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