The Effects of the Ancestral Sin

This is the 20th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Garments of Skin in St. Gregory of Nyssa.

The Eastern Patristic theologians frequently put a positive spin on the consequences of the Fall: even the garments of skin and death itself reveal God’s mercy towards the humans as they all serve corrective purposes for humans.  All are the means God is using to heal the human and to stop the human spiraling even further away from God.

“Neither corruptibility nor death… are punishments from God; they are instead consequences of our alienation from the source of life.”  (Dumitru Staniloae,  THE TEACHING OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 697)

Thus God is not portrayed as vengeful or even judgmental, but of being love and acting according to the Triune divine nature.  God is not portrayed as being only just or of being wrathful.  God ever continues to love the creatures He has made, and His actions toward us continue to be for our salvation.

Nevertheless the effects of the Fall are real, and humans must live and struggle with them.

“With the fall of Adam, both humanity and the entire cosmos were affected.  Illness, therefore, is not the root problem, but only a symptom.  The far more significant consequence of the fall was the rupture of the communion between God and humanity, between humans among themselves, and between humanity and the rest of creation.  For Christians, sickness and death are not the real problem: rather, it is alienation from God, and the resulting spiritual death, which are the real tragedy.”  (Paul Meyendorff, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK, p 84)

The cause and the effect of the Fall are the disrupted relationship between humans and their Creator.  Separation from God is what allows the humans to choose disobedience, and further separation from God is the result of choosing to live away from God.  This separation from God is the real problem of humanity.  It is not sin as such, which is a symptom of the problem.  This separation from God then disrupts the human relationship to and role in the rest of creation.

“By being himself focused on God, man was to heal the divisions within the created order and unite it with it Creator.  But man failed to be centered on God and thus became a force for division instead of unity.  This is how Maximus understands the cosmic effects of the Fall: it is not the shattering of a golden age, but a failure to take creation forward to its appointed goal.” (Elizabeth Theokritoff in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 95)

God placed in humanity the potential for perfection and free will; humans have to choose which direction they want to move: toward God and perfection, or away from God following their own sinful passions.

Some modern writers have expressed a disappointment with the Patristic writers that they did not do more to connect the effects of the Fall with the world as we experience it, instead they focused more on a theological understanding of the world.  A few modern Christian writers however have tried to close that gap.  Physicist John Polkinghorne is one.   Here is one comment he made about the Fall:


“It is interesting that the powerful story of Genesis 3 depicts the fall as a fall upwards:  the gaining of the knowledge of good and evil!  At some point in hominid evolution, self-consciousness – a deep self-awareness and the power to project our thought far into the future – dawned on our ancestors.  At the same time, I believe that a new form of God-consciousness also dawned for them.  The fall was the process by which they turned away from God into the self, an error of which we are all the heirs.  This did not bring biological death into the world, since that had been there for many millions of years, but it brought what one might call mortality, human sadness at the transience of life.  Because our ancestors were self-conscious, they knew that eventually they would die.  Because they had alienated themselves from the One whose faithfulness is the sole (and sufficient) ground of the hope of destiny beyond death, this knowledge became a source of deep sadness.”  (QUESTIONS OF TRUTH: FIFTY-ONE RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD, SCIENCE AND BELIEF)

Death becomes for humans the ultimate in separation from God.  Death is not part of God’s plan for humans and humans come to death through their own willful disobedience of God’s commands.  God however works His plan of salvation to destroy death through the crucifixion and resurrection of His incarnate Son Jesus Christ.

Next:  Ancestral Sin and the Loss of Communion with God

Charity: The Fruit of Fasting

“A brother visited an Elder and asked him:

“Father, my relatives owe me a small sum and I want to get it, so that I might give it to the poor. Since they show me no readiness to return it to me soon, what should I do?”

The Elder answered him:

“If you do not cast of this carnal mentality, and acquire a bit of the indifference allowed by God, then there is a danger that you may fall to wishing to please men.”

(From St.Barsanouphios, The Evergetinos, pg. 91)


“Hence, I beseech you, let us not only practice almsgiving, but also do it carefully so that we may gain great blessings in return for small, incorruptible for those that are passing, and eternal for those that are temporary, and that with all these we may also succeed in attaining the forgiveness of sins and those ineffable good things. May this be the good fortune of all of us to arrive at, thanks to the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the holy and lifegiving Spirit, be glory now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.” (St.John Chyrsostom, The Fathers of the Church – Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pg.435)