Written by Vladimir Moss



     Metropolitan Ephraim of Boston has joined the long list of modernist theologians who deny, or claim to deny, the existence of original sin.[1]This now-fashionable denial was at first confined to one or two liberal Russian theologians such as Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky[2]and some Greek new calendarists such as Fr. John Romanides[3]. When the Russian version appeared, early in the twentieth century, it met with strong opposition from such distinguished theologians as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, Archbishop Seraphim of Lubny, Fr. Georges Florovsky, Hieromartyr Victor of Glazov and (somewhat later) Fr. Seraphim Rose; and its influence has been correspondingly muted in the Russian Church. However, the resistance to the more recent, Romanidean version has been altogether weaker, and now not only the Greek new calendarist churches, but also many Greek Old Calendarists, such as Alexander Kalomiros and Metropolitan Ephraim himself, have been infected with this false teaching. Let us examine the latest version to be offered by the leader of HOCNA.


     Metropolitan Ephraim begins by asserting that the term “original sin” is a purely Augustinian, “and thereafter, exclusively Papal and Protestant concept”. The Augustinian concept of original sin – that we all inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin – is nowhere to be found in the Holy Fathers. The Greek Fathers prefer the term propatorikon amartima, which, he claims, means something different.[4]


     Now it would appear to be true that the Latin phrase peccatum originale first appears in the works of St. Augustine, in his treatise entitled De Peccato Originale, andin other places, as in: "The deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin"[5]. But its use was not confined to him and to Papal or Protestant heretics. For we find it frequently in Western Orthodox writings, including those of St. Leo the Great, St. Gregory the Great and the Venerable Bede – and the metropolitan would not, I hope, be denying their Orthodoxy…


     “Before Augustine,” he continue, “this teaching was unknown to the Church of Christ. In contrast, the Fathers taught that we inherit the seed of sin, a proclivity for sin because of the corruption into which we are born. This weakness (like a tendency for diabetes that we might inherit from our parents) rules like ‘another law’ in our members and ‘wars against the law’ of our minds, bringing us ‘into captivity to the law of sin’ which is in our members, as the blessed Paul writes to the Romans. Nowhere in the Scriptures or in the Fathers does it say that we inherit the guilt of Adam’s transgression. I am responsible for and guilty of my own sins, not Adam’s. Indeed, the Fathers say that we ‘inherit sin’, by which however, they mean a weakness for sin, or, we are born into a sinful environment which encourages us to sin.”


     Now on the face of it there does not seem to be a deep disagreement between Metropolitan Ephraim and the traditional teaching. That we are responsible for and guilty of only our own sins, and not Adam’s, is something that we can all readily agree with – including, I believe, St. Augustine. The essential point that Augustine and other Fathers insisted on was that in some sense we inherit sin from Adam, even if we are not guilty precisely of his sin since (of course) we were not in existence at that time. And here Metropolitan Ephraim appears to agree. “We inherit the seed of sin”, he writes. Later he appears to qualify this by saying that inheriting sin means having a weakness for sin or being born into a sinful environment. But is not the seed of sin in itself sinful, even if less sinful than the full-grown fruit? And is not a weakness or proclivity for sin already the beginning of sin itself? But then what is this if not the traditional doctrine of original sin, even if the doctrine is expressed in a non-Augustinian terminology?


     In order to avoid confusion, it is essential to distinguish between two meanings of the word “sin”.We have to distinguish between personal sin and the law of sin, between sin as the act of a human person, and sin as the state or condition or law of human nature. This distinction is in fact made by St. Paul in Romans, as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava points out: “The holy apostle clearly distinguishes in his teaching on original sin between two points: paraptoma or transgression, and amartia or sin. By the first he understood the personal transgression by our forefathers of the will of God that they should not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, by the second – the law of sinful disorder that entered human nature as the consequence of this transgression. [“I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at work with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Romans 7.22-23).] When he is talking about the inheritance of the original sin, he has in mind not paraptoma or transgression, for which only they are responsible, but amartia, that is, the law of sinful disorder which afflicted human nature as a consequence of the fall into sin of our forefathers.[6]


     The deniers of the doctrine of original sin either claim that our sinful nature is not the direct result of Adam’s sin (as Metropolitan Anthony puts it: “Adam was not so much the cause of our sinfulness as the first sinner in time”, and God gave us a sinful nature in anticipation that we would sin as Adam did) or that there is a direct causal link from Adam, but that what we inherit from him is not sin, but disease or death (Romanides and his followers). However, it is clear from the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans that it is precisely sin that we inherit – but sin in the sense of a sinful disorder of human nature (amartia) rather than guilt for a particular transgression (paraptoma). This distinction between two meanings of “sin” is confirmed bySt. Maximus the Confessor, who writes: “There then arose sin, the first and worthy of reproach, that is, the falling away of the will from good to evil. Through the first there arose the second – the change in nature from incorruption to corruption, which cannot elicit reproach. For two sins arise in [our] forefather as a consequence of the transgression of the Divine commandment: one worthy of reproach, and the second having as its cause the first and unable to elicit reproach.”[7]


     In order to establish the vital point that nothing less than sin - and not only disease or death, as the Romanideans affirm - is transmitted to us from Adam, let us look exclusively at the writings of some of the Eastern Fathers who can by no stretch of the imagination be called Augustinians:-


(i)                 St. Athanasius the Great: “When Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men.”[8]

(ii)              St. Ephraim the Syrian: “Adam sowed sinful impurity into pure bodies and the yeast of evil was laid into the whole of our mass.”[9]

(iii)            St. Gregory of Nyssa: “Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning… through those who by their disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till life’s term.”[10]

(iv)            St. Anastasius of Sinai: “In Adam we became co-inheritors of the curse, not as if we disobeyed that divine commandment with him but because he became mortal and transmitted sin through his seed. We became mortals from a mortal…”

(v)               St. Symeon the New Theologian:“That saying that calls no one sinless except God, even though he has lived only one day on earth [Job 14.14], does not refer to those who sin personally. For how can a one-day child sin? But in this is expressed that mystery of our Faith, that human nature is sinful from its very conception. God did not create man sinful, but pure and holy. But since the first-created Adam lost this garment of sanctity, not from any other sin than pride alone, and became corruptible and mortal, all people also who came from the seed of Adam are participants of the ancestral sin from their very conception and birth. He who has been born in this way, even though he has not yet performed any sin, is already sinful through this ancestral sin.”[11]

(vi)            St. Gregory Palamas: “Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single Forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.”[12]

(vii)          Nicholas Cabasilas: “Because our nature was extended and our race increased as it proceeded from the first body, so wickedness too, like any other natural characteristic, was transmitted to the bodies which proceeded from that body. The body, then, not merely shares in the experiences of the soul but also imparts its own experiences to the soul. The soul is subject to joy or vexation, is restrained or unrestrained, depending on the disposition of the body. It therefore followed that each man’s soul inherited the wickedness of the first Adam. It spread from his soul to his body, and from his body to the bodies which derived from his, and from those bodies to the souls.”[13]


     Insofar as Metropolitan Ephraim accepts the patristic teaching that sin in some sense is inherited by us from Adam, then in spite of his abhorrence of the term “original sin” and his very Romanidean tendency to attack St. Augustine (a tendency not shared by the Holy Fathers), his doctrine does not in essence diverge from the traditional doctrine. However, our doubts about his real thoughts are rekindled by his remarks on the Latin doctrine of the immaculate conception. This doctrine, according to the metropolitan, is “a wrong solution to a nonexistent problem” – there was no need for the Latins to suppose that Mary was born immaculately and without sin, because she never inherited Adam’s guilt in the first place.


     But she did inherit original sin – not the guilt of Adam’s original transgression, but the sinful disorder of nature caused by that transgression. She inherited it through her birth in the normal way from Joachim and Anna. This fact did not create a “problem” as such. Rather, it meant that before the Virgin could conceive Christ the Holy Spirit had to descend upon her in order to purify her. For although she had fought against original sin in herself to the utmost that was possible for a human being, it still could not be removed except by a special act of God. It needed to be “surgically treated”, as St.Gregory Palamas puts it.[14]The Spirit had to descend upon her, as the same Father explains, “to further purify her nature, and give her the strength to receive the Child of salvation”.[15]And so St. Ephraim the Syrian writes that at the Annunciation “Christ purified the Virgin and then was born, so as to show that where Christ is, there is manifest purity in all its power. He purified the Virgin, having prepared her by the Holy Spirit, and then the womb, having become pure, conceived Him.”[16]Again, St. Gregory the Theologian writes: “The Word of God became a complete man, with the exception of sin, born of a Virgin who was first purified (protokatartheises) by the Spirit in her soul and in her body.”[17]As the Virgin herself says in the Mattins of the Annunciation composed by St. Theophanes: “The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul and sanctified my body”.[18]


     So the Virgin was not preserved from original sin at her conception, as the Latins teach, but was “conceived in sins” (Psalm 50.5), like every other son and daughter of Adam. What made her great was her unremitting struggle against this inherited sin. This is a point emphasized by St. John Maximovich in his argument against the Latin teaching: “The teaching that the Mother of God was preserved from original sin, as likewise the teaching that She was preserved by God’s grace from personal sins, makes God unmerciful and unjust; because if God could preserve Mary from sin and purify Her before Her birth, then why does He not purify other men before their birth, but rather leaves them in sin? It follows likewise that God saves men apart from their will, predetermining certain ones before their birth to salvation.


     “This teaching, which seemingly has the aim of exalting the Mother of God, in reality completely denies all her virtues. After all, if Mary, even in the womb of Her mother, when She could not even desire anything either good or evil, was preserved by God’s grace from every impurity, and then by that grace was preserved from sin even after Her birth, then in what does Her merit consist? If She could have been placed in the state of being unable to sin, and did not sin, then for what did God glorify Her? If She, without any effort, and without having any kind of impulses to sin, remained pure, then why is She crowned more than everyone else? There is no victory without an adversary.”[19]


     It is in fact Metropolitan Ephraim who has a problem to which he has chosen the wrong solution. Following the Romanidean-Kalomiran “revolution in theology”, he has seen a big problem in almost every cranny of Orthodox theology: the great demon of Augustinian-scholastic influence. (This is not to say that there have not been harmful influences from the West on Orthodox theology that persist to the present day, only that these have not penetrated to the heart of Orthodox dogmatics as the anti-Augustinians claim.) His wrong solution to this much-exaggerated problem has been to try and get rid of all supposedly “Augustinian” influences, all references to original sin, the “juridical theory” of redemption, etc. But his real problem is that in fact, - at any rate, to judge from this article, - he does believe in original sin, - as he says, “we inherit the seed of sin,” – but cannot, so far, be brought to admit this because he believes – wrongly – that original sin is not a patristic teaching. So the right solution to his “problem” would be to abandon the Romanidean-Kalomiran anti-Augustinian revolution, just as he abandoned the Kalomiran crusade for Darwinism some years ago, and agree that, rightly understood, there is such a thing as original sin, that Christ delivered us from it through His Sacrifice on the Cross, and that that is why even newborn babes, who have committed no personal sins, must be baptized “for the remission of sins” – the sinful disorder we inherit from our forefather Adam.


August 8/21, 2009.



[1]“The Shackles of the Latin Captivity” or “Your Sin is Not So Original”,, August 5, 2009.

[2]The Dogma of Redemption, Wildwood: Monastery Press, 1972.

[3]The Ancestral Sin, Ridgewood, N.J.: Zephyr Publishing, 2002.

[4]We could add that they also use the terms propatoriki amartia, progoniki amartia and prototypon amartima (St. Basil the Great, Homily 8).

[5]St. Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence, II, xxvi, 43.

[6]Archbishop Theophan, The Patristic Teaching on Original Sin, p. 22.

[7]St. Maximus the Confessor, Quaestiones ad Thalassium, 42.

[8]St. Athanasius the Great, Four Discourses against the Arians, I, 51.

[9] St. Ephraim, quoted in Archbishop Theophan, op. cit.

[10]St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Beatitudes, 6, PG. 44, 1273.

[11]St. Symeon, Homily 37, 3.

[12]St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 5: On the Meeting of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ .

[13]Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, II, 7; Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974, p. 77.

[14]St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 37 on the Dormition, P.G.151:460-474; quoted in The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1989, p. 90.

[15]St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 14; quoted in The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1989, p. 105.

[16]St. Ephraim, Homily 41; quoted in The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1989, p. 105.

[17]St. Gregory the Theologian, P.G. 35:325B, 633C; quoted in The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1989, p. 90.

[18]The Festal Menaion, March 25, Mattins canon, Ode Seven; quoted in The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Buena Vista: Holy Apostles Convent, 1989, p. 112.

[19]St. John Maximovich, The Orthodox Veneration of the Mary the Birthgiver of God, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996, p. 59.

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