Adam’s Vocation


“God gave Adam free will – the power to choose between good and evil – and it therefore rested with Adam either to accept the vocation set before him or to refuse it.  He refused it.  Instead of continuing along the path marked out for him by God, he turned aside and disobeyed God.  Adam’s fall consisted essentially in his disobedience of the will of God; he set up his own will against the divine will, and so by his own act he separated himself from God.  . . .


Cut off from God, Adam and his descendants passed under the domination of sin and of the devil.  Each new human being is born into a world where sin prevails everywhere, a world in which it is easy to do evil and hard to do good.  Our will is weakened and enfeebled by what the Greeks call ‘desire’ and the Latins ‘concupiscence’.  We are all subject to these, the spiritual effects of original sin.”  (Kallistos Ware, THE ORTHODOX CHURCH, pp 216-217)

Adam: A Type of Christ


One reason to read the early Church Fathers is to gain insight into how the believers in the first centuries of Christianity understood the Old Testament as well as the New.  We get to read interpretations of Scripture that are not shaped by the much later arguments of the Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation (16-17th Centuries).  It is these later arguments which often dominate Scripture commentaries today.  We think these recent arguments are getting to the real meaning of the Bible, but we learn that these debates are a product of their own time and do not necessarily reflect what the Biblical writers intended.  A good example of this comes in Origen’s (3rd Century) commentary on Romans in which we see him commenting on the Scriptures regarding the issues and understanding of the Christians of the Third Century.  His concerns are not shaped by the later Protestant-Catholic debates and so he sees things in the Scripture modern commentators don’t think are important because they are not part of those later Western Christian debates.


Origen does not think the right image of God is the wrathful Judge who’s will is to send all sinners to Hell.  Origen does not think God is out looking for reasons to cast people into the eternal fire for all eternity.  Rather, Origen experiences the New Testament as Good News:  God is love and God is working to save His human creatures from sin and death.  This is the Gospel to Origen.  Origen reads Paul through this lens of God is love and God is Savior.  Origen interprets Paul’s comments on God’s wrath and impending judgment not as the literal truth, but rather part of Paul’s concern for those listening to Christian preaching.  Aware that many people who hear ‘God is love’ might be tempted to sin (since God will forgive in the end anyway), St Paul couches his Gospel message in harsh terms so that the lazy won’t just keep sinning.  Paul wants everyone to embrace the salvation which God is offering to everyone.  For Origen, Paul does not want people to disregard an offer of salvation because it is offered to all and so Paul reminds people that God rightfully should judge us.  Thus Paul’s message is not that God is a wrathful judge who wants to get His hands on sinners, but rather Paul bookends his main theme that “God is love” with reminders that God rightfully is judge.  Paul does this for our salvation – so that we don’t presume on God’s love and choose to keep sinning since we know God will forgive in the end.  Paul is trying to rouse even the laziest of people to enthusiastically embrace the Gospel and to live God’s love in the world.

“Paul is thus acting as a wise steward of the word.  And when he comes to the passages in which he has to speak about God’s goodness, he expresses these things in a somewhat concealed and obscure way for the sake of certain lazy people lest, perchance as we have said, ‘they despise the rices of his goodness and patience and forbearance and store up for themselves wrath on the day of wrath,’ [Rom 2:4-5] into which all people who have stored up deeds of this kind for themselves must of necessity face, even though you have seen what may happen after these things.”

As Thomas Scheck, the translator of the text notes:

“Origen seems to be alluding to his belief that Paul promises a universal restoration of all creatures, which is conditional on their cooperation with God’s grace.  Paul conceals this doctrine about God’s goodness, Origen thinks, to keep people from presuming upon it, falling away, and being re-sentenced to punishment.”

4263451771_bd9643df8d_wFor Origen, Paul’s words about the wrath and judgement of God are not Paul’s main message.  Rather, he is trying to push the spiritually lazy into action – embrace the Gospel.  Don’t ignore it because you think you are saved no matter what.  Embrace God’s salvation and live the Gospel.  This is how St Paul tries to rally the indolent to actively follow Christ and to obey the Gospel commandments.  The later debates between Reformers and Catholics tried to tie Paul’s words to God’s judgment on those who are on the wrong side of their debate.  They are the ones who really wanted a wrathful God to destroy their opponents – that message is not in the text but read into by these later Christian debaters.  So rather than being concerned about the salvation of all, they became increasingly convinced that only people who believe like us can be saved.

Origen continues:

But what he says, ‘But sin was in this world until the law, but sin is not imputed when there is no law,’ this seems to show that until the law came, that is to say, until Christ came, ‘who takes away the sin of the world,’ [Jn 1:29] sin existed.  But sin obviously cannot be imputed where there is no law which convicts the sinner.  ‘But death reigned,’ which had entered through sin, ‘until Moses,’ that is, continually while the law abided ‘over those who sinned in the likeness of Adam’s sin,’ through whom death itself had gained an entrance.  Adam was a ‘type of that which was to come,’ not in his being a transgressor but in the following sense: Just as death entered through him, so through the last Adam life has entered this world [Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:22,45]; and just as, through him, condemnation comes to all men, so also through Christ justification comes to all men [Rom 5:18].”  (Origen, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS Books 1-5, pp 307-308)

Origen understands Paul to say sin reigned over humans until Christ came – then Jesus took away the sin of the world.  Origen reads St Paul to mean that sin reigned over all people not because of the effects of original sin, but because everyone sinned in some way.  We each don’t do exactly what Adam did – we each sin in our own way.


Adam is a type of human who foreshadows Christ.  And just as Adam’s sin led to mortality for all humans, so Christ’s life, death and resurrection brought salvation to all.  The Good News is that God is not just trying to save some people (like the Jews or like Christians) and to damn the rest.  Christ’s death and resurrection are offered to all and available to all.  As we pray in the Liturgy: “On behalf of all and for all.”  Just as  because of Adam, we all share in the world in which sin, death and suffering are part of what we experience daily, so too in Christ salvation is available to all to participate in.  God is love.  God is not looking for a reason to destroy sinners, but rather is casting a net of salvation on the whole world in the hopes that all will understand God’s love for us and embrace it, no longer following their own self-interest but enjoying the grace which God offers to all.

The sad news is that some are so wrapped into themselves that they have no interest in God’s love.

When Self-Love is Not Love at All


“Loving only himself, a man loves neither God nor his fellow-men.  He does not even love the man that is in himself; he loves only his thoughts about himself, his illusions about himself.  Were he to love the man in himself, he would at the same time love God’s image in him, and would quickly become a lover of God and man, for he would be seeking man and God in other men, as objects of his love.  Self-love is not love, but is rejection of God and contempt for men, whether open or concealed.  Self-love is not love but sickness, a serious illness that inevitably brings other illnesses in its train.  As pox inevitably produces fever throughout the body, so self-love produces the fire of envy and anger in the whole body.  A man full of self-love is full of envy of those who are better than he is, or richer, more learned or more respected by men.  With envy there always goes anger, like flame with fire; a concealed anger, that flares out at times and, in so doing, reveals all the ugliness of the man’s sick heart, that has been poisoned with the poison of self-love.”  (St Nikolai Velimirovich, HOMILIES Vol 2, pp 277-278)

St Nikoai opens his comments on the self-loving person by someone who is very much like Narcissus of Greek mythology.  Insightfully, St Nikolai recognizes that the narcissistic person isn’t really in love with himself or herself.  Narcissus was in love with his image – enamored with what he believed others saw in him.  He stares endlessly at his own reflection, not paying attention to his real self (which in some versions of the myth leads to his death from self-neglect).  He believes his image shows perfection.  Narcissus believes that no one could really love his image as much as it deserves love so he rejects all the overtures of love that others offer him completely oblivious to their reactions.


The cure for narcissism?  Instead of seeking your own reflection and admiring it, look for the image of God in yourself.  Look into the mirror – not the one above the sink, but rather the mirror of the heart in which God can be seen.  The image of God in us is more beautiful than our self devoid of God.  In looking beyond the self and for the other, we learn to truly love – because love is always other oriented.  Once we learn to love others, we learn to be like God.

Sin or Sinfulness

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  (Genesis 4:6 -7)

From the time of St Augustine, Christianity, especially in the West, saw humans being fallen, sinful beings.  Humans were viewed as being sinful by nature.  Yet, that is not the total picture found in the Scriptures.  Humans are presented in the Bible as having free will, which was not lost through the sin of Eve and Adam.  This means humans must continue to make choices, and sin is merely one choice (albeit a wrong one) that we can make.

“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”  (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Biblical scholar Dale Allison in his book, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT comments:

“lt is crucial to observe that Matthew’s construction … implies that the sin lies not in the entrance of a thought but in letting it incite to wrongful passion…  One could translate: ‘Everyone looking upon a women in order to lust after her . . . ‘ [Matt 5:28].  Jesus is talking not about feelings but about intentions, and so the sin he condemns lies not in the entrance of desire but in what one does with that desire.  . . . Evagrius observed: ‘It is not in our power to determine whether we are disturbed by these thoughts, but it is up to us to decide if they are to linger within us or not and whether or not they are to stir up our passions’ (Prakitikos 6).  Matt 5:27-30 is really about controlling the imagination – not about the eyes so much as the soul that uses them.” (p 74)

It is not sin when sinful thoughts enter our minds.  It is what we do about those those thoughts or with those thoughts which can become sin.   Even if we can’t stop such thoughts from springing into our minds, we can resist such thoughts or ignore them.  Or we choose to entertain them and they become our passions.  That is when they become sin.  We see a sexually attractive person – it is not sin to think of the person as sexually desirable.  That really can be nothing more than observing the truth.  The sin occurs only as we allow the lust to take over our thinking.  We let the passion control our thinking and this becomes our sin.   Jesus teaches in Matthew 15:17-20 –  “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and so passes on? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”  All manners of thoughts may pop into our heads, just like food entering the mouth, but the sin occurs only with what we do with these thoughts – how we act on them or allow them to act on us.  Or as Allison notes in his translation of Matthew 5:28 – if we look at someone in order to lust after them – this is not lust popping into our head, but our looking for someone to lust after.

“…Maximus the Confessor: ‘It is not food which is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but fornication, not possessions but greed, not reputation but vainglory.  And if this is so, there is nothing evil in creatures except misuse, which stems from the mind’s negligence in its natural cultivation’ (Four Centuries on Charity 3.4).”  (p 75)

Sin occurs when we misuse our thoughts, feelings, ideas, possessions, relationships, friends, others, or our self.  We allow our passions to misuse things or people or relationships.  We cease seeing the goodness or godliness in others or other things and see them as a means to fulfill our passionate desires.  As St Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:4-5 –  “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

“Jesus knows as well as Paul that the problem is not the body as such but the sin that dwells in it (cf. Rom 7:17,20).  As Matt 15:17-18 has it, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer?  But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this what defiles.‘  The Christian ‘amputates the passions of the soul without touching the body’ (Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15:4).” (p 76)

We are endeavoring in the spiritual life to cut off sin, to rid ourselves of anything that separates us from God.

Heavenly Conversation

A well respected monk once traveled a great distance from his home monastery to visit Abba Poemen,  having heard of Poemen’s spiritual life, eager to gain benefit from the Abba’s renowned wisdom.  The visitor arrived at Poemen’s desert monastery where he met first with the monk who had originally told him about Poemen.  This monk introduced the visitor to the Abba.


“Abba Poemen received him with gladness, and having saluted each other, they sat down.  Then the stranger began to converse with Abba Poemen from the Scriptures concerning spiritual and heavenly things, but Abba Poemen turned away his face and returned no answer whatsoever.  And when he saw that Abba Poemen would not speak with him, he was grieved and went outside, and said to the brother who had brought him to Poemen, ‘In my opinion I have toiled in vain in coming all this long journey to see the old man, for behold, he refuses to speak to me.’ 

Now when the brother went into the old man Poemen, he said to him, ‘Father, this great man, who is so greatly praised in his own country, came on your account.  Why did you not speak with him?’  


Poemen said, ‘He speaks about the things which are above and concerning heavenly matters, but I can only talk about things which are below and about the things of earth.  Had he spoken to me about the passions of the soul I would have given him an answer, but since he talked about spiritual things, I know nothing about them.’

Then that brother went back to the visiting monk and said to him, ‘The old man is not  one of those who wishes a man to talk to them from the Scriptures, but if you will converse with him about the passions of the soul  he will engage in conversation with you.

Straightaway the monk repented and came to the old man and said to him, ‘Father, what shall I do so that I may bring into subjection the passions of the body?’

Then the old man looked upon him gladly and said to him, “Now you are welcome!  ‘Open now your mouth on such matters as these, and I will fill it with good things‘ (Psalm 81:10).”  And the monk having been greatly helped and having gained benefit, said, ‘In very truth this is the way of truth.’  He went back to his country, giving thanks to God that he had been held worthy of such conversation with the holy man.”  (adapted fromTHE PARADISE OF THE HOLY FATHERS  Vol II,  pp 188-189)


Abba Poemen displays humility – despite being a great teacher, he knew some conversations are more edifying than others.  It can be fun and exciting to talk about theology, about heaven, the eschaton, Revelation.  But showing off how much you know isn’t the way to walk with others to the kingdom.

“‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.  (1 Corinthians 8:1-3)

As we enter into Great Lent there are many spiritual conversations we can have.  One conversation which however is necessary is with our father confessor.  It is talking about our own sins.

The Importance of Poverty at the Last Judgment

On the Sunday of the Last Judgment, we read Christ’s parable of the Judgment from Matthew 25:31-46.


“At the Last Judgment I shall not be asked whether I was successful in my ascetic exercises, how many bows and prostrations I made [in the practice of prayer].  I shall be asked, Did I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoners.  That is all I shall be asked.  About every poor, hungry and imprisoned person the Savior says ‘I’: “I was hungry and thirsty, I was sick and in prison‘.  To think that he puts an equal sign between himself and anyone in need.  . . .   I always knew it, but now it has somehow penetrated to my sinews.  It fills me with awe.”  (St Maria Skobtsova, PEARL OF GREAT PRICE: THE LIFE OF MARIA SKOBTSOVA, pp 29-30)


Christ claims to feel hungry and thirsty everyone time a poor or needy person feels hungry and thirsty.   The poor are Christ’s Body.  He experiences sickness, sighing, sorrow and suffering in and through each of them.  That is what we have to understand when we are aware of such suffering and ignore it – we choose to ignore the Lord and let Him wallow in His suffering.   The Gospel for the Sunday of the Last Judgment, as it turns out, isn’t simply describing events that will happen at the end of the world.  It is telling us how our life, attitude and decisions now affect Christ.  We will have to answer at the Judgment for how we treat Christ during our own life time.  How we treat the poor and needy is how we treat Christ.  It is not just the Sanhedrin and Pilate who crucify Christ.  We do it too when we cause Him to suffer in and through the lives of the poor and needy.

Last Judgment: A Call to Do Good Not a Threat of Retribution


“The Last Judgment begins in the earthly life of the person and takes place every moment when one chooses or neglects to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit those in prison, or share with those in need.  Christ’s words about the Last Judgement [Matthew 25:31-46] are not a threat of retribution, but a call to do good.  This is how the Orthodox Church understands this parable, addressing the following words to its members on the Sunday of the Last Judgement:

Having understood the Lord’s commandments, let us live in accordance with them: let us feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give rest to strangers, visit the sick and those in prisons, so that he who will come to judge the entire world will say to us: come, blessed ones of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you. (The Lenten Triodion)


The Orthodox Church teaches that all people without exception will stand before the Last Judgment – Christians and pagans, believers and non-believers.  However, the thought that Christians will be judged with special strictness is present already in the Epistles: ‘Judgment must begin at the house of God’ (1 Pet 4:17), i.e. beginning with the Christian Church.  Regarding those outside the Church, St Paul writes that they will be judged in accordance with the the law of conscience written in their hearts (Rom 2:14-15).  Virtuous pagans, says Chrysostom, are astonishing because ‘they had no need of the law but fulfilled everything contained in it, having inscribed in their minds not the letter, but deeds.’ And he draws a radical conclusion: ‘If a pagan fulfills the law, nothing else will be necessary for his salvation.’  When acts committed during one’s life are evaluated, moral criteria will be applied to all people without exception, the only difference being that Jews will be judged according to the Law of Moses, Christians by the gospel, and pagans according to the law of conscience written in their hearts.  According to Basil the Great, the Last Judgment will be not so much an external as an internal event: it will take place primarily in the conscience of each person, in his mind and memory.  …


These explanations introduce an important corrective into the understanding of the Last Judgment that is reflected, for example, in Michelangelo‘s renowned frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.  In these frescoes, the main idea is that justice is administered: each person receives according to his merits, and God’s sentence is irreversible.  But in the Orthodox understanding, the Last Judgement is not so much the moment of requital as the victory of truth.  it is the revelation of God’s mercy and love that is underscored.  God will never cease to be love and light; but, subjectively, divine love and the divine light will be perceived differently by the righteous and by sinners.”    (Metropolitan Hilarion Alveyev, THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, pp 112-113)



Remembering Loved Ones Who Have Died

Emperor Julian the Apostate (c. 331-363) once complained that Christians had ‘filled the whole world with tombs and sepulchers,’ and by their processions with and in honor of the departed they were ‘straining the eyes of all with ill-omened sights of the dead.’  Early Christians, by contrast, held that the death of believers was a cause of hope, and their bodies, far from being ill-omened, were precious links to the faith Christians had in the Resurrection of the Dead.  The Apostle Paul describes this in 1 Thess 4:16-17 as a joyous day when a loud call will sound and the Lord will come again, “and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever.”  Christ himself says in Jn 5:28-29 that that ‘the day is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his [the Son of Man’s] voice and will come out . . .”  These are the two readings used in the Orthodox Order for the Burial of the Dead, and they set a resurrectional tone for the whole liturgy.

The boundaries between the living and dead were first broken by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The tomb was empty because the actual, physical resurrection of Christ’s body had taken place (Mt 28:5-6, Mk 16:6, Lk 24:5) . . . This is the hope for all Christians.  Our bodies will also be resurrected, not just our souls: we will recognize each other, and the the ‘marks’ of our spiritual and physical battles will somehow be a part of us.  Our physical bodies are inseparable parts of our identity because, as Orthodox anthropology maintains, a human person is a soma, an animated body – one individual unit of sarx (body) and psyche (soul).”  (Kathryn Wehr, SVTQ Vol 55 #4 2011, pp 502-503)

What We Do Now Will Be What We Experience in Paradise


“For Christians, Christ is both the suffering patient and also the healer, just as in the Eucharist he is both Priest and Sacrifice who offers and is offered for the healing of the entire world.  . . . Acts of mercy and healing here are leaving their footprints in eternity.

‘The works we do now will be the healing we experience there, in Paradise:


Whoever has washed the feet of the saints will himself be cleansed in that dew;

to the hand that had stretched out to give to the poor will the fruits of the trees themselves stretch out;


the very footsteps of him who visited the sick in their affliction do the flowers make haste to crown with blooms, jostling to see which can be the first to kiss his steps.’ (St Ephrem the Syrian)”



Born into Pregnancy

 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”  (Job 1:21)

Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”   (John 3:4)

Fetus at 6 months

We are born into this world.  We tend to think death is leaving this world.  In the 3rd Century, Origen, the greatest biblical commentator of his day, offered a thought for Christians which changes our understanding of this life and death polarity (The kernel for this idea comes from Hans Urs van Bathasar, ORIGEN: SPIRIT AND FIRE, p 278).  Origen saw that we all are born naturally from our mother’s womb, but for Christians this is not our only birth.  We are born again in baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In this spiritual birth, Origen sees our embracing Christ by faith to be a new conception – this time in the womb of the Church.  We don’t return to our birthing mother’s womb, but enter into the womb of our new mother – the Church (see John 3:3-8).  Origen terms our life on earth as a ‘pregnancy’.   Life turns out to be another gestation period. Our next birth is in the Kingdom.   [Read  A Parable of Death and Life to get a similar idea from the modern world.]

The birthing process is messy, involves pain and yet it is the only way to new life. Imagining our Christian life in this world as part of a pregnancy – the Church’s and we are in her womb when we live on earth –  might help us understand some of the suffering we experience here – it is a necessary part of our gestation, our maturation and development.   This life is not the final stop, the goal, the destination, home.  It turns out to be a time of growth and maturation.  Somehow life in this world is a necessary part of our development in the womb in order to be born alive in the world to come.

As the embryo cannot comprehend all that is happening to it in the womb, cannot understand it all as necessary for survival beyond the womb, neither can we fully comprehend all of our life experiences.  We can, in faith, trust that they are part of God’s plan for our salvation.  The experiences of life are not unimportant – they help us mature and develop into a full human being.  And then we can remember what it meant for God to become fully human including the cross, the grave and then resurrection to eternal life.  God did not spare Himself from entering the womb of a mother or of the world.