“‘God made not death…for he created all things that they might have their being’ (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13,14). There is no death in the plan of God’s creation, in its structure. Death ‘came into the world through the envy of the devil’ (2:24), for ‘God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity’ (v.23) […] The mortal nature of life is only its sickness, which is inevitable in the given state of life but not incurable. There was no death and there will be no death. Man was not originally created for death; the natural possibility of immortality was implanted in him. […] Death consists in the fact that man’s spirit, which originally came from God and in this sense is both created and uncreated, departs the ‘earth,’ to which his created nature belongs: a body animated by a soul. […] By no means does death signify that the Creator has failed in His work of creation and that He therefore destroys it Himself, as it were; for death is not the annihilation of life, but only a particular state of life, and in this sense it is an act of life. True, death did not have to exist since God did not create it. Nevertheless, the possibility of death is contained in man’s complex composition and it has not yet been overcome precisely because of this complexity.” (Sergus Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, pgs.350, 351, 352)
Looking at more contemporary Orthodox writers, we see the influence of the Patristic writers in shaping the modern Orthodox understanding of Adam’s expulsion from Paradise.
“In the beginning the Lord created man out of dust. He made Adam and Eve immortal, fashioning them in His own image and likeness and showering gifts upon them. He gave them the beautiful garden of Paradise to be their home, and put the whole of creation under Adam’s authority. There was one condition only, a simple test of obedience: Adam and Eve were allowed to eat the fruit of all the trees in the garden except one.
Alas, they did not fulfill the condition. Eve listened to the seductive voice of the serpent, and Adam listened to the persuasions of his wife. If only they had exercised discernment and remained loyal to their benefactor! Instead they played into the hands of the devil, who envied them the home in Paradise from which he himself had been expelled, and devised a scheme to rob them of the honor God had given to mankind. The devil tempted the man and the woman to covet the prerogatives and the glory of God Himself. He led them on the ambition of becoming equal to and independent of their Maker and of deciding for themselves what was right and what was wrong. They succumbed to the devil’s suggestions and fell into sin. In consequence they lost the promise of immortality and became subject to death. The Lord passed sentence on them. ‘You are dust,’ He declared, ‘and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19).” (Anne Field, FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT, pp 44-45)
We see in the modern writers the embracing of the different threads, trends and tradition which we found in the Patristic writers. The Adam story is a rich tapestry of theology and anthropology. It gives us a deep understanding not just of Adam the first man, but of each of us in as much as Adam is a representative of all humanity. Humans were given wonderful gifts from God – creation, free will, relationships, the chance for immortality. It is however the human desire to possess – grasping to hold on to things for one’s own ends and purposes, which led to the disintegration of the unity of creation with Creator.
“In reality, property and family are from God. When God created the world He gave it to man to possess, so that it would become man’s possession ‘… to till it and to keep it…’ And when He created man, He created a wife because ‘it is not good that the man should be alone…’ But then, here is the fall (the original sin): Man wanted the world as a possession for himself and not for God, not for life in Him; and man made his wife an object of love torn away from God’s love, again for himself. And then Christ Himself gives away, leaves His life in order to resurrect it, to free it from death, so that life would cease being the source of death, so that life would reign and death would be trampled down. Does it mean that God calls us to kill ourselves? ‘Leave’ the world, give away one’s possessions, leave the family—all of these do not mean that they (possessions, family) are identified with evil, in which case they should be thrown away, but that they mean their liberation and their transfiguration into what God had created them to be. The one who gives away his property in reality becomes richer because he makes the world again (given away, dispensed) divine. ‘Leaving’ one’s family is its resurrection, its cleansing, its transfiguration, but not its annihilation. How could the Church perform the sacrament of marriage if marriage was evil? Marriage is a sacrament because through it is accomplished its gift to God, to Christ, to the Holy Spirit—where everything is light, as it is in Christ’s call: distribute, leave, all is positive, all is light and not darkness and destruction.” (Alexander Schmemann, THE JOURNALS OF FATHER ALEXANDER SCHMEMANN, pp 320-321)
This blog series on Adam, the first human, is really looking at a mosaic of quotations from various authors, ancient and modern, whose ideas are part of the Tradition of the Orthodox understanding of Adam, of what it means to be human, of the Fall, and of salvation. The Orthodox Church reads the narrative of Adam and Eve through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The canonical texts of the Jewish scriptures actually make very little use of the Adam story. It is with the coming of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, that we begin to understand the depth and affects of the fall on all of humanity. In Christ we see and comprehend what it is to be fully human.
This is the 34th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting. The previous blog is The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A).
St. Symeon in the passage below gives us further clarification regarding his understanding of Adam’s condition when he was first created. Symeon sees Adam’s body as having been created incorruptible, however he was still in need of perfection in as much as his body was created material but not yet spiritual. In the Fall, Adam loses his incorruptible vesture (the garment of glory) and is clothed instead in mortality (the garments of skins).
“It is thus the case that Adam was created with an incorruptible body, though one which was material and not yet spiritual, and was established by God the Creator as the immortal king of an incorrupt world, and I mean by the latter everything under heaven and not just Paradise. … Adam chose not to believe the words which his Maker and Lord had spoken to him … Immediately, he was stripped of his incorruptible vesture and glory, and clothed with the nakedness of mortality. … And God tries to bring him to repentance by asking: ‘And who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat.’ But Adam will not admit that he has sinned. Instead, he tries to put the blame on God Who had made all things ‘very good,’ … and the woman in her turn ascribes blame to the serpent, and because both of them absolutely would not repent and fall down before their Master to ask His forgiveness, He removes them and throws them out of the royal palace, the dwelling-place of nobility—I mean Paradise—so that they must live afterwards on this earth as foreigners and exiles. … It was therefore altogether fitting that Adam, who had been brought down to corruption and death by his own transgression, should inhabit an earth become in like manner transitory and mortal, and that he should worthily partake of its food. Since unrestricted pleasure, and an incorrupt and effortless way of life had led him to forget that every good thing had come from God, and had brought him to despise the commandment which had been given him, he was justly condemned to work the earth with effort and sweat, and to draw from it, as from some niggardly steward of an estate, his daily bread. Do you see how the earth, now cursed and deprived of its spontaneous germination, received the transgressor? What for and why? So that, worked by him with labor and sweat, it should provide its fruits in a manner proportionate to his needs, but , without cultivation, that it should remain without fruit, productive only of thorns and thistles.” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE Vol 1, pp 26-29)
Basically St. Symeon sees the good things of Paradise as lulling Adam into a state of self-satisfaction and taking all of Paradise for granted. Adam apparently lost sight of the fact that Paradise was a gift which God shared with Adam but which could be taken away because Adam was a guest in Paradise not its owner. Adam also was given a responsibility of stewardship in the Garden of Delight, which he failed to exercise – the ease of life there made him forget his responsibilities.
Adam, now mortal, is placed on earth in which mortality is part of the landscape – this several Fathers assumed was done so that humans wouldn’t live in a place where everything was more spiritual than themselves. Now Adam cannot simply sit back and enjoy the blessings of Paradise which God had given him. Now humans have to work hard to produce the good things of the earth. This was meant to bring us to repentance – we are to regret the loss of Paradise, regret our own laziness and self-satisfaction, regret our ingratitude: this in order to bring us to repentance.
The 11th Century St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD) like many of the Orthodox theologians of the Patristic era wrote extensively about Adam and his expulsion from Paradise as the basis for understanding salvation in Christ. In this and the next 2 blogs we will consider some of his thinking about the first humans and their role in shaping our world. Like St. Dorotheos of Gaza, St. Symeon believed Adam was created immortal, becoming mortal only through sin. St. Symeon believed Adam had a spiritual way of perceiving reality – through the eye of his soul. In eating the forbidden fruit, Adam’s physical eyes were open, but he lost the use of the eye of the soul and no longer could see things as God created them.
“So, being made of dust from the earth, and having received a breath of life which the word calls an intelligent soul and the image of God, he was placed in the garden to work and given a commandment to keep. How so? So that, as long as he did keep it and work, he would remain immortal and compete everlastingly with the angels, and together with them would praise God unceasingly and receive His illumination and see God intelligibly, and hear His divine voice. But in that same hour that he should transgress the commandment given him and eat of the tree from which God had commanded him not to eat, he would be given over to death and be deprived of the eyes of his soul. He would be stripped of his robe of divine glory; his ears would be stopped up, and he would fall from his way of life with the angels and be chased out of paradise. This indeed did happen to the transgressor, and he fell from his eternal and immortal life. For once Adam had transgressed God’s commandment and lent his ear for the deceitful devil to whisper in, and was persuaded by him on hearing his cunning words against the Master Who had made him, he tasted of the tree and, perceiving with his senses, he both saw and beheld with passion the nakedness of his body. He was justly deprived of all those good things. He became deaf. With ears become profane he could no longer listen to divine words in a manner which was spiritual and adequate to God, as such words resound only in those who are worthy. Neither could he see the divine glory any longer, in that he had voluntarily turned his intellect away from it and had looked upon the fruit of the tree with passion, and had believed the serpent who said: ‘In that now that you eat of it, you will be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5).” (St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD), ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE Vol 2, p 165)
According to St. Symeon the immediate result of the Fall was that humanity could no longer see God or hear His Word for now humanity heard and saw only with their physical senses, but no longer spiritually through the soul. This shortcoming would be corrected in the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ for then humans could both see God and hear His Word. Thus today for all Christians the proclamation of the Gospel and the reading of all of the Scriptures allows us to hear the Word of God, and in iconography we can see the Word made flesh. God has ended the complete separation of humanity from Himself.
Theologian John Romanides did an analysis of early theologians of the Christian Church. He concluded that despite the Christian West’s feeling that Augustine was the first and most thorough early writer to address the issue of “original sin,” several Eastern Patristic writers also addressed the issue and came to very different conclusions from Augustine. Thus the Augustinian understanding of Adam and sin is not the only or most important view from among the early Christian theologians. The Christian East had its own writers who followed a very different line of thinking about the ancestral sin of Adam.
One notable point of departure is the writer’s in the East put a much greater emphasis on the place of death in what happened to Adam and humanity. As soon as humans turned away from God, a death already occurred, and thus sin follows death. The humans sin when they turn away from God.
“Likewise, St. Basis says, ‘To the extent that [man] stood apart from life, in like amount he also drew closer to death. For life is God, and the deprivation of life is death. Thus, Adam, prepared death for himself through his withdrawal from God, as it is written, “Those who separate themselves from You are lost.” Therefore God did not create death, but we brought it upon ourselves by our wicked purpose. Neither did He prevent the dissolution, for the reasons already stated: so that the illness would not be preserved immortal in us.’
St. Athanasius the Great writes, ‘When, by the counsel of the devil, men turned away from things eternal, they returned to things of corruptibility and became themselves the cause of dissolution unto death.’
On the making and fall of man, St. Theophilus of Antioch writes, ‘If God had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. On the other hand, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Rather, He made him neither immortal nor mortal, as we said above, but capable of being either one in order that, should he incline toward things of immortality and keep the commandments of God, he would be rewarded by Him with immortality and become god. If however he should turn to things of death by disobeying God, he would be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free and sovereign.’ The same refusal to assign the cause of death to God is found in the works of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who emphasizes that Satan is the cause of death. And St. Paul nowhere teaches that death is a punishment from God. God does not punish directly but indirectly, by permitting man, if he so wishes, to withdraw from Him and thus be deprived of life. God permitted the dissolution of man so he would not become immortal in sin. Theophilus says, ‘This indeed is a great benefaction which God has bestowed on man, that he would not have to remain eternally in sin.’ Two very important points emerge from the passages quoted above: 1) God did not create death; 2) the death of the righteous was not permitted out of some kind of divine wrath but out of divine compassion alone.” (John Romanides, THE ANCESTRAL SIN, pp 31-32)
The Eastern Patristic writers according to Romanides do not tend to see death as God’s wrathful punishment on humans. Rather the Eastern writers holding to the goodness of God, believe God in His goodness bestows free will on humans and freedom of choice. Humans decide to separate themselves from God, and this is by definition death, for humans cut themselves off from the source of life. The humans are not created as perfect or perfected beings. Rather, given free will and freedom of choice, they had the potential to choose perfection – or not. Thus humans do not fall from perfection into some lesser form of existence. God is not wrathful that humans made a choice – He after all bestowed free will and freedom of choice upon us. God does allow us to experience the consequences of our choices. Death as a consequence tended to be viewed by early Christian writers as the merciful God not allowing humans to remain in sin eternally. But our descent into mortality made us slaves to death. From this imprisonment, God rescues us and destroys the jailor who held us captive.
God did not make us infallible – that would have meant we had no free will. God did not make us sinners, nor did He impose on us some kind of condition of predestination in which we are capable only of choosing sin. God did not wish for us to sin or die, but allowed that we might choose both. If we allowed love to be our guide, we were capable of choosing God’s will. Once humans turned away from God and mortality entered into the picture, the human ability to choose properly became impaired, and sin and death now influenced our thinking, making it ever harder for humans to choose the good.
The Eastern Patristic theologians frequently put a positive spin on the consequences of the Fall: even the garments of skin and death itself reveal God’s mercy towards the humans as they all serve corrective purposes for humans. All are the means God is using to heal the human and to stop the human spiraling even further away from God.
“Neither corruptibility nor death… are punishments from God; they are instead consequences of our alienation from the source of life.” (Dumitru Staniloae, THE TEACHING OF MODERN CHRISTIANITY, p 697)
Thus God is not portrayed as vengeful or even judgmental, but of being love and acting according to the Triune divine nature. God is not portrayed as being only just or of being wrathful. God ever continues to love the creatures He has made, and His actions toward us continue to be for our salvation.
Nevertheless the effects of the Fall are real, and humans must live and struggle with them.
“With the fall of Adam, both humanity and the entire cosmos were affected. Illness, therefore, is not the root problem, but only a symptom. The far more significant consequence of the fall was the rupture of the communion between God and humanity, between humans among themselves, and between humanity and the rest of creation. For Christians, sickness and death are not the real problem: rather, it is alienation from God, and the resulting spiritual death, which are the real tragedy.” (Paul Meyendorff, THE ANOINTING OF THE SICK, p 84)
The cause and the effect of the Fall are the disrupted relationship between humans and their Creator. Separation from God is what allows the humans to choose disobedience, and further separation from God is the result of choosing to live away from God. This separation from God is the real problem of humanity. It is not sin as such, which is a symptom of the problem. This separation from God then disrupts the human relationship to and role in the rest of creation.
“By being himself focused on God, man was to heal the divisions within the created order and unite it with it Creator. But man failed to be centered on God and thus became a force for division instead of unity. This is how Maximus understands the cosmic effects of the Fall: it is not the shattering of a golden age, but a failure to take creation forward to its appointed goal.” (Elizabeth Theokritoff in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 95)
God placed in humanity the potential for perfection and free will; humans have to choose which direction they want to move: toward God and perfection, or away from God following their own sinful passions.
Some modern writers have expressed a disappointment with the Patristic writers that they did not do more to connect the effects of the Fall with the world as we experience it, instead they focused more on a theological understanding of the world. A few modern Christian writers however have tried to close that gap. Physicist John Polkinghorne is one. Here is one comment he made about the Fall:
“It is interesting that the powerful story of Genesis 3 depicts the fall as a fall upwards: the gaining of the knowledge of good and evil! At some point in hominid evolution, self-consciousness – a deep self-awareness and the power to project our thought far into the future – dawned on our ancestors. At the same time, I believe that a new form of God-consciousness also dawned for them. The fall was the process by which they turned away from God into the self, an error of which we are all the heirs. This did not bring biological death into the world, since that had been there for many millions of years, but it brought what one might call mortality, human sadness at the transience of life. Because our ancestors were self-conscious, they knew that eventually they would die. Because they had alienated themselves from the One whose faithfulness is the sole (and sufficient) ground of the hope of destiny beyond death, this knowledge became a source of deep sadness.” (QUESTIONS OF TRUTH: FIFTY-ONE RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD, SCIENCE AND BELIEF)
Death becomes for humans the ultimate in separation from God. Death is not part of God’s plan for humans and humans come to death through their own willful disobedience of God’s commands. God however works His plan of salvation to destroy death through the crucifixion and resurrection of His incarnate Son Jesus Christ.
This is the 19th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting. The previous blog is Garments of Skins (2). In the previous blog we considered comments from St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. Neilos the Ascetic on the idea of the “garments of skins” (Genesis 3:21). In this blog we look at 4th Century theologian St. Gregory of Nyssa’s (d. ca 384 AD) writings on the same concept.
“According to St Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation, these ‘garments’ stand for mortality and all that goes with it; and that includes law, family life, political and economic life. All these things belong to the world of the Fall; but they are given within the world as blessings and means of salvation, provided that God is the ultimate goal of our endeavours within these areas.” (Nonna Verna Harrison in THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY, p 88)
In St. Gregory of Nyssa’s own words:
“What has been added to human nature, to this image of God in man, according to Gregory, is the garments of skin in us is made up of all those things which we have in common with animals; it is:
sexual union, conception, childbirth, dirt, nursing, food, excrement, the gradual growth of the body toward maturity, adulthood, old age, sickness, and death.
What is implied, therefore, in the garments of skin is not, as Origin thought, the body as such, for in Gregory’s view both the soul and the body were part of human nature in the beginning. Rather, it compromises all that implies mortalitiy and corruptibility; and man’s true nature is to enjoy the incorruptibility of the risen body.
How then did this new state arise which is so contrary to our original condition? The ultimate cause is man’s freedom. …
Gregory, following Origen… stresses free will more than intelligence in his analysis of man’s likeness to God…. man’s sin was brought about by the jealousy of the angel to whom the universe had been entrusted, and who hated to see in his realm a man who was made in the image of God. This was a traditionally Jewish concept of the relation between angels and the universe; the angel of the earth is troubled at the appearance of the first man, just as the Prince of this world is vexed by the triumph of the new Adam.
As soon, then, as man turned away from God, the source of life, his body was deprived of immortality and was clad in the garment of skin. And yet, though this was a consequence of sin, it is intended to be more of a remedy than a punishment- an idea that is very important for an understanding of Gregory’s thought. It is an idea that goes back to Origen’s view of the medicinal character of suffering. … the garment of skin allows man to turn back again freely to God: since man had despised the life of the spirit for carnal pleasure, God did not wish man ‘to withdraw from sin unwillingly and be forced by necessity towards the good,’ for this would have destroyed man’s freedom and the image of God within him. Hence he made use of man’s very tendency by giving him the garment of skin. This would cause man to experience a disgust with the things of the world, and thus ‘he would willingly desire to return to his former blessedness. …
the idea is that the garments of skin, our present state of mortality, permits the bodily part of man to be destroyed; but since evil is so closely bound up with the body, evil too is destroyed, and thus man can be restored to his original innocence. Man’s body returns to earth like a vase of baked clay’ thus the evil that was mingled with his body is now released, and the divine Potter can raise him up once more to his original beauty. Thus the garments of skin, though really foreign to human nature, was only given to man by a solicitous providence, as by a doctor giving us a medicine to cure our inclination to evil without its being intended to last forever.” (Gregory of Nyssa, FROM GLORY TO GLORY, pp 11-13)
Because the Orthodox Patristic writers accepted the notion of free will, they did not believe that death was an inevitable part of human existence (See for example Adam in St. Gregory Palamas). Humans were created with the potential for immortality, but that potential could be realized only through the choices the humans made. Some Eastern Christians clearly read the Genesis 3 account as not explaining the existence of mortality in all of creation, but only of explaining why humans created in God’s image and likeness now die like the rest of creation.
Theodoret of Cyrus commenting on Romans 8:20 (“for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope”) says of St. Paul that:
“He teaches that all visible creation shared a mortal nature, especially since the maker of all foresaw the Fall of Adam and the sentence of death imposed on him; it was not right or just, after all, that the things made on his account should share incorruption while he, for whose benefit they were made, should be subject to death and suffering.” (THEODORET COMMENTARY ON THE LETTERS OF PAUL Vol 1)
Theodoret claims that God knew Adam would sin and that death would be imposed upon him. Thus God made all the rest of visible creation to have a mortal nature so that when man sinned, man would not end up lower than the rest of visible creation but equal to it. Theodoret’s logic is that the rest of visible creation was after all made for the benefit of man – including the fact that creation was by nature mortal. This would imply that not all mortality was caused by human sin, but rather the rest of creation was created mortal – “to benefit humans” – and so that when we became mortal due to sin creation was of benefit to us rather than being superior to us or beyond our reach.
According to Elizabeth Theokritoff notes:
“From the silence on the subject from Fathers such as Irenaeus, we might guess that they see death in the non-human creation as ‘natural’- at least in the sense that it existed from the beginning of time. … The original mortality of animals would be an obvious conclusion to draw from the Fathers’ consensus that even Adam was not immortal by nature: he was created for immortality, which is a different matter. Adam, as a creature of earth, would have returned to earth according to his own nature; he was offered the chance of a different destiny through keeping God’s commandment. So it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the animals who had not been given that option were mortal. A few writers, Gregory of Nyssa notable among them, are quite explicit that death did already exist among animals: what happened at man’s fall was that he lapsed into an animal state. On this view, the moment of the fall … would have made little immediate difference to the condition of earth’s other inhabitants.” (LIVING IN GOD’S CREATION)
She mentions St. John Chrysostom, St, Gregory of Nyssa and St. Ephrem the Syrian as believing animals were mortal by nature and thus mortality was natural to all creatures except humans. At the fall, humans become like all creatures in dying.
Fr. Georges Florovsky seemed to hold to an idea that what happens to animals – life ends – is not strictly speaking “death” but just part of the cycle of nature which animals are in. Thus only humans really die – we have through sin been reduced to being part of this cyclical nature and are now ruled by the animal in us. This is a creative way of dealing with how death and extinction could have existed before the sin of Adam and Eve. Florovsky writes:
“Strictly speaking it is only man that dies. Death indeed is a law of nature, a law of organic life. But man’s death means just his fall or entanglement into this cyclical motion of nature, just what ought not to have happened at all. As St. Gregory says, ‘from the nature of dumb animals mortality is transferred to a nature created for immortality.’ Only for man is death contrary to nature and mortality is evil. Only man is wounded and mutilated by death. In the generic life of dumb animals, death is rather a natural moment in the development of the species; it is the expression rather of the generating power of life than of infirmity. However, with the fall of man, mortality, even in nature, assumes an evil and tragic significance. Nature itself, as it were, is poisoned by the fatal venom of human decomposition. With dumb animals, death is but the discontinuation of individual existence. In the human world, death strikes at personality, and personality is much greater than mere individuality.” (CREATION AND REDEMPTION, p 106)
Interesting, St. Gregory sees death as being a natural part of animal existence – from before the Fall. Death from the Fall is only introduced to humanity, not to the rest of creation – we become dust again – losing the divine breath.
Next: The Garments of Skins
“Thus, when the Fathers affirm that man was created incorruptible and immortal, they do not mean that he could not become corrupt and die, but that he had by grace and free choice the possibility not to corrupt himself and die. In order for his incorruptibility and immortality to be preserved and become permanent aspects of his being, man had to preserve the grace which God had given to him, and remain united to God through the aid of the commandment issued for this purpose (cf Gen 2:16-17). In the words of St. Gregory Palamas… ‘if man had observed the commandment and benefited from this foretaste, he would have enjoyed through it a still more perfect union with God; he would have become co-eternal with God, clothed with immortality. … St. Theophilus of Antioch writes: ‘Yet someone will say to us, “But wasn’t death a natural function of human nature?” Not at all! “Was man therefore immortal?” We do not say that either. They will then reply, “Do you mean man was nothing at all?” No, that is not at all what we mean. Rather, by his nature man was no more mortal than immortal. If he had been created immortal from the beginning, he would have been created divine. On the other hand, if he had been created mortal, it would have appeared that God was the cause of his death. Thus he was created neither mortal nor immortal; rather, he was capable of both mortality and immortality. Had he chosen the way of immortality in following the divine commandment, he would have received the gift of immortality as a recompense, and thus he would have become like God. Since instead he turned toward works of death in disobedience to God, he became himself the cause of his own death. So it is that God created man free and master of his own destiny.’ …
“St Gregory Palamas stipulates: ‘Death entering into the soul by way of the transgression not only corrupts the soul itself, it also afflicts the body with pains and passions, rendering it corruptible and in the end subjecting it to death. Therefore, following the death of the inner man through the transgression, the earthly Adam heard, ‘You are dust and to dust you shall return.’” (Jean-Claude Larchet, THE THEOLOGY OF ILLNESS, pp 24-25,29)
Next: Ancestral Sin
“We had become accursed through Adam’s transgression and had fallen into the trap of death, abandoned by God.” (Cyril of Alexandria, ON THE UNITY OF CHRIST, p 105)
The effects of the sin of Adam and Eve on not only humankind but on all creatures on earth, at least in the Christian tradition since the time of St. Paul’s interpretation of the Fall, is very profound. The understanding of Adam through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God, places the impact of the sin as the central event which altered humanity’s relationship with God and with all creation. For through sin, death became part of the human condition. While in the Old Testament Jewish tradition God provides Torah to instruct humans how to live rightly on His earth, Torah cannot overcome mortality. So despite Torah, despite righteous adherence to the details of the Law, humans continue to die as they did before Torah was given.
The question that got much debated, especially in the Christian West, was whether the sin of Adam somehow changed human nature, leaving humans powerless in the face of sin.
“Adam is not actively responsible for the indwelling of sin in the whole world, but rather was a sort of door which opened the way for sin. … although sin did not enter into the world by means of Adam’s deed alone, but only through it, still this deed was the cause of each man’s death. … Thus men are not condemned for Adam’s sin (cp Jer. 31:29 and Ezek 18:2), but for their own sinfulness, the consequence of which (death) began with Adam di enos (as through one); but all have sinned, not in Adam, not en o (in whom), but eph o (because).” (Antony Khrapovitsky interpreting Romans 5:12, THE MORAL IDEA OF THE MAIN DOGMAS OF THE FAITH, p 185)
What is very clear in the writings of St. Paul and in Orthodox tradition is that Christ, not Torah, was the cure for what ailed humanity from the time of the Fall.
“More specifically, in the Greek tradition theosis signifies the transposition of the believer from a state of corruption and mortality to one of incorruption and immortality. Here again the Eastern tradition has a different emphasis from that in the West. In the Greek fathers the tragedy of Adam’s fall is not that all people inherit his guilt, as in the Augustinian tradition. They hold, most certainly, that all people are sinful, and that the fall was an incomparable disaster. But we all sin freely and incur our own guilt. Rather than guilt, in Adam we have inherited death, mortality, and corruption. ‘The first man brought in universally death,’ writes Cyril of Jerusalem. Sin originates, Basil the Great insists, in our own free wills: ‘Do not then go beyond yourself to seek the evil, and imagine that there is an original nature of wickedness… Each of us, let us acknowledge it, is the first author of his own vice.’
Panagiotes Chrestou elaborates on this important distinction: ‘The descendants of Adam inherit him in his entirety, including his nature and his weakness. They did not inherit Adam’s guilt, as St. Augustine taught in the West; for, according to the view of the Greek fathers, sin is a personal problem. Adam and Eve on one side, and their descendants on the other, interpenetrate each other in such a way that every man bears by birth that nature which Adam and Eve corrupted. … In this way humankind has fallen from the road to life onto the road to death, from incorruption to corruption.’ According to Anastasius of Sinai, we are heirs of Adam’s corruption, but ‘we are not punished for his disobedience to the Divine Law. Rather, Adam being mortal, sin entered into his very seed. We receive mortality from him…. The general punishment of Adam for his transgression is corruption and death.’” (Daniel Clendenin, EASTERN ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY: A WESTERN PERSPECTIVE, pp 132-133)