This is the 39th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting. The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of Russian Saints.
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)
Next: The Role of Food in Adam’s Existence