In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
The event we recall today has defined a great deal in the life of all of mankind, and of every one of us. The Church calls this terrible event Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. It has a direct relation to us and to our very close relatives, Adam and Eve. They are truly very close to us—after all, it is their blood flowing in our veins. Every one of us has them as his forefathers. From them came the entirety of mankind, all peoples on Earth.
Then, quite long ago, something happened that determined a turn in the life of all of mankind—the Fall, and after it the expulsion from that place where our Heavenly Father the Lord God had originally designated for the entire human race to live, and to be perfected, and to ascend to God. In the Bible this wonderful place is called Eden. It was located on the territory of today’s Iraq, between the Tigris and Euphrates. It is from there that our ancestors Adam and Eve should have filled the entire world with their progeny.
But there occurred—I wanted to say “irreparable”—but no, a reparable but terrible, tragic event in the history of the world human family. Adam was created free: He could, according to the image and likeness of God, choose the path in life that he deemed necessary. There was the path offered by God—the path of a son’s grateful obedience, emanating from trust, love, and contemplation of Divine beauty inexplicable by human words, and the beauty of the first-created world. It was the path of striving for God.
But there was another path—also of obedience—because the young man was unavoidably in the state of a disciple—but obedience to a deceiver, a murderer, and an evildoer—the devil.
Adam was endowed by the Lord God, as are you and I, with a free will. This is the greatest, but also a very responsible gift. As a test of free choice, as a confirmation of loyalty to the Father, in Paradise there grew the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, it was also appointed for man, but the Lord foretold and pointed out that the time for young Adam to know good and evil had not yet come. He was not yet mature, not perfected, and therefore, were he to eat from this tree, he would die.
Adam lived in a world of Divine perfection, in communion with his Father and Creator, and he truly knew nothing of the incomparably lower world, of the other version, as we now understand it, of the development of human history, where evil, sickness, sorrow, injustice, deceit, and suffering would triumph along with the good.
Satan, the devil, proposed to him and his wife Eve that if they should eat from this tree, they would be like God. Immediately! And, truly, Adam had this goal—to be like God. He was created in the image and likeness of God and, being perfected, he went precisely in this direction. But Satan said, “Why wait? Come on, now. Eat of the forbidden fruit—and you will immediately be like God!” We have successors to this temptation and lie with us now. When you happen to glance at the television, you’ll inevitably see this thing called a commercial. They tell you: “Take this pill and you’ll immediately lose weight,” or, “Buy this remedy and you’ll immediately become healthy,” “Take this pill and you’ll become instantly young.” Deception. Everything about it is, of course, guesswork; but so many people succumb to it!
If I can say, this is the most vulgar advertising—“Eat and you will be like God!”—and our forefathers succumbed. There is nothing new under the sun.
But what happened then in Eden was, of course, on an incomparably larger scale. People didn’t just disobey God, they, yes, recklessly and without thinking, chose the most fearful path that can be imagined on this Earth—rebellion against the will of God. But what in this world can resist the will of God? Nothing; resistance to the will of God is impossible! Resisting the will of the Almighty, of the omnipotent God—is death. It was to this death that our dear relatives, our ancestors, our forefathers Adam and Eve condemned themselves.
The devil well knew about it, being himself in a state of eternal death, of eternal corruption and evil, and therefore his main goal was to entice the first people and the future of the human race into his perdition.
But unlike the fallen angels, man remained good in his soul. They, the evil spirits, are no longer good. They are wholly devoted to evil, to opposition to God. Goodness remained in man after the Fall, but rebellion and evil were introduced into our nature. In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, “I am a pitiable man; that good that I want to do, I cannot do, I do not have the strength for it, I do not have the will for it, although I understand in my mind that I love and want to do good. But that evil that I do not want to do, my passions and my flesh strive for it.”
Thus, people should have inevitably perished, fatally crashed on the rock of opposition to the will of God. But the Lord, desiring that all men might be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, in His infinite love for man created by Him, for the future mankind, for every one of us (after all, the Lord, creating Adam in his omnipotence and omniscience, created and loved all of his many descendants), chose a different path for man, albeit a long and difficult one—but the path of salvation from eternal death for mankind. How did this salvation begin?
In the Bible we read that the Lord clothed man in coats of skin and expelled him from Paradise. How should we understand “expulsion from Paradise?” This was the beginning of our salvation. But what are the “coats of skin?” Lower your eyes and take a look at yourself. Our bodies are those same coats. Our present human body is completely different in comparison with the spiritually subtle body with which the first Adam was clothed, as the holy fathers of the Church write. And now let’s look into our souls… We will see them filled with passions and sins. It turns out that the way we bodily and spiritually envision ourselves is the state of “expulsion from Paradise.” But being in Eden, man had a completely different body and a different, undamaged soul.
Yes, you and I know quite well what “expulsion from Paradise” means! “In sorrow, in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” Of course, human life is a great happiness, but people of the middle and older generation know that until forty-five to fifty years of age, man lives by labors, sweat, and sorrows, and then begins sicknesses, age-specific problems, and then deadly diseases and death itself… Sometimes it happens differently, when someone gets sick and dies at a younger age… But one way or another, man passes from this temporary life into incomprehensible and terrible death. For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. The multitude of difficulties and problems which man must experience in life is inevitable for everyone. All of this is “expulsion from Paradise.” Only at a young, very foolish age do we still cajole ourselves with hope that everything will be rosy for us, that we will live totally differently. And later, if we are Church people, we will recall the words of the Psalmist: As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth (Ps. 103:15). Labors, sorrows—this is the lot of exiles. It’s not without reason that in litanies in the Divine Liturgy and in the All-Night Vigil we pray “for the sick, the suffering, the captives, and for their salvation… For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity,” and so on.
When Adam introduced the spirit of rebellion into his heart, the spirit of the devil, he already couldn’t just live as before, before the face of God. This duality, this communion of the devil and death immediately began to simply tear him apart. Remember, the Bible describes that Adam and Eve, after they had tasted of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, literally ran headlong and hid, having heard the voice of God. They couldn’t bear the presence of God, and in essence, they expelled themselves from Paradise even before the Lord God sent Adam from the Garden of Eden.
The Lord sends man, His creation, on a long path with but one purpose—his salvation from eternal death. And He, in the Person of His only Son, of one essence with the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, also goes on a journey to meet this prodigal son, in order to accomplish this salvation, although not immediately, although after a long time, although at the cost of the torment and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, God, Himself.
God chose a special means of salvation for man.
That is what we remember today. In the hymns for Vigil we sing about how Adam sat down opposite Paradise and bewailed his Fall; bewailed with belated tears. Every one of us has also had many chances following after Adam to mourn our mistakes. But, thankfully, we see how by the mercy of our Lord these mistakes are transformed into our salvation, and the Lord God uses our human falls for repentance and to change man. Adam, of course, wept not only for himself, but also for his numerous descendants, among whom are you and I. He saw to what were condemned whole hosts of people, and that not all of them, even thanks to the sacrifice on the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, will be saved.
To this ancient, and at the same time personal history, repeated for every one of us in our own fate, the holy Church returns us on the eve of Great Lent. From this point of the Fall and our expulsion from Paradise to our common rueful, fallen state, our entrance into fasting and repentance begins today.
We will speak much more about Lent and about how to go through it profitably. Today the Gospel was read that says in simple words that if we forgive others their sins from the bottom of our hearts, then the Lord will forgive us. It’s a simple, and some might even say elementary commandment. Yes, it is simple, that is so. But it is a Divine commandment. See, the Lord doesn’t demand much from us. He offers us what each of us can do—to forgive with all our hearts, thereby likening ourselves to God: By his mercy, the Lord forgives every sin of those who repent.
It also says in today’s Gospel reading not to collect treasures on earth, treasures for our coats of skin, which are sick and decaying, which torture us and themselves suffer throughout the course of our whole lives. Do not gather treasure for them, but gather treasure there, in Eden, in that country whose heir you truly are, but simply forgot about it, or never knew—in that country from where your ancestors were expelled, but where we must come to abide. And not just in Eden, but in that unending and perfect, as Eden is called in the New Testament, New Jerusalem. Everyone should, if he makes an effort towards it, not just return to the first state, before the Fall, but moreover must become an heir of God Himself. This is what the Lord God created man for. It’s no wonder that Adam was seduced by the cunning promise to become “like God.” But this is God’s purpose in relation to man—the elevation to the infinite deity of a man filled with faith in Christ. This is the purpose of creation.
Of course, we won’t immediately talk about all of this. But Great Lent is a wondrously convenient time for going deeper into the questions of the spiritual life. Let us labor, let’s put some effort into understanding, and into repentance, and into changing our lives, for the salvation of our souls and union with God; for the correction, as much as we are able, of our mistakes, and through this, at least in part, the mistake of our Forefather.
This evening is already the Rite of Forgiveness at the Lenten Vespers, and Great Lent begins already tomorrow morning. Every one of you should spend it according to the typikon of the holy Church. But if someone has a sickness or infirmity that doesn’t allow him to fully do it, then you should go to a priest to discuss it with him. A priest may perhaps especially bless some concession, but it shouldn’t come from faintheartedness and fearfulness, but from your actual state of health and possibility to make the effort. The purpose of Lent is not to strictly fulfill the typikon and rules, but to battle with our passions, to expel the spirit of rebellion from our souls—that same spirit which took up residence in us then, in Eden.
I congratulate all of you with today’s feast and the coming Great Lent!
May the Lord save you!
Feb. 20/March 5, 2006