Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity (Romanides, 2002).
The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin.
The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21) “Man is born with the parasitic power of death within him,” writes Fr. Romanides (2002, p. 161). Our nature, teaches Cyril of Alexandria, became “diseased…through the sin of one” (Migne, 1857-1866a). It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.