The Origin of Evil According to the Orthodox Christian Church


y beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

[Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain and Ireland, Diocese of Sourozh]

At the dawn of creation, before God made the visible world, but after the creation of the Angels, there was a great catastrophe, of which we have knowledge only by its consequences. A group of angels opposed itself to God and fell away from Him, thereby becoming enemies of all that was good and holy. At the head of this rebellion stood Lucifer, whose very name (literally meaning 'light-bearing') indicates that originally he was good. By his own will he changed from his natural state into one which was unnatural; he opposed himself to God and fell away from good into evil. Lucifer, also called the devil (Greek diavolos - 'divider', 'separator', 'slanderer'), belonged to one of the highest ranks in the Angelic hierarchy. Together with him other angels also defected, as the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) tells us metaphorically: "And a great star fell from heaven. blazing like a torch...and a third of the stars was struck, so that a third of their light was darkened" (Revelation 8:10,12). Some commentators therefore say that along with the morning star a third of the angels fell away.

By exercising their own free will the devil and his demons found themselves in darkness. Every reasonable living creature, whether Angel or human being, possesses free will: the right to choose between good and evil. Free will is the property of everyone so that we can, by practicing good, become an ontological part of that good. In other words, goodness was never meant to be granted externally to us but must become our very own possession. If God imposed goodness as a necessity or an inevitability, then no one could ever become a perfectly free person. 'Nobody has ever become good by force' says, Saint Symeon the New Theologian. Through unceasing growth in virtue the angels were meant to ascend to the plentitude of perfection, to the point of utter assimilation to the God of supreme goodness. Yet some of them chose to reject God and thereby sealed their own fate and the fate of the universe, which from that moment onwards became an arena for two contending polar (yet not equal) principles and powers: the Divine and the demonic, God and the devil.

The problem of the origin of evil has always been a challenge for Christian theology as it has often had to contend with overt or hidden manifestations of dualismAccording to some dualistic sects, the entirety of being is made up of two realms which have forever existed together: the kingdom of light filled with many good aeons (angels), and the kingdom of darkness, filled with evil aeons (demons). Spiritual reality is subject to the god of light, while the god of darkness (Satan) has unlimited dominion over the material world. Matter itself is a sinful and evil entity: the humans should by all means possible mortify their bodies in order to be liberated from matter and return t the non-material world of good.

Christian theology viewed the nature and origin of evil differently. Evil is not a primeval essence that is coeternal and equal to God; it is a falling away from good, it is a revolt against good. In this sense it would be wrong to call evil a 'substance', as it does not exist in its own right. As darkness or shadow are not independent beings but are simply the absence or lack of light, so evil is merely the absence of good. 'Evil,' writes Saint Basil the Great, 'is not a living and animated substance, but a condition of the sol which is opposed to virtue and which springs up in the slothful because of their falling away from Good. Do not therefore, contemplate evil from without; and do not imagine some original nature of wickedness, but let each one recognize himself as the first author of the vice that is in him.'

God did not create anything evil: both Angels and humans, as well as the material world, are good and beautiful by nature. However, rational creatures, possessing free will, can direct their freedom against God and thereby engender evil. This is precisely what happened: the light-bearing morning star (Lucifer), originally created good, abused his freedom, defaced his own virtuous nature and fell away from the source of goodness.

(To be continued. Next: THE EVIL-DOER}


Please note: As Christians we constantly supplicate God to "...And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one" (The Lord's Prayer). In the Gospel reading this morning we heard, "...For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (St. Luke 6:37-45).

More and more people are now acknowledging the existence of the evil one (Satan), and the evil which is in the world that we live in. It is, however, as Orthodox Christians most important to know and to discern what is good and what is evil. "It is important to make a distinction between evil in man and the ability of man to do evil. Speaking about the evil man, we seem to imply that evil is congenital with man; however, what man is born with is not evil but his being able to do evil. If we accept man as being born evil, we have also to accept that his Creator, God, is the source of man's evil; also, that God created man evil. But in that case, man cannot be held responsible for any evil that he might do in his life. Furthermore, if man is born evil he can never become good. But wherefrom do all the good people come, and how can all of us not only do good but be happy and self-fulfilled when doing it?"

According to our Holy Orthodox Christian faith, God created everything from 'nothingness' and He created them "good"; therefore, nothing of God's creation was created evil but all things were created good and capable of contributing to the final aim of creation. Saint Athanasios, one of the great Holy Father of the Church, says, "...there was no evil from the very beginning; evil does not come from God, not does it exist in God; neither was it created from the beginning; for that matter, evil is not a reality."

Saint John of Damascus gives, perhaps, the best epitome of Patristic teaching when he says, that, "goodness was given by God, Himself being the cause and beginning of all that is good; evil is nothing else but a departure from goodness, in the manner that darkness is a continuation and opposite of light;…doing evil is not congenital with man but a matter of volition." All this means that evil does not exist as a reality in the moral constitution of man; rather, it is the result of man's free will and of his ability to select between the two antithetical personality states, those of good and evil." (Source: All that a Greek Orthodox Should Know by Fr. Nicon D. Patrinacos)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George