Original Sin

edited December 1969 in Faith Issues
Surprisingly, I had a coptic priest over at my house the other day, and we began talking about babies. Eventually we got to the idea of sin, and he said that the coptic orthodox belief is that we believe we inherited the sin of adam, and the baptism washes us from that original sin. All my life I was taught otherwise though.. What is the real coptic belief??? I believed that we were born with the Nature of Sin, that does not even begin until the infant has reached a certain age in which he can be judged for his/her sins. But how can I be born with the Sin of my father Adam? How can another mans sin be counted as my own? Where is the Justice in that?


  • St Cyril and St Severus are very clear.

    We are not born sinners, we are born mortal.

    We are born facing the consequences of Adam's sin, which is a life separated from God and facing both spiritual and physical death, but we are not sinners. St Severus says very clearly that it would be against all ideas of justice for a baby to be considered guilty of someone else's sin. Yet even if that sinless baby were to commit no sin ever in its life it would still have been born into the situation that we have inherited from our forefather. But of course the human nature without grace which we have all inherited is slowly collapsing both over the generations and within our own lifetimes. We find it impossible to preserve attention in a Godward manner. We find it impossible to seek only the will of God. We are left to our own spiritual devices and find that we all too easily commit the sin which our father Adam committed despite having such advantages over us. Baptism renews our human nature and unites us with Christ, and so we baptise a sinless infant so that it might grow up with the benefits of living with God and in God. Yet the unborn infant and the new born infant has committed no sin and will not be judged by God for any sin. He is without the grace of new life which is given in baptism, yet we may be sure that God will be merciful towards all who he calls to himself in this state of innocence.

    It is as if your great-grandfather had been a wealthy landowner with an income of millions. Yet perhaps he began to gamble and spent it all. You would be born in poverty, yet you would not be a gambler. You would be born facing the consequences of your forefathers sin but you would not be guilty of any of his sins. You might say that it was unfair that you could not have his millions because it was not your fault they were lost - but they now belong to someone else and you have no claim on them at all.

    It is often the case that Copts use the Roman Catholic term 'Original Sin' when they mean that we face the consequences of Adam's sin and have inherited human nature apart from God. But we should always avoid such Roman Catholic terms. They have a special meaning which is not the same as our own Orthodox Faith.

    Father Peter
  • You have to quote John 9:3 too.
    And I agree with Fr. peter. I was thinking that maybe people pre-Christ maybe had original sin, but this can't be true either.
  • What is 'Original sin'? It is not something that I have read either St Cyril or St Severus speak of. It does seem to me that it is a Western, Catholic and Augustinian idea that has been introduced more recently into our thinking.

    Why do people baptise their children in the case of illness? Because in every regard we desire them to have every blessing that is ours to provide for them. If an infant were sick and we neglected without cause to have it baptised then we would be a fault. But in the case of an infant we should not imagine that God our heavenly Father is a monster who will consign a sinless creation of his to an eternity of punishment because of our failing. What of the unborn infant who dies in the womb? Do we imagine that God has created this child who could not be baptised simply with the object of punishing it for eternity because if could not receive baptism?

    In the ordinary case of things we must be baptised. But God is not bound by the commandments he gives us. If we imagine some heathen who has lived his life far from all knowledge of God, and who somehow comes across some excerpts from the Gospels and reads them and believes, yet in that moment is struck down by death in some way, would it be right for us to imagine that one who had come to true faith without any possibility of baptism would have no hope of mercy before the throne of God?

    Far from it. It is always necessary for us to be baptised if we would be saved. But it is not always necessary for God to baptise those whom He will save. And in this case are all those innocents whom he loves so much.

    Original sin is not a phrase that St Cyril of St Severus use as far as I can see. St Cyril has commented on John 9:2-3 and does not use it to show that there is original sin. Quite the very opposite. He uses it to show that the Lord is merciful and when generation after generation exceeds the previous in iniquity still the Lord waits and does not judge until the third or fourth generation of evil. He says a great deal and it is too long to quote here, but he does say...

    He refutes the doctrine of the Jews by saying that the man had not been born blind on account of any sin either of himself or of his ancestors, no, not even of his father or mother;

    and he says in the commentary on the same verses, quite clearly I think..

    For that He is wont to chastise neither son for father nor father for son, it is not hard to learn from those words which by the voice of the prophet Ezekiel He clearly spake to the Jews themselves, when over this same thing they murmured and said: The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge. And, says he, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, what mean ye by this proverb in Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord, this proverb shall be said no more in Israel. For all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son; they are mine. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of his son: each in his own iniquity in which he hath sinned, in that shall he die.

    St Severus says a great deal more, basing this thinking on St Cyril.

    It seems to me that some do use the term 'original sin' to mean the consequences of Adam's sin. That is a different matter. That is a matter of our changed circumstances and relationship to God, it is not a matter of sin. Augustine taught that we are all guilty of Adam's sin but our Orthodox Fathers deny this. If someone means to speak of the consequences of Adam's sin then it would be better not to use the Western, Catholic and Augustinian term 'original sin' because this has a particular meaning and like the 'immaculate conception' leads to confusion when used by Orthodox.

    Father Peter
  • I was recently reading a text by Gregory of Nyssa called 'Concerning Infants Who Have Died Prematurely' in which he says many things, but his position is essentially...

    But the person who shuns purity of virtue and fosters an incurable illness of ignorance through deceptive pleasures becomes estranged from his true nature and does not share in life. One the other hand, a simple infant who is not ill with regard to the soul's eyes participates in the light; he does not require cleansing because his soul has been healthy from birth.

    He seems to teach that while we require both spiritual life AND forgiveness, which is granted us ordinarily through baptism, confession and the eucharist, in the case of an infant and especially the unborn child, there is no forgiveness required, simply the gift of spiritual life.

    It is also interesting that a google around this topic suggests that clergy from other EO traditions believe that the concern for a very rapid baptism seems to be a Western and Catholic attitude which is spreading among Orthodox rather than a traditional Orthodox concern.

    About Augustine... it is not my place to say if he is or is not a saint, but a saint may still have written many things that are not sound and should not be the basis for Orthodox thinking and theology. It is interesting that when St John Cassian took all of his great knowledge and experience of the Desert monastic life to the West he was opposed strenuously by Augustine and accused of being a heretic. It was Augustine who was one of the first to develop the teaching of the filioque, to develop ideas about most people being created by God with the aim of punishing them for ever, to develop the idea of God as an angry judge. Even if not explicit in his teachings, nevertheless his ideas are the basis for most Protestantism. He seems to me to have found it difficult to lay down his Manichaean past and I think that he continued to think in terms only of black and white when Orthodoxy is properly much more cautious about what is said.

    I cannot find him in the Synaxarium, but I see that one site has listed him as a saint and there are Coptic Churches in the West named for him, one site calls him 'Doctor of the Church' which is a mediaeval Roman Catholic title. I am not sure on what authority he is listed in particular. Of course there are many, many saints who are not in the Coptic Synaxarium, but I cannot find a Church for him in Egypt. Does anyone know of a Church named for him there, especially an old one?

    I think that the influence of Augustine has come into the Church in recent times, not last because the Roman Catholics are able to produce a great deal of printed materials, and many Copts study in Catholic schools etc etc.

    The recent book about the life and writings of St Cyril by Norman Russell contains no reference to Augustine. Another major work by Susan Wessel provides no hint that St Cyril used Augustine at all, and rather suggests that Leo of Rome's diphysite Christology depended on Augustine's ideas. McGuckin's work on St Cyril also proposes similarities between Nestorius' ideas and those of Augustine. He also shows that Augustine held a Roman view of papal primacy and said, 'Rome has spoken, the issue has been resolved'. As if all that was ever required was a statement from the Roman Pope. Interestingly, McGuckin says that the infamous Tome of Leo is more or less a collection of extracts from Augustine.

    I guess you can sort of see the response I have to Augustine's writings, even if we consider him a saint because of his personal quest for holiness. I do think his great influence in modern times in the Coptic Orthodox Church is an aberration. Our chief Fathers should always be St Athanasius, St Cyril and St Severus, together with those wo struggled with them in the defense of the Faith and who shine like stars in the clear night sky.

    Father Peter
  • [quote author=Meena_Ameen link=topic=9585.msg118037#msg118037 date=1281642400]
    Surprisingly, I had a coptic priest over at my house the other day, and we began talking about babies. Eventually we got to the idea of sin, and he said that the coptic orthodox belief is that we believe we inherited the sin of adam, and the baptism washes us from that original sin. All my life I was taught otherwise though.. What is the real coptic belief??? I believed that we were born with the Nature of Sin, that does not even begin until the infant has reached a certain age in which he can be judged for his/her sins. But how can I be born with the Sin of my father Adam? How can another mans sin be counted as my own? Where is the Justice in that?

    My understanding was that we inherited the consequences of Adam's sin. All of mankind. We lost the gift of immortality - became mortal, and we died - both physically and spiritually.

    Everything just went pear shaped after the fall.

    Christ came to redeem us, to return us back to the pre-fall position we had of spiritual immortality. We bury our old nature and we rise, wearing / clothed in Christ with a new man from the baptismal font.

    However, I do not agree completely with you nor your priest.

    We born with a nature PRONE to sin. Prone to death. But a baby is born innocent. They are only born with a nature that is prone to corruption.

    That's what I believe anyway. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    * Corrected for typing mistakes & sentence construction, and basical logical integrity
  • I am presently studying the issue of the filioque in preparation for writing an article, and I was surprised to learn in my reading today that the works of Augustine were not translated into Greek until the 14th century. Therefore NONE of our Orthodox Fathers can have used his writings and teachings, certainly not in any significant way. Therefore the popularity of Augustine must be a relatively and even very modern matter.

    I must admit to being surprised that everywhere I hear Augustine quoted but so few seem to immerse themselves in our authentic Fathers, St Cyril and St Severus.
  • I thought we were born with the sin inherited from Adam. While an infant cannot be held responsible for this, because of its inability to understand, it still should be washed away. The reason it is so important is because this is where ALL sin originates from. Maybe you can elaborate on this more Fr. Peter.
  • No we are not born with any sin. This is the clear teaching of the Fathers. Our Lord was born into our human condition exactly like us. Willingly enduring the consequences of Adam's sin but not guilty of it, as we are not guilty of his sin, only our own.

    I am on a metro train at the moment. I have just had a fruitful meeting with the head of the Armenian Church in the UK, so I'll post more later.

    Father Peter
  • [quote author=peterfarrington link=topic=9585.msg118093#msg118093 date=1281708574]
    No we are not born with any sin. This is the clear teaching of the Fathers. Our Lord was born into our human condition exactly like us. Willingly enduring the consequences of Adam's sin but not guilty of it, as we are not guilty of his sin, only our own.

    I am on a metro train at the moment. I have just had a fruitful meeting with the head of the Armenian Church in the UK, so I'll post more later.

    Father Peter

    I apologize Fr.Peter, but I have read Coptic books that have stated otherwise. I am not saying your wrong, maybe our definitions and word usage, is what is confusing this. I am reading St. Basil "On the Human Condition" then I am moving on to "The First Created Man" by St Symeon the New Theologian. I think it comes down to semantics and such, I am sure you can help me understand lol, im a goon.

    BTW did you know that the Catholics use St Cyril of Alexandria in justifying their stance on the Fililoque, if you like have the 2 quotes they use. I wont post them here because they can easily be taken out of context, and they are somewhat confusing.
  • GODlovesme,
                        I was under the same impression. I was taught that since all sin originates from the first sin of Adam, that sin is the most important one to be cleansed of through baptism. Dr. Raafat Fahim Gindi wrote a wonderful book entitled "A Lily Among Thorns". In the section on baptism he actually states that "The sin of Adam and Eve is like an inherited congenital sickness to all humankind. Treatment of the parents does not cure the descendants. Every single person has to be treated and cured individually, so every believer has to be baptized. The original sin is different from any other sin that comes later. The first sin brought humankind into the knowledge of good and evil which is inherited by all humankind. Any subsequent sin does not have this significance and came as a result of the original one." Maybe I am interpreting this incorrectly, and that is definetly likely, but I got this book from my church and my FOC was reading the same book in arabic and did not seem to have a problem with it.
  • This is not the teaching of St Cyril, St Severus, St Gregory and a great many other Orthodox Fathers. It is the teaching of Augustine.

    We do not inherit a contagion, we inherit a nature which is deprived of grace but in all other respects the same as that of Adam. Augustine taught that this contagion was spread by sexual intercourse, which is why he felt it necessary that our Lord be born of a Virgin Birth. But this is not the teaching of the Eastern Fathers.

    I am starting to write a book(let) called Sin, Death and Salvation where I hope that I will be able to describe in a balanced way the different aspects of our Orthodox Faith in these matters.

    Let me repeat the words of the Light of the East, St Severus.

    We are born mortal or mortals, and not sinful of sinners.

    I am due to write an article by the end of the month so I might write one on this subject.

    Father Peter
  • Fr. Peter, I am looking forward to this very much. Now that I am done with my book, I am trying to understand creation and the beginning, as opposed to my usual studies on eschatology. It is much more confusing that I had initially perceived it to be. I also hope to write something concerning our early history after we were dispelled from the garden, mainly dealing with Enoch, his supposed writing, the meaning of Gen. 6, and the early church fathers who supported this view. And why the book of Enoch explains many things we cannot explain today.

    But I am seriously anxious to read your article, this is a confusing subject for me. I mean do we inherit anything?
  • I must try to avoid Tasbeha so that I can actually get down and write something. I have Word open ready to start a draft!

    I would say that we inherit the human nature in which Adam was created, and we inherit a condition of life without the indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit, which is spiritual death. We also inherit a human nature which is slowly falling to pieces, both universally and in our particular experience. The Fathers teach us that ALL created beings must fall to pieces without the grace of God. And in fact science teaches us the same thing. This is why humanity is both physically and morally collapsing. It is what happens to all created natures without grace.

    So we have the same nature that God created in Adam, we have the fallen condition into which he plunged us, and we have the personal experience of humanity out of control because no longer directed towards God. And life which is not directed towards God is the life of sin. So we inherit the living death from Adam, and then we come to deserve the judgement of God because of our own sins.

    This is why our experience of salvation, and the ministry of our Lord, is not only the forgiveness of sins, because that would leave us without grace, merely not deserving judgement. It also includes the renewal of our humanity by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The WHOLE AIM of salvation is to restore the life of God within us. Everything that God has done is with that aim.

    Anyhow I must write at greater length, with references from our Fathers, and in more detail.

    Father Peter
  • Baptism is more than just forgiveness of sin. It's is also a new birth and being adopted as a child of God. So yes, we baptise children as not to deprive them of this awesome grace, a start of restoring what was lost in Paradise, to be renewed and made fit to be a temple to the Holy Spirit in the second Mysterie (ie the Mayroun).
    I can't wait for that article either  ;D
  • thanks, father peter.
    we will stop asking more questions so u can write yr book!
  • To be honest the Orthodox Church practices both infant and adult baptism. There is no doctrine that says a child MUST be baptized at a certain age. The Church advises the parents to baptize the child, but the early church especially practiced both infant and adult. Some churches chose not to baptize infants and have them wait till the child was old enough to choose. St John Chrysostom was not baptized until his 20's for instance.
  • I was starting to make some notes last night, and it is clear that I will not be able to properly cover the topic as I wish in a short article since I already have 60 questions I want to answer, and that it seems necessary to answer. This will probably turn into a book. So I will have to narrow my focus in the article I am writing.

    Father Peter
  • This topic is very simple.

    Adam and Eve in the garden had Gods presence.

    Adam and Eves sin caused them to be kicked out of the garden and a wall is build between them and God (Metaphorically speaking)  So Gods presence was away from Adam and Eve (which is the sin).

    When a baby is born he is not punished for the mistake the Adam and Eve made eating the fruit but he/she inherited the fallen nature ie the baby is already born on the other side of the wall (away from God).

    When we receive the sacrament of baptism the wall that separates us from God is torn down and the Holy Spirit enters us and lives inside of us.

    -Hope this helped

  • Father Peter,

    I add myself to the list of people very pleased that you are writing a book about this subject and looking forward to reading it, may God guide you...

    for I too until recently always had the idea that we inherit the sin of Adam (although I never found it to make any sense) what the fathers are saying though does make sense, for I do not see how it can be just for someone to be held accountable for something someone else did (although I'm still trying to understand: why were Adam and Eve chosen as the first humans? Would anyone else in their place sin? If not, why was no one else 'chosen' as the first human? If yes, then what does that say about how we were created?) if you could also elaborate more on those questions in your book, that would be a great help... I am trying to reconcile with the idea that the fact that baptism is available to all erases the injustice of us being born with a graceless nature due to Adam's sin.. but am still struggeling with it, so that may also be an interesting question to answer..

    Just a side note: I do find it worrying that the wrong teachings seem to be circulating in our church, I feel that esp. in Egypt, the influence of catholicism and protestantism is great amidst the youth, I know of people who've left the orthodox church for the catholic one because they believe both are christian and they just feel more comfortable in the worship style of the catholic church.. or people that just attend both churches depending on the occasion and that feel that there is no difference where they attend, because after all,they say: they are both chruches of God...also the popularity of protestant books, songs, sermons etc. where you'll find many people slowly getting immersed in protestant thought because of the 'nice' way in which it is being presented... maybe a cause for this is the defensive attitude the church has to take toward Islamic attacks on its faith in which the focus lies more on 'christian vs muslims' than 'orthodox vs non-orthodox'
  • I just read a quote by St Joh Chrysostom that adds to a further explains Fr. Peter and the other great saints:

    "Through the wrong-doing of one man many became sinners. That, when Adam sinned and became mortal, those who were descended from him should become mortal also has nothing improbable about it. But how should it follow that from his disobedience anyone else should become a sinner? For unless a man becomes a sinner on his own responsibility he will not be found to deserve punishment. Then what does 'sinners' mean here? I think it means those liable to punishment, that is, condemned to death. That one man should be punished on another's account seems to most people unreasonable. That all should be justified because on man had done right would be more reasonable, and more suited to God."

    I think I finally get it. It is not a sin that we inherit but as Fr. Peter said, we inherit a fallen nature. We are born into death, death being the punishment for sin. Baptism being a rebirth into the new heaven, the church, to which we can attain salvation. Why does it take so long for me to "get it?" LOL
  • I became confused lately so I asked my FOC about the nature of Christ and our nature.

    In short, he explained that we inherit the fallen nature of Adam and Eve not the sin itself, that is we are not born sinners (at birth we haven't sinned yet) yet adult parents are sinners - we are not directly blamed for an inherited sin, but we lack God's Grace. We have inherited the corrupted nature: our unrighteous natural tendency to fall again by sin and our corrupt bodies.

    Psalm 51
    5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    And in sin my mother conceived me.

    Thus we are born both corrupted and mortal, i.e. a corrupted sinning nature and lacking God's protection against spiritual and physical death and that without Him we can do nothing at all.

    About Christ's nature he said that Jesus is God's Word incarnate, both God and man, born from the Virgin Saint Mary who conceived Him by the purification of the Holy Spirit so He had to be the Lamb of God who is spotless and without blame being the only possible Savior of humanity. Unrighteousness cannot be healed by unrighteousness, but only by God's righteousness.

    Medically you cannot heal a sick or dead organ by replacing it with another sick organ but you need a healthy matching organ.

    John 1:29
    The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

    1 Peter 1
    18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

    During Liturgy the priest chooses the best Lamb among the presented candidate lamb bread.

    Christ (as the new Adam) has renewed the old Adam, He has saved humanity by restoring the righteous everlasting life state through God's Grace because He bought us all with the highest possible and the only acceptable price of His precious Blood. That is also why an ASAP Baptism, Chrismation, repentance and all Sacraments are important to keep yourself under God's Grace during this temporary short life. It has become clearly important and meaningful for us to fight sin, we have the motive of the target with His Hope, His Blessing and His Support.

    1 Corinthians 15
    22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

    45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.”
    The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

    A new born child is in fact born a mortal and if she/he soon dies without Baptism we have hope in the Kindness of the Just God, yet there is no useful reason to postpone Baptism (it's postponing the child's benefit to be reborn in Christ and be anointed a Christian). It is a safe, logical and holy decision to baptize our new born on time, as our COC teaches.

  • i got stuck today in another conversation about this topic with someone who is protestant.
    i understand and believe father peter's explanations above, but then could not explain what was meant by 'many were made sinners' in romans 5:19.

    can anyone point me in the direction of a good explanation by the church fathers?
    i can understand the other verses on this topic, but this one is harder.
    thanks for your help  :)
  • Liturgies are a VERY IMPORTANT source in studying dogma.

    In the liturgy of baptism there is no mention of the original sin. The theme is that the baptized has been transferred from death to life.

    Please read it as most of us may not have had the opportunity to reflect on it.
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