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Author Topic: Orthodox Sin and Soteriology  (Read 1591 times) Average Rating: 0
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« on: March 31, 2011, 08:55:25 AM »

I have been listening to a lot of Matthew Gallatin on Ancient Faith Radio, especially his talks on Sola Scriptura and Western Philosophy, and I have some questions about how much he represents Orthodoxy or just some sections thereof.

He has greatly emphasized the disease aspect of sin and how Christ's death and resurrection are therapeutic and healing.  He has also emphasized Ransom Theology, whereby Christ's death pays the ransom we owed to death itself, while His resurrection also destroys death (very much akin to St. Athanasius).  I have greatly enjoyed his podcast

However, he has not mentioned forgiveness at all, and I am curious how forgiveness fits into Orthodox thought and theology.  I believe that he has intentionally not mentioned forgiveness, since this - at least in my understanding - fits more in line with a legal understanding of sin and salvation, and he has argued at length against the West's overemphasis of the legal and penal aspects of sin. 

So my basic questions are these: does Orthodoxy see a need for forgiveness of sin, and if so, how does that work along the ransom paid to death?  Do we have a legal relationship with God, whereby our sins violate justice and deserve punishment?  How does Christ's death and resurrection fit into the forgiveness of sin in the Orthodox understanding?

I have other questions that might come up during this discussion, but I think these are sufficient for now.

Thank you very much in advance for taking the time to help me with this.  Let me know if you need any clarifications or background info.

May the God of peace be with you all,

BJ
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"It is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power." - St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 5:29.
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« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2011, 09:54:29 AM »

So my basic questions are these: does Orthodoxy see a need for forgiveness of sin, and if so, how does that work along the ransom paid to death?  Do we have a legal relationship with God, whereby our sins violate justice and deserve punishment?  How does Christ's death and resurrection fit into the forgiveness of sin in the Orthodox understanding?

These are all major themes of the services of Holy Week. Basically, the best place to find answers to these questions is in the liturgical services (especially Holy Week, the feasts of the Cross, the anaphora of St Basil, and pre-communion prayers).

Methodologically, the big challenge is that early Christian theology (and modern-day Orthodox theology) is almost entirely liturgical and kerygmatic. Theological reflection is one large, diffuse exegetical conversation, centered on Scripture and experienced in liturgy and ascetical practice, without any impulse toward systematization.

The Orthodox emphasis falls on physical theories of atonement (and sees atonement as something that cleanses the Church and the entire creation, not just individual believers). On an individual level, however, this is experienced as the personal forgiveness of sins in Baptism and in the Eucharist.
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« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2011, 10:32:15 AM »

I'm sure others will have better and deeper things to say than I, but I'm under the impression that it's both. Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension are, first and foremost, a mystery. And as such, any language or metaphor we use will always be like seeing through a glass darkly. The Scriptures utilize both ways of speaking (and even more). Our sins are definitely "offenses" and it doesn't get much plainer than, "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 13:38). But the Scriptures also speak of it as turning from "darkness to light," from "death to life," from "Satan to God," etc., and all of these things are true as well.

I think one aspect of Orthodoxy's emphasis on the sickness/health aspect, is because it's much more human and immediate and relatable than a divine courtroom scenario, you know? We've all been sick, we all know what that feels like, we've all known people who've been destroyed by illness, and we all know the relief that comes from medicine and other remedies. And this understanding really can affect how you understand God and relate to Him. Do we feel closer to, and more loved by, a Physician that places his gentle hands on us with the balm of healing, or to a High Court Judge, staring down at us from his Judgement Seat, gavel in-hand?

The Physician scenario seems to jive more with the Christ we meet in the Gospels, too, and from the beginning, sin was always understood as that which brought about death, physically, literally, and not that which brought about guilt, somewhere "out there" or "up there" in the Court of Heaven.

I think, too, that this understanding makes the most sense when you consider what really happened when Christ assumed human flesh, lived a human life, "became sin for us" by absorbing the totality of the human condition and our estrangement from God, and took that to the grave to kill it forever. In our Baptism we are joined to Christ, we die with Him, we enter the grave with Him and we are raised to new life with Him. In light of this reality, it's interesting to note how St. Paul (from whom we get most of our "juridical" language) describes the nature of sin in our life and how it affects us. He says,

"For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This is not a courtroom scene, even though that declaration of "not guilty" is part of the picture. St. Paul says that, in light of what has occurred in reality, and what we have entered into sacramentally through our Baptism, we should not let sin reign in our bodies and we should not present our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness, not because we don't want to offend God again (although that is certainly part of it) but mainly because sin leads to death in a very real and concrete way; literally and physically and spiritually. Just like a disease.

We must fight sin, not because we don't want to become "guilty" again, but primarily because sin is a very real sickness that leads to very real death. In the courtroom scenario, our declaration is simply that, a declaration. It has no real bearing on the life that we live, because we still battle the disease of sin every day. We can, even after having been declared "not guilty" still become slaves to sin which is why, as St. Paul admonishes us, we need to not let it reign in our bodies, obeying its "lusts" (or "passions" as Orthodox often call them). Understanding sin as a sickness in need of medicine places it in the sphere of something that we can relate to, and even overcome, by participating in the grace of God through the mysteries of the Church. It's no wonder then, that since earliest times, the Eucharist has been called the "medicine of immortality."

This is probably one of the main reasons why Orthodoxy does not hold to the "once saved, always saved" doctrine so prevalent amongst many Protestants and Evangelicals today. When you view sin and salvation only as offenses and juridical declarations, of course it's easy to believe that once you've been declared "not guilty," that's all there is to it. But when you see sin as the very real disease that it is, and something that doesn't just disappear after our Baptism, you see it as something you're going to have to battle for your entire life.

Yes, our sins have been forgiven and we have been declared "not guilty" but we still have the power to infect ourselves and "present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin" bringing that deadly disease back into our bodies. And that can, obviously, still kill us and why can die, separated from God because we chose death over life.

Things are really hanging in the balance, and we have very real choices to make, choices that are literally life or death. And I personally don't see how the gravity of that reality can adequately be communicated to people when we only speak of sin in terms of offenses and declarations and statuses, even though it can be helpful to understand it that way and the Scriptures use that type of language.

This is the beauty of Orthodoxy, in that it paints the whole picture and places before us the truest and deepest understanding of reality.
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« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2011, 09:11:42 PM »

A few Orthodox prayers:

"I believe O Lord, and I confess, that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. And I believe that this is truly Thine own precious Body and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance.  And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Thine immaculate Mysteries unto remission of my sins and unto life everlasting. Amen."

"Lord our God, good and merciful, I acknowledge all my sins which I have committed every day of my life, in thought, word and deed; in body and soul alike. I am heartily sorry that I have ever offended thee, and I sincerely repent; with tears I humbly pray thee, O Lord: of thy mercy forgive me all my past transgressions and absolve me from them. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy Grace, to amend my way of life and to sin no more; that I may walk in the way of the righteous and offer praise and glory to the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "

"O Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, Physician of souls and bodies, who didst become man and suffer death on the Cross for our salvation, and through thy tender love and compassion didst heal all manner of sickness and affliction; do thou O Lord, visit me in my suffering, and grant me grace and strength to bear this sickness with which I am afflicted, with Christian patience and submission to thy will, trusting in thy loving kindness and tender mercy. Bless, I pray thee, the means used for my recovery, and those who administer them. I know O Lord, that I justly deserve any punishment thou mayest inflict upon me for have so often offended thee and sinned against thee, in thought, word and deed. Therefore, I humbly pray thee, look upon my weakness, and deal not with me alter my sins, but according to the multitude of thy mercies. Have compassion on me, and let mercy and justice meet; and deliver me from this sickness and suffering I am undergoing. Grant that my sickness may be the means of my true repentance and amendment of my life according to thy will, that I may spend the rest of my days in thy love and fear: that my soul, being helped by thy grace and sanctified by thy Holy Mysteries, may be prepared for its passage to the Eternal Life, and there, in the company of thy blessed Saints, may praise and glorify thee with thy Eternal Father and Life-giving Spirit. Amen. "

"O Angel of Christ, holy guardian and protector of my soul and body, forgive me everything wherein I have offended thee every day of my life, and protect me from all influence and temptation of the evil one. May I never-more anger God by any sin. Pray for me to the Lord, that He may make me worthy of the grace of the All-holy Trinity, and of the Most Blessed Theotokos, and of all the Saints. Amen."

Short answer, then, is "yes."

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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2011, 01:02:20 PM »

From participating in the sacrament of Repentance (confession and forgiveness of sins) to living with people who offend/are offended daily (and needing to ask forgiveness) to the prayers (as mentioned above) to Forgiveness Vespers at the beginning of Lent (where we ask for and give forgiveness to everyone in our parish, one by one), and more .... I have been so thankful and glad for how much forgiveness is part of the practice of the Orthodox faith.
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« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2011, 09:03:41 AM »

Dear all,

Thank you very much for your enlightening and quick responses.  I really appreciate them.  Sleeper, yours in particular was quite enlightening and beautifully written.  From what you said, it appears that Orthodoxy holds both the sickness view of sin and the juridical view, but emphasizes the former.  Is this correct?  Another thread has since popped up on Sin and Calvinism (which is the tradition in which I grew up), and I hope that some insight from there will help me, as well.

David, thanks for the prayer examples.  This seems to go hand-in-hand with Pensateomnia's discussion of liturgies.  I would like to read more about the liturgies.  Are they available online, or is there a book that you would recommend on liturgies or sin doctrines? 

I've read a bit about Orthodoxy (Ware, Michael Pomazansky, a bunch of online resources, etc.), but I still have questions.  Orthodoxy intrigues me, but the understandings of sin and justice are very, very foreign to me.  Any resources you can recommend would be much appreciated.  I prefer things written on a more technical/academic level rather than popular/apologetic level, but I'll look at whatever you recommend.

Perhaps as a follow up to my original questions, how does Orthodoxy tend to understand God's justice and wrath?  Did Jesus suffer our punishment for sin? 

Thanks again for the help.  It has been good for me to read these responses, if for no other reason than making me want to read more.

May God bless you always,

BJ
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« Reply #6 on: April 04, 2011, 10:27:13 AM »

David, thanks for the prayer examples.  This seems to go hand-in-hand with Pensateomnia's discussion of liturgies.  I would like to read more about the liturgies.  Are they available online, or is there a book that you would recommend on liturgies or sin doctrines?

Here is a page that has the Liturgy online:

http://www.orthodox.net/services/sluzebnic-chrysostom.pdf

I've not read it but I hear Schmemann's "Liturgy and Life" is good.  I have "Let us Attend" by Lawrence Farley, and it is also good.  You could also buy a service book.  I got the Antiochian Service Book from Conciliar Press for around $15, as I recall.

Honestly, though, you won't really "get it" by reading.  You have to attend a Divine Liturgy.  I know that might sound like a "let us get our hooks into you and we'll reel you in" statement, and I know I heard it that way when I was Lutheran and not interested in converting.  But it's just the truth.  I read and listened to podcasts frequently before we looked at converting.  I heard on Issues, Etc. how the East is supposedly following after Pelagius and how it's all "mysticism" and there is no real emphasis on sin, the cross or forgiveness.

Then I attended a Liturgy, and I realized that the people who produced that particular series of shows and wrote the various blog posts, etc., either 1) had never been to an Orthodox Liturgy, or 2) were lying.  I opted to believe no. 1 out of charity.

The Orthodox Liturgy leaves no doubt that we are all poor, miserable sinners in need of forgiveness, life and salvation.  No doubt at all.  

Quote
I've read a bit about Orthodoxy (Ware, Michael Pomazansky, a bunch of online resources, etc.), but I still have questions.  Orthodoxy intrigues me, but the understandings of sin and justice are very, very foreign to me.  Any resources you can recommend would be much appreciated.  I prefer things written on a more technical/academic level rather than popular/apologetic level, but I'll look at whatever you recommend.

I always recommend this book, but Father Anthony Coniaris' "Introducing the Orthodox Church: Its Faith and Life" is extremely good.  Bishop Kallistos' "How Are We Saved?: The Understanding of Salvation in the Orthodox Tradition" is also quite good, and a very easy read.

Quote
Perhaps as a follow up to my original questions, how does Orthodoxy tend to understand God's justice and wrath?  Did Jesus suffer our punishment for sin?  

Here are a few blog posts I would recommend on that topic:

http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/2011/01/wrath-of-god-reprint-i.html

http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/2011/01/gods-love-and-gods-wrath-reprint-ii.html

http://paredwka.blogspot.com/2010/07/wrath-and-justification.html

http://paredwka.blogspot.com/2010/07/wrath-of-god-continued.html

http://paredwka.blogspot.com/2010/07/vicarious-yes-satisfaction-huh.html
« Last Edit: April 04, 2011, 10:28:47 AM by David Garner » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: April 04, 2011, 10:38:11 AM »

Regarding Liturgy, for more historical accounts (though not directly discussing sin/etc.) there is always...

On the Divine Liturgy, by St. Germanus of Constantinople (8th century)
A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, by St. Nicholas Cabasilas (14th century)

I would also note that the books on salvation mentioned, those by Met. Kallistos (Ware) and Fr. Anthony (Coniaris), are written on a popular level. That's not to say they are bad... just not exactly technical/academic in tone or content. I don't mean to be contradicting David's recommendations, just clarifying.

EDIT--just wanted to add that there is a review of the book by Fr. Lawrence (Farley) here.
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« Reply #8 on: April 04, 2011, 12:37:25 PM »

Did Jesus suffer our punishment for sin?  
That all depends on how you define "sin" and "punishment".

if sin is separation from God and human corruption, then yes.

If sin is an externally-imputed label tacked on to us by God when we're bad, which has nothing to do with our ontological nature, then no.

If by "punishment" we mean the ontological consequences of sin, then yes.

If by "punishment" we mean a legally-imposed punishment required in response to an externally-imputed label, then no.
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« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2011, 09:04:27 AM »

Thanks again everyone for the links and book suggestions.  Unfortunately, my campus library doesn't have any of these, so I'll have to turn to Amazon.  Bummer, I'll have to own more books!   Grin

Nicholas, you made me chuckle actually, as I was just about to ask the questions you pose.  I think a lot of my questions would be at least partially resolved if I had a better understanding of the Orthodox doctrine of sin.  Would you - or anyone else - mind expanding on that a bit?  What do you mean by corruption?  Does God punish people (in the legal sense) for their sins? 

Thanks again! 

BJ
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« Reply #10 on: April 07, 2011, 09:57:12 AM »

I think a lot of my questions would be at least partially resolved if I had a better understanding of the Orthodox doctrine of sin.  Would you - or anyone else - mind expanding on that a bit?  What do you mean by corruption?  Does God punish people (in the legal sense) for their sins? 

Thanks again! 

BJ

It helps me to look at it as a parent (since God is our Father and that's how our Lord taught us to think of Him).  Do I punish my kids for misbehaving?  Absolutely.  Do I punish them by throwing them in a prison to be tormented for the rest of their lives?  No.  This type of punishment always has an aim -- repentance, growth as a person and better behavior.  It is never vengeful or trying to exact "justice" from my kids.  So sure, God "punishes" us for our sins, but this "punishment" that occurs in a temporal sense should be seen more as chastisement.

Now, are we also "punished" in an eternal sense for our sins?  We can be, but as Nicholas said, this is not a legalistic punishment to avenge cosmic injustice, and while it is "of God," it is not really God IMPOSING "punishment."  Rather, it is an ontological reality that occurs from our separation from God in the fall.  As an example, if I touch a hot stove, I might permanently disfigure and disable my hand.  Does that mean I was punished?  In a sense, sure.  I certainly will bear the marks of my error for the rest of my life.  Does it mean whoever lit the stove "punished" me?  By no means.  If we're thinking of God saving us from something, we should primarily be viewing that "something" as existential (relating to our existence) rather than legal (relating to our status before God in a declaratory or judgmental sense).
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« Reply #11 on: April 07, 2011, 11:48:27 AM »

What do you mean by corruption? 

St. Athanasius wrote:

"You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-Holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out his lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: 'I came to seek and to save that which was lost."

Corruption, in my personal paraphrasing of the concept, is damage to the Image and Likeness of God in Man. In the Book of Genesis, Adam's sons are not made in the likeness of God, but in the likeness of fallen Adam, for example. As we can see from the Tanakh stories, this corruption began with the Fall and kept getting worse as man continued to damage that Image and Likeness (murder of Abel, all those people the Flood had to end up removing, etc.) It seems to have gotten so bad that man lost his ability to turn back toward that image and likeness, having so defaced and obscured it.

I believe it was St. Irenaeus of Lyons who posited that the physical terminus of life (biological death) was introduced by God as a merciful limit to Man's ability to fall deeper into infinitely worse states of corruption. This theory of his illustrates a key concept: Death is not merely the end of a human's biological existence. Death is a state of corruption and apostasy that is far, far worse, and renders one far more "Dead", than even non-existence would. Those in Sheol/Hades were not non-existent, but they were certainly quite Dead, for example.
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« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2011, 03:20:32 PM »

Perhaps as a follow up to my original questions, how does Orthodoxy tend to understand God's justice and wrath?  Did Jesus suffer our punishment for sin? 

Stupid Scholar, its funny you bring this up. I was just discussing this with a Protestant relative. I can't recommend enough that you read the following article by Fr. Patrick Reardon:

Expatiation: Is the Sacrifice of Christ part of God's "Divine Wrath"?
http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/ReardonExpatiation.php

Re. the use of "propitiation" in Romans, Fr. Patrick says the following:

Quote
"Understood in this way, Paul is presumed to teach that Jesus, in His self-sacrifice on the Cross, placated God's wrath against sinful humanity. That is to say, the purpose of the shedding of Christ's blood was to propitiate, to assuage an angry Father.

Let me say that this interpretation of the Apostle Paul is very erroneous and should be rejected for three reasons.

First, this picture is difficult to reconcile with Paul's conviction that God Himself is the One who made the sacrifice. How easily we forget that the Cross did cost God something. He is the One that gave up His only-begotten Son out of love for us. It was Jesus' Father "who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). Sacrificial victims are expensive, and in this sacrifice the Father Himself bore the price. He gave up, unto death, that which was dearest and most precious to Him. In the death of Jesus, everything about God is love, more love, infinite love. There is not the faintest trace of divine anger in the death of Christ.

Second, in those places where Holy Scripture does speak of propitiating the anger of God, this propitiation is never linked to blood sacrifice. When biblical men are said to soften the divine wrath, it is done with prayer, as in the case of Moses on Mount Sinai, or by the offering of incense, which symbolizes prayer. Because blood sacrifice and the wrath of God are two things the Bible never joins together, I submit that authentic Christian theology should also endeavor to keep them apart.

Moreover, when the Apostle Paul does write of God's anger, it is never in terms of appeasement but of deliverance. At the final judgment, when that divine anger, far from being placated, will consume the realm and servants of sin, Christ will deliver us from it, recognizing us as His faithful servants (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9). There will be not the slightest hint of appeasement at that point."


You may also be interested in the following:

http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/the_love_of_god_and_the_passion_of_christ

http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/illuminedheart/recovering_the_scandal_of_the_cross

http://preachersinstitute.com/2010/11/21/expiation-not-propitiation/

I hope this helps!
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« Reply #13 on: April 07, 2011, 05:06:00 PM »

great posts.
also try 'return to God' by the coptic orthodox patriarch his holiness shenouda 3rd, whose writings i love as they are straightforward.
you can download it for free here:
http://copticorthodoxy.com/BooksbyPope.aspx
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