Original Sin and Immaculate Conception

edited March 2014 in Faith Issues
Does anyone have good sources for learning about the Church's belief on the Immaculate Conception and Original Sin? I was going to read "Adam and Eve" by H.H. Pope Shenouda III, but it doesn't look like there is a translated version. Also, his writings on St. Mary don't go into detail about the arguments against the Immaculate Conception. Maybe something that brings up Catholic points vs. Orthodox points and refutes the Catholic ones. I've already heard about Mary calling Jesus her savior and that meaning she is not immaculate, but then I read something else that made me weary. And for Original Sin, I just wanted to read more about the topic since apparently H.H. wrote extensively about it in "Adam and Eve" and actually concluded that they committed 27 sins!


  • Please see below from Southern Diocese:

  • The Orthodox Church has never believed or adhered to "Original Sin" as doctrine. Ever :).

    We are not guilty for the sin of Adam and Eve nor do we inherit their sin

    Pray for me
  • I'm just curious, but if we do not subscribe to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, then why does our Church still organise retreats to Lourdes (France) - the pilgrim site where St Mary apparently appeared to Bernadette to tell her that she is the immaculate conception?
  • I don't think that retreats have to be in places that have the same faith as us. I have been to many retreats and and almost all have been to places that are owned or run by people of protestant faith. The only exception was when I went to the Karma in Boston which was big enough to fit the number of people.
  • Our church often times acts like the Roman Catholic, but we do not believe in these doctrines. Our view of original sin is that we do not inherit sin but the consequences of the original sin. Much like if I got into an accident because I was drunk, killed myself and another family, my family and theirs would inherit the consequences of my actions. So we inherit the fallen state of things, the consequences not the actual sin. 

    The immaculate conception is merely a way to try and explain how the perfect Christ took on flesh without sin. They reasoned that since Christ is perfect then St Mary His mother would have to have been born perfect. This makes little to no sense, if she was born perfect, then why not me or you? If God can will that anyone be born perfect then there is no need of Christ. How did Christ take flesh from an imperfect being while still remaining perfect? If I am not mistaken St. Mary was baptized in a way in the annunciation, thereby allowing for Christ to take her flesh. 
  • If you ever read the posts of a certain Coptic Catholic online, he seems to have some nuanced ideas about the immaculate conception.  He finds that the "grace" given to the Theotokos at her conception is different than the one given to her in the Annunciation, akin to the graces of baptism and confirmation (although St. Jacob of Serug seemed clear that it sounded like baptism more than anything). 

    He also believes that she wasn't the only one "immaculately conceived" but also the prophet Jeremiah, who was sanctified in the womb as the Scriptures attest, as well as St. John the Forerunner, leaping and worshipping Christ while in the womb of St. Elizabeth.  I find his nuance to be quite different than what I read in the Catholic Catechism, but it is an interesting thought.  It is either a promising interpretation for some Catholic circles or a delusion of one believer.
  • Mina, that was very insightful.
  • An excellent read by Metropolitan Seraphim of the British Orthodox Church within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate about the Doctrine of Immaculate conception

  • Great article Tobit! 

    Minasoliman, can you please post the reference for the quote from St. Jacob of Serug? It sounds like a great quote! 

    Ifahmy, I am going to break my own rule and recommend books I haven't read yet:

    1. The ancestral sin - by John S. Romanides & translated by George S. Gabriel 
    2. Mary the Untrodden Portal of God - by George S. Gabriel 
  • Guys I have a question: It was my understanding that St. Mary was purified from all sin including Ancestral Sin, at the moment that the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. But if this is the case there are two problems: 

    1. Then how can Jesus " assumed fallen human nature from her and redeemed humanity by His Crucifixion and Resurrection." If she was purified how can Jesus assume fallen nature from her? (the quote is form the article Tobit posted - http://britishorthodox.org/glastonburyreview/issue-122-an-orthodox-view-of-the-catholic-doctrine-of-the-immaculate-conception-of-the-blessed-virgin-mary/)

    2. If God can purify St. Mary form Ancestral Sin to prepare her to receive Christ, then it means that God can purify humans without the sacrifice of Christ. So why have the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection?   

    So my question is what happened at the annunciation and the overshadowing by the Holy Spirit? Was St. Mary ever made immaculate - definitely not at the conception but maybe at the annunciation? 

    Sources are greatly appreciated! 

    In Christ

  • edited March 2014
    Hey theophilus,

    If i may, i will offer a few musings to the matter here.

    We in the Orthodox Church do not believe in "original sin" as the theological doctrine it has become (surely this does not mean that we dont believe that there was a FIRST sin, if thats what one wants to say by saying original). However as the development of the doctrine has come to mean the imputation of Adam and Eve's sin to their progeny and the culpability (the guiltiness) of that sin to their progeny, this has gone afar off what the Holy fathers teach. 

    However, I have noticed that many times people speak of "Ancestral sin" and essentially take it to mean the exact same thing as original sin. The ancestral sin is used to refer to a condition. The Greek it comes from just means the "forefatherly sin" and thus it is used as a term to indicate the condition into which we are born because of the forefatherly sin. 

    Here I wish to pause and to ponder a moment what the trouble was in Adam and Eve's sin. Adam and Eve were created for relationship to the Divine and to have their lives caught up in God and totally fulfilled in Him. However they chose to turn away from Life itself in leaving God. Adam and Eve were drawn away by desires and enticed to leave the life that is with God and it is thus that they fell:

    "For God has not only made us out of
    nothing; but He gave us freely, by the Grace of the Word, a life in correspondence
    with God.
    But men, having rejected things eternal, and, by counsel of the devil,
    turned to the things of corruption, became the cause of their own corruption in
    death, being, as I said before, by nature corruptible,
    but destined, by the grace
    following from partaking of the Word, to have escaped their natural state, had
    they remained good." St Athanasius, On The Incarnation Chapter 5. 

    It can be seen that man's transgression was that he turned from God who is Life and Incorruptibility itself. By severing this relationship man turned again to his own nature, mortal and corruptible. Without this relationship to the Divine, to elevate man to this state above their own inherent nature, they fall liable to corruptibility and death, not having immortality or incorruption by nature. We, being born from them, are born into this condition. Thus it is that Christ comes to save us from death and we sing triumphantly on Holy Pascha, "Christ destroyed death by death!"

    But in order for salvation to be ours, Christ must have our humanity, He must become incarnate in the very same nature that is ailing and in need of salvation. St. Gregory the Theologian gives the axiom, "That which is not assumed is not healed, and what was united to God is saved." 

    Indeed the fathers repeatedly make statements like St. Cyril of Alexandria:

    "Since the children have a fellowship of flesh and blood, he too
    shared in flesh and blood so that by death he might destroy the one who has the
    power of death, that is the devil, and might liberate all those who throughout their
    lives were held in bondage by the fear of death. He did not take to himself descent
    from angels but from the line of Abraham, which is why it was necessary for him
    to be made like his brethren in all things’ (Heb.2.14-17). We maintain, therefore,
    that since human nature was suffering corruption because of Adam’s
    transgression, and since our intellect was being tyrannized by the pleasures or
    rather the innate impulses of the flesh, then it was necessary that the Word of God
    should be incarnated for the salvation of us who are on this earth. This was so
    that he could make his own that human flesh which was subject to corruption
    and sick with its desires, and destroy corruption within it since he is Life and
    Life-giver, bringing its innate sensual impulses to order
    . This was how the sin
    that lay within it was to be put to death, for we remember how the blessed Paul
    called our innate impulses the law of sin (Rom 7.23). From the time that human
    flesh became the personal flesh of the Word it has ceased to be subject to
    corruption, and since he who dwelt within it, and revealed it as his very own,
    knew no sin being God, as I have already said, it has also ceased to be sick with
    its desires.
    The Only Begotten Word of God did not bring this about his own
    benefit, for he is ever what he is, but evidently he did it for ours. And if we were
    subject to the evils following from Adam’s transgression then Christ’s benefit also
    must come to us, that is incorruption and the putting to death of sin." St. Cyril of Alexandria First Letter to Succensus chapter 9. 

  • It is undeniable that Christ saves us by assuming all that is broken in our humanity. Where humanity was lacking the relationship with God to make it Immortal and Incorruptible, The Logos enters into THAT humanity to bring it to life again. Indeed St. Athanasius states that this takes place as the Virgin Mary is our sister in her humanity,

    "So then, that which was derived from Mary was by nature human, according to the divine scriptures, and the body of the Lord was real, and was real because it was the same as our own, for Mary was our sister, since we are all from Adam." St. Athanasius of Alexandria Letter to Epictus tract 7. 

    The Virgin was not purified of any form of sin, personal, original, ancestral, whatever we wish to called it. We do not believe that her humanity was any different than ours (by nature I mean, of course her actions were much different than ours!), because the Logos took OUR humanity. As St. Paul says in Hebrews 2. Let us not use "Ancestral sin" and basically use it to mean "original sin". The forefatherly sin of our parents (Adam and Eve i mean) is why they became subject to the mortality and corruptibility inherent to their nature, and we receive this same humanity from them. Surely they cannot offer us a humanity different than theirs. The Logos assumes this humanity in order to deify it in Himself and to bring it to Life. He makes our humanity superior to death, He makes our humanity superior to the wiles of a hungry stomach, he makes our humanity ascend into Heaven at the right hand of the Father, etc etc etc. 

    I hope my ramblings here helped!

    Please do pray for me, please. 

  • My posts are coming up weird, my apologies for that. 

    prayers please
  • Thanks mrpete! I like the quote you gave:

    "So then, that which was derived from Mary was by nature human, according to the divine scriptures, and the body of the Lord was real, and was real because it was the same as our own, for Mary was our sister, since we are all from Adam." St. Athanasius of Alexandria Letter to Epictus tract 7. 

    So, I guess St. Mary bore and gave birth to Christ without any purification from Ancestral Sin (I hope I am using this term in the right sense). Also are we purified from Ancestral Sin when we are baptized? 

    Many many thanks!

  • Yeah, unless I type everything in here and if I copy-paste anything my post also comes out weird  :-?
  • Homily 1 in the book "On the Mother of God" by St. Jacob of Serug (I only gave the relevant passage, not the whole thing of course:

    Indeed, the Holy Spirit came to Mary,
    to let loose from her the former sentence of Eve and Adam.
    He sanctified her, purified her and made her blessed among women;
    He freed her from that curse of sufferings on account of Eve, her mother.
    The Spirit freed her from that debt that she might be beyond
    transgression when He solemnly dwelt in her.
    He purified the Mother by the Holy Spirit while dwelling in her,
    that He might take from her a pure body without sin.
    The Word had descended that He might become flesh; on this account,
    by the Spirit He purified the one from whom He had become flesh,
    so that He might become like us in everything when He descended,
    except for this:  that His pure body is without sin.
    He made her pure, limpid, and blessed
    as that Eve, before the serpent spoke with her.
    He bestowed on her that first grace which her mother had,
    until she ate from the tree which was full of death.
    The Spirit who came made her like Eve of old,
    though she did not hear the council of the serpent nor his hateful speech.
    He sanctified her body and made her without hateful lusts,
    as the virgin Eve had been until she lusted.
    The sin which entered Adam's race with impulses of desire,
    the Holy Spirit cast out from her when He came within her.
    That increase of evil inclination which the serpent effected,
    He wiped from her and filled her with holiness and integrity.
    She rose up to this measure on her own,
    until the Spirit, that perfecter of all came to her.
    She was full of grace from God which was more exalted than all;
    the Only-begotten dwelt in her womb to renew all.

  • Minasoliman, thanks a lot for the quote. 

    I am still confused and I will try to learn form a priest I know who is a St. Vladimir graduate.

    In Christ 
  • edited March 2014
    If I may offer a contemplation, God who is present everywhere at all times makes His presence intimately known in each and every one as if you were the only one He is united to.  Before, He would offer His presence, but the first sin man partook of essentially grieved the Spirit and pushed away the presence of God in him, and from thereon afterwards the unity was weak among many men, whether they be prophets, kings, priests, etc.  God offered as much as man could handle at the time, each with their own capabilities and gifts, and each sanctified for a purpose, until the right time of for the coming of the Messiah, where His fullness is made ready to dwell in man one by one, starting with the Second Eve, from whom the Second Adam comes from.

    God becomes incarnate, and in becoming incarnate, His fullness is present and dwells in the womb of the most holy Theotokos.  We too, when we are baptized, we are purified and prepared for the dwelling in the Holy Spirit, whose fullness resides in each and everyone of us.  Thus, the Holy Spirit came, purified her, sanctified her and in a manner anointed her "full of grace", and the Logos took flesh from her, and at that moment, not only is she full of grace, but she became the altar in which dwelt the Kingdom of Heaven in her.  All at once, she was purified, anointed, and gave thanks (Eucharistically speaking, her flesh was used to become God's flesh), all in one place, in her womb.  We too all in one day in the womb of the Church are baptized, chrismated, and partake of the Eucharist.  And where the Fullness of the Godhead Incarnate becomes present to every man or woman He meets, and their heart is opened, at that moment, they too are filled with salvation by the touch and communion of our Lord.

    Therefore, the sentence of spiritual death upon which the first man did when sinning, spiritual death being separating from the fullness of God's presence, this sentence was taken away at the Annunciation when the fullness of God's presence was not merely cleansing the most worthy all-holy Virgin, but also taking flesh from her!  This is the most intimate unity one can achieve, the same unity one achieves in the Eucharist.  The mention of the "debt" owed is none other than the debt of sinning, which is the choice of death to separate from the Divine Life.  This debt also was taken away, since Divine Life took flesh from her.

    Whether it's "Original Sin" in the West or "Corrupt Nature" in the East, all these systems do (usually imperfectly) is explain the mystery by which we have separated ourselves from God's intimate presence, and how God tries to bring us back into His intimacy in a stronger bond than ever imagined, where sin is something the blameless God willingly bears, and that the bond and unity is still strong so long as we live a life of repentance.
  • basically, we don't inherit the sin itself, we inherit the sinful nature (=tendency to sin).
    we don't agree with saint augustine's (of hippo) theology; the catholics do.
    we agree with all the other early (before 451) church fathers.

    so saint mary called Jesus her 'Saviour' as we do.
    she was 'pure' because she was the purest human, but as orthodox Christians, we don't believe she never sinned.
    our Lord Jesus purified her by entering her, just as he purified baptismal water by being baptised.
    saint mary still needed to benefit from Jesus' death and resurrection; if He had not died, she would not have been a saint.

    we call her 'sinless' because she was sinless after the incarnation, and because she was an especially pure child / young woman before that.

    we don't complicate things like the catholics do (sorry, if there are any catholics here, but your church complicates things) but using words like 'immaculate'.

    remember God is not limited by little things like time and space.
    sometimes our minds can't understand everything perfectly, but as we grow close to Him in love, humility, Holy Communion and obedience, we understand more.
  • Not directly related but I want to share this link:

    In Christ 
  • I'm sort of confused in the same way Theophilus 1 was confused up there. I guess I'll start from the very beginning. Sorry, guys, this might be a long process as I am not very learned in comparison to the rest of you. 

    If the Ancestral Sin that we inherit is just the fallen nature of humanity which has the tendency to sin and not an actual sin, then what are we being cleansed of during Baptism? Surely we aren't receiving a new nature since we still sin afterwards. Right?

    Sorry, again. I am very slow.
  • edited March 2014
    "There is no one without sin, even if they lived one day."

    The longer one is separate from the grace of God, from the full presence of the Holy Spirit, the longer one becomes hit even with the stench of sin.  Think of it this way.  Even if one does not sleep on the dumpster, but is close enough, his clothes can still catch the stench of the dumpster.  Imagine this, that the presence of God both purifies and sanctifies the person, as well as unites the person to the divine life of the Church, the body of Christ.

    This is how I see it.  A person may do well to avoid sin, but even then, we still fall short when we are not actively united to God Himself.  That is why we need purification.

    The word "sin" seems to at times be used loosely.  While we are not guilty of the sins of Adam, we are born cursed with him.  Therefore, we are purified from the effects of this curse, and the curse of separation from grace is lifted by the unity with the divine.
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