The day before Great Lent begins is variously called in current Orthodox parlance: Cheesefare (though in my parish they refer to it as cheesecake Sunday since that is the fellowship hour theme for the day), Forgiveness Sunday, and the Commemoration of the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. Cheesefare refers to the fact that those keeping a strict fast will not eat dairy products once Lent begins until Pascha. Forgiveness Sunday is the theme as we each in the parish ask forgiveness of one another before entering Great Lent and seeking God’s forgiveness for our sins. The Expulsion of Adam from Paradise is the main theme of the hymns of Matins for this day.
In this blog I will draw attention to several of the hymns from the Matins Canon commemorating the expulsion of Adam from Paradise.
Many of the hymns from the canon are spoken in the first person, “I”. The hymns are Adam’s lamentation over what he had done and what he had lost through disobedience. There also is some ambiguity in the canon hymns as to whether the “I” is Adam speaking or whether it is each of us (who are reading or hearing the text) recognizing the effects of the Fall on our lives. The hymn suggests that the importance of the narrative of Adam is not so much as a historical account of the first human as it is a prototypical story – the story of each of us. Adam’s story is the story of each human being – Adam’s story is my story. I’m in the world I’m in and I’m in the relationship to God that I’m in because I have lived and behaved exactly as Adam lived and behaved. I stand in the shoes of Adam or Eve (so to speak – if they had any) and I come to realize I’m him or her and they are me. Adam’s lamentation over his loss and his exile needs to become my lamentation in this world, if I’m ever to learn what it is to be truly and fully human.
The trouble is, of course, that having been born in this world, I may not have that sense of loss and of being in exile because I’ve not known any world accept this one. However, to truly appreciate Christ and salvation and to embrace a spiritual life, I need to have that sense that I am not home here but am a sojourner. Certainly I cannot understand Christ and His sacrifice if I don’t realize that I am Adam in this world and as a result of my own sin, I’m exiled from the presence of God. Great Lent and the fast are to teach me how to experience this exile and to realize what a true human should experience in his or her daily life. Which is why the fast – practicing self-denial and abstinence is said to be joyous rather than a burden – I’m learning about my true nature, my true history, and my true home.
Great Lent works in a certain reverse way to teach me the sense of exile and loss. For by keeping the fast, and denying myself the things of this world, I come to feel the sense of loss for this world, and I begin to feel exile from the life I love. Only when I feel the loss of the comfort of this world and am indeed feeling exiled, do I come to realize the reality is this world which I love and cling to so much is the exile. Here on earth I’m not blessed with the life in Paradise – that Garden of Delight from which Adam, and I, are really exiled. This world which I’m so reluctant to give up during Lent – its foods, comforts, entertainment, pleasures – are in fact part of the exile from the true existence which God created us for! I’ve fallen in love with and become addicted to the world of exile! Great Lent is trying to remind me of that spiritual reality which I have lost. Great Lent is trying to help me become Adam and Eve lamenting over their great loss, so that I can learn not to live for this world alone, but to long for that Paradise in which I will be with God as Eve and Adam once were.
Long ago the crafty serpent envied my honor and whispered deceit in the ear of Eve. Woe is me! I was led astray and banished by her from the dance of life.
I was fashioned out of the earth by the hand of God and told in my wretchedness that to the earth I should return again. Who would not weep for me! I am cast out from God’s presence, exchanging Eden for hell.
I weep, groan and lament as I look upon the cherubim with the sword of flame set to guard the gate of Eden against all transgressors. Woe is me! I cannot enter, unless You grant me freedom to approach, O Savior. I boldly put my trust in the abundance of Your mercies, Christ my Savior, and in the Blood that flowed from Your divine side; for through Your Blood, loving Lord, You have sanctified the nature of mortal man, and have opened to those who worship You, the gates of Paradise that were closed of old to Adam.
Adam is presented in the hymns of having the awareness to lament over his loss – this is repentance, his changing his heart and mind to embrace the goodness that God gave him in the beginning. We are being called to recognize Adam’s loss as our own. If we are ever to love Christ and follow Him, we have to embrace the notion of our exile in this world, rather than embracing the pleasures of this world and rejecting Paradise!
Now all of creation, including Paradise itself weep over our loss – all of creation groans awaiting our restoration and return (Romans 8:19-23). It is we who have to learn what it is we have lost through sin and how sin keeps us far from the beauty of that spiritual Garden of Delight.
Ranks of angels,