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In western Catholicism, there is an idea that if you commit a grave sin with full consent and full knowledge that it is grave, it becomes a mortal sin. You loose your state of grace and are set on a trajectory for Hell. You are forbidden to receive the Eucharist unless you go to confession.

I'm wondering what the eastern Christian understanding is, particularly eastern Catholic, because they are bound to accept the mortal/venial sin distinction but I understand they don't emphasize it in the same way as western Catholics do. What is the eastern understanding of mortal sin?

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There is no such distinction between "mortal" and "venial" sin in the fashion you suggest within the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it must also be understood that sin, as well as the related concepts of grace and free will, is understood completely differently in the Orthodox Church.

Sin, within the Eastern Orthodox Church, is seen as a spiritual disease - a disease that we inherit as a result of man's Fall in Paradise. It is seen more as a sickness to be treated than a crime to be punished.

A dogmatic definition of "sin" is provided in John's first Epistle - the definition that also appears in one of the few formal "catechisms" of the Orthodox Church (The Longer Catechism of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow): αμαρτια εστιν η ανομια - "sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). In the Latin: peccatum est iniquitas - "sin is iniquity".

Venerable Bede (672-735), who is considered a Church Father in both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church writes:

The force of this thought is grasped more easily in the Greek language in which the Letter is written, since in that language iniquity is called ἀνομία, which implies something done, as it were, against the law or without the law, since in Greek νόμος means law. When John says therefore, Everyone who commits sin also commits iniquity, that is, ἀνομίαν, and sin is iniquity, he clearly suggests that by every single sin we act against the law of God, according to the saying of the Psalmist, I have counted all sinners on earth as transgressors [Psalm 118:119 LLX]. For all who commit sin are guilty of transgression, that is, not only those who reject the known precepts of the written law which have been given them, but also those who whether through weakness or negligence or even ignorance destroy the innocence of the natural law which we received in the first-created man.

Commentary on the Seven Catholic Epistles (tr. Dom David Hurst), pp.187-188

The Orthodox Christian monk and theologian Justin Popović (1894-1979) further explains this as follows:

Sin defiles man and his being, which is in the divine image of God and God-given. It is the fundamental impurity, proto-impurity, and the origin of all impurities. Purity is, in reality, purity from sin and its impurities. That is holiness.

For such purity, such holy purity, is the divine law of man's being. This purity is achieved and maintained by living in goodness in love, in prayer, in righteousness, in meekness, in fasting, in self-restraint, and in the rest of the virtues of the Gospel - simply put, in holiness, conceived of as the synthesis and unity of all the holy virtues and grace-filled energies. In opposition to purity, to holiness as law, to the divine law of man's being, stands sin as the first and fundamental lawlessness.

Commentary on the Epistles of St. John the Theologian, p.39

While certain sinful acts - which we might refer to as specific "sins" - reflect a graver spiritual condition than others, there is really no systematic categorization of them as exists within the Roman Catholic Church.

I cannot really comment on the doctrine on sin that Uniates hold, but I would be surprised if it held to Eastern Orthodox rather than Roman Catholic doctrine. The two theologies are quite distinct. I am assuming that if there is a lighter emphasis on the mortal/venial distinction it is a residual influence of Eastern Orthodoxy.

(As a footnote, I attended high school at the Benedictine Abbey where Dom David, the translator of Bede's commentary above, was a novice at the time. I was surprised to encounter him in print decades later as an Orthodox convert).

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    Just a question in order to understand: wouldn't there be some actions that the Orthodox would consider as incompatible with theosis? – AthanasiusOfAlex Mar 9 '17 at 1:29
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    It is not the actions that are incompatible with theosis but rather the underlying spiritual state of the individual carrying them out. Sinful actions are the manifestation of an underlying sinful state. They are the symptoms, if you will, of the disease. – guest37 Mar 9 '17 at 2:04
  • As far as I'm aware, I believe there's one exception, being suicide. Suicide is pretty much the ultimate turning away from God by ending your life on your own terms (at which point there's no chance to come back, because you're dead). There was recently a suicide from our Church - normally when a member of the parish dies, their name is added to the Great Entrance 'prayers for the dead' for a certain amount of time. But this person was NOT included in those prayers. There was still a funeral (though I did not attend so I couldn't say if anything was different about that service). – Andarta Mar 9 '17 at 21:17

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