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Explaining about "sin nature" to a neophyte prisoner.

sin nature original sin orthodox study bible orthodox dogmatic theology

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#1 Priest Seraphim Holland

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Posted 30 May 2017 - 07:37 PM

Orthodox Dogma and the “Sin Nature”.
A question from a prisoner in a Texas prison.



Sometimes my guys get fixated onsomething. I tried to explain things to him as best I could, but I am not a theologian
(since I can barely pray), and I am not a great scholar, just a poor Christian. It is evident to me, and to him, that we are very much inclined towards sin,
even after our baptism. The Protestants, and even, perhaps, neophyte Orthodox Christians who were also scholars before their conversion, may have a view on these words that is not apparent to me, since I  ave not gone around reading a lot on non-Orthodox theology. Please, if you feel equipped, help me answer this
earnest, a little bit distracted young man.

I am sometimes too practical for those delving in the abyss of theology. It is clear that I am inclined towards sin. I do some things I do not want to do. I do not do some things I want to do! I cannot conquer my nature, but my nature can be transformed, as I repent, and struggle, and grace fills me. Of course, we are not born “guilty” – almost any Orthodox Christian knows that, but we get “guilty” soon enough. He was not satisfied with this simple explanation, so perhaps, one of you feels equipped to give a good answer. Please remember to be as practical as possible. We are struggling against sin and to pray in prison, and not to become experts in scholastic theology.

I understand his concern about the difference between "Orthodox Dogmatic Theology" and the "Orthodox Study Bible". The former was written by a theologian. I would believe him on his worst day, over the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible, although the latter are sometimes useful, but also, sometimes, inexplicable.

His question, transcribed from a handwritten letter, follows.

"Do you remember when I asked you about whether we have a sin nature or not? I told a class that early Christianity also as well as Orthodoxy does not believe that man is born with a sin nature. In our discussion you told me that, "Yes, we are born with a sin nature, which is evident in babies etc.". I felt my understandings from all that I have read in Orthodox material was correct in my assessment stated in class, although most of our material doesn't specifically say "no we were not born with a sin nature".

It does lead you to understand it as such until the next day I was reading a scripture from one of our class's books which comes from the NIV version. It was Romans 7:18 and it stated "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature, for I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out." This verse with the actual word "sinful nature" made me wonder why I thought I was wrong in my previous understanding (that we are not born with a "sin nature"), if it says it in scripture then what I hope I was misunderstanding, especially disagreeing in front of the class.

So, I wanted to see what Orthodox study notes say exactly about this verse so when I turned to Roman 7:17 and read the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible my heart fell. Fr Seraphim, it does say that the Orthodox Church rejects any teaching that man has a sin nature. I have tried to find it say this in our Orthodox dogmatic theology book but it was nowhere to be found except in concerning evil and sin on page 169 note 15. It states that from Adam we have indeed inherited our tendency towards sin, together with death and corruption that now that is now part of our sinful nature but we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal sin.

I completely understood that we don't agree with the Roman Church that we inherited Adam's guilt and that we are not totally depraved to the core but how do we correctly use the term sinful nature? Is it past tense in the sense of understanding the term as the world around us is sinful by nature, or we and our nature of good are born into a world that corrupts are inherited good nature thus becoming a sinful nature, or do we like the study Bible States, reject any teaching that man has a sin nature either before death, during our birth, after our birth.

Why and what context was Father Michael Pomazanski using this term "sinful nature"?

I'm very disturbed by all of this. Are the Orthodox Study Bible and Orthodox dogmatic theology contradicting each other or what?"

Priest Seraphim Holland 


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#2 Phoebe K.

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Posted 30 May 2017 - 10:57 PM

A good explanation of this topic is on this web site http://www.orthodoxresource.co.uk/ (I used it in an undergraduate study on the subject)  more detailed information is avalable here http://www.equip-orthodox.com/ (the information can be accessed free).  Both sites are approved by the Antiochian Christian Orthodox Archdiocese of the British Isles and Ireland.  These would be a good place to start and you can contact clergy of the diocese through them who are used to dealing with these questions, including those with doctorates in theology


We also had a talk on the origins of sin in the youth conference I went to last weekend, I will post it once it is put online as that and out other talks you may find helpful as out topic was on Smashing Idols in which we looked at passions as well.  I will post a link as soon as it is avalable.



#3 Lakis Papas

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Posted 31 May 2017 - 06:25 PM

Check the essay :

Edited by Lakis Papas, 31 May 2017 - 06:26 PM.

#4 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 June 2017 - 05:04 PM

I think a simple explanation would be that the Study Bible is stressing that our nature as created is not sinful, rather even under the force of/tendency to sin that has existed since the fall man has some ability to recognize and move toward what is good and right.  


The person writing the note seems to have Calvinism in mind and is writing against the idea that Calvin taught that after the fall our nature became totally depraved and we lost all ability to recognize or move toward the good on our own, and this could happen only by a special grace of God.


So both of these are true - We are not created as sinful, nor have we totally lost some natural ability to recognize and resist sin (See Romans 2:14 talking about how the Gentiles even without God's teaching about what is right, have a conscience and do by nature some amount of righteousness.)


However, we do live in a situation where our faculties for recognizing and moving toward the good are darkened and confused after the Fall, we are surrounded by examples where righteousness and sin are so mixed up that a pure and unmixed virtue is difficult to recognize and move toward. Our weakened mind and will, along with the confusion means that we are very unstable in virtue - one day getting upset, the next day being able to hold our peace under stress. In this sense sin is mixed with our nature and the whole spiritual struggle that we engage in within the Church is the struggle toward an unmixed, pure and stable virtue and nature.


I think part of the problem is that we can talk about "nature" two ways - that which God created us with - our essence as created, and that which is natural to us - our current behavior and way of seeing and moving in the world. In the first definition our nature is not at all sinful, under the second definition we have a sinful nature.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 09 June 2017 - 05:07 PM.

#5 Lakis Papas

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Posted 09 June 2017 - 07:33 PM

It is strange that even saint desert fathers, monks living decades in repentance, at their last days were in neptic alert watching carefully not to sin.

As they had been blessed in many ways from the Spirit, after having experienced the uncreated blessings of God, they still were afraid of the imperfection marks that were present in their human nature.

The ability to sin is present in human nature. This is not just an option, it is an intrinsic dynamic because human nature is created from nothingness. Only after the second comming of Christ our nature will be free from sinfull potential. Until then we are in constant strangle against sin.

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: sin nature, original sin, orthodox study bible, orthodox dogmatic theology

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