Adam and Eden: Possessions and Being Possessed

This is the 41st and the last blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Role of Food in Adam’s Existence.

Looking at more contemporary Orthodox writers, we see the influence of the Patristic writers in shaping the modern Orthodox understanding of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise.

 “In the beginning the Lord created man out of dust.  He made Adam and Eve immortal, fashioning them in His own image and likeness and showering gifts upon them.  He gave them the beautiful garden of Paradise to be their home, and put the whole of creation under Adam’s authority.  There was one condition only, a simple test of obedience: Adam and Eve were allowed to eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one.

Alas, they did not fulfill the condition.  Eve listened to the seductive voice of the serpent, and Adam listened to the persuasions of his wife.  If only they had exercised discernment and remained loyal to their benefactor!  Instead they played into the hands of the devil, who envied them the home in Paradise from which he himself had been expelled, and devised a scheme to rob them of the honor God had given to mankind.  The devil tempted the man and the woman to covet the prerogatives and the glory of God Himself.  He led them on the ambition of becoming equal to and independent of their Maker and of deciding for themselves what was right and what was wrong.  They succumbed to the devil’s suggestions and fell into sin.  In consequence they lost the promise of immortality and became subject to death.  The Lord passed sentence on them. ‘You are dust,’ He declared, ‘and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19).”  (Anne Field,  FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, pp 44-45)

We see in the modern writers the embracing of the different threads, trends and tradition which we found in the Patristic writers.  The Adam story is a rich tapestry of theology and anthropology.   It gives us a deep understanding not just of Adam the first man, but of each of us in as much as Adam is a representative of all humanity.    Humans were given wonderful gifts from God – creation, free will, relationships, the chance for immortality.  It is however the human desire to possess – grasping to hold on to things for one’s own ends and purposes, which led to the disintegration of the unity of creation with Creator.

In reality, property and family are from God.  When God created the world He gave it to man to possess, so that it would become man’s possession ‘… to till it and to keep it…’   And when He created man, He created a wife because ‘it is not good that the man should be alone…’  But then, here is the fall (the original sin): Man wanted the world as a possession for himself and not for God, not for life in Him; and man made his wife an object of love torn away from God’s love, again for himself.  And then Christ Himself gives away, leaves His life in order to resurrect it, to free it from death, so that life would cease being the source of death, so that life would reign and death would be trampled down.  Does it mean that God calls us to kill ourselves?  ‘Leave’ the world, give away one’s possessions, leave the family—all of these do not mean that they (possessions, family) are identified with evil, in which case they should be thrown away, but that they mean their liberation and their transfiguration into what God had created them to be.  The one who gives away his property in reality becomes richer because he makes the world again (given away, dispensed) divine.  ‘Leaving’ one’s family is its resurrection, its cleansing, its transfiguration, but not its annihilation.  How could the Church perform the sacrament of marriage if marriage was evil?  Marriage is a sacrament because through it is accomplished its gift to God, to Christ, to the Holy Spirit—where everything is light, as it is in Christ’s call: distribute, leave, all is positive, all is light and not darkness and destruction.”  (Alexander Schmemann,  THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, pp 320-321)

This blog series on Adam, the first human, is really looking at a mosaic of quotations from various authors, ancient and modern, whose ideas are part of the Tradition of the Orthodox understanding of Adam, of what it means to be human, of the Fall, and of salvation.  The Orthodox Church reads the narrative of Adam and Eve through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   The canonical texts of the Jewish scriptures actually make very little use of the Adam story.  It is with the coming of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, that we begin to understand the depth and affects of the fall on all of humanity.  In Christ we see and comprehend what it is to be fully human.