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)
According to Genesis 2, God planted the Tree of Life in the very center of the Garden of Delight. As wonderful as this Tree seems, it is not the Tree that plays the first and great role in the history of humanity. That Tree is the more infamous Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, in Christian history, many poems and hymns were written connecting the Tree of Life to the Cross of Christ. Christ is nailed to the Tree that gives life to the world. And so we Orthodox sing: “Through the Cross joy has come into all the world.” So we honor the Cross the instrument which brought salvation to the world and to each and everyone of us.
One of the daily Matins hymns offers an interesting picture of the cross:
When you freely willed to die on the cross, O Savior, you planted the cross at the heart of the entire creation, and to save us you allowed them to fix you to that tree with nails, so that the sun and the moon were stunned into darkness.
The thief gazed in disbelief at all that was happening, but his faith won him the blessing of paradise when he cried out to you: Remember me, Lord, when you come in the glory of your Kingdom. (Friday, Tone 3)
The reference to the cross planted “at the heart of creation” certainly makes me think about the Tree of Life which also had this central location in God’s planted Garden of Eden. The cross is at the heart of creation for the God who is love also makes love central to created world which the Holy Trinity brought into existence.
Yet the humans whom God created, do not embrace this love. They see the Tree of Life, the Cross, at the center of the Garden and are not willing to deny themselves in order to lovingly obey God. Instead, they turn away from the Tree of Life (which they were not forbidden to eat), the Tree that gives eternal life, and they instead selfishly eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Not willing to die for God, they think they can live without God. It was a terribly grave deception.
Adam and Eve were not willing to choose the Tree of Life – the Cross. They were not willing to sacrifice all to remain fully united to God. They foolishly, selfishly and mortally choose to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They could not see how the Cross could bring joy into all the world, they could not see how choosing the cross could lead to life.
Christ, however, showed the way. The new Adam did not forsake the Cross, but saw it as the way to eternal life for all humans. In love and obedience, Jesus Christ saw that the life of the world came through that cross, which could only be embraced by love.
For Adam and Eve, knowledge looked like life but turned out to be death. Christ, knowing the way to Life, walked the path to the Tree of Life and thereby gained salvation for all people.
May the cross be graven on our hearts.
(See also The Cross is the Mirror of My Soul)