Publication Date

Spring 2011


School of Religion


Philosophy and Religion: Philosophy

Primary Subject Area



Eastern Orthodox, Atonement, Soteriology, Salvation, Sacrifice, Anthropology, Fall, Death, Corruptibility, Original Sin, Ancestral Sin, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Passion, Resurrection, Christ, Deification, Theosis, Patristics, St. Athanasius, St. Irenaeus, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. John of Damascus, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Basil, St. Augustine, Anselm


Biblical Studies | History of Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Whereas much Western theology tends to portray the sacrifice of Christ as an act of penal substitution, the patristic tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church emphasizes an understanding of Christ's atoning work that is participatory rather than substitutionary, ontological rather than juridical, and cosmic rather than individual. These differences in emphasis arise from different understandings of such foundational doctrines as man's original created nature, the fall, and the Old Testament sacrificial system.

Since man was created in a dynamic condition in the image of God, called to attain to the likeness through deification in the energies of God, and as a microcosm whose vocation is to mediate grace to the entire created cosmos as the priest of creation, man's fall is understood in ontological rather than juridical categories. Death is not imposed upon man by God as a divine punishment; it is the consequence of failure in man's vocation and parasitically infects the entire creation. The sacrifices described by the Old Testament Law are not prescribed by God for His benefit, but for that of man, signifying the cleansing that will be accomplished by the true Lamb of God and calling man's mind back to obedience and spiritual worship. As a result, the atonement, a divine work which began with Christ's incarnation, finds its fulfillment in the sacrifice of His death, not as a surrogate to placate divine wrath, but as a blessed victory that overthrows the domain of death by death, freeing man from bondage to sin and death and removing the barriers which prevented the fulfillment of humanity's original vocation.