In Roman Catholic Church there is a doctrine that says that salvation is achieved by sanctifying grace.

Maybe I do not understand this doctrine enough but practically it I think it means that after valid confession one receives the state of sanctifying grace, and if he dies in that state, he is saved. If after confession one commits mortal sin, then he is in danger of going to hell.

I am interested in how Eastern Orthodoxy approaches these issues.

  • Perhaps my answer here (esp. the links in the smaller print at the very end) might help.
    – Geremia
    Aug 11, 2016 at 22:27
  • An Eastern Orthodox expert should answer the question, but just to clarify from the Catholic side: sanctifying grace is first received (ordinarily) at Baptism. It is roughly equivalent to the Eastern concept of theosis (divinization). It can be lost through grave (mortal) sin, and restored with repentance and Confession. Aug 12, 2016 at 11:17

1 Answer 1


The Eastern Orthodox understanding of grace is radically different from that of Roman Catholicism.

Firstly, Roman Catholic theology maintains that grace is something that is created. The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

[Grace] is not a substance that exists by itself, or apart from the soul; therefore it is a physical accident inhering in the soul (1911 ed., vol. 6, p. 705)

It furthmore states:

Sanctifying grace may be philosophically termed a 'permanent, supernatural quality of the soul' (ibid.)

In contrast, Orthodox theology maintains:

Grace is the Uncreated Energy of God Himself, which at the time of man’s creation was intimately connected with his soul. Man participated in the Divine life through the Divine Energy, and this participation was proper to the original nature of man.

Hieromonk Damascene, note in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.), by Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, p. 166.

Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky further explains the difference in understanding in his book, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church:

That which western theology calls by the name of the supernatural signifies for the East the uncreated — the divine energies ineffably distinct from the essence of God. The difference consists in the fact that the western conception of grace implies the idea of causality, grace being represented as an effect of the divine Cause, exactly as in the act of creation; while for eastern theology there is a natural procession, the energies, shining forth eternally from the divine essence. It is in creation alone that God acts as cause, in producing a new subject called to participate in the divine fullness; preserving it, saving it, granting grace to it, and guiding it towards its final goal. In the energies He is, He exists, He eternally manifests Himself.

Kindle Locations 1532-1541

This difference in understandings of grace leads to radically different understandings of the nature of sin and salvation in both traditions. As monk Damascene further comments:

In Roman Catholic teaching original sin consists only in the privation of sanctifying grace (also called “original justice”), while the nature of man remained the same after the fall as it had been before the fall. In this view, the nature of man has not become corrupted; rather, the privation of grace in itself constitutes “a stain, a moral deformity” (Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 11, p. 314). According to Orthodox theology, on the other hand, man’s nature was corrupted at the fall, and this corruption caused man to lose the indwelling of Grace and deprived him of participation in God. As Vladimir Lossky notes, “The deprivation of Grace is not the cause, but rather the consequence of the decadence of our nature” (Mystical Theology, p. 132).

Salvation, in the Orthodox understanding, is a healing of man ("heal" and "save" are the same word in Greek), and involves cooperation of man with God to participate in His grace. It is not so much a restitution, as a restoration. Sin is seen not as an act or series of acts that offend God, but rather as a state of being separated from God. It is interesting to note that the verb form of the Greek word for sin - hamartia - is used in ancient Greek to describe what happens when a warrior misses their target ("misses the mark"). In his commentary on Romans, the late Archbishop Dmitry Royster (a Baptist convert to Orthodoxy) wrote:

What does "being saved" mean? From what sins do men need to be saved? [Matthew 1:21]. Since sin in the Greek original is hamartia, literally "failure" or "missing the mark", we have to conclude that man's sin consists fundamentally in his missing the very point of his existence (although for some Christians, salvation has been reduced to nothing more than escaping the punishment of hell).

St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary, p. 33

  • I see, I have laready known a bit about this difference in understanding of grace, but thanks for clarification. However, the Eastern concept is rather difficult for me to grasp...
    – Karol
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:47
  • Sorry, I have pressed Enter and was suprised that a comment was posted... So, as far as I understand, generally Catholic idea is that salvation depends on participation in sacraments, Orthodox stress transformation of human nature. But is for the Orthodox important, for instance, to take part in confession before death as it is for Catholics or not?
    – Karol
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:56
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    Hi @Karol - I would have to preface my answer by saying that there is also a much different understanding of the nature of "sacraments" in general in the two traditions. They are typically called "Mysteries" and not sacraments in the Orthodox Church. Elder Cleopa of Romania simply summarizes that "The Mysteries are a divine work, which were instituted by the incarnate God, with Whom, in a visible way, the believer participates in divine and invisible grace" (The Truth of Our Faith, v. 2) ...
    – user22553
    Aug 12, 2016 at 18:12
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    As we prepare for death, surely we want to participate in God's grace in all ways afforded us. The Mystery of Confession (or Repentance) would certainly be one of these ways - and one that we must necessarily participate in to prepare to receive other Mysteries such as Holy Unction and Divine Communion. But this is seen as an existential need - as the body needs food and water - and not as a sort of judicial requirement.
    – user22553
    Aug 12, 2016 at 18:15
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    @Karol No, I think the difference is that when western Catholics use the word “grace,” they think of the effect of the Indwelling of God on the soul. Eastern theology calls grace the very uncreated action (energeia) of God on the soul. I think it is fair to say (Dialogist may correct me) that both approaches agree that the action of God is absolutely necessary for salvation. Western Catholics would say that the Sacraments are the ordinary (but not the only) means to receive grace (understood as “effect” in the Western sense). Aug 13, 2016 at 8:24

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