Sin photo by April/Flickr

An Eastern Orthodox Perspective on Sin

By Nicholas Damascus

“Had your mind not run ahead, your body would not have followed.” – Saint Mark the Ascetic.

When you sin, blame your thought, not your action. Our thoughts determine our lives.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23).


In the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) the word for sin in Greek is “αμαρτία” which is defined in the following way: ‘failure’ or — more specifically — ‘missing the mark,’ ‘going astray,’ ‘erring,’ ‘severing a relationship,’ or, ultimately, “failing to achieve the purpose and benefit of life for which one is created.’

In Orthodoxy, we see ourselves as loved by God, but fallen — beautiful, yet run through with brokenness. Sin is not a shortcoming or a failure to live up to some external moral code of behavior, but rather a failure to realize that life is love and communion. Anything other than this is “missing the mark” and heading in the wrong direction, which often leads to spiritual death.

Sin is like air pollution. All of us contribute to it; everyone suffers from it.


Our capacity and propensity for evil exists inside of us through the disposition of our passions. Our fleshly desires and pleasures, more often than not, “lead us into temptation.” There is also the obvious additional force of Satan and his minions, an external force of evil that wants to deceive, mislead and corrupt us.


If sin (evil) divides or severs relationship resulting in isolation and spiritual death, then cultivating and creating relationships in communion and love is life itself, resulting in what we know to be our personas or existence. In the EOC sin is looked at as a condition that damages us. It is an infection, a disease, a sickness or an injury that needs to be treated, medicated and healed — NOT an infraction that needs to be paid. When we are mired in sin, self-deception and self-destructive ways, unwilling to examine our condition, one might conclude that we got there by conspiring with ourselves to confirm our own myths.


Change comes from within.

In Romans 12: 1-2, Saint Paul says, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

The word for “mind” in this Scripture passage in the ancient Greek means the nous, the mind of the soul, the eye of the soul; it is the faculty that gives us the ability to understand or comprehend the Word.

Sin is a sickness of soul, repentance is the treatment and confession is the medicine. Repentance conciliates; confession affirms the conciliation.

This inspiring passage encompasses the theme of the EOC. The implication is that the change has to come from within and not just from intellectual understanding or outward signs. Saint Paul speaks of this change from within as “theosis” a transformative process and a journey, to refrain from our sinful nature of the flesh and to seek the holy nature of God. Through union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature, which for us is the purpose of our human existence. Being is communion.


The process to deal with sin is to begin the healing of the nous, to set it free from the darkness and brokenness that has laid hold of it since the fall of mankind. In this healing one can hear the Lord’s voice more clearly, more consistently, opening the eyes that are blind, unmasking the deceptions of the passions, bringing the imprisoned out of the darkness into the light.

His love is greater than your sins. There is no sin — no matter how great it may be — that cannot be forgiven. All our sins are but a drop in the ocean compared to God’s love for us, which is an ocean in itself. This is how our salvation is understood, leading us to a safe return and recovery.

As Saint Ephraim, the Syrian says “Do no disdain me on account of my impurity, but instead attend to my contrition and desire to better myself.”

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