At what moment did humans become sinful? Precisely, at what moment did humans acquire sinful passions?

According to my knowledge of how the Eastern Orthodox Christians view the matter of sin, the sin is divided by them into three categories: 1) original sin, 2) hereditary or generational sin, and 3) personal sin.

The original sin is the sin committed by Adam and Eve. In other words, it's their act of not following upon God's prohibition on partaking of one particular tree in the garden of Eden.

The hereditary sin is that damaged state that all humans have ended up in due to Adam and Eve's original sin. This state is characterized by humans' decaying during their lifetime (i.e. aging and being susceptible to diseases) and by the fact that they all eventually die (i.e. they are mortal). EOC doesn't consider this state to be humans' fault. In other words, all the descendants of Adam and Eve are not guilty and not responsible for the fact that they are in the state of perishability and mortality.

However, besides being perishable and mortal, which none of the humans can change, there also exist all kinds of vicious passions on their part, which humans are held responsible for not opposing to, that is, for succumbing to. Each act of succumbing to any of those vicious passions by a human is considered to be that human's personal sin.

My question is: if following this EOC perspective on the sin, when did all these vicious passions enter into humans?

As for becoming perishable and mortal, the book of Genesis indicates quite clearly that it happened at the moment of partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. After all, God told Adam that he would die that very day, on which he would eat of the forbidden tree.

However, as far as vicious passions are concerned, they do not seem to be so clearly associated with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We can state safely that humans' mortality and their knowledge of good and evil started at the moment of partaking of that tree. However, we wouldn't be as safe to claim that the vicious or sinful passions also started at that moment.

The word "sin" doesn't exist in Genesis 3 at all. The first time when this word shows up in the Bible is Genesis 4, where God is saying to Cain, "...if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it" (Gen 4:7, NIV), which seems to be a talk about temptation, that is, the process of being affected by vicious passions.

All of this brings me to suggest that the moment when viscous passions entered into humans was not really the moment of partaking of the wrong tree, but rather, a little earlier - the moment of talking to Serpent or, more precisely, the moment of believing him. After all, even before Eve partook of the tree of knowledge we read that "the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom" (Gen. 3:6), which really reminds already a description of a vicious passion.

This suggestion seems to correspond to such Paul's words like:

"...sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people..." (Rom 5:12, NIV) (if by "sin" here is succumbing to a vicious passion is implied, then Paul seems to say that vicious passions entered into humanity prior to the death's entering, in other words, the death's entering happened at the partaking of a tree while passions' entering a little prior to that - at the moment of believing Satan)

"But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion..." (2nd Cor 11:3, NIV) (Paul is not mentioning the act of partaking of the tree here at all, but only mentions "the serpent's cunning", and, of course, speaks about it as of something negative)

So, what's the traditional answer to this question in Christianity? At what moment did vicious passions enter humans' souls?

I am especially interested here in EOC and main-stream Protestantism' views on this matter (by "main-stream Protestantism" I mean those of Protestant Christians who directly address Jesus by His name in their prayers).


2 Answers 2


I don't think that it is strictly correct to say that "Eastern Orthodox Christians view the matter of sin, the sin is divided by them into three categories: 1) original sin, 2) hereditary or generational sin, and 3) personal sin." In general, Eastern Orthodoxy is not nearly this taxonomic.

What is Sin?

One of the better explanations of the Orthodox understanding of sin comes from the late Archbishop Dmitri Royster's commentary on Romans, St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans: A Pastoral Commentary. Commenting on Romans 1:18 (For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek), he writes:

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

This is the context for understanding the precise definition of sin given by the Evangelist John in his first Epistle (3:4):

Sin is lawlessness

The Greek here is anomia: the root being the Greek word for law (nomos) with the prefix "a-" indicating a lack of. The "law" being referred to here, though, is not the law of Moses, but rather that law that came into man's hearts through the new convenant that was prophesied by Jeremiah (31:33; also Hebrews 10:16).

What is "Original Sin"?

The understanding of "original sin" in the eastern Church is radically different form the understanding in western Christian confessions (i.e. Roman Catholicism, Protestantism). The difference largely arises from a fundamentally different understanding about the nature of grace itself and the impact of the Fall on man's ability to experience/receive that grace.

The two views are contrasted by Abbot Damascene in his notes to the 3rd English Edition of Protopresbyter Michael Pomazanski's Orthodox Dogmatic Theology. Regarding grace, Abbot Damascene writes:

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace” (1911 edition, vol. 11, p. 314). As noted above ... the Orthodox Holy Fathers also teach that man lost the Grace of God at the time He fell. However, the Orthodox teaching on this subject is different from the Roman Catholic teaching in two ways.

First of all, in Roman Catholic teaching grace is a created phenomenon: “It is not a substance that exists by itself, or apart from the soul; therefore it is a physical accident inhering in the soul.... Sanctifying grace may be philosophically termed a ‘permanent, supernatural quality of the soul’” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911 edition, vol. 6, p. 705). According to Orthodox theology, on the other hand, 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.1

This understanding of grace leads to a much different interpretation of the Fall:

Secondly, 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.2

As Vladimir Lossky, noted 20th century Orthodox theologian, wrote:

The deprivation of Grace is not the cause, but rather the consequence of the decadence of our nature.3

Original Sin, Hereditary Sin

Addressing your individual comments/questions:

The original sin is the sin committed by Adam and Eve. In other words, it's their act of not following upon God's prohibition on partaking of one particular tree in the garden of Eden.

The hereditary sin is that damaged state that all humans have ended up in due to Adam and Eve's original sin.

The term "original sin" is generally avoided within the Orthodox Church, since it invites confusion with Roman Catholic theology. Instead, the term "ancestral sin" is almost used in English Orthodox texts.

First and foremost, ancestral sin is understood to be a disease. It is definitely not understood as a sort of juridical guilt that gets inherited. Cyril of Alexandria (378-444) provided the following explanation:

What has Adam’s guilt to do with us? Why are we held responsible for his sin when we were not even born when he committed it? Did not God say: The parents will not die for the children, nor the children for the parents, but the soul which has sinned, it shall die (Deut. 24: 16)? We have become sinners because of Adam’s disobedience in the following manner.... After he fell into sin and surrendered to corruption, impure lusts [or pleasures] invaded the nature of his flesh, and at the same time the evil law of our members was born. For our nature contracted the disease of sin because of the disobedience of one man, that is, Adam, and thus many became sinners. This was not because they sinned along with Adam, because they did not then exist, but because they had the same nature as Adam, which fell under the law of sin. Thus, just as human nature acquired the weakness of corruption in Adam because of disobedience, and evil desires [or passions] invaded it, so the same nature was later set free by Christ, Who was obedient to God the Father and did not commit sin.

Abbot Damascene also elaborates on the Orthodox understanding of ancestral sin:

The Eastern Orthodox Holy Fathers often affirm that all of Adam’s descendants inherit his sin, in accordance with the words of St. Paul: By one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners (Rom. 5: 19). However, in saying this they do not mean that the guilt of Adam’s sin was imputed to his descendants; rather, it was the consequences of that sin that were transmitted. These consequences, as we have seen, include suffering, death, and physical corruption; a corruption of human nature; and a consequent loss of the indwelling Grace of God.5

The Precise Moment ...

Although we use the term "sin" interchangeably, there is a difference between the state, or better, disease, of sin, and a sinful act. We refer to the former as "sin", and to the latter in terms of "sins".6

So perhaps in some context it makes sense to talk about an Original Sin or the Original Sin, that is not Orthodox thinking, I think. But I think I understand the motivation for your question:

At what moment did humans become sinful? Precisely, at what moment did humans acquire sinful passions?

The way that the question is worded makes it seems evil seem more substantive than it is. Passion, in the understanding of the Orthodox Fathers, is captivity to sin. In the same way we would not ask about how someone acquired incarceration, I think we would not ask how one "acquired" passions. Passion is complete surrender to sin.

Archbishop Averky Tauchev explained the stages leading to the passions in his book, The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society:

Man’s falling into sin takes place in accordance with a certain consistent pattern. The first stage of sin is the stage of “suggestion,” when sinful thoughts and suggestions enter unintentionally, by chance, and contrary to one’s will into one’s soul, either through the senses, the emotions or through the imagination. This is sinless and is only a possible prelude to sin. “Acceptance” is the reception of a “suggestion,” paying heed to it, which is not always without sin. “Consent” is when the soul delights in the thought or image that has been presented; at this point, there is the danger of actually falling into sin by deed. The next stage is “captivity,” when the soul is so strongly drawn to sin that the peaceful state of the soul is disturbed. Finally comes “passion,” the long-term and habitual delight in sinful thoughts and feelings, and the committing of sin in actual deed. This is already complete slavery to sin, and the one who does not repent and drive out his passion will be subject to eternal torment. However, someone possessed by one or another passion begins to experience a foretaste of eternal torment already in this life and will not find inner peace. At this point a very intense and persistent battle and the special Grace of God is necessary in order to renounce a sin that has become second nature.7

In Genesis, we see these stages played out:

  • First we have the suggestion of the devil (Genesis 3:1)
  • Next, we have an acceptance of the devil's suggestion by Eve (Genesis 3:2). The right thing for Eve to have done would have been to not even converse with the serpent.
  • Third, we have further discourse and Eve's consent to the suggestion (And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye ...; Genesis 3:6) and becoming captive to the thought

The passion is the actual committing of the deed of not only eating of the fruit herself, but also giving some to her husband (Genesis 3:6). So if one wanted to identify some sort of watershed event, this might be it.

Even this, however, is not necessarily true. The Church Fathers understood that the events that immediately transpired after the transgression were God's giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to repent. First they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden ... (Genesis 3:8). "What do you say?" wrote John Chrysostom (c 349-407), "Are you going to ascribe feet to Him?"

Pay heed to the Lord's love of mankind and His extreme lack of ill will. He could, without even vouchsafing a reply to the one who had performed such a sin, have immediately subjected him to the punishment ... but He is long-suffering, delays, asks and listens to the answer, and again asks [Genesis 3:10-13], as if evoking the guilty one to justify himself in order that the matter might have been revealed He might show him His love of mankind even after such a transgression.8

Thus, Adam's and Eve's failure - in the understanding of the Church Fathers - was perhaps not primarily their transgression, but rather their subsequent failure to repent when offered the occasion to do so. As Ephraim the Syrian (306-373) commented:

If our first ancestors had desired to repent even after the transgression of the commandment, then, even though they would not have restored to themselves what they had before the transgression of the commandment, at least they would have been delivered from the curses that were uttered to the earth and to themselves.

1 p. 166n
2 p. 166-67n
3 The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p.132.
4 Commentary on Romans 5:18
5 Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, p.163n
6 Most translations of the Masoretic Hebrew of Psalm 51 (part of Orthodox daily prayers) read something like I was conceived in iniquity and in sin did my mother bear me, but the Greek Septuagint version of the Psalm (about 1,000 years older than the Masoretic Text) actually reads I was conceived in iniquities and in sins did my mother bear me - an interesting distinction.
7 p.133-134
8 Homilies on Genesis

  • (1) First of all, thank you for such an informative and well written-out answer. So, to begin with, I can see now that I used wrong terminology in English while writing my question (it's because my source on the understanding of sin in EOC was a video lecture by a Russian theologian, in which he drew clear distinction between those three types of sin, so I only knew the Russian terms). Can you, please, help me on how to use proper English terms here?
    – brilliant
    May 15, 2018 at 21:28
  • What were the Russian terms he used? If the lecture is online, could you give me a link to it?
    – guest37
    May 15, 2018 at 21:29
  • (2) As far as I can see from your answer, for the second type of sin in my question I should have used the term "ancestral sin" (instead of "hereditary sin" or "generational sin"), which is the right English term to refer to that “disease” inherited by all humans, that is, those consequences that include suffering, death, and physical corruption. But here I am also a bit confused by what you’ve said, “The term ‘original sin’ is generally avoided within the Orthodox Church, since it invites confusion with Roman Catholic theology. Instead, the term ‘ancestral sin’ is almost used…”
    – brilliant
    May 15, 2018 at 21:29
  • (3) Are you saying here that the term “ancestral sin” can also be used to refer to the original act of disobedience by Adam and Eve (which is the first type of sin in my question, the one that I referred to in my question as “original sin”)?! If the answer is “yes”, then, I am afraid, that would just further the confusion. After all, in that video lecture that I watched it was stressed again and again that the act of disobedience by Adam and Eve should be distinguished from that “disease” that we, all humans, have inherited – we do have to deal today with
    – brilliant
    May 15, 2018 at 21:31
  • (4) the consequences of that, but we did not participate in that act of disobedience and, therefore, unlike Adam, are not held responsible for that (according to EOC’s teaching). And if the answer is “no”, then what’s the right English term to refer to that first act of disobedience by Adam and Eve? As for the third type of sin in my question, the “personal sin”, I think it’s okay to leave it as it is because both Western and Eastern theologies seem to imply the same thing by this term – a sinful act committed by one individual.
    – brilliant
    May 15, 2018 at 21:31

The order is as follows :

  1. Original Sin

  2. Spiritual Death

  3. Passion

  4. Physical Death

There exists two ways one may be tempted by passions, the first way is purely external. This is exemplified in the temptations Jesus Christ the God-man was subject to. When he was tempted by the devil(serpent) in the desert, the devil tempted him by showing him goods. But at no moment did Jesus internalize the temptation. The second way is indeed internalizing the temptation, it would be like us not only having to resist external temptations like beautiful women or men, but also resisting an urge within ourselves which agressively proposes to us the sinful act whether the fruit be in our sight or in our thoughts, but especially in our thoughts.

On the list, Passion is listed third in respect to the second kind of temptation. So to be clear, it is the agressive internalized Passion.

The ability to see beauty in something or to be attracted to something on a sentimental or emotional level is not exclusive to the state of the fallen. What is exclusive to the state of the fallen is attraction to intrinsically sinful matter. Consider the fruit on the Tree, in it of itself it is not sinful to eat a fruit. But if God, by a direct command states "do not eat of this fruit or else" it still does not make the fruit instrinsically evil. This is a prerequisit for God to test the loyalty of his creatures, because he is all good and can therefore not make us defective at the initial moment. He must make us good like he is good, and then allow us to depart from this goodness under extra-judicial circumstances as it were. He being life, to contradict him regardless of the matter will result in death. This is the test.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, Part Three Life In Christ, Section One Man’s Vocation Life In The Spirit, Chapter One The Dignity Of The Human Person, Article 4 The Morality Of Human Acts, II. Good Acts And Evil Acts

1755 A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself (such as praying and fasting “in order to be seen by men”). The object of the choice can by itself vitiate an act in its entirety. There are some concrete acts – such as fornication – that it is always wrong to choose, because choosing them entails a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil.

1756 It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.

Thus Eve was tempted externally by the devil, and in addition to that noticed the beauty of the fruit with ease as the fruit was not intrinsically evil. After taking the bite she died spiritually, with Adam, this is exemplified by them noticing each others nudity and hidding from God which is an evident mark of insanity. When God confronts them, they accuse each other and the serpent, never acknowledging their own fault, the temptation is now sin internalized. They have become defective, fallen from grace. The order I presented in the start applies here and it can be generalized to the entierty of humanity with original sin and spiritual death being a priori.

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For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world. And they follow him that are of his side.

~ Book of Wisdom 2:23-25

I do realize I appealed to Catholic sources in this answer, but suffice it to say that Catholics have more in common with Eastern Orthodox than mainline Protestants.

  • 1
    Actually, where the understanding of original sin and sin and general is concerned, Protestants and Roman Catholics have much more in common with each other than either have with the Orthodox.
    – guest37
    May 15, 2018 at 16:03
  • You seem to have added one more point to your list, so the passion became third, but in your answer there are still words like "On the list, Passion is listed second". Please, modify your answer to make it more consistent and accessible for the reader.
    – brilliant
    May 17, 2018 at 4:01
  • I'll fix that, forgot about that. May 17, 2018 at 13:22
  • I an not sure what you mean passions can be of two types. PASSION or aka emotion is always internal. Whether I choose to physically act on that emotion is an option or I can hold the emotion internally. All temptation has physical roots. All temptation involves the emotions in hopes of the victim NOT using reason. I don't see the need to categorize an order .
    – Logikal
    May 17, 2018 at 18:10
  • There is a difference between having passion for things God originally allowed us to have such passion for, like admiring an art work. And the defective passion which is an admiration of something which is contrary to God. May 17, 2018 at 23:43

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