This particular post was solicited by my old friend from seminary, Pastor Eric Brown. He commented in a previous post, saying, "How does the East use the term guilt. How is it similar and disimilar? I think that might have an impact upon the differing approaches. So while I am thinking in terms of application to vicarious attonement, feel free to take whatever tact and provide whatever observations you have seen."
Okay. I think this subject will be something I continue to learn about, but at this point I think guilt tends to be defined in two ways:
1) as a cognitive and/or an emotional experience, and
2) as an objective state, usually associated with an adjudication process.
Guilt as a Cognitive or Emotional State (i.e. Subjective Guilt)
Guilt in Orthodoxy works most poignantly in the heart of the Christian. It works through his conscience. Guilt, when left unchecked, drives one away from God out of fear. For instance, one entangled in the sin of fornication may avoid closeness with God, because of the conflict he or she feels between the love of the sin and the guilt in the heart. In this way, though, guilt also is a bit like a security system, because its presence alerts a person to a dangerous turn of events in one's relationship with God. Yet such guilt does more than cry out for attention; it is itself a disharmony between man and his Creator, a disharmony echoing from within the heart and soul of a person that disrupts one's life of communion with the Blessed Trinity.
Remorse is related to guilt, but differs in that one can feel guilty without feeling remorse (sorry for the cause of the guilt). Sometimes guilt and remorse are used synonymously, so care must be taken to distinguish which is indicated according to context.
In the context of repentance, this personal experience of guilt does not make for repentance, but only identifies one's need for repentance. In and of itself repentance is to change. Guilt does not orient one to God but calls attention to the fact that one has oriented himself away from God, pushing God away. Remorse, tears, and/or mourning are proper to repentance. But such mourning must be carefully distinguished. It is easy to shed tears over one's sins out of pride. "Oh, how could "I" do such a thing!" The tears and mourning that accompany repentance arise not out of pride but out of the loss of God. But did man really lose God? No, man causes himself to be lost from God, to experience God in wrath versus approval, and in this way the repentant person finds his repentance mixed with mourning over this realization - whether that happens in a fully cognitive manner or just at the pre-verbalized emotional level.
Guilt as an Objective State
To be objectively guilty, according to Orthodox teaching, one must do something to be at fault. One must freely sin in order to incur guilt and its subsequent wrath. Guilt is not primarily inherited from Adam, but the objective state that leads to guilt is. Man is born in an objective state of corruption, most clearly identified as mortality. This corruption lends one towards actual sins. Sometimes the state of mortal corruption is identified as being in sin or in its power. But, just as the wages of (actual) sin is death, the sting of death is sin that is empowered by the law of God. All of this is to say that guilt as an objective state does not derive directly from the first sin, but as a consequence of weakened people who no longer know perfectly God's will and choose sinful thoughts and acts over righteous acts. (This situation is compounded by the fact that fallen man is dominated by the kingdom of the Enemy, until released by Christ in Baptism.)
So this is a preface to understanding Orthodox guilt as an objective state. Objective guilt is not inherited, but entered into by one's desires and wills. The Orthodox Christian stands in prayer admitting to his or her objective guilt in every manner of sin and life situation, known and unknown, voluntary and involuntary. As much as is humanly possible the Orthodox Christian strives to unite his or her heart (in the subjective experience of guilt) with the outward realization of being objectively guilty. Yet it should be stressed that the unity of heart and mind in prayer must be given by God through His Grace, the working of the Holy Spirit; the Christian is called to seek this unity of person in God fervently through the One who united Human Nature perfectly to His Divine Nature.
In regard to Vicarious Satisfaction, the state of being guilty seems to be one of the main components. Man is guilty, thus man needs his guilt removed so as to be right with God. In Orthodoxy, as far as the saving crucifixion of Christ goes, objective guilt is a component of the issue without being the main thing. In Lutheran theology it is heavily emphasized that Christ satisfies legal requirements, both in the positive sense (supplying an objective and forensic righteousness) and in the negative sense (purging away objective guilt by the Cross). In Orthodoxy there are many ways to emphasize the Cross. This does not mean that the Cross is open to interpretation, but rather that many very important things are coming together and happening at once with the Crucifixion of Christ.
Regarding the issue of sin and Christ's Crucifixion, the main point is that Christ purges sin, that is, He actually purifies it, expiates it, expunges it, cleanses it, etc. The working concept of sin is something that causes corruption and arises from corruption. If mortality/corruption is a contagion in a wholistic sense, then sin the disease exerting its power to break down and destroy. This is primarily the view of sin, the working of a contagion that infects a person with a spiritual rot (and of course, the physical depends on the spiritual for its subsistence, so the spiritual contagion has physical consequences, some of which we live with every day and call "normal" or "natural"). This is what Christ purifies on the Cross. Somehow, in a way that only God knows, Christ bore the sins of the world in His Body on the Cross, and by His holy Suffering and Death purified human nature of this contagion, this corruption, this sin. He made Himself the Cure, injecting Himself into the heart of the illness - as a True Man who entered into Death. (A True Man is one in full communion with Life, which is the All-holy Trinity.) This is, I think, the primary view of sin and the Cross in Orthodoxy. Objective guilt is dealt with in that where the sin is cleansed the guilt is taken away, too. Thus the forgiveness of sins in Orthodoxy involves a total forgiveness - a release both the bondage/disease of sin and the guilt of alienating oneself from God.
So guilt isn't something that keeps God away, but something that keeps man away from God. I've been reading through the Prophet Jeremiah lately, and it is striking that no matter how vehement God's wrath seems to be against Judah in sending Nebuchadnezzar against them, His ultimate goal clearly is to correct His people so that they will come to their senses and return to Him. They want to worship all the pagan gods (demons) and be like the pagan nations? Then God hands them over to a pagan king to teach them the difference between their choice and serving the Living God, who is a caring Father and Husband to them. Guilt is a problem with God only when one chooses guilt and rejects Him. However, repentance always negates guilt, because God has an unimaginable love for all people. What is guilt compared to one sinner repenting? The angels rejoice over this, and God accepts such a person. Objective guilt becomes an issue when one rejects God. THEN guilt that has piled up speaks against a person, especially on the Last Day.
East and West
I think the East and West both appreciate the need to see one's guilt, both objectively and subjectively. To what end that one sees it, though, may be where some of the tension lies. Do we identify guilt in order to feel a moment of sorrow with the expectation that such a feeling makes everything okay? (I've met plenty who live this way.) Or do we see guilt as a condition that makes God hate me unless someone can smooth over the whole thing? (I've heard many insist on this.) Or do we see guilt as something that highlights our inescapable relationship with God, and something that marks out the difference between the Way of Life and the way of death? The light in which we place the issue of guilt is going to beam from how we claim to know the All-holy Trinity.
These are just some thoughts. Sorry I took so long to gather them.