The East (Specifically Eastern Orthodox) and Immaculate Conception

This information I stumbled upon when researching the east and the Immaculate Conception of The Mother of God

It seems the east used to believe in immaculate conception. In fact, in 1855, the Athenian professor, Christopher Damalas, was able to declare in response to the Immaculate Conception proclamation by Pope Pius IX that :

“We [The Orthodox] have always held and always taught this doctrine. This point is too sacred to give rise to quarrels and it has no need of a deputation from Rome”.

An example of this is George Scholarios (+1456), the last Patriarch of the Byzantine Empire, has also left us a homily on the Dormition and an explicit affirmation of the Immaculate Conception. He says that Mary was

“all pure from the first moment of her existence” (gegne theion euthus).

From Chrysostom, Vol. VI, No. 5 (Spring 1983), pp. 151-159.

A contemporary and opponent of Photius, the monk Theognostes, wrote in a homily for the feast of the Dormition, that Mary was conceived by “a sanctifying action”, ex arches - from the beginning. It seems to me that this ex arches exactly corresponds to the “in primo instanti“ of Roman theology. "

Gregory Palamas, archbishop of Thessalonica and doctor of the hesychasm (+1360) in his 65 published Mariological homilies, developed an entirely original theory about her sanctification. On the one hand, Palamas does not use the formula “immaculate conception” because he believes that Mary was sanctified long before the “primus instans conceptionis“, and on the other, he states quite as categorically as any Roman theologian that Mary was never at any moment sullied by the stain of original sin. Palamas’ solution to the problem, of which as far as we know, he has been the sole supporter, is that God progressively purified all Mary’s ancestors, one after the other and each to a greater degree than his predecessor so that at the end, eis telos, Mary was able to grow, from a completely purified root, like a spotless stem “on the limits between created and uncreated”.

The Emperor Manuel II Paleologus (+1425) also pronounced a homily on the Dormition. In it, he affirms in precise terms Mary’s sanctification in primo instanti. He says that Mary was full of grace

“from the moment of her conception” and that as soon as she began to exist … there was no time when Jesus was not united to her”

It must be noted that Manuel was no mere amateur in theology. He had written at great length on the procession of the Holy Spirit and had taken part in doctrinal debates during his journeys in the West. One can, therefore, consider him as a qualified representative of the Byzantine theology of his time.

It is rather strange that the most precise Greek affirmation of the Immaculate Conception should come **from the most anti-Latin, the most “Protestantizing” of the patriarchs of Constantinople, Cyril Lukaris (+1638). He too gave a sermon on the Dormition of Our Lady. **He said that Mary

was wholly sanctified from the very first moment of her conception (ole egiasmene en aute te sullepsei) when her body was formed and when her soul was united to her body”;

and further on he writes:

“As for the Panaghia, who is there who does not know that she is pure and immaculate, that she was a spotless instrument, sanctified in her conception and her birth, as befits one who is to contain the One whom nothing can contain?” Panaghia, who is there who does not know that she is pure and immaculate, that she was a spotless instrument, sanctified in her conception and her birth, as befits one who is to contain the One whom nothing can contain?”

So when do the East change its position on the Immaculate conception ?

From what I understand, many on the East do not disagree with the Immaculate Conception as it is - on the contrary, this is an opinion one is allowed to have while still being Orthodox (hey, even the Moscow Patriarch used to agree with it!). What they disagree with, is that the Catholics proclaim it as a dogma.

Which is, essentially, the position held on many Catholic dogmas proclaimed after the separation of the Churches. Though, the more popular position, especially among the laity, is “Catholics are always wrong, regardless of what they say - even if we used to say the same thing before”.

Do you think in a way that orthodoxs didn’t like it being dogma?

Yes, I would say so. Their position seems to be “we don’t know 100% whether it is true or not (i.e. whether Mary was conceived without the Original Sin), so it was presumptuous of Catholics to proclaim otherwise”.

Huh that’s interesting considering the orthodox and us go by tradition as well as the bible I don’t know why the Orthodox Church in a way didn’t accept it.

Well, since they do not believe in papal infallibility, and there has been no Ecumenical Council among the Orthodox Churches since the Schism, there’s no way for dogmas to be accepted. Mind you, there are also people among the Orthodox who disagree with the Immaculate Conception, whatever their reasoning is; the “official” Church position, though, neither condemns nor confirms the belief itself.

The Orthodox have the same belief about the Eucharist - but they don’t feel the need to you terminology as we do. So they do not use the word ‘transubstantiation’ - it does not mean that they do not believe it.

Do you believe either of the propositions below?

1: Men are born without sanctifying grace and are because of this privation accounted guilty of Adam’s sin (as a consequence of suffering under its effects) in the eyes of God and are worthy of damnation from birth.

2: Men are implicated in Adam’s sin, not by means of an external imputation but by a common moral solidarity of will with Adam as the common progenitor of man.

If you reject both propositions, on what grounds do you think that indifference towards or rejection of the dogma of the immaculate conception entails a rejection of the quotations you posted?


I am beginning to think like you.

I have been attempting, foolishly, to provide understanding for the Catholic faith. I noted to them they never attack the Orthodox. Why don’t they because it is the Eastern Church, has liturgy and 7 sacraments.

Then I was thinking likewise how the Orthodox consider our teachings heretical. I do not understand how the Orthodox would not believe in Mary’s Immaculate Conception…and when driving home, I thought of the same, they don’t accept the dogma simply because the Latin Church defined Mary’s sinlessness.

When I see the sects, the Orthodox, the Protestants all disagreeing or maligning even the Catholic Church, it is sad.

KathleenGee, to be fair, those who disagree with the Immaculate Conceptions do provide their reasoning for it. Whether it is convincing or not, is another question (I know it has most surely not convinced me), but I have no doubt that there are people who sincerely believe this reasoning.

Now, I do think that there would be much, much less opposition to the Immaculate Conception, if it wasn’t coming from the Catholic Church, as the anti-Catholic attitudes are pretty strong among the Orthodox (and you are right, I’ve never encountered such opposition to the Orthodox among the Catholics). However, at the end this is just my opinion, informed by my subjective experience, and I would not want to presume to speak for every single member of the Orthodox Church.

So basically you reject the immaculate conception on the grounds that it is unnecessary?

That was my understanding of why the Orthodox do not agree with it - it assumes a premise the Orthodox do not, that is, original sin. Am I on the right track, Cavaradossi?

It depends on how one defines original sin. As far as I know, the major fault that counter-reformationists found in the reformers’ understanding of Original sin was not the idea of shared guilt with Adam, but rather more specifically the idea of imputed guilt. If one accepts the understanding of original sin as a sort of shared guilt with Adam (as was common before the Second Vatican Council), then of course it is necessary that the virgin be cleansed of it if one is to say that the virgin was sinless, as for an unregenerate human being, his very existence is sinful and worthy of condemnation.

But if one doesn’t take for granted the premise that the effects of the original sin result in actual sin (whether one believes that it is concupiscence, the deprivation of sanctifying grace, or a unity of will with Adam that is actual sin in the unregenerate), I am not sure what claim one can make for the necessity of the Immaculate Conception or even what its purpose might be.

This is an area widely outside of my expertise. And it seems a difficult one. But I can see one need not make the error of John Calvin to see the need for the Immaculate Conception. I don’t think I could articulate Church teaching on what original sin is without making some error. But I can say what it is not.

We do not believe original sin implies shared guilt with Adam. We do not believe original sin results in actual sin. But we do not believe we can come to know God absent from His grace either. And we do not believe we possess God’s grace from the moment of our conception.

As I understand it - guys, correct me if I’m wrong - original sin is not so much a guilt (God says: because you have committed the sin of Adam, you are separated from me) as it is a disease, like a genetic disease, passed from generation to generation. It’s a birthmark: not necessarily wanted, but unavoidable. We’re all like crack babies; we have an addiction to sin, but it isn’t our fault. And to me that makes sense: if you want a baby with blue eyes, you probably won’t get him from parents with brown eyes (as blue eyes are a recessive gene).

If one claims that it is possible to live one’s life without sinning while still being under effect of the original sin - true, then one could claim that Mary was sinless through her own works, and the Immaculate Conception is not needed. But how exactly is this different from the Pelagian heresy?

Do you believe that leading a sinless life is in itself sufficient for salvation?

No, I don’t. But correct me if I am wrong - from what I understand, leading a sinless life is not only insufficient for the salvation, but also impossible without being freed from the Original Sin.

For what it’s worth, you can replace ‘Orthodox’ for ‘Lutheran,’ and this post still works for the other more modern Marian dogmas like the PV. Sadly, more often for the second paragraph than the first. :o

Do carry on with the Original Sin discussion. I’m diggin’ this. :popcorn:

Yes it does, how does the EO define this? I’m confused about Ancestral sin. What is that, and where is it in antiquity pre-400? I can’t find anything? Augustine and guilt…:rolleyes:

In the West we call it Baptism for the remission of sin. Its in the Creed. I don’t know how this works elsewhere?

'no one of us is free from the spot of sin,,d.b2k

  1. The Word, then, visited that earth in which He was yet always present ; and saw all these evils. He takes a body of our Nature, and that of a [spotless Virgin], in whose womb He makes it His own, wherein to reveal Himself, conquer death, and restore life.

Admittedly the web sights are becoming clearer as we continue to move ahead with the discussion.

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