Do the Eastern Orthodox maintain belief in the notion of original sin?
I am pinging TheReader to this, as he is so learned.
I have a notion that original sin comes from the teachings of St Augustine, and is not in the Eastern Church. They believe baptism is entry into the community of faith, rather than a washing away of original sin. At least, that is what I have heard.
The Eastern Orthodox practice a Mass that holds much in common with how it was practiced in the 5th century, including the Creed from that time. The separation between Eastern and Western parts of the Church were more due to politics than doctrine, i.e. where the legitimate seat of the Church should be, since at the time of the Great Schism the active heart of the Empire was in Constantinople and Rome was in decline. That is why it is called a schism, not a heresy.
Also, the Eastern Orthodox practice all the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Communion) all at once. In the West, bishops wanted to keep control of Confirmation, and they could not get around fast enough to keep up with the demand for Baptisms, so they allowed priests to Baptize and waited for the bishop to do his annual tour for Confirmation. In the seminary, I was taught that because of this history, Confirmation is a sacrament without a clear theology. That is also why bishops in different dioceses hold Confirmation at different ages today in the U.S.
The Orthodox Church does NOT teach the doctrine of Original Sin in the Augustinian sense.
We do not believe that Adam’s guilt is inherited by his descendents. Death is inherited but not guilt.
This is why we do not hold to the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God. That teaching is not meaningful without inherited guilt.
The Orthodox doctrine of the Fall is usually referred to as Ancestral Sin, rather than Original Sin.
The main difference between the Orthodox teaching and the views of Blessed Augustine of Hippo on the matter is that Augustine regarded all of humanity as sharing in the guilt of Adam’s transgression, while the Orthodox hold that we are guilty only of the sins we, ourselves, commit. Augustine based his view on his notion of the origin of the soul: traductionism, the idea that one’s soul is a fragment of one’s parents’ (father’s) soul, and thus all human souls are part of Adam’s soul. This view of the origin of the soul is actually repudiated by both the Orthodox and the Latins, in favor of creationism, the understanding that each human soul is a new creation. But, for reasons mysterious to me, the Latins (and to a far greater extent most protestants) accepted Augustine’s understanding of what happened in the Fall, albeit (in the case of the Latins and often among protestants, not all of whom are traductionists) without the mechanism Augustine proposed.
Ancestral Sin — the sin of our ancestor — propagates its baleful effects not by inheritance of guilt, but by the inheritance of disordered passions, which create in all of us since Adam a propensity to sin, in the fact that we, unlike Adam at his creation, are not natively clothed with the Holy Spirit (referred to in this context in Orthodox hymnography as ‘the First Robe’ — according to the Fathers it is the loss of the Uncreated Light that made Adam and Eve suddenly perceive themselves as naked), and in the state of the world filled with sins as temptations.
Baptism is understood as, indeed, cleansing us from sin (see, for example the exhortations to catechumens in the Catechetical Homlies of St. Cyril of Jerusalem), but chiefly as uniting us to the Death and Resurrection of Christ as members of His Mystical Body. A great deal of Orthodox baptismal hymnography speaks of “being buried with Christ through Baptism” — the normative use of immersion being connected with the imagery of burial. (”Entry into the community of faith” might be the way a secular sociologist with no conception, Eastern or Western, of the nature of the Church might term being made members of Christ’s Mystical Body, but it’s a denatured description which fails to do justice to the Orthodox understanding.)
Of course, Baptism is not the end of the “Rite of Initiation” — it is normative for the baptized to immediately receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit through anointing with the Holy Chrism (oil upon which the Holy Spirit has descended in a rite performed by the chief hierarch of the local church), the one exception being emergency baptisms, whether performed by a priest on short notice so that he lacks chrism or by a layman, deacon or someone in minor orders. (The form of the rite of Chrismation is that of an ordination, so that some commentators refer to it as “the ordination of the laity” — this being connected with the understanding of all members of the Church as part of the Royal Priesthood. Something goes amiss in the transition from Greek to English here: the English word “priest” is derived from the Greek presbyteros = elder, but also gets used as equivalent to the Greek hiereus, which is the word in the phrase translated as “Royal Priesthood”. Every Orthodox Christian is an hiereus of Christ, but only those who have “the grace of the priesthood” as we say in English are presbyteroi.)
I mention this although it is not strictly in line with your query, chiefly because of your sociologists’ phrase (to give a complete view of what the secular would call “entry into the community of faith” in the Orthodox context), but also because Chrismation, along with Baptism is part of our restoration not only to what Adam was before the fall, but to what he was intended to become — “What Christ is by nature, we are to become by grace” — without the Gift of the Holy Spirit (given to Adam when God breathed into him and he became a living soul) we aren’t restored (even though, being Baptized we have something Adam didn’t: union with Christ in his Burial and Resurrection.)