St Ephrem of Syria On Paradise

A person who has acquired

good health in himself

and is aware in his mind

of what sickness is,

has gained something beneficial,

and he knows something profitable;

but the person who lies

in sickness;

and knows in his mind

what good health is like,

is vexed by his sickness

and tormented in his mind.

Had Adam conquered,

he would have acquired

glory upon his limbs,

and discernment of what suffering is,

so that he might be radiant in his limbs

and grow in discernment.

But the serpent reversed all this

and made him taste

abasement in reality,

and glory in recollection only,

so that he might feel shame at what he had found

and weep at what he had lost.

The tree was to him

like a gate;

its fruit was the veil

covering that hidden Tabernacle.

Adam snached the fruit,

casting aside the commandment.

When he beheld that Glory


shining forth with its rays,

he fled outside;

he ran off and took refuge

amongst the modest fig trees.

In the midst of Paradise God had planted

the Tree of Knowledge

to separate off, above and below,

Sanctuary from Holy of Holies.

Adam made bold to touch,

and he was smitten like Uzziah:

the king became leprous;

Adam was stripped.

Being struck like Uzziah

he hastened to leave:

both kings fled and hid,

in shame at their bodies.

Even though all the trees

of Paradise

are clothed each in its own glory,

yet each veils itself at the Glory:

the Seraphs with their wings,

the trees with their branches,

all cover their faces so as not to behold

their Lord.

They all blushed at Adam

who was suddenly found naked;

the serpent had stolen his garments,

for which it was deprived of its feet.

God did not permit

Adam to enter

that innermost Tabernacle:

this was withheld,

so that he might first prove pleasing

in his service of that outer Tabernacle.

Like a priest

with fragrant incense,

Adam’s keeping of the commandment

was to be his censer;

then he might enter before the Hidden One

into that hidden Tabernacle.

The symbol of Paradise

was depicted by Moses

who made the two sanctuaries,

the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies;

into the outer one,

entrance was permitted

but into the inner,

only once a year.

So too with Paradise,

God closed off the inner part

but He opened up the outer,

wherein Adam might graze.

(Ephrem the Syrian, Treasure-house of Mysteries, pp. 48-50)

Death: Sojourn to Life

St. Ephrem the Syrian in one of his poems takes us on a tour from Paradise to earth.  Paradise is superlatively better than earth, and yet humans cling to the earth and don’t want to leave it.   He compares our attitude to death to that of the infant in the mother’s womb – both the dying person  and the unborn infant are reluctant to leave the world they know, even if they are entering into an even greater experience or life.  

I was in wonder as I crossed

the borders of Paradise

at how well-being, as though a companion

turned round and remained behind.

And when I reached the shore of earth,

the mother of thorns,

I encountered all kinds

of pain and suffering.

I learned how, compared to Paradise,

our abode is but a dungeon;

yet the prisoners within it

weep when they leave it!

I was amazed at how even infants

weep as they leave the womb–

weeping because they come out

from darkness into light

and from suffocation they issue forth

into this world!

Likewise death, too,

is for the world

a symbol of birth,

and yet people weep because they are born

out of this world, the mother of suffering,

into the garden of splendors.

Have pity on me,

O Lord of Paradise,

and if it is not possible for me

to enter your Paradise,

grant that I may graze

outside, by its enclosure;

within, let there be spread

the table for the “diligent,”

but may the fruits within its enclosure

drop outside like the “crumbs”

for sinners, so that, through Your grace,

they may live!

(Hymns on Paradise, pp. 106-108)

Satan Learned About Paradise

In a previous post, When Death Wept, I mentioned that early Christian writers were far more interested in how Death reacted to Christ then they were in what it is like to be dead or to traverse through the place of the dead.  Their interest in Hades was because it is a place Christ has conquered and filled – it is a place where we will meet Jesus Christ our Lord, not be separated from Him.

Christ’s descent into Hades liberates all those held captive by death.

These same writers were also very interested in what Paradise, the garden God prepared for His first human creatures, must have been like.  This was of greater interest to these early writers than taking a sojourn through circles of hell or through purgatory or toll houses.  They focused often on where God is, which turns out to be everywhere including Hades, rather than in concocting places where God is not.  St. Ephrem of Syria (d. 373AD) poetically describes Paradise in his volumes of poems.

Perhaps that blessed tree,

the Tree of Life,

is, by its rays,

the sun of Paradise;

its leaves glisten

and on them are impressed

the spiritual graces

of that Garden.

In the breezes the other trees

bow down in worship

before that sovereign

and leader of the trees.

In the very midst He planted

the Tree of Knowledge

endowing it with awe,

hedging it in with dread,

so that it might straightaway serve

as a boundary to the inner region of Paradise.

St. Ephrem describes Paradise to be God’s temple, like the Temple in Jerusalem.  Or rather, as we know, the Temple in Jerusalem was built based upon the Temple which was revealed to Moses (Exodus 25:9, 26:30; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44).  Paradise had different regions according to St. Ephrem which had boundaries marking that some regions were even more holy than other regions.  Those who could enter each region were limited, which is the pattern which the Jerusalem Temple followed with its outer courts and the inner Holy of Holies.

Two things did Adam hear

in that single decree:

that they should not eat of it

and that, by shrinking from it,

they should perceive that it was not lawful

to penetrate further, beyond that Tree.

While Genesis portrays the Tree being in the middle of the Garden, St. Ephrem sees the Tree as a boundary which Adam was not permitted to trespass beyond.  The serpent was not even allowed in the Garden, but craftily learned about the inner structure of the Garden by inquiring about it from Eve.  To talk to the serpent, Eve and Adam had to intentionally leave the inner sanctuary.  The serpent didn’t really have Eve and Adam’s ear – they had to go out of their way to listen to the serpent, according to St. Ephrem.

The serpent could not

enter Paradise;

for neither animal

nor bird

was permitted to approach

the outer region of Paradise,

and Adam had to go out

to meet them,

so the serpent cunningly learned

through questioning Eve,

the character of Paradise

what it was and how it was arranged.

According to St. Ephrem, the serpent’s goal all along was to learn about the design of the Garden – of God’s Temple.  His discussion in Genesis 3 with Eve is really his crafty way to learn the layout of the Temple.  The serpent wanted to know what was in the midst of the Garden. Once the serpent had that knowledge he hatched his plan to get Adam and Eve to turn away from God.

When the Accursed One learned

how the glory of that inner Tabernacle,

as if in a sanctuary,

was hidden from them,

and that the Tree of Knowledge,

clothed with an injunction,

served as the veil

for the sanctuary,

he realized that its fruit

was the key of justice

that would open the eyes of the bold

and cause them great remorse.

(St. Ephrem, Hymns on Paradise, 3, Treasure-house of Mysteries, pp. 44-46)

The serpent couldn’t harm Adam or Eve, but he was able to figure out a fatal flaw in them!   Once he surmised that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was the key, the serpent suggested to Eve that there would be no harm in eating the fruit, that the fruit like everything in the garden was good to be had.  Wisdom says there is a time for everything.  It was not yet Eve and Adam’s time to partake of the fruit, but they bit on the serpent’s temptation, and the rest is history, so to speak.

The Flood, Food and Fasting

“But our homily should be proceeding through the historical narrative, discussing in detail the antiquity of fasting. All the saints received fasting as a kind of paternal inheritance, observed it as such, and handed it on, father to child. And so, through a chain of succession, this asset has been preserved even for us.

In paradise there was no wine;

there were still no animal sacrifices,

still no eating of meat.

After the flood: wine; after the flood: [God said] eat everything, as you eat green plants. The enjoyment of meat was conceded only when the hope of perfection was lost.”     (Saint Basil the Great, On Fasting and Feasts, p 59)

There were no barbecues or wine tasting in Paradise.  No gourmet meals or vintage drinks.   Lenten food is the food of Paradise.  No wonder we have so little desire to be there!  We really are in love with the fallen world and prefer to stay in it.  Great Lent challenges us to embrace Paradise when we don’t want to let go of this world.  Adam lamented the loss of Paradise, but if a return to Paradise means giving up what we love to consume in this world, will we abandon Paradise for this world?  The Kingdom is often imaged in terms of a banquet, but we might wonder what kind of banquet can it be without beef, salmon or wine?  Or do we love and value things of this world so much that we don’t want to give them up and will chose to love this world and its steaks, filets and goblets rather than live for the Kingdom of God?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.  (1 John 2:15-17)

Paradise – Spiritual and Empirical

“And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8-9)

Adam & Eve in Paradise

The Fathers of the Church were biblical literalists in the sense that they took every single word of Scripture seriously.  The words of Scripture had a plain meaning, but they also both hid and revealed a spiritual sense.  Entering into the spiritual sense or meaning of the text was an entry into Paradise.  St Gregory of Sinai (d. 1346AD) commenting on Genesis 2 in which God places the first human in Paradise:

“Paradise is twofold – sensible and spiritual: there is the paradise of Eden and the paradise of grace. The paradise of Eden is so exalted that it is said to extend to the third heaven. It has been planted by God with every kind of sweet-scented plant. It is neither entirely free from corruption nor altogether subject to it. Created between corruption and incorruption, it is always rich in fruits, ripe and unripe, and continually full of flowers.

When trees and ripe fruit rot and fall to the ground they turn into sweet-scented soil, free from the smell of decay exuded by the vegetable-matter of this world. That is because of the great richness and holiness of the grace ever abounding there.”   (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 40797-40804)

St. Gregory of Sinai’s description makes Paradise heavenly or divine, and yet it has the characteristics of our empirical world.  For even in Paradise, according to Gregory, trees and fruit rot and fall to the ground.   The flora of Paradise shares characteristics with the flora of we know on earth.  And yet there is a spiritual difference in the empirical nature of things – for though tree and fruit eventually succumb to rot and decay, they have no smell of decay but rather contribute a sweet scent of the earth.   There are no offensive odors in Paradise for everything is sweet, lovely, filled with life and light.  It is, as Gregory describes it, a world between corruption and incorruption.  It is not yet a world of eternal life, and yet the stench of decay is not natural to it.

St. Gregory is following a tradition, understanding Paradise to have both an earthly sense and a heavenly which can also be found 600 years earlier in the writings of St John of Damascus (d. 749) who in his An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith writes about Paradise as a kingdom:

“Now when God was about to fashion man out of the visible and invisible creation in His own image and likeness to reign as king and ruler over all the earth and all that it contains, He first made for him, so to speak, a kingdom in which he should live a life of happiness and prosperity. And this is the divine paradise, planted in Eden by the hands of God, a very storehouse of joy and gladness of heart (for “Eden” means luxuriousness). Its site is higher in the East than all the earth: it is temperate and the air that surrounds it is the rarest and purest: evergreen plants are its pride, sweet fragrances abound, it is flooded with light, and in sensuous freshness and beauty it transcends imagination: in truth the place is divine, a meet home for him who was created in God’s image: no creature lacking reason made its dwelling there but man alone, the work of God’s own hands.

. . .

Thus, to my thinking, the divine Paradise is twofold, and the God-inspired Fathers handed down a true message, whether they taught this doctrine or that. Indeed, it is possible to understand by every tree the knowledge of the divine power derived from created things. In the words of the divine Apostle, For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Romans 1:20).  . . .

The tree of life too may be understood as that more divine thought that has its origin in the world of sense, and the ascent through that to the originating and constructive cause of all. And this was the name He gave to every tree, implying fulness and indivisibility, and conveying only participation in what is good. But by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we are to understand that sensible and pleasurable food which, sweet though it seems, in reality brings him who partakes of it into communion with evil. For God says, Of every tree in Paradise thou mayest freely eat. It is, me-thinks, as if God said, Through all My creations thou art to ascend to Me thy creator, and of all the fruits thou mayest pluck one, that is, Myself who art the true life: let every thing bear for thee the fruit of life, and let participation in Me be the support of your own being. For in this way thou wilt be immortal. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. For sensible food is by nature for the replenishing of that which gradually wastes away and it passes into the drought and perisheth: and he cannot remain incorruptible who partakes of sensible food.”

Paradise Lost: Planted by God

The Sunday before Great  Lent begins commemorates (among other things) the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.   One of the Matins hymns for the day gives us nice imagery of Paradise, Planted by God but lost by the first humans.   Here is the hymn pictured:

Blessed meadow,

Trees and

flowers planted by God,

O sweetness of Paradise:

let your leaves, like eyes, shed tears on my behalf,

for I am naked and a stranger to God’s glory.

The fasting of Great Lent is supposed to help us experience that sense of loss – Paradise lost.  The fasting may only make us miss the foods of this world, but that sense of something missing can be turned into the spiritual desire for something more than this world has to offer.  We may love the foods of the Paschal Banquet, but the Lenten Fast helps create in us the desire for such blessings, which in turn can remind us that it is not the world we are to miss but the Paradise which God has prepared for us.

Truth is Truth: the Affect Heuristic and Temptation

“All truth is Christian truth” is a phrase often attributed to St. Justin the Philosopher (d. ca. 165AD).  It is an axiom which has influenced many Christian thinkers through history.  It is based in a belief that truth is truth – there isn’t one truth for Christians and a different one for scientists and yet another for Buddhists.  Truth is from the one God.  We are in search of truth.  Jesus claimed to be the truth.  All truth thus has the same source and reveals to us the underlying unity of the universe which is our Creator.  Whatever the science is that explains how it is possible for life to exist on earth, is the same science that allows God to become incarnate.  The universe is one, just as God is one, and truth is one.

Such thinking has also allowed many Christians to be at peace with the truths about the universe that science has uncovered, including the origins of the universe and its evolution through billions of years of history.

While I believe the Bible is true, I don’t look to Genesis to give me a scientific explanation of the origins of the universe.  But sometimes I am amazed how the truth presented in an ancient religious document like Genesis resonates with modern scientific ideas.

Jason Daley in the 8 July 2011 issue of DISCOVER magazine writes an article about how humans assess risk entitled, “What You Don’t Know Can Kill You.”   It is a fascinating article but here I want to focus on one quote and compare it with something presented in the Book of Genesis.   Daley wrote about the findings of psychologist Paul Slovic and how we make decisions which involve a choice with some type of risk:

“But of all the mental rules of thumb and biases banging around in our brain, the most influential in assessing risk is the ‘affect’ heuristic (note: a heuristic is a mental shortcut or bias which our brains use in making choices which allows us to make instant decisions).  Slovic calls affect ‘a faint whisper of emotion’ that creeps into our decisions.  Simply put, positive feelings associated with a choice tend to make us think it has more benefits.  Negative correlations make us think an action is riskier.  One study by Slovic showed that when people decide to start smoking despite years of exposure to antismoking campaigns, they hardly ever think about the risks.  Instead, it’s all about the short-term ‘hedonic’ pleasure.  The good outweighs the bad, which they never fully expect to experience.”

Speaking about risks and warnings, long before there were anti-smoking campaigns, we can think about the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, contemplating the forbidden fruit:

 “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, who was with her, and he ate.”  (Genesis 3:6)

The mental mechanics of decision making and weighing risks has not changed in humans in the past couple of thousand years.  Health campaigns and even dire warnings from God do not stop humans from giving in to the “affect heuristic”, aka as temptation.   We may have much more information than the ancients, but our brains work the same.  Despite highly informational warnings, we take risks because we convince ourselves the pleasures outweigh the negative consequences.  The story of Eve is the story of us all.   We don’t read Genesis to discover ancient history and or modern science.  We read it because it offers us insight into what it means to be human, and why the world is the way it is.  Despite the Enlightenment’s optimism that all humans need is to be better educated, information and education don’t always outweigh our desire for pleasure and self-satisfaction.  What science calls the “affect heuristic” is called temptation to sin in Christianity.   Same concept in different contexts.  And on issues such as smoking, despite huge differences in assumptions, much of science, Buddhism and Christianity agree:  it is bad for you and you need to learn to say no to your desire.  Truth is truth.

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)

Adam and Eden: Possessions and Being Possessed

This is the 41st and the last blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Role of Food in Adam’s Existence.

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.

Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of Russian Saints

This is the 38th blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is The Expulsion from Paradise in the Liturgical Tradition.

Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden continues to be a rich source of theological and spiritual reflection in the Orthodox tradition.  Here are three quotes from Russian saints writing mostly in the 19th Century, which give us a sample of how Adam’s sin entered into the consciousness of Orthodox people.  St. Theophan the Recluse (d. 1894AD) follows the tradition which we encountered in  The Expulsion of Adam in the Writings of St. Symeon the New Theologian (A).  He does however offer an interesting variation on the theme of spiritual blindness that we encountered in St. Symeon’s Eleventh Century theological reflections.

“This spiritual vision existed, one must suppose, in the first man until the Fall.  His spirit clearly saw God and all things divine—as clearly as with normal eyes we today see an object before us.  But after the Fall the eyes of the spirit were closed, and man no longer saw what it was natural for him to see.  The spirit itself remains and has eyes—but they are closed.  Its condition is like that of a man whose eyelids have become stuck together.  The eye is intact, it thirsts for light, it longs to see the light, feeling that the light exists; but the eyelids, being stuck together, do not allow the eye to open and to enter into direct contact with the light.  Such is obviously the condition of the spirit in man since the Fall.  Man has tried to replace the sight of the spirit by the sight of the mind, by abstract mental constructions, by ideologies; but this has always been without results, as we can see from all the metaphysical theories of the philosophers.”  (in  THE ART OF PRAYER, p 179)

For St. Theophan, humans haven’t become totally blind because they have completely lost spiritual sight.  The ability to see spiritually is still within us.  The eye of soul is still sound, but the eyelids have become stuck together in a closed position – that is what prevents us from seeing.  Thus the healing necessary is totally possible: the eyes are not missing, nor are they damaged beyond use.  Humanity however has turned, in St. Theophan’s reflection, to philosophy and various ideologies to help regain this spiritual insight.  Humanity has come completely to rely on its own rationality and ability to reason to regain this spiritual sight.  But in so doing humans remain trapped within themselves – the eyelids are not opened, and we become deceived thinking that we are seeing again, but remaining unhealed from the basic spiritual problem.   The human solution is like a person who cannot see out his window because the blind is down.  Instead of opening the blind, he paints a picture on it of what he thinks he should see out the window.   This is the end result of the Fall, humans in the modern age have become trapped in their own self reliance and individualism, and refuse to look to God for the healing needed.

St. John of Kronstadt (d. 1908AD) uses the story of Eve and Adam to reaffirm some of the basic principles of the spiritual life, especially those emphasized by Orthodoxy to its membership in recent times.

“Adam became so proud that he wished to become God and died for his pride; the Son of God humbled Himself unto death, and gave life to the fallen.  O abyss of humility!  Adam and Eve lost themselves through gluttony, the Lord fasted and died for them, in order to give them life.  They were disobedient, Christ fulfilled obedience.”   (St. John of Kronstadt, MY LIFE IN CHRIST  Part 1, p 296)

Adam is contrasted with Christ on three accounts:  Adam is proud, disobedient and gluttonous, Christ is humble, obedient and fasts.  The image of the Christian is the ascetic, the monk, and Christ is seen as the perfect model of the “angelic life.”  Of course, these are not being presented purely as monastic virtues, though they are that, but as a model of life for every Christian.

“This present life is a life of exile: ‘The Lord God’, it is said, ‘sent him forth from the garden of Eden’ (Gen 3:23); and we, all of us, must earnestly strive to regain our country through repentance and works meet for repentance.  Lord, ‘the desired fatherland give Thou to me, a citizen of Paradise me making once again’ (Troparion of the Burial Service).”  ( MY LIFE IN CHRIST  Part 1, p 186)

The expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise begins the human experience of exile.  This theme is continued in many ways throughout the Bible, perhaps most pronounced in the story of the Passover and Exodus in which the people of God are always sojourning toward a desired homeland – but life on this earth remains the sojourn, not the destination.   Now the way, the road to be traveled to attain this fatherland is the way of repentance, the way of the Cross.  This is the root of much Orthodox Christian spirituality.

Next:  Obedience and Freedom in the Adam Story