Friday, December 11, 2015

Sin according to the Orthodox Church

Sin seems to have been a popular theme in many religious discussions, not only today, but since the beginning of religion. Christianity gives an interesting understanding of sin. Additionally, there is no one definition of sin. The Orthodox world understands it differently to the West. The East in general understands theology using medical terms, whilst the West prefers legal terminology. Many Church fathers examine this important and popular theme in order to teach the faithful of what sin is, how we can stay away from it and what it truly means for our salvation, theosis. Christos Yannaras, in his book The Freedom of Morality gives a great exegesis of what sin is, from an Orthodox point of view, trying to explain that sin is ‘the failure to become oneself.’ (p. 11).  


‘The falling away is sin, αμαρτία, which means missing the mark as to existential truth and authenticity. The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and “missing the mark”. . .
The church fathers refuse to view sin hypostatically, as a hyspostasis of life different from the only form of existence that gives substance to life, the divine personal goodness. Sin is not a nature, an evil nature which exists hypostatically as the opposite pole to the divine existence and life of love. There is nothing in God’s creation which is hypostatically and naturally evil, not even the devil himself. Sin is failure, a failure as to existence and life: it is the failure of persons to realize their existential “end,” to confirm and conserve the uniqueness of their hypostasis through love. . .
. . . Sin is a mode of existence contrary to existence and contrary to nature since it fragments and destroys nature; it means separation from being exclusion from life. Starting from such a concrete and existential concept of sin, the Orthodox tradition has refused to confine the whole of man’s relationship with God within a juridical, legal framework; it has refused to see sin as the individual transgression of a given, impersonal code of behaviour which simply produces psychological guilt. The God of the Church as known ad proclaimed by Orthodox experience and tradition has never had anything to do with the God of the Roman juridical tradition, the God of Anselm and Abelard; He has never been thought of as a vengeful God who rules by fear, meting out punishments and torment for men.
God is not the “judge” of men in the sense of a magistrate who passes sentence and imposes a punishment, testifying to the transgression. He is judge because of what He is: the possibility of life and true existence. When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically “judged.” It is not God’s sentence but His existence that judges him. God is nothing but an ontological fact of love and an outpouring of love: a fullness of good, an ecstasy of loving goodness. . . (pp. 33-36).

Sin is the measure of our awareness of separation from God, of separation from life – it is the measure of our conscious recognition of death. And it is only through conscious experience of death that man can approach the revelation of life, the possibility of rising with Christ. Thus sin becomes a starting-point for repentance, μετάνοια . . .’ (p. 40). 

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