Reflecting on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Making of Man (II)

Previous post: Reflecting on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Making of Man (I)

St. Gregory of Nyssa writing in the 4th Century wanted to present a clear image of how humans are unique in God’s creation.  In his ON THE MAKING OF MAN, he shows how adept he was at incorporating biblical ideas about humans with what was the commonly accepted science of his day.  Christianity in the 4th Century was becoming the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, providing everyone with a particular paradigm for how to understand God, creation and what it is to be human.  Gregory works hard on this new synthesis of ideas to show that the bible is compatible with the established science (philosophy) of that day.  Like most of the Christian thinkers of that time, they wanted to establish the superiority of Christian thought over pagan philosophy.  They believed that there is only one truth (Christ!), and so all “truths” are Christian truths.  These beliefs led them to work on a synthesis between the biblical understanding of science and humanity and the well established philosophical truths of the intellectual culture of the Roman Empire.

In the next post we will look particularly at some of Gregory’s understanding of the human body; this post will look at a few of his general claims and perspectives on the world, on Scripture and even on whether his ideas are in fact correct.

First, to one of his comments on the science of astronomy.  Note  in this comment that he reveals a lot about what the ancients believed about the world, and they certainly were no flat earth believers.  In the following quote, Gregory describes the size of the sun in comparison to earth, that the darkness of nighttime is nothing more than being in the earth’s shadow as the sun is shining behind the earth, that the earth is round and that they did think about what the space around earth  might be like.  All of this from a 4th Century Christian.   Of course they had to rely on scientific speculation and a logic derived from observation and mathematics – they had no instruments to prove what they considered to be true.

“For just as those skilled in astronomy tell us that the whole universe is full of light, and that darkness is made to cast its shadow by the interposition of the body formed by the earth; and that this darkness is shut off from the rays of the sun, in the shape of a cone, according to the figure of the sphere-shaped body, and behind it; while the sun, exceeding the earth by a size of many times as great as its own, enfolding it round about on all sides with its rays, unites at the limit of the cone the concurrent streams of light;

so that if (to suppose the case) any one had the power to passing beyond the measure to which the shadow extends, he would certainly find himself in light unbroken by darkness – even so I think that we ought to understand about ourselves, that on passing the limit of wickedness we shall again have our conversation in light, as the nature of good, when compared with the measure of wickedness , is incalculably superabundant.” (p 101)

What they believed to be true about the earth and the sun is surprisingly “modern” as the modern diagram describing an eclipse shows.  They were not trying to be superstitious, nor were they resistant to scientific claims or reasoning that could not be found in the Bible.  They believed that creation itself reveals the Creator just like the Bible does, but they did not assume that all knowledge about the Creator or about creation is derived from the Bible.  Some knowledge about creation and about the Creator is derived from scientific observation and from philosophical reasoning.

What is particularly ancient in Gregory’s comments is the willingness to derive moral lessons from nature and science.   So he describes space in terms of light, the sun and the earth, but then uses that as a model to understand the limits of human evil.  Those kinds of lessons the ancients would also have considered to be science.  They derived from observing the world lessons in what is natural and thus what is good.  Modern science would not see drawing such moral conclusions as science, and is much more willing to point out the endless exceptions to such thinking which also can be observed in nature.  It becomes a risky thing in modern science to derive moral ideas about what is good, normal or natural from by observing animal behavior.

St. Gregory appreciates that much knowledge is discovered through research, experimentation and observation.  Regarding human anatomy he writes:

“… any one too may learn everything accurately who takes up the researches which those skilled in such matters have worked out in books.  And of these writers some learned by dissection the position of our individual organs; others also considered and expounded the reason for the existence of all the parts of the body.”  (p 144)

Research has revealed knowledge that cannot be found in the Scriptures.   Humans are capable of not only dissecting organs but explaining their purpose as well (more on this in the next post).  And St. Gregory advocates study and research even if something is claimed Scripture.  While commenting on the bodily organ of the heart and whether it is the organ associated with human intelligence, he writes:

“Even if any should allege to us on this point the Scripture which claims the ruling principle for the heart, we shall not receive the statement without examination; for he who makes mention of the heart speaks also of the reins, when he says, God tries the hearts and reins; so that they must either confine the intellectual principle to the two combined or to neither.

Here St. Gregory shows his willingness to consider both what the Scriptures say as well as what science has revealed.  Simply quoting a verse from Scripture does not prove the point to him – proof texting still has to be researched by comparing the ideas to what else we know to be true about the world.   He doesn’t make a distinction between the heart as a bodily organ and the scriptural mentioning of the heart in a metaphorical way.  For him, references to the heart mean both things.  And though he holds to certain ideas which he defends, he is also willing to admit that his ideas may be proven wrong:

“Well, whether our answer is near the truth of the matter, the Truth Itself may clearly know; but at all events what occurs in our intelligence is as follows.”  (p 104)

There are ideas about the human body to which he adheres and teaches, and still he is willing to admit that his ideas when it comes to anatomy may be proven wrong.  He strives to work out a truthful understanding of the body based on scriptural statements and the knowledge from philosophy and yet allows for the fact that future research may prove these ideas inadequate.

St. Gregory does accept the science of his day.  He believes all physical things are made up of the four elements, Air, Earth, Fire and Water affected by the humors of heat and cold, moisture and dryness.  Such ideas were common in the ancient world.  So he writes:

“As it is then acknowledged by all that there is in us a share of all that we behold as elements in the universe – of heat and cold, and of the other pair of qualities of moisture and dryness – we must discuss them severally.”

This “science” is reflected even in the Orthodox blessing of water when the priest prays:

by Your providence You order the world. When You had joined together the universe out of the four elements . . . You have established the earth upon the waters. You have surrounded the sea with barriers of sand. You have spread out the air for breathing

The Church Fathers worked hard to make sense of the world, which included not only what they could observe of the physical world, but the claims of the Scriptures as well as the science of the philosophers.  Truth was the very basis of the Church, and thus all that was known to be true was incorporated into their anthropology and theology.

Next:  Reflecting on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Making of Man (III)

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Reflecting on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Making of Man (I)

St. Basil the Great wrote an extensive commentary on the six days of creation as found in Genesis 1-2 (Basil read both chapters together as one story). His commentary is called the Hexaemeron.  Though it contains comments about the creation of humans, Basil’s brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, was concerned that Basil had not written enough about the creation of human beings and so Gregory composed an addendum known as ON THE MAKING OF MAN.   His goal was to complete the picture which he felt Basil hadn’t done and also to answer some of Basil’s critics as well as some of the questions raised by heretics about Basil’s commentary on the creation of the world.

Reading through St. Gregory’s work on the creation of humans caused me to think about how we today might describe what it is to be human.  Orthodox theology says Jesus Christ is fully human.  Modern science has defined a human in terms of our genetic structure – a science which no one in the 4th Century even remotely imagined.  So it raises questions for us today – if we say Christ is fully human, do we mean that Christ has a fully human genetic makeup – 23 chromosomes and all the biological and genetic markers of every human being?  If so, then we might find ourselves having to rethink some of the concerns of the Christian theologians of the Patristic era.  For they certainly were not thinking genetics when they wrote about what it is to be human or what it means that Jesus, God incarnate is fully and perfectly human.

The Patristic theologians were concerned with creating a synthesis between Scripture and Platonism (I am including neo-Platonism in this) as well as with ideas from the Stoics and Aristotle.  That was the “science” of their day, and they did accept these philosophers as espousing scientific truth – truths that are not  debatable.   Several Patristic writers, Gregory of Nyssa among them, held to assumptions that  sexual desire and gender were not part of God’s original creation of or plan for humans.  These were provisional things which God used as a result of human rebellion against God’s plan.  The Patristic writers worked very hard to create a synthesis in which they incorporated the prevalent ideas of the Greek philosophical “science” (which were regarded as non-negotiable truth) with the witness of Scripture.  The ideas from philosophy were so much a part of the thinking of their day that they knew they had to reconcile the Scriptures to the truth assumptions of the great philosophers if they were ever to get Christianity a hearing among the educated people of their day.  Many of the Patristic writers were well trained in the writings of the great philosophers, and even if they weren’t their society values were permeated by these teachings.   It is not some artificial synthesis the Patristic writers were attempting to force, they were simply incorporating the background assumptions of their culture with the claims of Scripture.  Truth is one, and so they believed they needed to discern how to hold science, philosophy and Scripture together.

So, for example St. Gregory writes:

“While two natures – the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes – are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them: for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned – of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female . . . For he says first that God created man in the image of God (showing by these words, as the Apostle says, that in such a being there is no male or female): then he adds the peculiar attributes of human nature, male and female created He them (Gen 1:27).”  (pp 78-79)

In St. Gregory’s reading, the first humans did not have gender – gender is added to the humans in the “second” creation of humans which occurs after the Fall of Adam and Eve.  Some of his ideas about sex and gender were common to the Greek philosophers who were influential in his world.  Gregory attempts to harmonize the ideals of this philosophy about how humans are “higher” than mere animals with what he read in Scripture.

Gregory finds support for this idea in his reading of Genesis 1:27, which in our English Bibles usually gets translated as :

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

St. Gregory, however adds punctuation to the text, making it into two clearly distinct acts.  [His adding punctuation, by the way, is legitimate in the sense that the original texts lacked any punctuation – our English translations with their punctuation are no more correct than Gregory’s].   Gregory’s reading is like this:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him.

Male and female He created them.

Gregory treats these as two separate sentences, two separate acts of God.  First God creates humans.  Only later does God make them into male and female.  In the first action, humans are created in God’s image – and since God has no gender, neither do humans in their God-created natural state.  Gender becomes part of human existence only after the Fall when humans choose to be more like all the other animals.  So for St. Gregory as for many Patristic writers, gender and sexual reproduction belong solely to the world of the Fall and are not a natural part of what it is to be human.

“… but as brute life first entered into the world, and man, for the reason already mentioned, took something of their nature (I mean the mode of generation) . . . (p 88)

Sexual reproduction (Gregory’s “the mode of generation“) becomes part of the human condition only after the Fall.  If this is Orthodox anthropology, it raises interesting questions about what it is to be human and what it means to be fully human.  This has implications for Christ Himself whether he is male, or as a “perfect” human is He genderless as Adam and Eve were thought to have been.  Does Orthodox anthropology require that Christ have 23 chromosomes?  If only that which is assumed is saved, does Christ take on our entire genetic nature, or is our genetic nature not part of what Christ unites to God?

St. Gregory continues:

These attributes, then human nature took to itself from the side of the brutes; for those qualities with which brute life was armed for self-preservation, when transferred to human life, became passions; for the carnivorous animals are preserved by their anger, and those which breed largely by their love of pleasure; cowardice preserves the weak, fear that which is easily taken by more powerful animals, and greediness those of great bulk; and to miss anything that tends to pleasure is for the brutes as matter of pain.  All these and the like affections entered man’s composition by reason of the animal mode of generation.” (pp 88-89)

We can even see in the passage above that St. Gregory is really describing survival of the species – animals have traits good for self-preservation.  Gregory accepts a certain anthropomorphic interpretation of animals – their behavior is seen as reflecting virtues and vices.  Carnivores attack because they are angry, and animals engage in sex because they love pleasure.  These “animal traits” became part of human behavior when humans fell from grace and came to live by animals senses and sexual reproduction.  Pain became part of human experience once we chose to live for pleasure – this is how God punished us for rebelling against him.

Modern science more sees us as more projecting human emotions, virtues and vices on animals, rather than animals possessing such traits.  Gregory sees us as receiving emotions, virtue and the desire for pleasure from the animal nature we took on in choosing to share the animal life.  Whether we could in any way reconcile Patristic “science” with modern science is the challenge we face in the modern world.  Scientific reasoning is as all pervasive today as was Platonism in the age of the Fathers.  The ancient Christians assumed the need to reconcile these truths and created a synthesis that did just that.  We have to consider whether we can do the same and thus follow the mind of the Fathers.

St. Gregory, like many of the Eastern Patristic writers, holds to ideas that seem similar to the notions of “original sin” in the West.  Gregory sees our love of pleasure as stemming from the animal nature we now inherit.  His writing rejects the Platonic ideas that Origin more readily accepted, but still we see in them a more Christianized version of a notion that our physical nature is not really part of what God intended for us.  Humans indeed have animal traits and share an animal nature but that is really only the result of sin.  Modern science on the contrary would say humans evolved from other animal forms over a long history, and any animal characteristics in us are because of our genetic relationship to other animals.

“Thus our love of pleasure took its beginning from our being made like to the irrational creation, and was increased by the transgressions of men, becoming the parent of so many varieties of sins arising from pleasure as we cannot find among the irrational animals.  Thus the rising of anger in us is indeed akin to the impulse of brutes; but it grows by the alliance of thought: for thence come malignity, envy, deceit, conspiracy, hypocrisy; all these are the result of the evil husbandry of the mind; for if the passion were divested of the aid it receives from thought, the anger that is left behind is short-lived and not sustained, like a bubble, perishing straightway as soon as it come into being.  Thus the greediness of swine introduces covetousness, and the high spirit of the horse becomes the origin of pride; and all the particular forms that proceed from the want of reason in brute nature become vice by the evil use of the mind.”  (pp 89-90)

Gregory sees the animal nature (love of pleasure, vices, passions) as actually being made even worse by human free will and rationality.  Swine are greedy but humans turn that into an art of covetousness.  Carnivores are angry but humans add to this ill will, envy, deceit, conspiracy and hypocrisy.  It is our human minds, the very thing God bestowed on us humans to distinguish us from all other animals, which change animal behaviors into sin.  Animals act the way they do because of their nature, humans imitate their bad behavior by choice, according to Gregory.

St. Gregory’s acceptance of the “science” of his day raises many interesting questions.  He does not reject the science of his day.  He accepts it as factually true and thus Scripture also being true should easily reconcile with science.  He is neither afraid of the pagan science nor does he see any need to assume that science and the Bible are presenting opposing ideas.  Gregory works to create a synthesis of what he believes to be true, regardless of the source.   If he held to these same principles today, it would suggest that Gregory might have been willing to work to create a synthesis between modern science and the Bible.  Truth is truth for him, and it is we who have to work to reconcile truths if they appear to be in opposition to each other.

St. Gregory of Nyssa is not alone in his thinking on these issues among Patristic writers.  We can see many of the same assumptions about sexual reproduction and gender in St. Maximos the Confessor who writes more than 200 years after Gregory.   The great theological synthesis they were creating incorporated the science of their day, a science they saw no need to refute.

Next:  Reflecting on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Making of Man (II)

 

The Tranquility of Creation

St. Gregory of Nyssa in his book describing the creation of humans, ON THE MAKING OF MAN, gives us a very idyllic picture of the world in the moment before humans arrived on the scene – the calm before the storm.

“Now all things already arrived at their own end: the heaven and the earth (Genesis 2:1), as Moses says, were finished, and all things that lie between them, and the particular things were adorned with their appropriate beauty;

the heaven with the rays of the stars, the sea and air with the living creatures that swim and fly, and the earth with all varieties of plants and animals, to all which, empowered by the Divine will, it gave birth together;

the earth was full, too, of her produce, bringing forth fruits at the same time with flowers; the meadows were full of all that grows therein,

and all the mountain ridges, and summits, and every hillside, and slope, and hollow, were crowned with young grass, and with the varied produce of the trees, just risen from the ground, yet shot up at once into their perfect beauty;

and all the beasts that had come into life at God’s command were rejoicing, we may suppose, and skipping about, running to and fro in the thickets in herds according to their kind, while every sheltered and shady spot was ringing with the chants of the songbirds.

And at sea, we may suppose, the sight to be seen was of the like kind, as it had just settled to quiet and calm in the gathering together of its depths, where havens and harbors spontaneously hollowed out on the coasts made the sea reconciled with the land;

and the gentle motion of the waves vied in beauty with the meadows, rippling delicately with light and harmless breezes that skimmed the surface; and all the wealth of creation by land and sea was ready, and not was there to share it.”  (pp 20-21)

St. Gregory pictures the perfect creation, tranquilly settling in from the more violent creation which brought the chaos under control, separating the waters from the land and causing the dry earth to emerge.  That tumult and turmoil lasted only a brief moment for St. Gregory – things instantly attained their finished state – trees reaching their heights instantaneously.  In his understanding, the first trees grew but not over years but immediately attaining their height.  His view is that the world we are in today emerged both spontaneously but not yet in completed form.  Things had to grow but did so instantly.  Things didn’t have to follow what we now know as the order of nature in those opening days of creation – they were exempt from the laws of nature that we know.

Humans were created last to be the crown of creation – the earth was a Paradise created by God for His human creatures.  Humans were not made to wait for the world to emerge – it was all there, perfectly, before humans were placed in it, according to St. Gregory.  Humans had nothing else to do but maintain the  pacific serenity and blessed placidness.  They, however, were about to undue all that God had planned.

Psalm 95 – The World is the Lord’s

Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our savior;  Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, And let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.  

For the Lord is a great God, A great King over all the gods;  For in His hand are the ends of the earth,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And the heights of the mountains are His;  

For the sea is His, and He made it,

(Photo by Seth Bobosh)

And His hands formed the dry land.  

Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, And let us weep before the Lord who made us;  For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture And the sheep of His hand.   (Psalm 95:1-7)

John Donne: All Times are God’s Seasons

John Donne writing in the 17th Century offers a wonderful reflection on seasons and time as related to God’s own love for His Creation. The version below was adapted to conform to 21st Century spellings and grammar.

“God made sun and moon to distinguish seasons, and day and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons.

But God made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies.  In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is always Autumn: his mercies are ever in their maturity.

We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never says you should have come yesterday.  He never says you must [come] again tomorrow, but today if you will hear his voice, today he will hear you.

  If some king of the earth has so large an extent of dominion in north and south, as that he has winter and summer together in his dominions, so large an extent east and west as that he has day and night together in his dominions, much more has God mercy and judgment together.

He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light.   He can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring.

 Though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, you have been benighted until now, winter and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied until now,

now God comes to  you, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of spring, but as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons. ” (LXXX Sermons; Sermon II)

The Anthropocene: Are Humans Really in Charge?

Humans have for centuries contemplated the “super natural” forces that control human history.  Some decided that what explains human behavior is the force of original sin, which humans can’t escape and which drive them to evil deeds.  For though the world and humans created by God were declared “very good” in the Scriptures (Genesis 1), it was obvious that sin also abounded among us creatures.

Later in history those who rejected spiritual explanations, formed their own ideas about the forces governing humans – evolution and genetics.  These are “natural” forces but super in that they affect all of life and some felt they can’t be resisted, so they predestine humans just as much as some believed original sin did.  So many forces predetermining human behavior.

Today, even science seems to be coming to grips with a notion that humans might have a lot more power in them than science ever acknowledged.  For now, scientists are coming to recognize that something is happening in evolution – humans are no longer merely controlled by it, but are shaping it, not only in themselves but throughout the world.    In the article “The Anthropocene Should Bring Awe-and Act As a Warning” written by Justin Worland (TIME magazine, Sep 12, 2016), we read:

As Geological epochs have come and gone throughout Earth’s vast history, shifts have often correlated with large-scale global changes like ice ages and mass extinctions. An asteroid hits the planet, wiping out the dinosaurs, and the Cretaceous period becomes the Tertiary. Until now, life on Earth–including us late-arriving Homo sapiens–was along for the ride. But on Aug. 29, some scientists at a meeting of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) in South Africa said human activity has grown so powerful that it is forcing a change of the geological calendar: Earth has entered a new epoch, called the Anthropocene, defined by humans and our effect on the planet.


For 12,000 years, we lived through an epoch known as the Holocene, which provided a stable and relatively warm climate that allowed humans to develop everything from agriculture to atomic power. But that success remade the planet we live on through widespread deforestation, overfishing of the oceans, the extinction of countless species and the altering of the planet’s climate through the emission of greenhouse gases. Most telling is the spread of radioactive material across Earth since 1950 as a result of the testing of nuclear bombs. Humans brought an end to the Holocene quickly–no other geological epoch lasted fewer than several million years.

The random process of evolution may be changing as humans have a mind of their own and have proven they can consciously (and sometimes conscientiously) change the planet.  Evolution, from the scientific view, is no longer a random process, subject to random forces, but is being influenced, and even shaped by, conscious human choices.  Evolution is thought to have brought into being, sentient humans, who are conscious and capable of choice, capable of shaping their future, as well as the process of evolution.  Perhaps the anthropic principle will take on new meaning as science acknowledges the truth of what is transpiring in the physical universe.  The observers of the universe are no longer merely observing for they are shaping the world, for good or ill.  Worland concludes:

The IUGS gets the final vote on the geological calendar, and while scientists in its working group on the Anthropocene overwhelmingly recommended the new designation at the South Africa meeting, it has yet to be confirmed. But momentum has been building behind the Anthropocene for some time. Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize–winning chemist, first described this human-influenced era more than a decade ago with a focus on climate change. The downside of human influence should be obvious–we’re not just changing our planet but destroying it. Yet there’s a silver lining. If we are powerful enough to cause these problems, we might also solve them. “Unless there is a global catastrophe,” Crutzen wrote in the journal Nature, “mankind will remain a major environmental force for many millennia. A daunting task lies ahead.”

If humans can consciously shape the world in which they live, won’t they need more than ever to also think about conscience, right and wrong, good and evil?  We don’t have to move blindly into the Anthropocene.  We can choose our future.  We need wisdom more than ever, and an understanding of humanity that includes free will, conscience and responsibility for all we do.

Maybe, more now than ever, we do need to consider the wisdom of God, for perhaps we are not the only beings capable of creating the future.  We didn’t bring ourselves into existence, we only recently began to consciously shape our history and planet, we really have a lot to learn.

The Sun – Serving God and Humans

“… the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,

when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

When the sun rises, they withdraw

and lie down in their dens.

People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalm 104:19-24)

Green

“He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing.” (Job 39:8)

It is not only the Lord who searches “after every green thing.”  In Genesis 1, God gave every green leaf to be food for humans and for animals alike.

“And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:30)

Green, the color of chlorophyll, is the color of life for plants and the life giving process of photosynthesis.  Maybe it is life giving and sustaining qualities associated with green that causes God as Creator to seek our and value things green.

 

He who trusts in his riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. (Proverbs 11:28)

Green is not the color of money in the Bible, but the righteous will flourish like the well watered green leaf.  I am amazed when walking in the woods about all the shades of green present in any one small portion of land.  The shapes, sizes, contours of the leaves are abundantly varied.  Even though the shades of the color vary so greatly, yet everyone of them is still green.  Not all greens are identical.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”  (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

I do not know when or why green became the color identified with Pentecost in Orthodoxy, but it is the color of abundant life in the plant world.  Traditionally in Orthodoxy the only mention of color with a feast was whether vestments should be bright or dark, but an exact color was not assigned to a feast, so I can only guess that the use of green with Pentecost must be a recent practice.  I also don’t know when or why churches began decorating with tree branches and green leaves for Pentecost.  It is possible that this too is a relatively recent practice.

Thorns and Thistles: Reminder of Paradise Lost

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And to Adam God said, “Because you have … eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  (Genesis 3:17-18)

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According to Genesis 3, thorns and thistles became abundant because human sin had caused the ground to be cursed.  Those noxious weeds which are a plague to farmers and a toxin to cattle proliferate without any nurturing agriculture to help them.  While humans struggle to grow crops, noxious weeds seem able to thrive in the world of the Fall.   But, from another point of view, other than that of the farmer who is trying to cultivate crops, even the noxious weed has a beauty to it – a delight to the eye of the photographer.   Does it possess beauty because it too is a creation of God?  Or is that simply part of the deception which hides from our eyes the dangers of our spiritual disobedience?

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Remember that Eve “… saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”   Tempted, enticed and seduced by a plant.  She forgot God and His commandment to embrace the world and all that it would give her.  It gave her and us more than she or we ever bargained for.  And yet, to this day we continue to look away from God and want to find immortality and eternity in a world which is passing away.

“Since by God’s grace we have renounced Satan and his works and have sworn our baptism . . . it is also our natural duty, for since we were originally created by God as ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31), we owe it to God to be such. Although sin entered us through our negligence and introduced into us what is contrary to nature, we have been reclaimed through God’s great mercy, and renewed by the passion of Him who is dispassionate. We have been ‘bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20), namely by the blood of Christ, and liberated from the ancient ancestral sin.”  (St Theodoros the Great Ascetic, The Philokalia, Kindle Loc. 10556-71)