What is the name of for the doctrine that each of us is individually guilty of all sin; that our own spiritual failures and lack of love are the cause of our neighbor's shortcomings?

I do not mean the belief that we are each guilty of every different kind of sin despite not having personally committed many of them or the Catholic belief that, through the reproduction of the human race, we have all 'inherited' guilt.

For example, Elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov says

"But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all, for all human sins, the world's and each person's, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. [...] Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and knows no satiety."

Orthodoxwiki.org describes St. Paisos the Hagiorite as having

dwelt deeply on the thought that his own spiritual failures and lack of love were the cause of his neighbor's shortcomings, as well as of the world's ills.

Here is another quote from Elder Zossima who is reported to be speaking the words which Dostoevsky heard from the mouth of St. Ambrose of Optina.

Because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, we are no holier than those that are outside, but on the contrary, from the very fact of coming here, each of us has confessed to himself that he is worse than others, than all men on earth.... And the longer the monk lives in his seclusion, the more keenly he must recognize that. Else he would have had no reason to come here. When he realizes that he is not only worse than others, but that he is responsible to all men for all and everything, for all human sins, national and individual, only then the aim of our seclusion is attained. For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men -- and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man. For monks are not a special sort of men, but only what all men ought to be.

I believe this is a uniquely Orthodox notion and I do not know the name for it. It is not total depravity. I do not have any examples of homilies expounding this topic. I suspect this is because I do not know its name or how to search for it.

  • 1
    You'll have to explain in more detail what you mean. Do you mean that everyone has committed every kind of sin (like in James 2:10)? Do you mean that we somehow share the guilty of everyone else's sin? And what does the second half have to do with the first half? Why do you want one term which means we're both guilty of all sin and the cause of everyone else's failures?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 11, 2016 at 23:55
  • Are you asking about Total Depravity or something else? Mar 12, 2016 at 5:55
  • Are you asking about the English language or any language? At any rate your question is not a good fit for this site.
    – BYE
    Mar 12, 2016 at 13:24
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    @BYE Why is this not a good fit? Asking for the name of a doctrine seems like a great question for this site. Please forgive me if my poor explanation is to blame.
    – sirdank
    Mar 14, 2016 at 14:01
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    All the examples given sound to me like they are speaking of one's perception and recognition of one's own depravity. That your neighbor's shortcomings were actually your own sinful perceptions of them. It's not talking about actuality, but perception. Then it is blended with a kind of hypercorporate sin concept. Especially that last quote. Maybe corporate sin is the closest term? Also, keep in mind that Dostoyevsky (if you've read Crime and Punishment this will make sense) is usually a bit overboard with the guilt and depravity and hyperbolic melodramatic language :)
    – Joshua
    Mar 14, 2016 at 16:04

1 Answer 1


I can't name the doctrine exactly, but I can confirm that in Orthodox Christianity, there is a belief that "our own spiritual failures and lack of love are the cause of our neighbor's shortcomings."

"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:42 NKJV)

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (I Timothy 1:15 NKJV) During the Divine Liturgy, all the people repeat that saying, each one identifying ourselves as the chief of sinners.

During the Divine Liturgy, we also pray for the salvation of all mankind. St. Seraphim of Sarov said "Find peace in your own heart, and a thousand around you will be saved." It works both ways.

  • Also relevant: 1 Tim. 4:16: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers."
    – sirdank
    Oct 2, 2017 at 18:03

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