“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Many people walk away from relationships still imprisoned by their bitterness and hatred. Mandela showed it is possible to remove such evils from our hearts. We may even feel we wasted 27 years of our life in a relationship, but if we don’t leave that bitterness and hatred behind, we will certainly wasted the next 27 years still enslaved by our own emotional attachments. Christ offers us a different way, a way of love in which we liberate our selves from any slavery to revenge, retribution, or even justice. Sometimes in life we have to choose between liberty and justice. Mandela choose liberty.
“Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956) Liberty sometimes involved containing the evil another person represents rather than constantly trying to be victorious over it. Our desire to “win” sometimes is a form of slavery.
Since the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has filled the airwaves, the printed media and the Internet with nostalgia for the slain president, I decided to ride the wave publish one more blog on JFK (see also my JFK Assassination Plot: 50 Years in the Making), this time quoting a speech he gave at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on April 27, 1961. It has a great deal of America’s self-mythology in it, which the Camelot President was great at voicing to inspire Americans about their role in the world and their hopeful future. Somewhere in the last day or so I heard a quote which I tried to find on the world wide web but didn’t succeed and I don’t remember where I heard it or who said it. The quote was something like: “America is the first nation on earth which believes it was born perfect but whose task is to constantly improve itself.” That is why our nation has the split personality of permanently enshrining the ideals of the constitution (a conservative principle) and yet ever pushing into the future with the hope of an even better tomorrow. We uphold the ideal of the past (Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) and find new ways of applying it to the present to shape the future. The conservatism demands constant creativity to apply it to every new situation which arise in the present. It creates the strange situation where both liberals and conservatives deny they are establishment but both lay claim to be the true heirs of the political tradition. The federal government is given the sacred trust to protect the rights of citizens and yet the citizens don’t trust the federal government or anyone else to do it.
Though history shows Kennedy didn’t live up to his own idealism (think Bay of Pigs and also his personal sexual escapades), he did in speech express our ideals well. In this speech we see some of these ideals which we need to reawaken in our country today. The press is the only business protected by the Constitution. The world is dangerous, but a secret and oppressive society is not the answer; rather, a free and open society is the correct response. Disagreement, dissent and debate are not the signs of a society fragmenting into irreconcilable factions, but a firm footing for democracy. Critics of government policy are not disloyal; instead, they are an important resource for improving the general welfare of the people. Government has its proper role as defined by the Constitution to serve the citizenry and to uphold America’s ideals, but government is not infallible and can embrace a means toward an end in which the means and/or the ends are simply wrong. America may have been born perfect (at least in our self mythology), but neither the nation nor its government nor its citizenry always behave perfectly. We have to be honest enough to point that out and recognize that truth. You can listen to Kennedy delivering the speech at JFK: Presidency and the Press or read the text of his 1961 speech below:
“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings.
We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions.
Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control.
And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.”
For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence–on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day.
It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.
Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed.”
No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary.
I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.
I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers– I welcome it.
This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed– and no republic can survive.
That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.
And that is why our press was protected by the First (emphasized) Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution– not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.
This means greater coverage and analysis of international news– for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security…
And so it is to the printing press–to the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news– that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.”
President Lincoln is credited with freeing the slaves in America. Yet we too can become slaves to prosperity – deciding that wealth is the ultimate and highest good and that we must sacrifice some or all freedoms to preserve the nation’s prosperity and wealth. Or maybe we come to realize that we need to put some limits on government or business in order to preserve the freedom and independence of every citizen and the general welfare of the nation. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. So too the Constitution was made for man and not man for the Constitution. The Constitution exists for the good of the people. It is the people the Constitution and the government are meant to serve: “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address (whose 150th Anniversary was also celebrated this month):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
As we Americans celebrate our Independence Day holiday, we are also called upon to contemplate the nature of freedom. Freedom doesn’t consist in choosing between any fast food place one wants to eat, or what sport team one will root for, or in deciding how much time one will spend on the Internet. These forms of freedoms are just choosing between choices offered to us. As Bishop Kallistos Ware says, we have to learn how to be free.
“‘Learn to be free’: freedom cannot simply be assumed; it has to be learnt. Suppose that you ask me, ‘Can you play the violin?’ and I reply, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never tried.’ You might feel that there was something odd about my answer. Unless I have learnt to play the violin through the exacting discipline of a musical training, I am not free to play Beethoven’s violin sonatas. And so it is with every form of freedom. Freedom has to be learnt through ascesis, the ascetic discipline, of precise observation and imaginative thinking; and then it needs to be defended with courage and self-sacrifice. As Nicolas Berdyaev observed, ‘Freedom gives birth to suffering, while the refusal to be free diminishes suffering. Freedom is not easy, as its enemies and slanderers allege: freedom is hard; it is a heavy burden. Men, as Dostoevsky has shown with such amazing power, often renounce freedom to ease their lot.’ Yet if we renounce freedom, we become less than truly human; and if we deny others their freedom, we dehumanize them.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, THE INNER KINGDOM, p 73)
A Prayer for our Nation
O Lord Jesus Christ, our God, the God of all mercies and compassion, whose mercy cannot be measured and whose love for mankind is unfathomably deep: We Your unprofitable servants bow down with fear and trembling before Your majesty. We now humbly offer thanksgiving to Your deep compassion for the benefits You bestowed upon our land. We glorify, praise, hymn and magnify You as Lord, Master and Benefactor of us all. Bowing down in thanksgiving for Your immeasurable and ineffable loving-kindness, humbly we pray: As You have now counted us Your servants worthy and so received our supplications and fulfilled them, now too in the time to come, as we flourish in sincere love for You and grow in every virtue, grant all Your faithful to be blessed by your gracious benefits. Deliver our land and our civil leaders from every evil circumstance, and grant us all peace and tranquility. Count us always worthy to offer thanksgiving to You, to witness to Your most gracious benefits, and to sing praise to You, together with your Father who is everlasting and Your Most Holy, good and consubstantial Spirit. God worshiped in one essence. Amen.
“Freedom is not to be confused with ‘free choice,’ which lies at the root of our human sins. Sin results from making the wrong choice, and suffering and death come forth from it. True freedom, therefore, results from submitting ourselves to the will of God. Moses is a symbol of this true freedom of man, for his is a model of the true servant of God. […] In other words, ‘freedom’’ for a Christian does not mean ‘do whatever you want.’ Rather it is found in our free and humble submission to the will of God. No-one can be ‘free’ by virtue of his own powers. The Greek Fathers underscored the principle of synergy, or co-operation, with God. It is only through Christ, who has freed us from the power of evil, that one may obtain true freedom in God.”
Orthodox hymns throughout the year give us some insight into how our spiritual forefathers and mothers in the faith interpreted the Scriptures and what lessons they drew from them. Hymns from the Lenten Triodion do this as well often focusing on particularly Lenten themes. The Kontakion for Holy Monday focuses on part of the Genesis story dealing with the aged Jacob and his son, Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37, 39-46). [During the weekdays of Great Lent portions of Genesis are read liturgically, and only a tiny portion of the Jacob and Joseph story is read in the Orthodox Church (small portions of Genesis 43, 45 and 46 are read).] The Kontakion lyrics read as follows:
JACOB LAMENTED THE LOSS OF JOSEPH
BUT HIS NOBLE SON WAS SEATED ON A CHARIOT AND HONORED AS A KING!
FOR WHEN HE REFUSED TO BE ENSLAVED BY THE PLEASURES OF THE EGYPTIAN WOMAN,
HE WAS GLORIFIED BY THE LORD WHO BEHOLDS THE HEARTS OF MEN,
AND BESTOWS UPON THEM AN INCORRUPTIBLE CROWN!
The portion I think of most interest for Great Lent comes from Genesis 39 in which Joseph now a slave to an Egyptian courtier is sexually harassed by his master’s wife. Joseph refuses her sexual advances but then is unjustly punished due to false accusations made against him. The hymn upholds the virtue of Joseph in refusing the illicit sexual advances of his master’s wife. The story is unusual at this point in the Scriptures because there is not a lot of sexual purity mentioned in Genesis. Joseph is an exceptionally moral man in a very immoral world.
What the hymn uniquely brings out is that Joseph, though a slave, behaves like a free man. Joseph is not physically enslaved by pleasure or his own passions, nor by the bonds of his Egyptian master or the passions of his master’s wife. He behaves with the free will and determination of a king. He is the perfect example of a Christian during Great Lent. For the Lenten season is one in which we can demonstrate that we too will not be enslaved by anything, including our own appetites. Fasting is freedom from bondage to the body or the self. Fasting enables us to say no to any desire and to live as free men and women, doing as we want rather than as our bodies demand us to behave. Fasting is a great sign of freedom.
Another hymn from Matins (the Canon Ikos) picks up on this same theme of Joseph and freedom:
TODAY LET US ADD LAMENTATION TO LAMENTATION. LET OUR TEARS FLOW WITH THOSE OF JACOB WHO WEEPS FOR HIS CELEBRATED AND SOBER-MINDED SON; FOR THOUGH BODILY JOSEPH WAS INDEED A SLAVE, HE PRESERVED THE FREEDOM OF HIS SOUL AND WAS LORD OVER ALL EGYPT. FOR GOD PREPARES FOR HIS SERVANTS AN INCORRUPTIBLE CROWN.
Once again we see Joseph though a slave preserves the freedom of his soul by practicing abstinence. Joseph doesn’t allow Potiphar’s wife to determine his own morality or sexual activity. Joseph rules over his body and his passions. Again, a very Lenten message – fasting isn’t self denial so much as asserting one’s free will to rule over one’s own body!
Joseph is said to be sober-minded which gives all of us who live in a self indulgent culture of excessive eating and drinking something to think about. The scriptural lesson drawn from the Old Testament story is about sobriety, watchfulness, vigilance and virtue.
Sobriety as a spiritual way of living is important for those of us in a church which doesn’t command prohibition. We can imbibe alcohol but it is our spiritual combat to exercise self control like Jacob did and to free ourselves from passion, intoxication and addiction. The need for each of us to exercise freedom from drunkenness and intoxication does not get enough emphasis in many Orthodox cultures and parishes.
The above Ikos hymn also reflects another interesting element of Orthodox hymnography – namely it doesn’t follow linear time in its thinking. Jacob is now weeping for his son whom he assumes is dead, and we are to join him in this lamentation. The hymn doesn’t place Jacob in the past as a distant historical figure, but very much alive today with us (very reminiscent of Matthew 22:31-32 where Jesus says that God is the God of Jacob who was long dead at the time of Christ, but Jesus says He is God of the living and Jacob is alive in God). Often in Orthodox hymnography linear time is completely ignored as past, present and future are all enveloped in the timelessness of eternity. I think Metropolitan Hilarion Alfayev calls this an iconographic element of Orthodox hymnology because icons at times also ignore “history” and bring together in one icon saints and scenes separated by vast distances and long time periods.
As another example of this non-linear time use, we pray in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
“You did not cease doing everything until You led us to heaven and granted us Your kingdom which is to come.
For all these things we thank You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit…”
Thus we offer thanksgiving to God for the kingdom which is to come as if we have already received it! God granted (past) His Kingdom which is still (future) to come. We are no longer in the world of linear time, but rather experience in this world the relativity of time as we come to realize time is contained within and by the eternity of God.
“Without constraints we cannot flourish. As most parents know, it is only when children ‘know where they stand’ that they start to relax, even more so when they know the limits are set by someone who loves them.[…] The attempt to wrestle free from constraints altogether… is ultimately self-defeating. We become imprisoned, not free.[…] Of course there are many constraints that do undermine human freedom – epilepsy, terminal cancer, solitary confinement. The point here, however, is to challenge the belief that we automatically increase freedom by reducing limits or multiplying the options open to us. (Does having thirty brands of yogurt to choose from actually make us any more free?) For the Christian, to be free is not fundamentally to enjoy some supposedly blank space before us, or to increase options, but to be at peace with God and one another and thus at home in a God-given world.”
Every year about the 4th of July, I try to read a book on American history. This year I finally got around to a book I’ve owned for a long time but never read, Gordon Wood’s THE AMERICANIZATION OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Despite my general love for reading, I’ve not found as much time to read as I would like and I’m only about ¼ of the way into the book. However, my initial impressions are very positive and I’m enjoying the book. I’ll quote two passages from what I’ve read so far both dealing with things Mr. Franklin valued highly. The first is about the word “condescension.” Ben Franklin strove to become a “gentleman,” part of that class of gentry, whose virtues he embraced and wished to instill in others.
“Only a hierarchical society that knew it distinctions well could have placed so much value on a gentleman’s capacity for condescension—that voluntary humiliation, that willing descent from superiority to equal terms with inferiors. For us today condescension is a pejorative term, suggesting snobbery or haughtiness. But for the eighteenth century it was a positive and complimentary terms, something that gentlemen aspired to possess and commoners valued in those above them.” (p 38)
The virtue of a superior reaching down (condescending) to be with those inferior to him is also valued in Orthodoxy, as it is a very positive term used to describe Christ Himself who though God, condescended to become man in order to save us (Philippians 2:5-8).
The second quote deals with 18th Century ideas about what “freedom” means. Dr. Franklin accepted and lived by a notion of freedom which was based in materialism. It is wealth that enables us to be free, which makes us independent of the demands of society and of necessity. Freedom enables us to become people of leisure.
“Ultimately, beneath all these strenuous efforts to define gentility was the fundamental classical quality of being free and independent. The liberality for which gentlemen were known connoted freedom – freedom from material want, freedom from the caprice of others, freedom from ignorance, and freedom from having to work with one’s hands. The gentry’s distinctiveness came from being independent in a world of dependences, learned in a world only partially literate, and a leisured in a world of laborers. … People labored out of necessity, out of poverty, and that necessity and poverty bred the contempt in which laboring people had been held for centuries. Since servants, slaves, and bonded laborers did much of the work of society, it seemed natural to associate leisure with liberty and toil with bondage. A gentleman’s freedom was valued because it was freedom from the necessity to labor, which came from being poor. Indeed, only the need of ordinary people to feed themselves, it was thought, kept them busy working.” (pp 38-39)
Franklin agreed with those who thought that poverty and hunger were the main motivators to keep the lower class working. He however strove for freedom from such necessity.
So no doubt he would have favored a society which made the lives of the gentry easier and even more free from dependencies and necessity, but which would have kept the lower class working ever harder to help them avoid indolence, idleness and prodigality. At least to the point I’ve read in the book, Ben Franklin does not conceive of freedom as belonging to everyone nor even good for everyone. Freedom in Franklin’s thinking would lead the lower class into sloth and poverty. But for the gentry class, freedom allowed them to live nobly and involve themselves in civil affairs.
To all my fellow Americans I wish a joyous and safe Independence Day celebration.
“There can be no doubt but that love for anything that exists is divided into these two types. One may lustfully love one’s motherland, working to make sure that it develops gloriously and victoriously, overcoming and destroying all its enemies. Or one can love it in a Christian manner, working to see that the face of Christ’s truth is revealed more and more clearly within it.” (Mother Maria Skobtsova in Essential Writings, pg 178)
We will look at how some of the theological themes which the Patristic writers gleaned from the Adam and Eve narratives are expressed in modern Orthodox tradition. First the notion of free will – only those who have free will can choose to obey. God did not make automatons preprogrammed to do His will. He made creatures who can disobey – consciously choose a course different from the one they are commanded to take.
“What is obedience? In the common meaning of the word, obedience is submission to someone else’s will. The commandment of obedience is the very first in time, the most ancient, for while still in Paradise, in their original state of innocence, our first father and mother were already given a commandment of obedience—not to taste of the fruit of a certain tree—the transgression of which commandment led to their death.” (Abbess Thaisia, LETTERS TO A BEGINNER, p 39)
The notion of free will raised the question even in the ancient world as to whether Eve and Adam were made perfect or were made capable of being perfected. We saw that many Patristic writers assumed humans had the capacity to attain perfection, but this can only be accomplished if there is true free will. Many Patristic writers assumed the downfall of Eve and Adam was not that they were imperfect but that they were inexperienced.
“Adam and Eve wanted that freedom, but they were too young, too immature, to take the responsibility that went along with it. They thought they could get freedom without responsibility. Only an adult knows there is no such thing.
God did not kill the man and the woman (which shows that God does not operate on the level of the human mind). What He did was to alter their reality so that they became aware of their separateness, their estrangement, from God, who until then had been their sole purpose for being. The man and woman rejected relationship with God as a person and went into exile. They forced God to become an impersonal power, a demand, a commandment, just as a rebellious child forces a parent to become overpowering, impersonal, and free from dialogue when the child presses beyond the limits that have provided for its safety and nurture.” (Archimandrite Meletios Webber, Bread & Water, Wine & Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God, pg 38)
Adam and Eve had to choose whether to expand themselves in godlikeness by choosing to love each other and God. Instead they decided to follow their own selfish path which left them enslaved to themselves, to their desires, trapped and separated by individualistic autonomy.
“In fact, it was this act that marked the beginning of the human’s selfish confinement within himself. This was how he enslaved himself to himself. Reckoning on becoming his own lord, he became his own slave. The human person is free only if he is free also from himself for the sake of others, in love, and if he is free for God who is the source of freedom because he is the source of love. But disobedience used as an occasion the commandment not to taste from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Dumitru Staniloae quoted in THE TEACHINGS OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY, pp 695-696)
Frequently the Patristic writers emphasize the spiritual message of Genesis 3, moving beyond a mere literal interpretation of the text to find what message God had planted within His world.
“God’s question—‘Where are you?’ – does not seek to determine the location where Adam hid himself; it is not a question of geographical removal but of a state of sin which separates us from God. God does not want to abandon Adam; He seeks him out and calls to him. But instead of responding to divine mercy, Adam tries to justify himself by rejecting all responsibility. … In accordance with what the serpent said, Adam’s eyes were opened. What he beheld, however, was a world of sorrow, where man must labor to survive, where he must struggle against thorns and thistles to obtain bread by the sweat of his brow, and where woman gives birth in pain; a world where everything is transitory, everything dies, and where man who is of the earth returns to the earth.” (Olga Dunlop (Tr), THE LIVING GOD Vol 1, p 11)
God offered the fallen Adam not just punishment but a means to a better life.
“… Adam’s condition outside of Eden. He was reduced to an animal by virtue of his transgression. But in taking on this new condition as a means of penance rather than enduring it solely as punishment, Adam was on the road to deification.” (Gary Anderson, THE GENESIS OF PERFECTION, p 153)
In the writings of St. Dorotheos of Gaza (6th Century), we see some of the diversity in Patristic thinking when it comes to Adam. Unlike some of the other Fathers we have already read in this blog series, Dorotheos sees Adam as created not merely possessing potential goodness and immortality, but rather already possessing “every virtue” and created immortal from the beginning. Thus Adam did not simply fail to attain his potential good, he actually lost his position and fell to an unnatural state. Once in this unnatural state, Adam/humanity quickly became enamored with and enslaved by this Fallen world, and so continued transgressing against God.
“In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (as the divine holy scripture says), adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise. He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in his emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature as he was created. For, to the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues. When he disobeyed the command and ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat of, he was thrown out of paradise and fell from a state in accord with his nature to a state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of this life and other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave of them through his transgression. Then little by little evil increased and death reigned.” (St. Dorotheos of Gaza , DISCOURSES AND SAYINGS, p 77)
Of interest, For Dorotheos there was a process of decline for the humans, “little by little evil increased”, which eventually resulted in death reigning over humanity. But in the Fall, the humans lose their natural freedom – for instead of having dominion over creation, they have become subject to it, and now are slaves to it. Only Christ restores freedom from enslavement to this world.
St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) sees humans as losing their divine likeness but not their divine image in the Fall. The first death the humans experienced was the soul’s separation from God; only later did humans experience physical death.
“After our forefather’s transgression in paradise through the tree, we suffered the death of our soul – which is the separation of the soul from God – prior to our bodily death; yet although we cast away our divine likeness, we did not lose our divine image. Thus when the soul renounces its attachment to inferior things and cleaves through love to God and submits itself to Him through acts and modes of virtue, it is illuminated and made beautiful by God and is raised to a higher level, obeying His counsels and exhortations; and by this means it regains the truly eternal life.” (St. Gregory Palamas in THE PHILOKALIA Vol 4, p 363)
For St. Gregory the path back to becoming truly human is to fully love God and obey Him through a virtuous life. Christ has shown us this way of love.
St. Gregory Palamas draws on the image of a coiling snake as the means to show just how “twisted in character” the serpent that tempted Eve was. The snake is not Satan incarnate, for Satan cannot become incarnate, but a deception to prevent Eve from knowing to whom she was speaking. God allows the deception as the humans had to make the right choices in life to preserve their natural goodness. Unfortunately, according to St. Gregory, Adam and Eve fail to recognize the deception, fail to see the superiority of God’s own counsel and subject themselves to a creature, abandoning their proper relationship with the Creator.
“The mediator and cause of death, twisted in character and inordinate in craftiness, once insinuated himself into a twisting serpent in God’s paradise. He did not himself become a serpent (nor could he, except in an illusory form; and this he preferred not to adopt at that time, for fear of being detected; but, not daring an open confrontation, he chose a deceitful approach…) . . . God permitted this so that man, seeing counsel coming from a creature inferior to himself – and, indeed, how greatly is the serpent his inferior – might realize how completely worthless this counsel was and might rightly reject with indignation the idea of submitting to what was clearly inferior to him. In this way he would preserve his own dignity and at the same time, by obeying the divine commandment, would keep faith with the Creator.” (St. Gregory Palamas in THE PHILOKALIA Vol 4, p 365)
Thus humans ended up living in this fallen world based upon choices we have made while ignoring God’s commandments for a better life.