I have recently read someone critiquing St Augustine and his interpretation of original sin as original guilt. They showed that how St Augustine taught that unbaptised infants would go to hell because they inherited the original guilt of Adam, even though the infants themselves are innocent of their sins. Correctly, they understood that inherited guilt is not the correct interpretation of original sin and the infants don’t inherit the guilt of Adam. The conclusion thus inferred is the Orthodox do not teach that unbaptised infants go to hell because they are innocent of sin.
This conclusion though is not correct. Inherited guilt is not the only reason that unbaptised infants would go to hell. Our position in heaven or hell is not only based on our innocence from sin. Our eternal life is not primarily about heaven and hell but about deification, that is union with God. Union with the One. Those who are united to Him are also united to one another and share the life of God, this is heaven, those who are not united with God, are also separated from others and live alone eternally, this is hell.
Christ worked our salvation by uniting our complete human nature with the complete divine nature in His person, thus He now has two natures. Our individual salvation in now affected by uniting ourselves to Christ becoming one with Him, one Body and sons of God by adoption. This union must be complete and Christ must be all in all both as God and as man. Our virtues and faith allow us to unite with the divine nature and this is the greater part but also we must be united in the human or created nature; we must be one Body with Christ, flesh of his flesh. This union is achieved initially through the mystery of Baptism and then sustained by the Eucharist. Baptism is administered though a created element, water, and is completed by the divine with Chrismation and the seal of the Holy Spirit. We need to partake of both for salvation otherwise we are not united to Christ and remain separate in one nature or the other; Christ teaches this in John 3: Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless someone is born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Each infant born is separated from Christ in the created/human nature by inheriting death from its parents. It requires baptism to unite it to Christ and enable it to achieve deification or union with God. Its innocence means that it is open to uniting to the divine nature but it is still separate from Christ in its created nature.
The union with the created nature must come about by the created nature, the union must be manifest though a created symbol of Christ and this is symbolised primarily in the death, burial and resurrection affected in water by a Priest of the Church. Because Baptism is to unite one with Christ and hence His Church, it can only be effective when given by and in the Church. The baptism of those separated from Christ and the Church cannot thus unite one to the Church and Christ. Salvation is only through the Church because it is only by the Church that one can be united in our human/created nature by means of our human created nature.
We must remember that salvation is about union with God, not about being a good person. We must be good because God is good but we are not saved because we are good. We are saved because we are willing to be united to God to have God be all in all in us and to are willing to be united to each other in one Body.