Counsels on Confession

The person who possesses knowledge and knows the truth confesses to God not by reminding himself of things he has done, but by patiently enduring what happens to him.  (St. Mark the MonkCounsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 2664-2666)

As we move into the Nativity Fast, it is a good time for us to examine our consciences to see what is in our hearts, and to know of what we need to repent in order to follow Christ.  For basically repentance is removing all those obstacles from our hearts and lives that prevent us from being faithful disciples of Christ.  Confession occurs not just when we go to the sacrament, but daily when we admit our faults and failures to our Lord.  As St Mark the Monk notes above confession occurs daily when we realize that much of what happens to us is the result of our own choices and because we live in a fallen world.  When we recognize the effects of the Fall on our daily lives, we are admitting that the power of sin in the world is noticeable – both in how we behave and how others behave toward us.  The fact that life is not fair, that sin abounds, tells us this is the world of the Fall.  There is a reality that the only person we can change in the world is our self.   [This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work for justice.  It does mean that we must never cease struggling against the sin which is in our own hearts.]

St. Basil  the Great rejected any idea of predestination or pre-determination based on the inescapable power of original sin.  If everything is predetermined by original sin or by genetic makeup then indeed even efforts for justice, correction and reform are worthless since we would only be struggling against an all-powerful fate over which we can never win.  We are to wrestle with those parts of our self over which we actually have control – the only sins we commit occur in those things over which we have control.  Some in the Patristic age thought even doing something once did not constitute sin.  It is sin only if we repeat the action knowing it is wrong – doing it once is a mistake, repeating it is sin.   As St. Basil notes, it really doesn’t do any good for legislators to pass laws forbidding something over which a person has no control anyway.  St. Basil is speaking rhetorically, for he believes people do make choice, at least some.  Not everything we do is predetermined in us.

“If the origin of our virtues and of our vices is not in ourselves, but in the fatal consequence of our birth, it is useless for legislators to prescribe for us what we ought to do, and what we ought to avoid; it is useless for judges to honor virtue and to punish vice. The guilt is not in the robber, not in the assassin: it was willed for him; it was impossible for him to hold back his hand, urged to evil by inevitable necessity. Those who laboriously cultivate the arts are the maddest of people. The laborer will make an abundant harvest without sowing seed and without sharpening his sickle. Whether he wishes it or not, the merchant will make his fortune, and will be flooded with riches by fate. As for us Christians, we shall see our great hopes vanish, since from the moment that one does not act with freedom, there is neither reward for justice nor punishment for sin. Under the reign of necessity and of fate there is no place for merit, the first condition of all righteous judgment.”    (A Patristic Treasury: Early Church Wisdom for Today, Kindle Loc. 3624-31)

For St Basil the failure of predestination thinking is that it tells us nothing matters.  Not only can we incapable of  resisting sin – we also are incapable of change so repentance is impossible. Predestination means even goodness and success will only happen by fate, so no use trying to do good either.  No use planting crops or working hard since fate determines everything including whether there is food to eat.  Might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens.  But at this point even many predestination believers can see that it does matter if you try – there is food to eat only because people work hard to make it so.  There are roads, bridges, stores, internet and electricity only because people make the effort to make it happen.  Everything is not just unfolding by fate, people are making decisions and acting on them.  What we do matters and changes the course of human history.  The same is true about our behavior good and bad.

It is because our behavior matters and does affect both others as well as our self, that the examination of conscience and the confession of sins is important.  We are by nature relational beings, we need to consider how our behavior, thoughts and even our attitude is a reflection of whether or not we are guided by the Gospel commandment to love one another as Christ loves us (John 13:34).  Admitting our sins, faults and foibles is not failure but rather how we show that we recognize Christ’s lordship over our daily lives.  Confession is acknowledgment of reality, of what is in our hearts, as shameful as it might be, as reluctant as we are to admit it.

Do not conceal your sin because of the idea that you must not scandalize your neighbor. Of course this injunction must not be adhered to blindly. It will depend on the nature of one’s sinfulness.”   ( St.  John Climacus, Thirty Steps to Heaven: The Ladder of Divine Ascent for All Walks of Life, Kindle Loc. 1624-25)

St John Climacus recognizes that admitting one’s sins is a good thing, and yet it has to be practiced with wisdom and discretion.  Just a fear of scandalizing others is not in itself justification for concealing one’s sin (note he said sin, he didn’t say every thought that comes into your head, just your sins.  The behavioral sin might be obvious to others, but we don’t need to discuss with everyone every errant idea that passes through our minds).  However, as he also notes, he is not putting down an unbreakable rule – one has to use wisdom in knowing when to openly admit to one’s sins.  There are some things we do which it is not wise to tell everyone.  We need to confess those to our father confessors, to those who are better prepared to deal with humans as fallen sinners.  If we are honest to our self about our sins, we recognize also how our sins impact our lives and the lives of those around us – especially the ones we love.  Instead of becoming bitter for sin or blaming others regarding sin, when we recognize its power in our life, we can make an effort to correct it and to find the better way to love others or at least to own it and repent of it.


The “Punishment” of Adam and Eve


It is quite common among Orthodox saints to view God’s activities in the world through the lens “God is love.”  They felt this was a non-negotiable truth.  If something reported in Scripture does not seem consistent with a loving God, then the issue is we don’t understand the story, how it was written and/or how it is to be interpreted.  The fault is not with God but with our limited understanding of the world.  There is mystery in the world, and much happens that we simply don’t understand because we don’t have the big picture – we can’t see how God sees the world, and so our interpretation of events and logic are very limited.

These saints were totally OK with moving away from a literal interpretation of a text if the literal interpretation seemed to show that God is not love.   Some Patristic writers and Orthodox saints for example interpreted God’s comment to Adam that if you eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge you will die as a loving warning to Adam rather than as a threat of punishment.  And they saw death not as punishment but God preventing a person from growing endlessly in evil – terminating life was to stop the negative growth of evil in a person.  God thus uses death to stop us from increasingly falling under Satan’s power.   As an example, St Isaac the Syrian writes:

“Just as He decreed death, under the appearance of a sentence, for Adam because of sin, and just as He showed that (the sin) existed by means of the punishment–even though this (punishment) was not His (real) aim: He showed it as though it was something which (Adam) would receive as repayment for his wrong, but He hid its true mystery, and under the guise of something to be feared, He concealed His eternal intention concerning death and what His wisdom was aiming at: even though this matter might be grievous, ignominious and hard at first, nevertheless in truth it would be the means of transporting us to that wonderful and glorious world.  Without it, there would be no way of crossing over from this world and being there.”

So though death appears to be a punishment, God was actually hiding his intention.  His intention was to give us eternal life, but the way to that end was through death – the death of the Son of God on the cross. 

Why can’t we enter heaven without dying? Because sin that clings to us cannot enter heaven – death purges us of sin, we resurrect to a new life free of sin.   This is the imagery of baptism as well – we die with Christ and are buried with Him, but then resurrected to the new life free of sin as our sins remain in the watery grave of the baptismal font.   St. Isaac continues:

“Again, when he expelled Adam and Eve from Paradise, He expelled them under the (outward aspect of anger: ‘Because you have transgressed the commandment, you have found yourselves outside (Paradise)–as though dwelling in Paradise had been taken away from them because they were unworthy. But inside all this stood (the divine) plan, fulfilling and guiding everything towards the Creator’s original intention from the beginning. It was not disobedience which introduced death to the house of Adam, nor did transgression remove them from Paradise, for it is clear that (God) did not create Adam and Eve to be in Paradise, (just) a small portion of the earth; rather, they were going to subjugate the entire earth. For this reason we do not even say that He removed them because of the commandment which had been transgressed; for it is not the case that, had they not transgressed the commandment, they would have been left in Paradise forever.”

(Isaac the Syrian ‘The Second Part,’ Chapters IV-XLI, p 164)

For St. Isaac, God was not responding to human behavior such as sin, but had a plan in place all along.  God knew what humans were going to do, and used human action as the very means for human salvation.  This is far from the angry vengeful God portrayed in some forms of Christianity.  It is a God who is infinitely loving and who works with us despite our penchant for sin and rebellion.  God has not interest in our death or punishment but forever works to bring us to salvation.

The Universality of Death vs. the Inevitability of Sin

Every year at the beginning of Great Lent, the Orthodox Church remembers the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.  This ancestral sin affected the course of the human race.

Adam and Eve, whether or not historical figures, symbolize all of humanity in its relationship to God.  Their story is our story, and each of our lives is their story.  Sin has become part of human life, and sin has corrupted human nature such that even an act of repentance cannot heal the wound to humanity.  None of this implies that humans have lost free will or responsibility for their own sins.  We are not destined to sin, for sin comes from each human will, not from human nature.  Human nature has only been corrupted by the consequences of sin – mortality has become part of our existence.  So we can note how did the early Church Fathers understand the role of sin in our lives?  Church historian  Jaroslav Pelikan writes:

“Despite all the strong language about sin, however, the fundamental problem of man was not sin, but his corruptibility.  The reason the incarnation was necessary was that man had not merely done wrong–for this, repentance would have sufficed– but had fallen into a corruption, a transiency that threatened him with annihilation.  As the agent of creation who had called man out of nothing, the Logos was also the one to rescue him from annihilation.  This the Logos did by taking flesh.

For this theology, it was the universality of death, not the inevitability of sin, that was fundamental.  The statement of Romans 5:14 that ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam,’ was taken  to prove that there were many who had been ‘pure of every sin,’ such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist.  It was death and corruption that stood in the way of man’s participation in the divine nature, and these had to be overcome in the incarnation of the Logos.”

That various people in the Old and New Testaments are considered righteous gets forgotten in the tsunami which Augustine’s idea of original sin came to represent especially in Western Christianity.  So the texts of St. Paul in Romans 3:10, 23 seem to erase the claims of the rest of Scripture: “ it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one…” and “… since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”   But human sinning did not mean that God no longer saw goodness in His creatures.  For even David is considered a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14).  Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Daniel, Job, Zachariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary and Simeon the Elder just to name a few are righteous people in the Scriptures.  Instead of taking St. Paul’s words as the lens through which one must see all of humanity, we need to view St. Paul’s claims about all being sinners within the context of the entire Scriptures in which some people are identified as being righteous.  St. Paul himself acknowledges this in Romans 11:2-5 where he says:  “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have demolished thy altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’ But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.” 

In 2 Chronicles 33 of the Septuagint, Manasseh prays:   “Surely, Lord, God of the heavenly Powers, You have not appointed repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did not sin against You; but You have appointed repentance for me a sinner.”

Since there are righteous people specifically named in the Scriptures, and some who may even be considered sinless, sinning is not the problem.  It is the fact that human nature has fallen under corruption, separated from God, we have become mortal beings.  It is from this that Christ comes to save us.  Focusing narrowly on “orginal sin” gives us an incomplete idea as to the salvation brought about by Jesus Christ.  Pelikan continues:

“… it is clear some fragments that have survived of a treatise AGAINST THE DEFENDERS OF ORIGINAL SIN by Theodore Mopsuestia that he ‘reiterates in effect that it is only nature which can be inherited, not sin, which is the disobedience of the free and unconstrained will.’ Despite their fundamental differences, the theory of the hypostatic union and the theory of the indwelling of the Logos both concentrated on death rather than on sin.”


Pelikan’s last point is that in the Christian East, the two main competing schools of thought in interpreting the Scriptures, the Alexandrians and the Antiochians, though their teachings conflicted were still in agreement that death and not sin was the human problem.  And though the Church East and West agreed on the theology of the hypostatic union against the indwelling of the Logos, all those disputants (Orthodox and heretic, Chalcedonian and Non-Chalcedonian) still thought the greater human problems was death rather than sin.  The Eastern tradition as a whole, and much of the West in accepting the decision of the 4th Ecumenical Council all embrace this same idea which in some ways is a rejection of the implications of “original sin” that Christ came mostly to pay the price for sin rather than to destroy death.

Satan’s Deadly Counsel

St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans (6:21-23):

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) comments on why humans die but does not blame original sin, but rather says we each sin which is why we each die.   If we had in fact inherited sin, we might be able to blame God for our own deaths.  But St. Gregory says the fault is our own, and we cannot blame Adam or God.

“Why does He who is everywhere present and nowhere absent desert the soul? Because the soul, which has been created by Him with free will, and cannot be constrained, first abandons Him or her own volition. We ourselves are to blame for God’s abandonment of us, not God our Creator. We, alas, are the cause of our own death, voluntarily forsaking the Master, who created us to live, who is always with us and Himself gives us life. Like those who shut their eyes when the sun is at its height, we wilfully deprive ourselves of the light, while it is present and shines down upon us. Setting aside the guidance that brings life, and thus deserting God and distancing ourselves on purpose from life, we accepted Satan’s deadly counsel, and by this means invited him in to live in us. As he is a dead spirit, who first forsook God Himself, he caused us to die. I am still referring to death in respect of the soul, which, once it has been separated from God, ‘is dead’, according to Paul, ‘while still alive’ (1 Tim.5:6). Such a life is worse than death: neglectful of everything good, active in all that is evil; self-destructive and self-hating, it continuously drives itself from bad to worse.” (The Homilies, pps. 244-245)

Sin and Death

Romans 6:20-23 reads:

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?

For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

St. Silouan the Athonite said:

Adam being saved from Hades

“Sin is committed first of all in the secret depths of the human spirit but its consequences involve the individual as a whole…Sin will, inevitably, pass beyond the boundaries of the sinner’s individual life, to burden all humanity and thus affect the fate of the whole world. The sin of our forefather Adam, was not the only sin of cosmic significance. Every sin, manifest or secret, committed by each one of us affects the rest of the universe.” (in The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns, pgs. 61-62)

Genesis 2:20-3:20

The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh;  and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman 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.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.”

The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and 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.  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

Previous Blog:  Genesis 2:4-19

Next:  Genesis 3:20-4:7

God’s Response to Original Sin: Mercy

“In this way, then, did God from the very beginning constantly show kindness to the human race. For as soon as He created the first man, He straightway and from the first settled him in Paradise, granted him that gift of a carefree life, and offered him the enjoyment of everything in Paradise except one tree. Because he wished to indulge his taste, and because his wife misled him, he trampled underfoot the command which God imposed on him and committed an outrage against the great honor which God had bestowed upon him. But see even here the magnitude of God’s kindness. For God no longer had to judge worthy of any forgiveness one who had proved so ungrateful for unearned benefactions, but He should have put him beyond the pale of his providence. But He did not do so.

Not only that but, like a loving father who is moved by his natural affection for his unruly child, He does not measure His rebuke to the sin nor, again, does He forgive him altogether, but He punishes him with moderation, so that the child, like a ship, may not thereafter run aground on a reef of greater evil. This is the way in which God works.

Since man had shown great disobedience, God cast him forth from his life in Paradise. God curbed man’s spirit for the future, so that he might not leap any farther away, and He condemned him to a life of toil and labor, speaking to him in some such fashion as this: ‘The ease and security which were yours in abundance have led you to this great disobedience. They made you forget my commandments. You had nothing to do; that led you to think thoughts too haughty for your own nature, for idleness hath taught all evil. Therefore, I condemn you to toil and labor, so that while tilling the earth, you may never forget your disobedience and the vileness of your nature.

Since you exalted yours to great heights and refused to remain within your proper bounds, on this account do I command you to return again to the dust from which you were taken, for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.’ To increase man’s pain and to make him feel his fall to the full, God did not settle man at any great distance from Paradise, but nearby. However, He blocked off the entrance to it, so that man might see each hour the joys of which he had deprived himself by his failure to obey; thus might man profit from this constant admonition and in the future be more careful to keep the commandments God had given to him. When we enjoy blessings without perceiving the manner of the benefaction as we should, and then are deprived of them, we get a fuller perception of these blessings, and we also endure a greater pain of loss. This is what happened in the case of the first man.” (St. John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Writers: Baptismal Instructions, pgs. 44-45)

What Keeps the Lion from Lying Down with the Lamb?

I read a quote from G. K. Chesterton which I found amusing:

“And sometimes this pure gentleness and this pure fierceness met and justified their juncture; the paradox of all the prophets was fulfilled, and, in the soul of St. Louis, the lion lay down with the lamb. But remember that this text is too lightly interpreted.

It is constantly assured, especially in our Tolstoyan tendencies, that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is — Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted;that is the miracle she achieved.”

I appreciate a good turn of the phrase and Chesterton’s notion of the imperialism of the lamb certainly turns the lion lying down with the lamb on its head.   It reminded me of the distorted dogma of Tyler Durden in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel FIGHT CLUB (and I note that I didn’t particular like the movie, but did think the book was much better than the movie). Durden’s dogma includes:

“If the prodigal son had never left home, the fatted calf would still be alive.”

Indeed the prodigal’s return was not such a happy event for that calf.

But getting back to Chesterton, it has to be said that the lamb was never a threat to the lion.  It is the lion that has to change for them to live at peace.  A good friend of mine, who is also a psychiatrist, told me that it is not really possible for people to change.  However, she said what can happen is that all of the impediments to change can be removed, and then God can bring about change in that willing individual.  She said that is what medicine basically does – it removes the impediments to healing which then allows God to heal us.

For the lion to lie down with the lamb, all of those things which would make that impossible have to first be removed -including the carnivorous nature of the lion.

The lion’s ferocity belongs to the fallen world. There were no carnivores before the flood in Genesis – not even after the Fall of humanity. In Genesis 1 even all the animals are herbivores (1:30). In Genesis 4, though Abel’s sacrifice from his flock is looked upon with favor by God, there still is no mention of carnivorous eating. This explains how the lion and lamb could also occupy the ark together – it was still a little space of paradise. Only after the flood, see Genesis 9:2-3, are humans permitted to eat animals, causing the animals to fear humans. Apparently that is when the lamb began to fear the lion as well.

It is the effects of the Fall, the consequences of our ancestral sin, which must be removed for the paradisaical nature to be able to be activated in us again.

This is what Christ – the incarnate God – did for us.  He removed the impediments caused by sin, and made it possible for us to repent and return to God.

The lion lying down with the lamb is a return to the antediluvian world. It is a world in which the lion’s ferocity (if it existed at all in that world) does not include eating the lamb, and which is no threat to the lamb, in which the only lordship is the Lord’s. Ferocity is neither valued nor needed in that world.

What else has to be removed for the lion to lie down with the lamb?   Death itself.  For the lion kills to eat in order to stay alive.  When death is no threat, no longer needed for any to survive, that impediment is removed and the lion and lamb can live at peace.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  . . .

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

(Revelation 20:14, 21:3-4)

The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (B)

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.

Next:  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (C)

Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings

This is the 32nd blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking.

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.

Next:  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A)