What is Sin According to Holy Orthodox Christian Church?

Prophet Nahum

Prophet Nahum

My beloved spiritual children In Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


In Greek--the language in which the New Testament was written-the word for "sin" is "amartia," literally means "to miss the mark." For Orthodox Christians, the "mark" for which we strive is to live in communion with God, basing our lives and actions on the divine life and actions of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; therefore, when we "miss this "mark" we sin.

Orthodox Christian faithful believe that sin may be voluntary or involuntary and conscious or unconscious and that sin is always personal in nature, leaving each believer to account for what he or she has done or left undone.


"The sufferings of the human race began with the appearance of moral evil and are the consequences of sin, which entered into our life. Of this the first pages of the Holy Bible testify: "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy sighing; in pain thou shalt bring forth children (the words addressed to Eve after the fall into sin); Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life" (the words spoken to Adam; Genesis 3:16-17). Sufferings are given to man as a means of chastisement, enlightenment and corruption. According to Saint Basil the Great, sufferings and death itself "cut off the growth of sin…"

The origin of evil. "But from where did moral evil arise? God created the world pure, perfect, free from evil. Evil entered the world as a consequence of the fall, which occurred, according to the word of God, originally in the world of fleshless spirits, and then in the human race, and was reflected in the whole of living nature." (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Fr. Michael Pomazansky)

According to Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, "Faith is an orientation of the soul, not an accord with a collection of facts. If sin ultimately means alienation from God, then its cure, true repentance, must consist in a radical re-orientation of one's mind, soul and life toward Jesus Christ and His great moral imperatives.

What Does "Sin" Mean?

"The term in Greek and Hebrew means "to fall short of the goal, miss the mark, fall short of one's destiny." This term is rendered in Latin as "sons," "sontis," which means "guilt; guilty," and has a forensic significance. We can see already that there is an important difference here. The terms used in Holy Scripture ('amartia', etc.) refer to something far greater than the Latin term used to translate them. The Latin term (and the understanding usually given to the word in English) is legalistic and juridical, and understood in a forensic sense.

Ironically, this concept of sin also lowers and degrades the concept of morality. If sin is only a violation of the law, then morality consists only in obeying the law. Such morality could not contribute to one's salvation, but could only render one as hypocritical as the Pharisees and as alienated from Christ as was the rich young ruler (St. Matthew 16:19-12). It was, in fact, perfectly lawful for the righteous and moral Pharisees to throw a poverty-stricken widow out of her house if she owed them money or they held a lien on the house. In the same way modern "prosperity gospel" moral evangelicals would foreclose on a poor widows' mortgage or lien without violating a law, so it would be perfectly moral act from forensic point of view.

"Sin" does not refer simply to a "violation of the law" which is "punished by God's justice." This is not to suggest, however, that there is no guilt in sin. The essence of sin should also not be understood as a contravention of God's will in a "legalistic sense," nor to fall below a given norm of behavior. To sin means to violate God's will in this sense that "God wills all men to be saved." Sin means to fall short of the destiny (mark, goal) for which man was created. Since the "goal," "destiny" and "mark" for which man was created is full communion with God, to partake of the Divine Nature (theosis) (2 Peter 1:4), sharing in His glory and immortality, then "sin" (as a noun) means to fall short of the destiny of theosis (participation in God). Death, then, may be called "the sin of the world," since death is both cause and result of missing the goal of the immortality which results from the union with God. The Apostle expresses this concept of sin when he says that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) (that is, "everyone has missed the mark and fallen short of the goal of man's destiny, which is to participate in the glory of God"--theosis (deification). All mankind, therefore, is "sinful" and each one is a "sinner" because in the life of all and each, they fall short of the destiny for which they were created. "Sins" are those things we do which openly manifest and reinforce our separation from God, or "falling short." All sins is "mortal" sin, because all sin separates us from the source of immortality--God. Indeed, even our virtues can be sin if they somehow separate us from God, for instance, through pride taken in our virtues. True faith, then, is an unconditional orientation of the whole person toward the will of God.

God does not punish man for his sins and sinfulness in this life, or even in the life to come. We forge our destiny. That which we call "hell" is our creation. We may experience it already in this life and, by our own choices, experience the fullness of it in the age to come. God has set as the destiny of all people; immortality, participation in the Glory of the Godhead, the holy of all-embracing Divine Love. God has set this as our destiny and not only taught us how to attain to it, but in Christ has made it clearly possible for us to arrive at it. Because of his sins, man always falls short of this destiny, but because of Christ Who, as true human, arrived at this destiny and attained to it for all mankind, (Romans 5:12) we can inherit it anyway by choosing to strive for a life in Christ (Romans 3:24-30).

Sin is More Than Breaking a Law: Death is the "Sin of the World."

Death, according to the teaching of the Holy Orthodox Church, is not a punishment of God: it is, rather, the result of man's failure to live up to his destiny of participating in God's immortality. Death is the primary manifestation of separation and alienation from God; it is also our principle source of bondage (Hebrews 2:15) and the driving force behind individual sins. Thus death is the "sin of the world," and mankind is in a bondage to the manner in which the world deals with the question of death, as Saint Paul again says, "Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world" (Galatians 4:3).

"Sin" refers to all those things which form a barrier between us and participation in God. We also refer to these things as "passions." If we read the Holy Scripture carefully and see that "the Kingdom of God is within you" and "you are the temple of the Holy Spirit," we learn that the essence of sin is really this: we choose to build in our hearts the principality of this world rather than the kingdom. The struggle against sin can really be defined as man's role in building a new kingdom within himself, as Saint Paul says: "Are ye not aware that to Whom ye yield yourselves to obey as servants, ye are truly His servants Whom ye obey: whether of sin unto death, or of obedience [to God] unto righteousness?" (Romans 6:16).

The principality of this world rules in a man's heart. He chooses to conquer that principality and replace it with the Kingdom of God. He knows that with God's help it can be done. Such a person then becomes a warrior of God's Kingdom. He begins to train for battle, he enters a spiritual "bootcamp," learning about the faith, studying the Holy Scripture, learning how to fight and struggle against this principality of death within himself. In this war, which is fought in one's own conscience, mind and soul, each "sin" is a defeat, a failure to conquer one of the enemy's strongholds and attain our goal. Sin is not merely a "violation of the law," as our Savior made plain to the rich young ruler (St. Matthew 19:16-26). For no matter how perfectly the young man had fulfilled the law, he still fell short of the mark and goal (sinned), not because his wealth was evil, but because he chose to keep it, rather than Christ, dominion over his heart. He made a choice between two kings..." (Archbishop Lazar: On the Nature of Sin).

For your information: His Eminence, the Most Reverend Lazar (Puhalo) of Ottawa (born Ronald Levi Puhalo), is a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America, and founding abbot of the Monastery of All Saints of North America, Canada. A contemporary episcopus vagans, he has served as a clergyman, in various ranks, in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, the Free Serbian Orthodox Church, the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece, the Holy Synod of Milan, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kiev Patriarchate), and the Orthodox Church in America.

Archbishop Lazar is known for his prolific (and, at times, controversial) theological writings.



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George