Eastern Orthodox Christian theology

Eastern Orthodox Christian theology

Eastern Orthodox Christian theology is the theology particular to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is characterized by monotheistic Trinitarianism, belief in the Incarnation of the Logos (Son of God), a balancing of cataphatic theology with apophatic theology, a hermeneutic defined by Sacred Tradition, a concrete ecclesiology, a robust theology of the person, and a therapeutic soteriology.



The "Hospitality of Abraham" by Andrei Rublev: The three angels represent the three persons of God.

Orthodox Christians believe in a single God who is both three and one (triune): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, "one in essence and undivided". The Holy Trinity is three "unconfused" and distinct divine persons (hypostases), who share one divine essence (ousia)—uncreated, immaterial and eternal. The Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from Whom the Son is begotten eternally and also from Whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. The essence of God being that which is beyond human comprehension and can not be defined and or approached by human understanding.[1]


Orthodox Christians believe in the dual nature of Christ. He is both 100% God and 100% human, Perfect God (τέλειος Θεός) and Perfect Human (τέλειος άνθρωπος). Throughout the ages this has been a point of contention between Christian break away groups (Heterodox) and the mainstream believers (Orthodox). This means that Christ had a divine will and a human will. He had a human body able to suffer the same way as we would, but at the same time, He was perfectly divine and could not suffer corruption. "That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption." (Psalm 49:9 KJV).

Orthodox Christian believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, Saviour and Son of God and that he was begotten before all ages. "Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:58). Eastern Orthodox Christology has not changed since the Christian Church started. Orthodox Christians believe in the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus, that Jesus truly did rise from the dead after being buried for three days in a tomb. Easter is called Pascha by the Orthodox Church, which is taken from the Hebrew word Pesach meaning Passover. Pascha is called the Feast of Feasts and is considered the Greatest feast of all the feasts of Jesus Christ, including Christmas. Christmas is classed as second in importance after Pascha (Easter).

Essence and Energies

In discussing God's relationship to his creation a distinction is made within Orthodox theology between God's eternal essence and uncreated energies, though it is understood that this does not compromise the divine simplicity. Energies and essence are both inseparably God. The divine energies are the expressions of divine being in act. According to Orthodox doctrine, whereas the Persons of the Holy Trinity are divine by nature, created beings are united to God through participation in the divine energies.


Orthodox icon of the Resurrection (14th cent. fresco, Chora Church, Istanbul).

Orthodox Christians hold that man was originally created in communion with God, but through acting in a manner contrary to his own nature (which is intrinsically ordered to communion with God), he disrupted that communion. Because of man's refusal to fulfill the "image and likeness of God" within him, corruption and the sickness of sin whose consequence is death entered man's mode of existence. But when Jesus came into the world He Himself was Perfect Man and Perfect God united in the divine Hypostasis of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Through his assumption of human nature, human existence was restored, enabling human beings, and the fulfilment of creation, through participation in divinity by incorporation into Jesus Christ.

"The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image. In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once and for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image [of God]." St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

Salvation, or "being saved," therefore, refers to this process of being saved from death and corruption and the fate of hell. The Orthodox Church believes that its teachings and practices represent the true path to participation in the gifts of God. Yet, it should be understood that the Orthodox do not believe that you must be Orthodox to participate in salvation. God is merciful to all. The Orthodox believe that there is nothing that a person (Orthodox or non-Orthodox) can do to earn salvation. It is rather a gift from God. However, this gift of relationship has to be accepted by the believer, since God will not force salvation on humanity. Man is free to reject the gift of salvation continually offered by God. To be saved, man must work together with God in a synergeia whereby his entire being, including his will, effort and actions, are perfectly conformed with, and united to, the divine.

"God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence. Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified [made Holy] by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. The love of God for man is so great that it cannot constrain; for there is no love without respect. Divine will always will submit itself to gropings, to detours, even to revolts of human will to bring it to a free consent." Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction

The ultimate goal of the Orthodox Christian is to achieve theosis, or Union with God. This is sometimes expressed thus: "God became Man so that Man might become God." Some of the greatest saints have achieved, in this life, a measure of this process. The individual who achieves theosis never realizes his accomplishment, as his perfect humility keeps him blind to pride. Salvation therefore is not merely an escape from the eternal bondage of death, but an entrance to life in Christ here and now.


Icon depicting the Emperor Constantine (centre) and the bishops of the First Council of Nicaea (325) holding the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed of 381.

The Orthodox Church considers itself to be the original church started by Christ and his apostles. For the early years of the church, much of what was conveyed to its members was in the form of oral teachings. Within a very short period of time traditions were established to reinforce these teachings. The Orthodox Church asserts to have been very careful in preserving these traditions. When questions of belief or new concepts arise, the Church always refers back to the primitive faith. They see the Bible as a collection of inspired texts that sprang out of this tradition, not the other way around; and the choices made in forming the New Testament as having come from comparison with already firmly established faith. The Bible has come to be a very important part of "Tradition", but not the only part.

Likewise, the Orthodox Church has always recognized the gradual development in the complexity of the articulation of the Church's teachings. It does not, however, believe that truth changes and therefore always supports its previous beliefs all the way back to the direct teachings from the Apostles. The Church also understands that not everything is perfectly clear; therefore, it has always accepted a fair amount of contention about certain issues, arguments about certain points, as something that will always be present within the Church. It is this contention which, through time, clarifies the truth. The Church sees this as the action of the Holy Spirit on history to manifest truth to man.

The Church is unwavering in upholding its dogmatic teachings, but does not insist upon those matters of faith which have not been specifically defined. The Orthodox believe that there must always be room for mystery when speaking of God. Individuals are permitted to hold theologoumena (private theological opinions) so long as they do not contradict traditional Orthodox teaching. Sometimes, various Holy Fathers may have contradictory opinions about a certain question, and where no consensus exists, the individual is free to follow his conscience.

Tradition also includes the Nicene Creed, the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the writings the Church Fathers, as well as Orthodox laws (canons), liturgical books and icons, etc. In defense of extrabiblical tradition, the Orthodox Church quotes Paul: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by our spoken word, or by our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Orthodox Church also believes that the Holy Spirit works through history to manifest truth to the Church, and that He weeds out falsehood in order that the Truth may be recognised more fully.


A page from a rare Georgian Bible, 1030 A.D, depicting the Raising of Lazarus.

Many modern Christians approach the Bible and its interpretation as the sole authority to the establishment of their beliefs concerning the world and their salvation. From the Orthodox point of view, the Bible represents those texts approved by the church for the purpose of conveying the most important parts of what it already believes. The Church more or less accepted the preexisting Greek Septuagint version of Hebrew Scriptures as handed down to them from the Jews; but the New Testament texts were written to members or congregations of the Church which already existed. These texts were not universally considered canonical until the church reviewed, edited, accepted and ratified them in 368 AD.

The Greeks, having a highly sophisticated and philosophical language, have always understood that certain sections of Scripture, while containing moral lessons and complex truth, do not necessarily have to be interpreted literally. The Orthodox also understand that a particular passage may be interpreted on many different levels simultaneously. However, interpretation is not a matter of personal opinion (2 Peter 1:20). For this reason, Orthodox depend upon the consensus of the Holy Fathers to provide a trustworthy guide to the accurate interpretation of Scripture.[2] [3]

Orthodox Christianity is a strongly biblical church. A large portion of the Daily Office is made up of either direct portions of scripture (Psalms, lections) or allusions to scriptural passages or themes (hymnography such as that contained in the Octoechos, Triodion, Pentecostarion, etc.) The entire Psalter is read in the course of a week (twice during Great Lent). The entire New Testament (with the exception of the Book of Revelation) is read during the course of the year, and numerous passages are read from the Old Testament at Vespers and other services.

The Gospel Book is considered to be an icon of Christ, and is placed in a position of honour on the Holy Table (altar). The Gospel Book is traditionally not covered in leather (the skin of a dead animal) because the Word of God is considered to be life-giving. Traditionally, the Gospel is covered in gold or cloth.

Orthodox Christians are encouraged to read and study the Bible daily, especially making use of the writings of the Holy Fathers for guidance.

Consensus of the Fathers

Orthodoxy interprets truth based on three witnesses: the consensus of the Holy Fathers of the Church; the ongoing teaching of the Holy Spirit guiding the life of the Church through the nous, or mind of the Church (also called the "Catholic Consciousness of the Church"[4]), which is believed to be the Mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16); and the praxis of the church (including among other things asceticism, liturgy, hymnography and iconography).

The consensus of the Church over time defines its catholicity—that which is believed at all times by the entire Church.[5] Those who disagree with that consensus are not accepted as authentic "Fathers." All theological concepts must be in agreement with that consensus. Even those considered to be authentic "Fathers" may have some theological opinions that are not universally shared, but are not thereby considered heretical. Some Holy Fathers have even made statements that were later defined as heretical, but their mistakes do not exclude them from position of authority (heresy is a sin of pride; unintended error does not make one a heretic, only the refusal to accept a dogma which has been defined by the church). Thus an Orthodox Christian is not bound to agree with every opinion of every Father, but rather with the overall consensus of the Fathers, and then only on those matters about which the church is dogmatic.

Some of the greatest theologians in the history of the church come from the fourth century, including the Cappadocian Fathers and the Three Hierarchs. However, the Orthodox do not consider the "Patristic era" to be a thing of the past, but that it continues in an unbroken succession of enlightened teachers (i.e., the saints, especially those who have left us theological writings) from the Apostles to the present day.


The Orthodox approach to sin and how to deal with it is never "legalistic". Following rules strictly without the heart "being in it" does not help a believer with his salvation. Sin is not about breaking some set of rules; rather, it is the name for any behavior which "misses the mark," that is, fails to live up to the higher goal of being like God.

Thus, in the Orthodox tradition sin is not viewed as a stain on the soul that needs to be wiped out, but rather as a pervading sickness or a failure to achieve a goal. Sin, therefore, does not carry with it the guilt for breaking a rule, but rather the impetus to become something more than what we are. Because each person's experience is unique, dealing with one's sinful habits needs individual attention and correction. The ultimate goal for this process is to become more Christ-like in one's actions.

A traditional practice of Orthodoxy is to have a spiritual guide to whom one confesses and who treats the sin on an individual basis. An experienced spiritual guide will know how and when to apply strictness in dealing with sin and when to administer mercy.

Original sin

In Eastern Orthodoxy, God created man perfect with free will and gave man a direction to follow. Man (Adam) and Woman (Eve) chose rather to disobey God by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus changing the "perfect" mode of existence of man to the "flawed" mode of existence of man. This flawed nature and all that has come from it is a result of that "original sin". All humanity shares in the sin of Adam because like him, they are human. The union of humanity with divinity in Jesus Christ restored, in the Person of Christ, the mode of existence of humanity, so that those who are incorporated in him may participate in this mode of existence, be saved from sin and death, and be united to God in deification. Original sin is cleansed in humans through baptism or, in the case of the Theotokos, the moment Christ took form within her.

This view differs from the Roman Catholic (Augustinian) doctrine of Original Sin in that man is not seen as inherently guilty of the sin of Adam.[6] According to the Orthodox, humanity inherited the consequences of that sin, not the guilt. The difference stems from Augustine's interpretation of a Latin translation of Romans 5:12 to mean that through Adam all men sinned, whereas the Orthodox reading in Greek interpret it as meaning that all of humanity sins as part of the inheritance of flawed nature from Adam. The Orthodox Church does not teach that all are born deserving to go to hell, and Protestant doctrines such as Predeterminism that derive from the Augustinian understanding of original sin are not a part of Orthodox belief.

In the book Ancestral Sin, John S. Romanides addresses the concept of original sin, which he understands as an inheritance of ancestral sin from previous generations. Romanides asserts that original sin (as inherited sin) is not a doctrine of the church nor cohesive with the Eastern Orthodox faith, but an invention of later church fathers such as Augustine. In the realm of ascetics it is by choice, not birth, that one takes on the sins of the world.[7] Recent essays have emerged by various contemporary Orthodox scholars which attempt to reconcile and react to both the Creationist interpretation of Genesis 1-2 and the strict Darwinist theory of human evolution.[8]


Detail of Hell in a painting depicting the Second Coming (Georgios Klontzas, late 16th cent.)

Historically, Orthodox theologians have held a variety of views about the nature of hell. According to Iōannēs Polemēs, the Orthodox saint Theophanes of Nicea claimed that the damned would see the divine light and identified this light with the fire of hell: "Theophanes points out that this kind of divine vision will be a cause of suffering for sinners, since the divine light will be perceived as the punishing fire of hell."[9] However, according to Polemēs, the Orthodox saint Gregory Palamas did not believe that sinners could experience the divine light: "Unlike Theophanes, Palamas did not believe that sinners could have an experience of the divine light [...] Nowhere in his works does Palamas seem to adopt Theophanes' view that the light of Tabor is identical with the fire of hell."[10]

Today the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that Heaven and Hell are within the same realm, which is in the presence of God.[11][12] Some theologians have compared the Eastern view of Hell with the Western view of Purgatory.[citation needed]

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that both the elect and the lost enter into the presence of God after death, and that the elect experience this presence as light and rest, while the lost experience it as darkness and torment.[13] The Orthodox see this doctrine as supported by Scripture and by the patristic tradition.

The afterlife for the damned is dreadful anticipation of Judgment Day, while the elect happily await the resurrection of the dead. Orthodox Christians pray for the dead, and believe that such prayers are beneficial for the dead. Some have misunderstood the Orthodox Church to teach that sometimes a lost soul can't be saved after death through the prayers of the living. Rather, the Orthodox teaching is that the souls of the departed - in either Heaven or Hell - do not receive "Final Judgment" until "Judgment Day". Thus, the living pray for the souls of the dead, that God grant them Eternal Life, and asking for the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on-behalf of the departed.

On Judgment Day, bodies are resurrected and reunited with their respective souls. (This is why Orthodox Christians do not cremate their remains.) Upon Final Judgment, the joys of Heaven - or the torment of Hell, is finally experienced in fullness of a complete human being (body and soul).

The Concept of Hell

Some Orthodox theologians see another example of distinction between East and West in the teaching of Hell as a created place[14][15][16][17]. For the Orthodox, Heaven is not a place in the sky, it is being with God.[18] Salvation in the East, is not salvation from the wrath of God,[19] as St Isaac teaches that the Love of God is the Tree of Life.[20] According to Eastern Christianity people are not sent down to Hell by an angry God.[21] Hell as professed in the East is not the absence of God nor the separation of one from God but rather the opposite both are being with God in the presence of God.[22][23][24] Finally the theological concept of hell or eternal damnation also via theoria is expressed different in the West,[citation needed] than in the East.[25]

"A Monster from Hell". A 19th-century Russian hand-drawn lubok.

The Orthodox Church holds that both Heaven and Hell are a condition of relationship with God that is either theosis or perdition, both of which are often spoken of as the effect of being in the presence of God. The Orthodox Church teaches that eternal damnation in the lake of fire and heaven occur within the same realm, which is being with God; God is Heaven, God is the Kingdom of God and Heaven.[26] For one who hates God (as existence, as Life for example called Misotheism) such a place as in the presence of God, will be eternal suffering.[27][28]

The Orthodox Church teaches that Heaven and Hell are in the same realm, and that Hell is not separation from God symbolically or physically,[29][30]

Hell as taught in Orthodoxy is a place chosen.[31] The Western understanding of Hell (called inferno or infernus) can be understood from the works of Augustine as being a place possibly located under the earth.[32] Saint Gregory of Nyssa argued that Hades (the place "which serves as a receptacle for souls after death" not the place of Hell per se) is a subterranean locale.[33]

The West too teaches that God does not cut off anyone off from himself, and that the non-physical separation from God of those in Hell is only a self-exclusion on their own part.[34][35]

As the Church both Eastern and Western teaches, there is no place where God is not, and God's love is for all human beings, including sinners. Hell is described as self-exclusion from communion with that universal love,[36] as cutting oneself off from love,[37] or but as an enemy of God.[38] Only of a human heart that excludes God can it be said that, in a sense, God is not there, and so Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote that Hell is "the place where God is not" (emphasis in the original).[39] In his review of the Bishop's book Hieromonk Patapios criticized this expression as unorthodox.[40]


Prior to Christ's incarnation on Earth it was man's "fate", when he died, because of the fall of Adam, to be separated from God. Because man distorted his mode of existence through acting against what was natural to him - thus disobeying God - mankind placed itself in a terrible and inescapable position. God, however, raised man's fallen nature, to unite his divine nature with our human nature. This he accomplished through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who assumed human nature, thus becoming man, whilst retaining the divine nature proper to divinity. It is fundamental for Orthodox Christians that they accept Christ as both God and Man, both natures complete. This is viewed as the only way of escaping the hell of separation from God. The incarnation unites mankind to divinity. Orthodox Christians believe that because of that Incarnation, everything is different. It is said that St Basil stated: "We are to strive to become little gods, within God, little jesus christs within Jesus Christ". In other words, Orthodox Christians must seek perfection in all things in their lives; and strive to acquire Godly virtue. It is believed that God, through assuming humanity, makes it possible for man to participate in divinity. Orthodox Christians do not believe in becoming "separate" gods in the pagan sense; rather, they believe that humans may participate in the divine energies of God without loss of their personal particularity. Humans, therefore, become by grace what God is by nature.


The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary.

A great many traditions revolve around the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God, which are theologically paramount. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that she was and remained a Virgin before and after Christ's birth. Many of the Church's beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary are reflected in the apocryphal text "The Nativity of Mary", which was not included in scripture, but is considered to be accurate in its description of events. The child Mary was consecrated at the age of three to serve in the temple as a temple virgin. Zachariah, at that time High Priest of the Temple, did the unthinkable and carried Mary into the Holy of Holies as a sign of her importance – that she herself would become the ark in which God would take form. At the age of twelve she was required to give up her position and marry, but she desired to remain forever a virgin in dedication to God. And so it was decided to marry her to a close relative, Joseph, an uncle or cousin, an older man, a widower, who would take care of her and allow her to retain her virginity. And so it was that when the time came she submitted to God’s will and allowed the Christ to take form within her. It is believed by many Orthodox that she, in her life, committed no sin; however, the Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate conception. The Theotokos was subject to original sin as the Orthodox understand it, yet she lived her life stainless and pure. In the theology of the Orthodox Church, it is most important to understand that Christ, from the very moment of conception, was fully God and fully man. Therefore Orthodox Christians believe that it is correct to say that Mary is indeed the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God, and that she is the greatest of all humans ever to have lived (except, of course, for Christ her Son). The term 'Theotokos' has tremendous theological significance to Orthodox Christians, as it was at the center of the Christological debates of the 4th and 5th centuries AD.

After her great role was accomplished, the Church believes she remained a virgin, continuing to serve God in all ways. She traveled much with her son, and was present both at his Passion on the Cross and at his ascension into heaven. It is also believed that she was the first to know of her son's resurrection – the Archangel Gabriel appearing to her once more and revealing it to her. It is believed she lived to the age of seventy and called all the apostles to her before she died. According to tradition Saint Thomas arrived late and was not present at her death. Desiring to kiss her hand one last time he opened her tomb but her body was gone. The Orthodox believe she was assumed into heaven bodily; however, unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not a dogmatic prescription and the holy day is usually referred to as the Feast of the Dormition, not that of the Assumption.


The Eastern Orthodox church rejects the Western European philosophical problems that derive from Western Christianity's theological teachings about the Judeo-Christian Trinity.[citation needed]

The Eastern Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement,[41] wrote:

There is no need for Christians to create a special theory for justifying God (theodicy). To all the questions regarding the allowance of evil by God (the problem of evil) there is one answer - Christ; the Crucified Christ, Who burns up in Himself all the world's sufferings for ever; Christ, Who regenerates our nature and has opened the entry to the Kingdom of everlasting and full life to each one who desires it. The Orthodox Church teaches that from the time of Christ's coming into the world, the fullness of Divinity Love is revealed to those who believe in Him, the veil is fallen, and the Lord's sacrifice has demonstrated His Divine in His Resurrection. It only remains for the faithful to partake of this Love: "O taste and see that the Lord is good," exclaims David the Psalmist.[42]

These concepts theodicy and the problem of evil from an Eastern Orthodox perspective stems from misconception about the anthropology of man (i.e. free will, divine omnipotence).[42][not in citation given] In the earliest years of the Christian community a group of syncretic sectarians (whom sought to reconcile the gnosis of their religo-philosophical metaphysical systems of the ancient Mystery Religions with Judeo-Christian belief) labeled gnostics (by Church Fathers such as St Irenaeus) attacked the Jewish God and the story of cosmic creation contained in the Torah. Much of these gnostics sects attacked the Jewish creator Yahweh as inferior due to the Judeo-Christian God allowing his creation to be imperfect or allowing the occurrence of negative events. The clearest example of this "flawed" or imperfect God is in modern terms expressed in the philosophical concept termed "the problem of evil." Western Roman Catholic philosophers (such as Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas following Augustinian theodicy)[43][Need quotation to verify] have attempted to make apologies for the Judeo-Christian God due to this characteristic of the material world, under the term theodicy.[43][Need quotation to verify]

The early church fathers addressed this form of fatalism (a more modern secular term for these teachings would either necessitarianism or determinism) as it taught that mankind had no free will, Judeo-Christianity taught mankind has free will (a philosophical position called libertarianism). Judeo-Christianity taught (against the gnostics) that the cosmos is fallen but not due to God creating it that way (1st creation) but rather because mankind misused his free will to choose to be separate from God i.e. to be like God, is to be self sufficient (with no need for God). When mankind made this choice it is taught in Eastern Patristics that reality or mankind's environment was corrupted (fallen).

Causing randomness (a necessary thing for there to be free will in an existence separated from God) to be infused into mankind's existence. In order for the randomness to be real, good and bad befall all people rather they be good or bad of character. The first condition of this change was the Eastern understanding of creation which greatly parted from the fatalist approach to sin as taught by the gnostic sectarians. In that God created sarx as a means to give men a way to remedy their fallen state by using their time on earth to seek God and reconciliation with God even while being separated from God by their flesh or sarx.

The notion that the Eastern Orthodox see theodicy as an exclusively Western preoccupation is belied by writings such as Pavel Florensky's The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters; Archbishop Stylianos's Theodicy and Eschatology: A Fundamental Orthodox Viewpoint in Theodicy and Eschatology (Australian Theological Forum Press 2005 ISBN 1-920691-48-0); Tsunami and Theodicy by David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian and author of The Beauty of the Infinite; "The Lady and the Wench": A Practical Theodicy in Russian Literature by Paul Valliere; and with regard to one of the Fathers of the Church Irenaeus' Theodicy.


The Resurrection of Christ is the central event in the liturgical year of the Orthodox Church and is understood in literal terms as a real historical event. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified and died, descended into Hades, rescued all the souls held there through man's original sin; and then, because Hades could not restrain the infinite God, rose from the dead, thus saving all mankind. Through these events, he released mankind from the bonds of Hades and then came back to the living as man and God. That each individual human may partake of this immortality, which would have been impossible without the Resurrection, is the main promise held out by God in his New Covenant with mankind, according to Orthodox Christian tradition.

Every holy day of the Orthodox liturgical year relates to the Resurrection directly or indirectly. Every Sunday of the year is dedicated to celebrating the Resurrection; many Orthodox believers will refrain from kneeling or prostrating on Sundays in observance thereof. Even in the liturgical commemorations of the Passion of Christ during Holy Week, there are frequent allusions to the ultimate victory at its completion.

Saints, relics, and the deceased

Relics of Saint Demetrius in Thessalonika, Greece.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church a saint is defined as anyone who is currently in Heaven, whether recognized here on earth or not. By this definition, Adam and Eve, Moses, the various prophets, martyrs for the faith, the angels and archangels are all given the title of Saint. There is a service in the Orthodox Church in which a saint is formally recognized by the entire Church, called glorification. This does not, however, "make" a saint but simply accords him or her a place on the calendar with regular services in his honor. Recently, in order to avoid abuses, the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople has begun to follow the longstanding practice of other local Orthodox churches by issuing special encyclical letters (tomoi) in which the Church acknowledges the popular veneration of a saint. Glorification usually happens after believers have already begun venerating a saint. There are numerous small local followings of countless saints that have not yet been recognized by the entire Orthodox Church.

A strong element in favor of glorification can be the perceived "miraculous" condition of physical remains (relics), although that alone is not considered sufficient. In some Orthodox countries it is the custom to re-use graves after three to five years due to limited space. Bones are respectfully washed and placed in an ossuary, often with the person's name written on the skull. Occasionally when a body is exhumed something believed to be miraculous occurs to reveal the person's sainthood. There have been numerous occurrences where the exhumed bones are said to suddenly give off a wonderful fragrance, like flowers; or sometimes the body is said to be found incorrupt despite having not been embalmed (traditionally the Orthodox do not embalm the dead) and having been buried for three years.

For the Orthodox, body and soul both comprise the person, and in the end, body and soul will be reunited; therefore, the body of a saint shares in the holiness of the soul of the saint.

Orthodox venerate saints and ask for their prayers, and consider them brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. Saints are venerated and loved and asked to intercede for salvation, but they are not given the worship accorded to God, because their holiness is believed to come from God. In fact, anyone who worships a saint, relics, or icons is to be excommunicated. As a general rule only clergy will touch relics in order to move them or carry them in procession; however, in veneration the faithful will kiss the relic to show love and respect toward the saint. Every altar in every Orthodox church contains relics, usually of a martyr. The Church building interiors are covered with the icons of saints.

The Orthodox Church sees baptism, both for infants and adults, as the moment one is incorporated into Christ. The person baptised is given a new name, always the name of a saint. As well as birthdays, Orthodox celebrate the day of the saint for whom the person is named (the person's name day).


See also

  • History of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology
  • Eastern Orthodox theologians of the 20th century

External links


  1. ^ Lossky, V.. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. 
  2. ^ Kallistos (Ware), Bishop (1963). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books (published 1964). pp. 204, ff.. ISBN 0-14-020592-6 
  3. ^ Pomazansky, Protopresbyter Michael (1963 (in Russian)). Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (Rev. by author, 1973 ed.). Platina, California: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood (published 1984 [English trans.]). p. 61. LOC # 84-051294 
  4. ^ Pomazansky, op. cit., p. 35
  5. ^ St. Vincent of Lerins, wrote in his Commonitoria (434 AD), that Church doctrine, like the human body, develops over time while still keeping its original identity: "[I]n the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all" (Chap. XXIII, §§ 54–59)
  6. ^ Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Theology, Part II: God Manifest in the World, 5. Concerning Evil and Sin Footnote on Augustine and Original Sin. Man's fall into sin Perhaps no doctrine of the Orthodox Church has caused such heated discussions and misunderstandings in our day as has this doctrine of original or ancestral sin. The misunderstandings usually occur either from the desire to define the doctrine too precisely, or from overreactions to this over-definition. The expressions of the early Fathers in general (apart from Blessed Augustine in the West) do not go into the “how” of this matter, but simply state:“When Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men” (St. Athanasius the Great, Four Discourses Against the Arians, 1, 51, Eerdmans English tr., p. 336). Some Orthodox Christians have mistakenly defended the Augustinian notion of “original guilt" — that is, that all men have inherited the guilt of Adam's sin — and others, going to the opposite extreme,have denied altogether the inheritance of sinfulness from Adam. Fr. Michael rightly points out, in his balanced presentation, that from Adam we have indeed inherited our tendency towards sin, together with the death and corruption that are now part of our sinful nature, but we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal sin. The term “original sin” itself comes from Blessed Augustine's treatise De Peccato Originale, and a few people imagine that merely to use this term implies acceptance of Augustine's exaggerations of this doctrine. This, of course, need not be the case. In Greek (and Russian) there are two terms used to express this concept, usually translated “original sin” and “ancestral sin.” One Orthodox scholar in the Greek (Old Calendar) Church describes them as follows: “There are two terms used in Greek for 'original sin.' The first, progoniki amartia is used frequently in the Fathers (St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Maximus the Confessor). I have always seen it translated 'original sin,' though Greek theologians are careful when they use the term to distinguish it from the term as it is applied in translating St. Augustine. The second expression one sees is to propatorikon amartima, which is literally 'ancestral sin.' John Karmiria, the Greek theologian, suggests in his dogmatic volumes that the latter term, used in later confessions, does not suggest anything as strong as Augustinian 'original sin,' but certainly suggests that 'everyone is conceived in sin.' “There are sometimes extreme reactions against and for original sin. As recent Greek theologians have pointed out, original sin in Orthodoxy is so tied to the notion of divinization (theosis) and the unspotted part of man (and thus to Christology) that the Augustinian overstatement (of man's fallen nature) causes some discomfort. In the expression 'original sin' the West often includes original guilt, which so clouds the divine potential in man that the term becomes burdensome. There is, of course, no notion of original guilt in Orthodoxy. The Western notion compromises the spiritual goal of man, his theosis and speaks all too lowly of him. Yet rejecting the concept because of this misunderstanding tends to lift man too high — dangerous in so arrogant a timeas ours. The balanced Orthodox view is that man has received death and corruption through Adam (original sin), though he does not share Adam's guilt. Many Orthodox, however, have accepted an impossible translation of Romans 5:12, which does not say that we have all sinned in Adam, but that, like Adam, we have all sinned and have found death” (Archimandrite Chrysostomos, St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, Hayesville, Ohio). The King James Version rightly translates Romans 5:12 as: “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” The Latin translation of the latter clause, “in whom all have sinned,” overstates the doctrine and might be interpreted to imply that all men are guilty of Adam's sin. [1]
  7. ^ Romanides, John S. (2002). Ancestral Sin. Ridgewood, NJ: Zephyr Pub.. ISBN 0970730314. 
  8. ^ Maletis, John P. (2008). "Let There Be Light: An Orthodox Christian Theory of Human Evolution For The 21st Century". Theandros 5 (3). ISSN 1555-936X. 
  9. ^ Iōannēs Polemēs, Theophanes of Nicaea: His Life and Works, vol. 20 (Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996), p. 99
  10. ^ Iōannēs Polemēs, Theophanes of Nicaea: His Life and Works, vol. 20 (Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1996), p. 100
  11. ^ These things mean that men's experiences of God will be different. "To each by himself the Master will give according to the measure of his excellence and his worthiness. “For there the order of those who teach and those who learn will cease, and in each will be the ardent love of all. “Thus there will be one who will give His grace to all, that is, God Himself, but men will receive it according to their capacity. The love of God will fall on all men, but it will act in a twofold way, punishing the sinners and giving joy to the righteous. St. Isaac the Syrian, expressing the Orthodox Tradition on this subject, writes: "The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties"10. [2]
  12. ^ This interpretation concerning Paradise and Hell is not only that of St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Basil the Great, but is a general teaching of the Fathers of the Church, who interpret apophatically what is said about the eternal fire and eternal life. When we speak of apophaticism we do not mean that the Fathers distort the teaching of the Church, speaking abstractly and reflectively, but that as they interpret these themes they try to free them from the categories of human thought and from images of sensory things13. On this point too one can see how the Orthodox-Greek Fathers differ from the Franco-Latins who considered these realities as created14. [3]
  13. ^ Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife According to the Bible, an Orthodox account
  14. ^ This is an analogy to how the presence of God is light and warmth to those who love him, and pain and destruction to those who oppose him, yet it is the same "fire." It's also useful to consider the ancient Greco-Roman pagan understanding of the heavens and Hades. Though it was not fundamental to Hebrew theology, the Greek view was still sometimes referenced or borrowed, because these ideas were familiar and prevalent in the culture.This is not the way traditional Western Christianity, Roman Catholic or Protestant, has envisioned the afterlife. In Western thought Hell is a location, a place where God punishes the wicked, where they are cut off from God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet this concept occurs nowhere in the Bible, and does not exist in the original languages of the Bible. [4]
  15. ^ "Paradise and Hell are an energy of the uncreated grace of God, as men experience it, and therefore they are uncreated. According to the holy Fathers of the Church, there is not an uncreated Paradise and a created Hell, as the Franco-Latin tradition teaches". [5]
  16. ^ Besides this, the biblical concept of heaven and Hell also becomes distorted, since the eternal fires of Hell and the outer darkness become creatures also whereas, they are the uncreated glory of God as seen by those who refuse to love. Thus, one ends up with the three-story universe problem, with God in a place, etc., necessitating a demythologizing of the Bible in order to salvage whatever one can of a quaint Christian tradition for modern man. However, it is not the Bible itself which need demythologizing, but the Augustinian Franco-Latin tradition and the caricature which it passed off in the West as Greek Patristic theology. [6]
  17. ^ "The Orthodox Church understands Hell as a place of eternal torment for those who willfully reject the grace of God" (The Orthodox Church: Teaching)
  18. ^ This is an analogy to how the presence of God is light and warmth to those who love him, and pain and destruction to those who oppose him, yet it is the same "fire." It's also useful to consider the ancient Greco-Roman pagan understanding of the heavens and Hades. Though it was not fundamental to Hebrew theology, the Greek view was still sometimes referenced or borrowed, because these ideas were familiar and prevalent in the culture. The ancient pagan Greek view, later adopted by the Romans, was that heaven was a physical place up in the sky. The word for heaven is used interchangeably with the location of the objects of the sky, as in "heavenly bodies", and for the dwelling place of the gods. That is why the Greek word for heaven and sky is the same; there was no distinction made between them in the earliest writings, but eventually they were also understood to be more as a metaphor for the spiritual heaven. [7]
  19. ^ As Saint Isaac the Syrian says: "He who applies pedagogical punishments in order to give health, is punishing with love, but he who is looking for vengeance, is devoid of love. God punishes with love, not defending Himself — far be it — but He wants to heal His image, and He does not keep His wrath for long. This way of love is the way of uprightness, and it does not change with passion to a defense. A man who is just and wise is like God because he never chastises a man in revenge for wickedness, but only in order to correct him or that others be afraid" (Homily 73). So we see that God punishes as long as there is hope for correction. After the Common Resurrection there is no question of any punishment from God. Hell is not a punishment from God but a self condemnation. As Saint Basil the Great says, "The evils in Hell do not have God as their cause, but ourselves."
  20. ^ Saint Isaac the Syrian says that "Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained," and that "the tree of life is the love of God" (Homily 72).
  21. ^ The idea that God is an angry figure who sends those He condemns to a place called Hell, where they spend eternity in torment separated from His presence, is missing from the Bible and unknown in the early church. While Heaven and Hell are decidedly real, they are experiential conditions rather than physical places, and both exist in the presence of God. In fact, nothing exists outside the presence of God. [8]
  22. ^ Augustinian Christians, both Vaticanians and Protestants, are literally unbalanced humans, and had been indeed very dangerous up to the French Revolution and are potentially still quite dangerous. They were never capable of understanding that God loves equally both those who are going to Hell and those who are going to heaven. God loves even the Devil as much as He loves the saint. "God is the savior of all humans, indeed of the faithful" (1 Tim. 4:10). In other words, Hell is a form of salvation although the lowest form of it. God loves the Devil and his collaborators but destroys their work by allowing them to remain inoperative in their final "actus purus happiness" like the God of Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, De Deo Uno, q. 26./ [9]
  23. ^ So Hell is the torment of the love of God. Besides, as St. Isaac says, the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against the love of God, "is more poignant than any fear of punishment"8. It really is a punishment when we deny and oppose anyone's love. It is terrible when we are loved and we behave inappropriately. If we compare this to the love of God, we can understand the torment of Hell. And it is connected with what St. Isaac says again, that it would be improper for a man to think "that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God"9. So even those being punished will receive the love of God. God will love all men, both righteous and sinners, but they will not all feel this love at the same depth and in the same way. In any case it is absurd for us to maintain that Hell is the absence of God.[10]
  24. ^ This interpretation concerning Paradise and Hell is not only that of St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Basil the Great, but is a general teaching of the Fathers of the Church, who interpret apophatically what is said about the eternal fire and eternal life. When we speak of apophaticism we do not mean that the Fathers distort the teaching of the Church, speaking abstractly and reflectively, but that as they interpret these themes they try to free them from the categories of human thought and from images of sensory things13. On this point too one can see how the Orthodox-Greek Fathers differ from the Franco-Latins who considered these realities as created [11]
  25. ^ Thus Hell is the torment of the love of God. Besides, as St. Isaac says, the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against the love of God, "is more poignant than any fear of punishment"8. It really is a punishment when we deny and oppose anyone's love. It is terrible when we are loved and we behave inappropriately. If we compare this to the love of God, we can understand the torment of Hell. And it is connected with what St. Isaac says again, that it would be improper for a man to think "that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God"9. So even those being punished will receive the love of God. God will love all men, both righteous and sinners, but they will not all feel this love at the same depth and in the same way. In any case it is absurd for us to maintain that Hell is the absence of God. [12]
  26. ^ "Paradise and Hell exist not in the form of a threat and a punishment on the part of God but in the form of an illness and a cure. Those who are cured and those who are purified experience the illuminating energy of divine grace, while the uncured and ill experience the caustic energy of God."[13]
  27. ^ "Those who have selfless love and are friends of God see God in light - divine light, while the selfish and impure see God the judge as fire - darkness". [14]
  28. ^ Man has a malfunctioning or non-functioning noetic faculty in the heart, and it is the task especially of the clergy to apply the cure of unceasing memory of God, otherwise called unceasing prayer or illumination. "Those who have selfless love and are friends of God see God in light - divine light, while the selfish and impure see God the judge as fire - darkness". [15]
  29. ^ Thus Hell is the torment of the love of God. Besides, as St. Isaac says, the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against the love of God, "is more poignant than any fear of punishment"8. It really is a punishment when we deny and oppose anyone's love. It is terrible when we are loved and we behave inappropriately. If we compare this to the love of God, we can understand the torment of Hell. And it is connected with what St. Isaac says again, that it would be improper for a man to think "that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God"9. So even those being punished will receive the love of God. God will love all men, both righteous and sinners, but they will not all feel this love at the same depth and in the same way. In any case it is absurd for us to maintain that Hell is the absence of God. LIFE AFTER DEATH by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos [16]
  30. ^ God himself is both heaven and Hell, reward and punishment. All men have been created to see God unceasingly in His uncreated glory. Whether God will be for each man heaven or Hell, reward or punishment, depends on man's response to God's love and on man's transformation from the state of selfish and self-centered love, to Godlike love which does not seek its own ends. [17]
  31. ^ Hell is not so much a place where God imprisons man, as a place where man, by misusing his free will, chooses to imprison himself. And even in Hell the wicked are not deprived of the love of God, but by their own choice they experience as suffering what the saints experience as joy. ‘The love of God will be an intolerable torment for those who have not acquired it within themselves’ (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 234).
  32. ^ St. Augustine expressed the view that "the nature of Hell-fire and the location of Hell are known to no man unless the Holy Ghost made it known to him by a special revelation", though elsewhere he says: "It is my opinion that the nature of Hell-fire and the location of Hell are known to no man unless the Holy Ghost made it known to him by a special revelation", (City of God XX.16). Elsewhere he expresses the opinion that Hell is under the earth (Retract., II, xxiv, n. 2 in P.L., XXXII, 640).[18]
  33. ^ "St. Gregory then cites Philippians 2:10, 'that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth'; in support of the notion that Hades is a geographical location, namely that the 'things under the earth' would be the beings in Hades" (Saint Gregory of Nyssa On the Soul and the Resurrection).
  34. ^ "Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy" (Pope John Paul II, 28 July 1999
  35. ^ "Vatican officials said that the Pope — who is also the Bishop of Rome — had been speaking in 'straightforward' language 'like a parish priest'. He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that Hell is a 'state of eternal separation from God', to be understood 'symbolically rather than physically'" (The Times).
  36. ^ "To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'Hell'" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1033).
  37. ^ "A detailed study of the Fathers as they handle Scripture on these issues describes the same scenario. Heaven is being with and in God, theosis, divinisation. Hell is separation from God, a self inflicted suffering of cutting oneself off from the Source of life and love itself" (Fr. Gregory's Orthodox Catechism: Heaven and Hell - Pascha Cycle - Love and Judgement)
  38. ^ Paradise and Hell according to Orthodox Tradition
  39. ^ The Orthodox Church, revised edition (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 106
  40. ^ "Without a single citation from the Fathers, His Grace baldly asserts that Hell is 'the place where God is not' (ibid. [emphasis in the text]). He then notes, parenthetically, that 'God is everywhere!' If God is everywhere, as the doctrine of Divine omnipresence entails, then how can there be any place from which He is absent? And yet, Bishop Kallistos reasons, if Christ descended into Hell, He must have descended into the depths of the absence of God. There are problems, here, not only with regard to an Orthodox understanding of Heaven and Hell, but also in terms of His Grace's misuse of terminology; that is, as we shall see, his failure to distinguish between Hell as a place of torment for unrepentant sinners and Hades as the place where death prevailed over man before the Resurrection. These words are used interchangeably, we admit, and the distinction to which we have referred is a subtle one; however, it is one essential to any response to the innovative and theologically troublesome idea that Christ, descending into Hades, supposedly went to a place from which God was absent" (Hieromonk Patapios's review of the book in Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVI, Nos. 3&4, pp. 30-51).
  41. ^ In Memoriam: Olivier Clément
  42. ^ a b http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/parables_potapov.htm Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary By Father Victor Potapov ]
  43. ^ a b God and evil: an introduction to the issues By Michael L. Peterson ISBN 978-0-8133-2849-2 pg 94 [19]

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