The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking

This is the 31st blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of St. John Chrysostom.

The story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise inspired the Patristic theologians to apply the story to a wide diversity of topics from theology, to ethics, to explaining the world as it is. They also sometimes saw the story of the Fall as having practical moral applications.  For example from the desert fathers we have this wisdom attributed to Hyperechius (d. ca 420AD):

“He also said, ‘It was through whispering that the serpent drove Eve out of Paradise, so he who speaks against his neighbor will be like the serpent, for he corrupts the soul of him who listens to him and he does not save his own soul.’” (in THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 238)

Hyperechius finds in the story of the Fall a lesson against gossiping, spreading rumors and speaking against one’s neighbor.  Every community has felt the destructive power of those who whisper secrets against one another.

The Fall was also, according to the Fathers, the explanation for all manners of evil in the world including slavery and other forms of inequality.

“At the fall came hatred and strife and the deceits of the serpent. . . I would have you look back to our primary equality of rights … not to the later division . . . Reverence the ancient freedom … Reverence yourself.”  (St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 391AD), THE HUNGRY ARE DYING, p 150)

St. Gregory Nazianzen blames the Fall for unleashing on the world hatred and strife as well as the inequalities one can observe everywhere – between the rich and poor, between men and women, between races and nationalities.  He believed all humans had an innate, ancient freedom which had been lost as a result of the Fall.  The divisions between humankind which limit the freedoms of some and increase the powers of others are all a result of the Fall, not part of how God intended the world to be.

Interesting, for me at least, is did St. Gregory apply his thinking to all social hierarchy?   For example did it cause him to see the imperial form of government not as natural for humans but purely the result of the Fall – a necessary evil?  I also wonder how he would have applied his thinking to the emerging and becoming rigid notions of hierarchy in the church, especially in the light of Christ’s own condemnation of Christians trying to lord it over one another (Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 23:8-12; Luke 22:25-27).   It is note worthy that despite the emphasis in more recent times that the Church is hierarchical, in the 4th Century when adopting the Creedal formula regarding the Church, our Fathers in the faith did not include the world hierarchical, but expressed a faith in a one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, excluding hierarchical as the canon for the church.

“Thus in Adam’s case, too, since he had not used his dwelling in paradise to his advantage, he brought him to his senses by expulsion; and his wife, who had enjoyed equal status but proved the worse for it, he made better by slavery and subjection.”  (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS  Vol 2, p 155)

Chrysostom sees the subjection of women to men as a direct result of the Fall, not part of God’s original plan for humanity.   However, he seems to accept this subjection as not only normal to this Fallen world, but perhaps even a corrective for women as a whole since apparently all women share collectively in the sin of Eve.   He apparently doesn’t think that Christians living in the light of Christ who overcomes the effects of the Fall should try to undo the inequalities of this world regarding gender.  Was he simply the product of his own time and patriarchal society?  Several Fathers mention slavery and inequality as resulting from the Fall, but almost none advocated abolishing such inequalities.

Next:  Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings

Christ’s Descent into the Place of the Dead

Bright Monday                   CHRIST IS RISEN!

St. John Cassian (d. 435AD) writing in the 5th Century, accepted a notion, that was commonly held by many Patristic writers, about Christ descending into Hades after His death on the cross.  Christ goes to the place of the dead in order to liberate those who are being held captive by death.   The descent into Hades and the harrowing of Hell – emptying it by liberating all the dead – came to be thought of as part of the resurrection story.    The imagery is that of the Exodus and the Passover.   Christ leads God’s enslaved people from death to life and from earth to heaven rather than from one place on earth (Egypt) to another (the Holy Land).  This image of Christ dying on the cross for the express purpose of descending to the place of the dead to liberate the dead from enslavement to death is a common Eastern Patristic interpretation of the crucifixion.  Notions of Christ being crucified as a punishment from God or to fulfill some juridical requirement were not as popular in the Christian East as they became in the Christian West.  “Christ died for our sins” could mean He suffered the penalty which we should have suffered as justice demands, as a substitution for us – he suffered the penalty in our place.  Or, “Christ died for our sins” can mean that in order to rescue us from death – death  being that place we each arrived at by our sinful choices.   Christ died to descend to where we were in order to rescue us from that death.   St. John says of Jesus that:

“At the ninth hour he penetrated hell and extinguished the inextricable darkness of Tartarus by his shimmering brilliance. He broke open its gates of bronze, smashed its iron bars, and, having savingly captured the captivity of the holy ones who had been shut up in the cruel darkness of hell, bore it off with him to heaven, thrusting aside the fiery sword and by a devout confession restoring to paradise its erstwhile inhabitant.” (John Cassian, Ancient Christian Writers – The Institutes, pg. 61)

The Setting of the Sun: Reflecting on the Paschal Journey

Liturgical processions can help us understand that there is supposed to be movement in our spiritual lives – growth, change, repentance, improvement, sojourning, following, backsliding. Christ is the Way, the Church is the ship of salvation.   We are never at a fixed point, but rather always moving from where we are to the next point in time.

On Holy Friday we process on a great sojourn, like ancient Israel carrying the body of the Patriarch Joseph out of Egypt to the Promised Land (Exodus 13:19), so we carry the shroud of Christ reminding ourselves that this is not our homeland, but we are sojourners on earth trying to get to our homeland.  We identify with the itinerant Christ, sojourning on earth for the salvation of the world, but having no permanent home.   This too is the image of ancient Israel roaming the desert for 40 years – God was with them throughout this time, and only departed Israel after it built Him a permanent temple for that is when Israel and its kings also departed from following God’s way.

Pascha night as we processed back into the Church, we were coming into the light, the darkness of the world was being left behind – out there.  In here, in the church, all that mattered was the resounding truth that Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.  Despite all the problems of the world, which were ongoing even as we sang, we for one moment professed our faith to the world and against all  who would take away our hope and faith.

We walked into the light of the church from the darkness, like those who describe their near death experiences – moving toward the light.  We do die to the world and to ourselves as we move to the light of Christ.

The Vespers of Pascha are gloriously light-filled.  The crowds are gone and we are like the disciples on that first day of the resurrection (John 20:19-25).  They were avoiding the crowds, for they were very afraid.  They locked the doors to the upper room, and despite knowing the good news that Christ is risen from the dead, they are terrified of the world breaking into their midst.  They want to keep the world out.

Christians today sometimes do the same thing – they are afraid of what they see in the world, and they hate what they see in the world, and so they want to hide from the world and lock it out and block it from entering where they are.

What does Christ say?    He actually comes into their presence, despite the doors being locked.  They can’t keep Christ and His message out.   Our Lord tells them He is sending them into the world.  “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus does recognize their terror and grants them peace.  However, not peace in hiding and avoiding the world.  Jesus came to go into the world and He comes to the disciples granting them peace while sending them into that world against which they had shut and locked their doors.   Jesus tells them to go into this world they want to be protected from!

We are to be the salt of the earth and Jesus says we must leave the pristine whiteness of the salt shaker and enter the world to have an effect on the world.

In our suburban church, during Paschal Vespers the doors are open, but no one is banging to come in.  Would we be afraid if they did?  Are we still like those first disciples trying to keep the world out of our little inner circle?  Are we still afraid of the world, and what it represents and what it might do to us?  Are we afraid that the people out there might think differently than us, be different from us?

Jesus comforts us, but not by telling us to remain separate from the world – He sends us into it, as He was sent by the Father.  Into a hostile world, a world which received Him not, which preferred darkness to light.  We are supposed to be following Him and this is exactly the world into which He was sent.

There is nothing going on in the world that Jesus hasn’t seen, or that He doesn’t want to deal with.  He came to take on the sin of the world.  He came to offer the world reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, healing of soul and body, and the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have nothing to offer except what Christ offered to the world.  We have nothing to fear from the world, for Christ came to deal with these people, these ideas, these sins of which we are so afraid.

“Now that we have come to the setting of the sun, we behold the Light of evening.”  (Vespers hymn)

The Resurrection of Christ: The Day which Knows no Evening

Christ is Risen!  His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the Saints. And so David the Prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Paschal festival. ‘Rejoice and be glad,’ He cries, ‘on this day which the Lord has made.

The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words, ‘Night is almost over; day is at hand.’ He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son is that Day to whom the Day, which is the Father, communicates the mystery of His Divinity. He is the Day who says through the mouth of Solomon, ‘I have caused an unfailing light to rise in Heaven.’ And as in Heaven no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the Evangelist says, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it.’

And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this Holy Day.

Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt.

Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of Paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”

(St.Maximus Bishop of Turin 467 A.D. from the Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, pgs. 166-16)

See also  My favorite Pascha Video

Christ is risen! (2011)

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Christ is risen!  Indeed He is risen!

The Christian life is a sojourn.  It continues the journey begun when Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise.  A journey taken up by Abraham who was called by God to seek out a new land.  A sojourn which Moses undertook in moving the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land.   Then the itinerant Jesus Christ our Lord traveled through the land of Israel, preaching about a Kingdom not of this world – but one which we are to seek and follow the way to it.  The disciples following Christ went into all the world to continue this journey to the Kingdom of God.

Heaven, the dwelling place of God and the resting place of the saints, is our destination but it has no location on any map, it can be found by moving in whatever direction the Holy Spirit leads us.

Great Lent is metaphorically speaking that same sojourn toward the Kingdom, and it is also the vehicle to move us along our way.  We realize the nature of this spiritual sojourn when we understand that at the end of Great Lent and Holy Week we are to be at a different destination than the place we began weeks ago.  Prayer, fasting, charity, forgiveness, being forgiven, repentance – all are the ways in which we make this sojourn.  And we realize that it is not the location which has changed, but we ourselves – our hearts, souls and minds – have been changed by the journey, the metanoia.

And where do we arrive after weeks of sojourning?   According to the Word of God which we proclaim at Pascha – we arrive at the beginning!   We arrive at Pascha and hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed:

 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1)

Mary Magdalene & the Risen Christ

We hear the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, and we realize the entire sojourn of Great Lent was to bring us to spiritual renewal, to the basics of Christianity, to the baptismal font where our life in Christ begins, to the first day of the new creation on which the empty tomb was discovered.

May God bless each and all of you with the newness of life and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

I also invite you to see my favorite Pascha Video.

Fr. Ted

Where in the World is Adam?

“Thus, from the first moment of disobedience, when Adam and Eve discover they are naked and flee from the gaze of their Creator, God goes to search for them: “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) This call of God resonates beyond boundaries of the primitive Eden; it reverberates throughout the entire history of Israel and of humanity, God moves to search for the lost sheep, and when He has found it, He, full of joy, brings it back on His shoulders to the sheep pen. Upon His return, He gathers friends and neighbors for rejoicing (Lk 15:4-7). Again we perceive echoes of the heavenly feast.

However, the search for the lost human being is long and hard. The Orthodox Church, at Matins of Holy Saturday, in the wake of St.Irenaues states: ‘You descended to earth to find Adam, but You did not find him on earth, O Master, and You went to search for him in Hades.’ (stanza 25).” (Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, pg.55)

The Descent into Hades

“In Orthodox iconography the ‘Descent to Hades’ portrays the risen Christ liberating Adam and Eve, depicted as a very old man and woman, from a black hole representing the realm of non-being, or Hades. Christ the new Adam, the new human being, raises up old mortality to new life. He does the same for all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, for he is the one who can say, ‘I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades’ (Rev. 1:18);” (Paul Valliere, Modern Russian Theology: Bukharev, Soloviev, Bulgakov – Orthodox Theology in a New Key, pg. 4)

The Wise Thief

The Wise Thief

 “The Wise Thief,

You made worthy of Paradise,

in a single moment, O Lord.

By the wood of Your Cross

illumine me as well, and save me.”

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“Master, did you bring a thief into paradise?  Did your Father send Adam out of paradise for a single sin, and did you bring in the thief who was guilty of countless crimes and ten thousand acts?  Did you bring him in with such ease and with a single word?  And Christ says, “Yes, I did. But my Father did not oust Adam by himself and without me, nor did I bring the thief into paradise by myself and without my Father.”   (St. John Chrysostom, ON THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE NATURE OF GOD, p 240)

Holy Friday - The Crucifixion of our Savior


The Crucifixion of God

“He was baptized as man – but He remitted sins as God, not because He needed purificatory rites Himself, but that he might sanctify the element of water. He was tempted as man, but He conquered as God; indeed, he bids us be of good cheer, for he has overcome the world. He hungered, but He fed thousands; indeed, He is the bread that gives life, and that of heaven. He thirsted, but he cried, ‘If  any man thirsts, let him come to Me and drink;’ indeed, He promised that fountains should flow from those who believe. He was wearied, but He is the rest to those who are weary and heavy-laden. He was heavy with sleep, but He walked lightly over to the sea. He rebuked the winds, He made Peter light as he began to sink. He pays tribute, but it is out of a fish; indeed, he is the king of those who demanded it…He weeps, but He causes tears to cease. He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God.

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price was His own blood. As a sheep He is led to slaughter, but He is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but He heals every disease and every infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life He restores us; indeed, He saves even the robber crucified with Him, indeed He wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, Who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down His life, but He has power to take it again…He dies, but He gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried but He rises again; He goes down into hell, but He brings up the souls.” (St.Gregory of Nazianus in The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, pgs. 863-864)

Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of St. John Chrysostom

This is the 30th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in The Hymns of St. Ephrem.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) was one of the most prolific preachers/writers of the late 4th and early 5th Centuries. “Chrysostom” is a title meaning “Golden mouthed” – a laudatory comment praising this preacher for the invaluable wisdom contained in his sermons.  Scattered throughout his sermons are numerous comments on Adam, his sin and his expulsion from Paradise; a few excerpts of his commentaries on Adam are below.  Immediately after Eve and Adam have sinned (Genesis 3), God seeks the guilty pair out.  Chrysostom writes:

“He [the Lord] calls personally: ‘The lord God called Adam,’ the text says, ‘and said to  him, “Adam, where are you?…’”

What has happened?  I left you in one condition whereas now I find you in another; I left you clad in glory, whereas now I find you in nakedness.

‘Where are you?”’   How did this happen to you?  Who has brought you to this changed condition?  What kind of robber and brigand has robbed you like this in an instant of all the substance of your wealth and cast you into such indigence?  Whence has come the nakedness you are experiencing?  Who is responsible for depriving you of that wonderful garment you had the good fortune to wear?  What is this sudden transformation?  What tempest has all at once in this way sunk all your precious cargo?  What has happened to make you try to hide yourself from the one who has been so kind to you and placed you in a position of such importance?  Who is it you are not endeavoring to avoid through such fear?    Surely, after all, no one has cause to accuse you?  Surely, after all, no witnesses are testifying against you?  Whence comes the fear and dread that overwhelms you?  ‘”I heard the sound,’” the text says, ‘”as you walked in the garden, I was afraid because I am naked, and I hid.’”  Whence comes the knowledge of your nakedness?  Tell me” what is new and surprising?  Who could ever have told you of this, unless you have become guilty cause of your own shame, unless you have eaten from that one tree I told you not to eat from?”  (Anthony Coniaris (ed.),  DAILY READINGS FROM THE WRITINGS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, p 58)

Chrysostom like many Patristic writers assumed Adam was clothed with God-given glorious garments in Paradise.  He creatively interprets the loss of those garments as a robbery – Satan in tempting Eve to sin has robbed Eve and Adam of their glorious robes and left them naked.  This is a theme we will also see in Orthodox hymns dealing with Adam and the expulsion from Paradise.

“That is to say, notice the man also saying, ‘”The woman you gave me as my companion gave it to me, and I ate it.”’ No evidence of force, no evidence of pressure—only choice and decision: simply ‘gave,’ not ‘forced’ or ‘pressured.’  She in turn in making her excuse didn’t say, The serpent forced me and I ate.  Instead, what? ‘”The serpent deceived me.”’  She had the choice of being deceived or not being deceived.  ‘”The serpent deceived me,”’ she said.  In other words, the enemy of our salvation, working through that evil creature, brought forward his advice and deceived her – not forcing or pressuring but through his deadly advice putting his deception into effect after find the woman easily disposed to embrace the deception and thus deprived of any excuse.”  (Anthony Coniaris (ed.),  DAILY READINGS FROM THE WRITINGS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, p 57)

Free will and free choice are common themes in the Patristic writers – there is no predestination when it comes to sinning.  Humans make free choices and are accountable for those choices.

“For by making man picture himself as equal to God, he (the devil) drove him to the punishment of death.  Such are his wiles that he not only drives us away from the blessing we have, but he also tries to drive us onto a more precipitous cliff.  But God in His love did not fail to regard mankind.  He showed the devil how foolish were his attempts; He showed man the great care He manifested in his regard, for through death He gave man everlasting life.  The devil drove man from Paradise; God led him to heaven.  The profit is greater than the loss.”   (St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD),  BAPTISMAL INSTRUCTION,  pp 45-46)

While the Christian West following Augustine tended to see the original sin of Adam and Eve as total destruction for humanity resulting in humanity being predestined to sin, sin becoming “natural” to humans, and humans becoming totally depraved, the Eastern Christian Fathers put a much more hopeful interpretation on the series of events.  Satan’s temptation of Eve – in which Satan deceives Eve into sinning – is almost presented as part of God’s plan to deceive Satan.  For God’s plan for humanity included the incarnation of His Son – the Word becoming flesh, God becoming a human in order to allow humanity to share in the divine life. God’s ultimate reaction to human sin is not wrath, but further opportunity for God to prove His unconditional love for His human creatures.  Even death – the result of human sin and disobedience – is given by God to His creatures as a means for their salvation not as retributive punishment.  For through the death of His Son, God will raise humanity not just from earth but from Sheol/Hades/death to heaven.

Next:  The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking