Christ as my savior. Salvation is a process of becoming fully human through a synergy of the grace of God and my efforts at living and being Christ-like.

What about how God is depicted in the OT?

Regarding the harsh passages of the OT, it seems there is a hyper-focus on the OT scriptures in the Protestant practice. This is understandable because most evangelical protestant groups have rejected the “One Church”, the priesthood, the sacraments and have reduced Christianity to a moral code that’s enforced through the fear of hell. We are dealing with a completely different approach to the scriptures to begin with and therefore a different approach to interpretation of the scriptures. We read the scriptures through the lens of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection and the salvation he freely offers. We base our understanding of who God is, his “personality” so to speak, on how he revealed himself in the person of Christ. And here we see a loving, gentle, compassionate and humble God. But centuries before God revealed himself totally in the person of Christ, the Israelites experienced him differently. He was merciful and loving and provided for them, but they continually disobeyed him and brought upon themselves the consequences of turning away from God, just like Adam. Since again God doesn’t force himself on anyone, he couldn’t force them to love and obey him. We see in the Israelites a microcosm of humanity. It is one of disobedience and suffering. This is our lot and it’s precisely what God wants to save us from. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37). Whatever harshness God permitted or commanded in the OT was because mankind was so fallen and distorted by sin it could only understand and be corrected through brute force and violence at times. Hence the story of the Noah and the flood.

God is not cruel. Mankind chooses to not live according to his commandments and then suffers the consequences. The world is full of pain and confusion because people listen to the demons instead of God. At times in the OT, God had to intervene in harsh ways in order that his plan of salvation through Christ could proceed.

Added June 15, 2023
Like (1)