This fourth Bible Study on the book of Genesis covers the fourth through sixth days wherein God created the heavenly luminaries, called forth aquatic and fowl life from the waters, and land animals from the ground.
We discuss many interesting topics such as the spiritual symbols implanted by God in creation, the free will of man, the necessity of Church Tradition, the original state of animals, the witness of modern saints, and much more.
Below we present both the audio and the text of the Bible Study:
We’ve been studying the book of Genesis. The first lesson was an introduction, with principles for how to understand Genesis and where to get information about Genesis. We follow the Church Fathers because they, like Moses, have seen Creation happen and they’re not just giving opinions. The Scriptures say that St. Paul went to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12), saints such as St. Euphrosynos the Cook, have gone to Paradise and he brought back apples. When the Church interprets Genesis and the Creation of the world it’s not a guess, but it’s Divine Revelation.
We’ve talked about the first three days of Creation. On day one the heavens and the earth are created, then the firmament in the sky and the waters are divided on day two, and on day three He collects the water on earth into various bodies and dry land appears and He creates plants on the dry land. Today we’ll discuss days four and five and the creation of land animals on day six. The creation of man deserves its own lesson.
The fourth day of Creation
Let’s read about the fourth day of Creation:
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: 15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. 16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. 17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. 19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Student: What is the firmament?
We talked a lot about this last time because God created it on the second day. There are several meanings to this word. Scripture speaks of birds flying in the firmament of the heavens and here it means the sky above us. The firmament is also a barrier between the water on the earth and that in the sky, and there is the idea that when God flooded the earth this barrier was broken and the water in the sky flooded the earth. We also said that the firmament divides our world from the spiritual world of the angels. Because they are not material as we are they can pass through the barrier, and in the end of times this barrier will be broken and heaven and earth will be united. Basically “firmament” signifies the power of God.
God created the heavens and earth and then He begins dividing and adorning. On the first day He began creation and He separated the light from the darkness. On the second day the waters are divided by the firmament. On the third day the waters are drawn back and dry land appears, and on this fourth day we see day and night being divided because now there is the sun and the moon.
There is an interesting parallel between the first three days of Creation and the second three. On day one the heavens are created, and on day four they receive their adornment—the heavenly bodies. On day two the waters are created and on day five they receive their adornment of aquatic life. On day three God created dry land and on day six animals are called forth from the land. Days one and four are coupled, two and five, three and six. There are always patterns in Scripture.
Before the Fall
We’ve stated the principle that to study the Creation of the world we need to understand that it’s before the Fall, before death and corruption, and thus science and philosophy can’t speak about it because it’s a different condition of the world. When we look around we see death and decaying and that’s what we know and study, but we can’t use the knowledge of death to tell us about the time before death. Commenting on this day, St. Basil says, “We propose to study the world as a whole, and to consider the universe, not by the light of worldly wisdom, but by that with which God wills to enlighten His servant, when He speaks to him in person and without enigmas.” We’re not using the wisdom of the world to understand Scriptures but God reveals the meaning to His saints, and He speaks plainly, without enigmas. When He says He created plants on the third day it means that literally. Everything has its literal, historic meaning.
The spiritual Sun
The Fathers often look at the things that God has created in order to draw their minds to the Creator and contemplate Him and how much He loves us. St. Basil talks about a blind man who sees no light and can see nothing, as if the sun didn’t exist. Now think about if the spiritual Sun, if God Himself didn’t exist, or if we turned a blind eye to Him, we would be useless. We have the free will to choose to see God or not, to turn to Him and obey Him and recognize that He’s there, or not. If we don’t’ recognize God then we are spiritually blind.
The creation of the material sun
On every day we have noted that each act of creation by God is instantaneous. When God says Let there be light, there is light immediately. A lot of people today believe that everything happened slowly over a long period of time, with atoms coming together and everything evolving, but the Fathers always say that when God spoke everything happened immediately. On this day He created the sun and the moon in even less than a second. On the third day He created plants and He didn’t plant seeds that eventually became plants, but He created mature plants, immediately. On this day everything is instantaneous. For instance, St. Athanasius the Great, a Patriarch of Alexandria and one of the greatest saints of the Church specifically says that the sun, moon and stars all appeared at exactly the same time by the same command of God.
It’s important to note that the Fathers say that on this day God literally created the sun. On day one God said Let there be light but it wasn’t the sun. It was unbounded light. It wasn’t the Uncreated Light of God, but it was an uncontained created light. For our modern scientific theories it’s impossible to say that there was no sun until the fourth day, because already on the third day there are plants. The Scriptures and Fathers are making clear to us that these are acts of God. These things are not happening according to natural processes, but rather we are seeing nature being put into place. The reason that God created the sun on the fourth day is so that we would know that the sun is not the cause of life and we wouldn’t worship the sun, which is common in paganism. In Scripture we see that the earth and plants can exist without the sun, by the command of God. So we are being told to worship God.
The Trinity, freedom and astrology
God speaks everything into existence, but the Fathers ask who spoke and who heard, and in this they see the Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St. Ambrose of Milan says the Father spoke, and the Son heard and created. Christ is the Creator, which we see explicitly in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. God is the Creator of everything and the reason for our existence. We live in order to commune with God, so our relationship with God is what determines our life and fate—not the stars. Lots of people believe in astrology, and this was very popular in the days of the Fathers, and so they wrote a lot about this. Maybe it’s obvious to us that the stars don’t’ really control our lives, but the Fathers had to explain these things. They say that we have free will and we aren’t dictated and controlled by the stars. As we read, it does say that the heavenly bodies are signs for us for seasons and times. These signs do indicate something, but as St. Basil the Great says, those who believe in astrology have gone too far, find too many signs, and have overstepped the boundaries. They are signs of time. They don’t tell us who we should marry and what our position in life will be. God puts these things into Creation, knowing what people will later do—worshiping the sun and stars. So He tells us beforehand not to do this. The Fathers even say this is madness and folly!
The obedience of creation and the light of the moon
The verses say there was a light for the day and a light for the night, which is the moon. Scientifically speaking we do know that the moon is not actually a light, having no light of its own. Some people say the Scriptures are primitive and you can’t trust them here, but the Fathers knew about this. They were very educated men. St. John of Damascus in the seventh century specifically says that the moon doesn’t have its own light, but reflects the sun. We can say that the moon is a light with this understanding. St. John says if God had wanted to He could have given light to the moon but instead He gave us an image of obedience and subjection, with the moon dependent on the sun. St. Basil also talks about the light surrounding the moon, coming from the sun. He lived in the fourth century and he knew it wasn’t the light of the moon.
This is another lesson from Creation that we see. Obedience is implanted into creation itself. Of course obedience is very important in the spiritual life. We have to obey the commands of Christ and the Scriptures and the Church, and our spiritual fathers. If we go to Confession and he says to read the Canon of Repentance, you should do it. Christ was perfectly obedient to the Father. He says He does the will of the Father, and Christ is our supreme example. The whole world is in the situation it is now because Adam and Eve were not obedient, but did what they wanted to do. They were deceived by the serpent but they still chose to listen to him rather than to God. Obedience reverses the sin of Adam and Eve—it reverses the Fall of the world.
The gathering of the light
Several Fathers specifically say, as we have said, that because three days of Creation have passed without the sun we therefore know that God is the source of everything. St. Basil also notes that there was already light, but now it’s contained in the sun—it’s gathered into the ball. He says the sun is like a lamp which contains the flame. In our times we could say it’s like a lightbulb that contains the electricity. It’s an image that he uses to help to explain. In the sun he sees an image of the saints—every Christian is supposed to be a body containing the light and grace of God. The sun, of course, represents Christ Himself, and it also represents the saints, in different ways. The saints contain the light of God by being obedient to God. When we look at the sun we see the light and we see the circle as one thing, but we can think about them separately. We can talk about the light of the sun, and then the body of the sun. And that we can conceive of this division helps us to understand that God actually created them separately. St. Basil uses this as an image of the afterlife. When Christ returns and our destinies are sealed, the righteous will enjoy the light from the sun, while the damned will be tortured by the heat, so he’s dividing the light and the heat.
What defines a day?
Many have the idea that the sun and the moon and the movements of the heavenly bodies are actually what create a day, but we know that three days have passed without the sun. Really, a day is defined as this period of time—twenty-four hours—and God creates the motions of the heavenly bodies to match that. The sun does not create the day but helps us to measure the day. The distance of one meter existed even before there was a meter stick to measure it with, and the time period of a day existed even before there was the sun for us to measure it by. Everything that God creates is for us, and of course the sun is very useful. It helps us to see, to travel, to raise crops, etc. Ultimately these heavenly bodies will be a sign to us of the end of the times and the coming afterlife. As St. Basil says, referring to the book of Joel and the Gospel of Matthew, he notes that the moon turns to blood and the sun gives no light, so even they will be changed. They are signs of this coming spiritual season.
So the sun and the moon don’t make the day, but they measure them—St. Basil specifically says that day and night are older than the sun and moon. In the fourth century the Church fought the Arian heresy and defeated it at the First Ecumenical Council. Arius said that Jesus is not God but the greatest of creations. In the latter part of the fourth century there was other version of his heresy, and the heretic Eunomius taught a version of Arianism. He specifically said that days were produced by the movement of heavenly bodies, so St. Basil says to him, “If you define days by movement, then what do you call the first three days of Creation? Are they outside of time?” I specifically bring this up because many people who want to interpret these days only allegorically say it’s impossible to talk about days before the sun, or that God created the sun on the first day and on the fourth day it became invisible. They try to change what Scripture says because they believe you need the sun to have a day. But the Fathers say that no, you just need the Word of God. He created time, and it’s not the movements of the heavenly bodies, but the space of time that defines a day. To mention some other Fathers—St. Leo the Great, the Pope of Rome, when Rome was still Orthodox, and Victorinus, a western Church writer, also talk about days existing before the sun and specifically say you don’t need the sun.
Symbols in creation
The Fathers always find symbols in the texts. We believe that these things are the literal history of the world but they also have symbolic meanings. St. Theophilus of Antioch says that the first three days of Creation can be a symbol of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the fourth day when the sun is created represents man, because man is dependent upon the creations of God. Further, some of the bodies in heaven move, and some don’t. Those that do not move are symbols of the saints of God because they don’t waver but are focused on God and God alone. The prophets in the Bible did the will of God, walking on His path without veering to the sides. The planets that move can represent men who have moved away from God. The Fathers see in Creation that God is always giving us reminders of Himself.
 Just as the sun and the moon are signs of the seasons for us, also the Church has its seasons. For the first several centuries of the Church we were persecuted, so there was a season or time of persecution. Then God gave us St. Constantine and he legalized Christianity and we had times of peace. These things go back and forth—then we were persecuted by Muslims, the Church in Russia was persecuted by Communists—but we always have God with us. The sun is there in every season and God is there, unchanging, shedding His light on us in peace or persecution.
After talking about the various ideas of how the heavenly bodies influence our lives, St. Basil says that every single syllable of Scripture is inspired—not just every word, but every syllable is inspired by God. We should read slowly. The Fathers can look at the sun and see ten different symbols about God and man and the spiritual life. There is so much depth to everything and we should try to see these things. He says, “I have entered into these details, to show you the grandeur of the luminaries, and to make you see that, in the inspired words, there is not one idle syllable.”
We’ve already said that a great tool in the spiritual life is obedience, and obedience and humility go hand in hand. Doing what someone else tells you to do makes you humble. Scripture is the story of how man screws up without God, and how God fixes it for us. Scripture is for our humility, which makes us like God. He gave creation to us, became a man for us, and died for us. The Fathers say that even though the sun and the moon are great bodies in the sky and the sun could kill us if we moved towards us, even God is so much greater. The sun and the moon are like little ants compared to God. We can’t comprehend how great is God. He is infinitely greater than the greatest creation. St. John Chrysostom says whine we admire the sun we must not stop there, but let it point us towards God.
God created these things, and as always He sees that it was good. The Venerable Bede specifically questions why God repeats every day that what He had made is good and answer that He repeats it because we need it, so that we can really start to understand. If we read this every day it will start to sink in, and we will know not to judge creation by our standards. Even if I don’t like this particular type of tree, it doesn’t matter—God has deemed it good and it serves its purpose.
A lost beauty
As on other days, everything that God creates is incorrupt. The world is being sustained by the grace of God. Everything on its own, if you remove God from the picture, would die, but everything is naturally meant to have the protection of God, but when man sinned this changed. Using the moon as an example of this St. Barsanuphius says, “Look – what a picture! … This is left to us as a consolation. It’s no wonder that the Prophet David said, Thou hast gladdened me, O Lord, by Thy works (Ps. 91:3). Thou hast gladdened me, he says, although this is only a hint of that wondrous beauty, incomprehensible to human thought, which was originally created. We don’t know what kind of moon there was then, what kind of sun, what kind of light ... All of this changed after the fall.” Everyone loves a beautiful sunset and loves to get a nice picture of it, but even the most beautiful sunset is still less than what it’s meant to be. Man’s sin changed everting, making it less beautiful than it’s meant to be.
Some lingering questions
I always mention Fr. Seraphim Rose’s book Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, and much of what I am saying comes from this book, because he researched what the saints said about Creation and about man. He has an interesting idea that he suggests in this book. The Fathers says that some of the things God created were created in the way they were because He already knew that the world would fall. For instance, on the sixth day God created the land animals, including animals like lions and tigers and bears that eat meat and have teeth and claws that help them catch and chew meat. We know that before the Fall nothing died, so animals weren’t eating meat. Even a bear lived by eating plants. But God had already given them the teeth and claws and speed to catch animals because He knew the world would fall. So Fr. Seraphim puts forth the idea that maybe even the sun and moon are specifically for fallen man, because God knew we would need a means of measuring time, and we would need patterns in our life. He points out that as Scripture says in the end times when Christ returns we will live in an eternal day without night. Even the cycle of day and night will come to end, so Fr. Seraphim suggests that maybe they weren’t even meant to be in the first place. He says he hadn’t read this in the Fathers, so he doesn’t insist on it, but puts it forth as an interesting idea.
Another interesting question to think about, and again I don’t have a set answer from the Fathers, is that according to scientific theories creation is millions and billions of years old—much older than Scripture says—and one of the reasons given for this is that the stars are millions of light years away. If a star is two million light years away that means the light has been traveling for two million years to reach our eye, and so the star is two million years old. If you read the Scriptures literally we are now in the 7524th year from the Creation of the world, according to the Church’s calendar that dates from the creation of the world. Science and the Church seem to be contradicting. As I said, I don’t have a set answer from the Fathers, but they do say that every time that God creates it’s always instantaneous, and He creates mature things. He created a tree, not an acorn. He created a chicken, not an egg. Using these principles we can think that, as everything in creation is for man, when God created the stars He created them so that their light was immediately hitting earth. The point of the light of the stars and sun is for man. It serves no purpose if it’s just traveling through space for two millions years—it’s simply waiting to fulfill its purpose. The Fathers say that God calls everything good, meaning it fulfills its purpose. Based on these things we can reasonably guess that the light from the stars have always been touching the earth. I can’t prove that scientifically, or one hundred percent from the saints, but it makes sense with everything else they do say. And as I’ve said, we can’t speak of this time scientifically but must turn to Divine revelation. Science can understand the natural process of light traveling, but the saints can understand the supernatural acts of God.
The fifth day of Creation
Let’s read about the fifth day of Creation:
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. 21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. 23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
The need for Church Tradition
All the Fathers would agree that every word of Scripture is filled with meaning. Here again, St. Basil emphasizes: “If we simply read the words of Scripture we find only a few short syllables: Let the waters bring forth fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven, but if we enquire into the meaning of these words, then the great wonder of the wisdom of the Creator appears. “ This is a great example to us of why we need the Church. There are many kinds of Christianity. Protestantism says you only need the Bible—Sola Scriptura. But they all disagree with one another. Calvin doesn’t agree with Luther and the Baptists don’t agree with the Anglicans. St. Basil is saying here we need more than just the words of Scripture, but we need the understanding of Scripture. There’s a famous quote from the great western father St. Hilary of Poitiers saying that the importance is not the words, but rather what they mean. This is why we need the Tradition of the Church. This is why we need the saints. They tell us what the Scriptures mean. As I said in the beginning, they get the meaning from God, either directly—as Moses saw Creation—or sometimes God speaks to us through other people. Especially in the Church He speaks to us through the services. All of the prayers and hymns tell us what we believe, and obedience to our spiritual father teaches us what we believe. St. Ambrose of Milan taught St. Augustine—two major Fathers of the early Church. There is one well-known example where a disciple saw that God had sent St. Paul to speak into the ear of St. John Chrysostom, as he wrote commentaries on the epistles of St. Paul. We have this charisma in the Church.
The man who converted me to Orthodoxy  also used to be a Protestant, and he explained that one way of looking at the differences between the various kinds of Christianity is to ask what is the authority for the Christian life according to those churches. He said that the Orthodox Church has many beliefs, sometimes very deep and hard to understand, but to become Orthodox you don’t have to investigate and come to understand and agree with every belief before coming Orthodox. To become Orthodox you have to believe the Church is the correct authority. For Protestants the authority is the Bible and the Bible only. The Catholic Church says the authority for the Christian life is the Pope. He can speak infallibly if he wants to, and he defines the Christian faith. Of course he reads the Scriptures and the saints, and talks with other Catholics, but in the end he is the magisterium. The Orthodox Church says the authority for the Christian life is the entire Church and the entire Tradition of the Church. We don’t believe that Patriarch Kirill is the sole all-powerful authority for all Russians. He is the patriarch, but if he does something wrong we can tell him he’s wrong. We have that responsibility. The Patriarch of Constantinople has a place of honor in the Church. He is the first among equals, but he is equal. He is not a pope. We look to the whole Tradition of the Church. So St. Basil says if we look into the meaning of these words then the great wonder of the wisdom of the Creator appears, and the meaning of the words is given to us by the Tradition of the Church. We have two thousand years of the saints teaching us, and two thousand years of prayers. Tradition is an active thing—we don’t just repeat what came before. I am giving you the words of the saints, but if I myself were a saint then I could give you what God has given me, and that’s true Tradition. When St. Basil speaks, its living.
Often you’ll hear people who don’t believe that Genesis is literal and who believe in the evolutionary timeline say the whole first chapter of Genesis doesn’t give many details—God created, man fell, and that’s what we need to know. But the saints say there is much more information here. St. John Chrysostom specifically says that God gives us so many details because He wants us to be saved. It’s not some bare-bones story. In every syllable the Fathers find things to talk about. St. John says: “The blessed Moses, instructed by the Spirit of God, teaches us with such detail ... so that we might clearly know both the order and the way of the creation of each thing.” The order is clear—there really were plants before the sun. No matter what our eyes and minds tell us, we see here that actually life can exist before the sun because God can do it. “If God had not been concerned for our salvation and had not guided the tongue of the Prophet, it would have been sufficient to say that God created the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and living creatures, without indicating either the order of the days or what was created earlier and what later.” This is in direct contradiction to what people today say. That God gave us so much more detail than what people today think means that God cares about us. If we interpret these verses as modern men do, in the eyes of the Fathers that would mean that God doesn’t care about us, giving us so little detail. “But he distinguishes so clearly both the order of creation and the number of days, and instructs us about everything with great condescension, in order that we, coming to know the whole truth, would no longer heed the false teachings of those who speak of everything according to their own reasonings, but might comprehend the unutterable power of our Creator.” People who don’t interpret as the saints do are using their own reasonings and imaginings. This is not what the Church does. That’s not obedience or humility.
What say the modern saints?
Elder Ephraim, came to America and founded twenty monasteries in twenty years, which is amazing for America, and St. Anthony’s, where he lives, is the biggest monastery in America as far as the number of monks. Once a student of theology came to Elder Joseph and the elder said he smelled a foul smell on him. But being a saint he knew it wasn’t a bodily smell—he hadn’t simply forgotten to shower. The elder knew it was a spiritual smell so he told the man to come to him at night for Confession. During the course of the confession he found out that this theologian had written a book in defense of the evolution of man. Elder Joseph told him that was the cause of his spiritual stench and he needed to repent and that if he’s going to teach he should do so from the Fathers. The Church has given us its teaching on Creation, so why take from theories outside the Church? He’s not speaking against science, but it has its proper place and the Creation of the world and the miraculous acts of God are not the place of science. He says to teach from the Church.
As a side note, saints and holy men who have lived since the time of Darwin, therefore knowing about evolution, who have spoken about it have all spoken against it. But many people will say that they were only speaking against atheistic evolution. So these people are saying it’s ok to believe in evolution as long as you believe in God, and the Fathers are really just speaking against atheism. But, Elder Joseph rebuked a theologian. A theologian is not an atheist. It wasn’t atheism that he rebuked but the effort to combine theism with evolution. The problem is when you combine the Orthodox God with evolution. When I tell people that the modern saints say evolution is wrong they respond that they only meant atheistic evolution, but here we see, with Elder Joseph, that this is not true. Even if you say God started the process it’s still wrong. Fr. George Calciu was a Romanian priest who suffered in the gulags for his faith and he speaks about the Catholic Pope supporting evolution, and he says this is wrong. Of course he knows the Pope is not an atheist. It’s not atheism that’s wrong, but evolution itself—whether atheistic or theistic. Elder Joseph rebuked this man for speaking about that which the Church speaks about but speaking about it from his own ideas and reasonings. He took the ideas of scientists but he chose to take them and combine them with the Church.
More symbols in creation
So here we see life being called out of the waters. What is that a symbol of? St. Theophilus of Antioch specifically talks about this.
Of course, and we talked about this once before when we talked about the waters. Whenever you see things about water in the Scriptures it’s at least about grace, if not specifically Baptism. Life is being called out of the waters and when we rise out of the waters of Baptism we are spiritually alive, whereas before we were spiritually dead. We are born in a state of fallenness and Baptism unites us to Christ. St. Theophilus also sees images of the righteous and the unrighteous. Before man fell animals were not dying so nothing ate meat. St. Theophilus says that some animals continue to eat only plants, and they have continued obeying this original law of God. That can remind us of the saints, whereas animals that eat meat are not living according to the original law of God. They are an image of the unrighteous. Of course it’s not a sin to eat meat, but we can use these things as symbols to help us contemplate the spiritual life. Meat isn’t bad, but if we hadn’t sinned we wouldn’t be eating meat. This is why monks don’t eat meat—they are trying to live as fully as possible as God intended. This is another of those symbols of the spiritual life all around us in creation.
God created everything and now He’s adorning and adding beauty to everything. On the third day God gave the earth its plants, and on the fourth day the sky is adorned with its light, and now water is being given its life. Everything is for us. Man is the king of creation and was created last because God was first preparing his kingdom. A king should live in a kingdom. The earth and its plants and animals were thus created first. And we have said that when God creates it’s instantaneous. There is not even the slightest moment between when He speaks and when it comes to be. St. Gregory of Nyssa specifically says that if you divide up the creative acts of God you believe in a weak God. God speaks and creation obeys. If even the irrational and lifeless earth can obey God, then why can’t we, who have a soul given to us by God, with the ability to reason? We of all things have the ability to obey. But with that means the ability not to obey. But let’s learn from the earth and animals. We are called to be greater than them but they act better than us.
Everything is instantaneous. St. Basil says that the water immediately hastens to obey. It runs to obey. Every kind of life from the waters is created. He even says that God created all the aquatic life, and “what species is missing?” More species don’t evolve over time; God created them all on this day. St. Ambrose specifically says the whale and the frog came into existence at the exact same time. St. John Chrysostom says, “While it was one word, and a short one, the kinds of living things were many and varied. But don’t be astonished, dearly beloved; after all, it was God’s word, and his word endowed those creatures with life.” Even the simplest command from God creates the most beautiful, complex, various, full, abundant creation. Don’t be astonished—that’s God! We can be astonished in the good sense of thinking about how great God is, but we shouldn’t be astonished in the sense of being surprised that God could do such a thing. God can do anything He wants, and He does.
After their kind and the energies of God
As we read, the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind and every winged fowl after their kind. What does that mean?
Student: The seed corresponds to the original plant.
With the plants it said this, with the water animals it said this, and with the land animals it says this. Each thing reproduces after its kind and it doesn’t change. A fish will always reproduce a fish, and a whale a whale. We’ve talked about this many times but it’s important. What we are seeing here with this phrase “after this kind,” accepted plainly by the Fathers, is that natures have boundaries and definitions. What it means to be man is set and cannot be changed. What it means to be an oak tree is set and cannot be changed. This is because the definitions exist in the mind of God. Christ is the Logos giving shape and meaning and purpose to all of creation, so each individual thing has its own logoi or purpose and that idea was in the mind of God from before all time. These ideas themselves are Divine; they are the energy of God.
In Orthodoxy and only in Orthodoxy we have the theology of the essence and energies of God. The essence of God is what makes Him God, and which we don’t know and can never know or participate in. He is Uncreated and we are created and there’s no way to bridge that chasm into the essence of God. But we do experience His love, and grace, and mercy and justice, and all of the things that we see in Scripture, and these are His energies. This is how we know him. Dr. Christopher Veniamin, professor of Patristics at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, said that the energies are God Himself, but the essence is God in Himself. The energies are how He is outside of Himself, as He relates to His creation. The logoi are on this level of energy. The ideas are Divine and thus cannot be changed. That which is God cannot change. The definition of whale or shark in the mind of God cannot be changed and the Fathers emphasize this over and over again. In their day there were primitive ideas of man coming from animals, but the Fathers reject them as everything is defined by God.
When man was created and lived in the Garden he was living the natural life as God intended. When he fell he fell below nature, to a lower quality of life, but it’s the same human nature. From my feet to my head are my boundaries. The boundaries of human nature are from here to here. Adam and Eve were here, they fell to here, and when God became man He became as Adam and Eve were before they fell, but because He’s God He made human nature go up to here. But no matter how high He takes it it remains human nature. It doesn’t break the boundaries into a new nature. That never happens. So when Scripture says after his kind that’s what it means. But with evolution you can’t have boundaries. This thing changes a little bit and the next a little bit and the next a little bit and after a million years there’s an accumulated huge change and a new species and form of life has come along. They’re assuming there are no boundaries to nature, but the Fathers are telling us that natures are defined and nature is orderly. God is not the author of confusion. Everything has order and definitions and boundaries. St. Basil says that the reproduction of each species is invariable, and natures are not mixed. Things of different natures cannot give rise to one another or mix.
Devouring one another
An image that the Fathers take from creation is that of aquatic animals eating one another—a shark eats smaller fish—and they say often man devours one another. It’s not literal, although unfortunately sometimes it is, but for instance, maybe Seraphim says something to me that I don’t like, and I yell at him and tell him how awful and terrible he is and that I hate him, and it’s like I’m devouring or killing him. Or if I want to become the boss of our company and I will step all over Seraphim to get to the top. I’ll do whatever I can to advance my job no matter how it hurts him. I don’t care because it’s better for me, so I’m devouring him. We hear this a lot during Lent—it does you no good to fast and abstain from meat if you’re going to devour your brother. It’s better to eat a cheeseburger than to offend another person. Of course it’s better to fast and not offend anyone, but let’s do what we can. So life in the ocean is a symbol for us and helps us to understand that we should be higher than that.
Student: This reminds me of an American priest named Fr. Jacob Myers in Atlanta who said something very good about gossip. He said we devour each other through gossip, and in Lent we don’t talk about anyone. We don’t even say good things about anyone—we only work on ourselves. I like this principle because sometimes the tendency to start speaking about other people is almost always destructive even if we think we’re saying good things.
It’s still our judgment. It’s even better to refrain from all judgment.
Student: You were speaking about the nature of things, which is relevant with the nonsense going on in America right now. And the debate has the idea that God has changed His mind about certain things, and people’s nature is different than what God said in the beginning. I’ve talked to Orthodox people who are influenced enough by these modern ideas that one person said to me that what the Church teaches is philosophy, and I said, “What?!” If what we are taught is philosophy then it’s useless, because philosophy comes from my best idea. My spiritual father told me that there are Fathers who talk about theology as philosophy but they mean it differently.
It’s Divine philosophy—it’s from the mind of God.
Student: Right—they’re not speculating. They’re not making up the rules. The Church confirms what already is and always has been and provides objective reality. This is a desk and always will be. You are a woman and will always be a woman, no matter what you do to yourself. You’ll always be a man or woman.
Indeed, thank you.
Turning to God
The sea life obeys God. He says come forth and it happens. Let’s be like that. When God speaks, just listen. I know it’s easier said than done but everywhere in creation we see things that remind us of how we should be. At one point St. Basil speaks about how much God cares even for the swallows, and he says, “This sight ought to warn you not to take to evil ways on account of poverty; and, even if you are reduced to the last extremity, not to lose all hope; not to abandon yourself to inaction and idleness, but to have recourse to God. If He is so bountiful to the swallow, what will He not do for those who call upon Him with all their heart?” Christ Himself talks about this—the lilies of the field and the birds of the air have their adornment, so what would God not do for man, when we turn to Him with all our heart. That’s key—we have to turn to Him. In the story of the Prodigal Son the son decides to come back to the father’s house, and the father sees him from afar and goes running after him, but first it was necessary for the son to come back. He had to make that movement—the father did not go and pull him out of the pig sty, because he had his free will. If we make that movement to God He will give us what we need.
 He also speaks about the crows which are known for especially loving their children who they supply with food for a long time. But on the other hand we have women who give up nursing and don’t want to feed their child because it’s too much of a hassle. Some women even throw their children away, abandoning them, and he says they sometimes “deny in the very womb their own progeny,” which is abortion, of which men are also to blame. Look how much the birds care for their own children and yet we don’t care for them enough, or we throw them away, or we kill them before they’re even born. He goes on to say, “By the use of parricidal mixtures they snuff out the fruit of their wombs in the genital organs themselves. In this way life is taken away before it is given.” Here he’s talking about contraception, which he says is bad. The Church teaches us that when man and woman come together they should be open to bearing children. It’s important to note that he’s not only talking about abortifacient contraception, but even about preventing the life from happening. He’s frowning on any kind. Various spiritual fathers will apply this in various ways, but there’s a principle from St. Ambrose.
A necessary balance
God sees that the animals are good, fulfilling their purpose as He created them and so He gives them the command to multiply. Therefore, don’t question why the animals exist. God has called them good. We can get into too many such scientific questions. Sometimes the Fathers start to talk about the science of their day but they always come back to what the Church is saying—here’s what you might hear in the world, and here’s what the Church is saying. St. Basil says we can get into too much science. It’s not bad, but we need a balance. He says, “Have not those who give themselves up to vain science the eyes of owls? The sight of the owl, piercing during the night time, is dazzled by the splendour of the sun; thus the intelligence of these men, so keen to contemplate vanities, is blind in presence of the true light.” Men who immerse themselves completely just in science and are not led to the thought of God as are the Fathers are blind. The light of God is there and they are blind to it, being immersed in their minds. We need to be here, in our hearts.
The sixth day of Creation
That covers the fifth day. The sixth day is very important because then God creates man, and man is the king. But before that land animals are created.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Just in two verses we heard after his kind maybe six times. Nature is defined. There are boundaries within which you can vary but there are boundaries.
Allegory and the Gospel
Commenting on this verse St. Basil speaks about allegory, which is ok, but as we’ve said in previous classes, as long as you don’t deny the literal interpretation. I’ve used the example several times of the angel that stood at the gate of Paradise with a flaming sword when Adam and Eve were kicked out, which St. Macarius the Great says is literal—that at that point in history an angel really was standing there—but that it also speaks to us mystically that we have lost Paradise in our hearts, separated from God in our souls, and as the symbol of water tells us, we need Baptism. The literal interpretation is the basis for the symbolic interpretation. Many Fathers warn about this.
St. Basil says, “There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes.” There were various heretical groups in the early centuries that had very symbolic interpretations of Creation, such as the Gnostics, who St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote against. St. Basil continues: they “change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories”—they change the clear words of Scriptures to fit their theories. And again, they are “like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. For I am not ashamed of the gospel.” That’s a very interesting point. He says he believes every word of the Scripture plainly for he is not ashamed of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news of Christ. He sees even the literal meaning of the days of Creation as connected to the Gospel. God is showing us here how He created and therefore why He created. What was man meant to be like, and therefore what did man lose when he fell and therefore why do we need Christ. All of these things are already shown to us in Creation, and are tied to the Gospel. But he’s saying that if you interpret too allegorically and deny that they are literal, you are denying the Gospel. In our modern times if I say that I believe that Genes is literal, people think I’m stupid, but I should be willing to bear that embarrassment.
With the cooperation of the earth
We spoke about how the days are paired together. Day one goes with day four, two with five, and three with six. Here the dry land appearing day three receives its adornment on day six. On the first day of Creation we spoke a lot about the fundamental dogma that God created out of nothing—ex nihilo. When God created in the beginning He didn’t use any already-existing matter, but He created out of nothing. We talked about how pagan gods created by shaping other pre-existing matter, and it’s interesting to see how other systems have pieces of the truth. The Fathers do say there is a distinction between the first day and the other days. On day one God creates out of nothing, but on the days after that He does shape what is already there—the waters brought forth life and now the earth is bringing forth life. The only exception to this will be man. The spiritual nature of man will again be created out of nothing, which shows the radical difference between man and the rest of creation.
Some people take the idea of the earth bringing forth too far and say that the earth has some kind of power and these beings were existing somehow under the ground. They feel this somehow leads to the concept of things evolving out of the earth. But St. Basil says that although it’s a fashioning, at the words let the earth bring forth it did not sprout something that had been hidden inside of it, but rather a new creation was immediately fashioned by the will of God. Seeds were not hidden underground, nor were the life forces of animals, being then called forth by God. There is a cooperation with the ground, but it’s still an instantaneous new thing. Some people make too much of this cooperation and try to apply it to scientific theories that don’t’ fit with the Scriptures or saints.
St. Basil actually says that the idea that the earth itself gives rise to life is Manichean. They were dualistic, thinking that spiritual nature is good while material nature is bad. St. Augustine was a Manichean before he joined the Church. They had their own prophet and pseudo-Christian ideas. So this was their idea. But again, the creation was instantaneous. The Venerable Bede even says that everything that God wanted came into existence even faster than speech—so fast that we can’t comprehend it.
The soul of animals and the Blood of Life
While the soul of man will be created out of nothing, animals are here created entirely out of the earth. They have a soul in the sense of a life force, and the Scriptures say this soul is in the blood. It’s different form the soul of man—it’s earthly, and thus when the body of the animal dies, its soul, being earthly, also dies with it, whereas the soul of man does not. St. Gregory Palamas, one of the greatest saints of the Church, says the soul of an animal has no essence but is only energy. They get hungry, jump about and play, and these are the energies of their life force, but it has no essence, as it was all taken from the ground. As I said this soul is in the blood (Lev. 17:11) and this is why in the Old Testament it’s forbidden to eat the blood of an animal. It would be communing with the life of the animal, which is the exact opposite of what we do as Christians. We drink blood in Communion. We don’t eat the blood of animals, but we drink the Blood of Christ to commune with His life. The rule against animal blood is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist as it shows us that life is in blood and there will come a time when we will have the Blood of Life.
As I said, God did prepare things to live in the fallen world even before the Fall. Giraffes had long necks to reach the food they needed, meat eaters had the speed and claws that they needed, for example. Of course we don’t believe in reincarnation. We see that everything is created in those exact moments. I think in every lesson I’ve pointed out something where St. Basil makes fun of somebody. Here he’s talking about philosophers who say their soul is like that of a dog or fish or that it used to be a dog or fish, and he says, “Have they ever been fish? I do not know; but I do not fear to affirm that in their writings they show less sense than fish.” They’re stupider than fish! Obviously we don’t believe in reincarnation.
Again, everything is for man. Every animal has some use for us whether we know it or not. Even those we fear cause us to trust God. Hopefully we would turn to the icons and pray if a bear were to run in here right now. And the fact that we fear them is a product of the Fall, so it’s not God’s fault. Man lived peacefully with the animals, which we see with Noah on the ark. He was a holy man and thus he lived peacefully with all the animals on the ark. If you put eight people in a boat with every kind of animal wouldn’t you expect there to be chaos, that they would be eaten by the animals? But it doesn’t happen because Noah is holy.
The endurance of nature
Again we see here that everything reproduces after its kind. I’ll give you an example of a modern Russian saint speaking about this—St. Luke of Simferopol. He is a saint, a bishop, and also a scientist. He was a brilliant surgeon and wrote groundbreaking manuals on surgery. He says:
Darwinism, which declares that man, by means of evolution, has developed from the lower species of animals, and is not a product of the creative act of the Godhead, has turned out to be merely a supposition, a hypothesis, which has become obsolete even for science. This hypothesis has been acknowledged as contradictory not only to the Bible, but to nature itself, which jealously strives to preserve the purity of each species, and knows of no transition even from a sparrow to a swallow. There are no known facts of a transition of an ape into a man.
He states it as nature struggling to preserve these species. It’s not a natural thing for it to bring forth new ones, but rather the exact opposite. Nature works against that. He’s holy and he’s scientific.
St. John of Kronstadt also wrote about Creation. He said,
The Creator in the beginning made only the beginnings of fish and birds, their kinds, and left their propagation to them themselves, under His protection, just as the propagation of the human race. Even till now all kinds of fish and birds, having propagated themselves infinitely, exactly preserve the appearance, temperaments and habits of their own kinds, not mixing themselves in the slightest with other ones. Every kind of fish and bird, and every kind of reptile, remain also the same even now such as they were several thousand years ago, with the same characteristics which they received from the Creator in the beginning.
Several saints say this. St. Basil specifically says that the characteristic of each thing remains with it throughout all time. There can be variations, but that which defines them remains the same.
We see that animals and everything die, but as I’ve said many times, it wasn’t that way originally. St. Theophilus of Antioch says that animals are called “beasts” not because of how they really are, but because of what happens to them in the Fall. He says that when man sinned the animals sinned with him. If man is the king and all of creation is his kingdom and subjects, then when he falls its proper that his kingdom falls with him. That is, their mode of being fell with him, but therefore, they will also be raised back up with Adam. St. Paul talks about all of creation groaning in anticipation of its redemption when the saints of God are revealed (Rom. 18:19-22). All of creation is redeemed by man cooperating with God. Man is meant to receive grace and spread it out to all of creation, to sustain it. Man is a mediator.
Student: He’s a priest.
Yes, man is a priest. He is priest, prophet and king, just as Christ is. Of course, Christ actually fulfilled these roles whereas man screwed it up. St. Justin Popovich, a twentieth century Serbian saint and great theologian, also says that the Fall of man was at the same time the fall of nature, and the curse of man became the curse of nature. St. Macarius the Great says the same: the creation which served man was then taken captive into sin and fallenness with man. St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain specifically says that before the Fall animals were the friends of Adam and Eve and would lovingly lick their hands, just like a beloved dog. All of the animals were like this, without exception, because the grace of God was soothing them, giving them peace through man. There is a passage where some young men are making fun of the bald head of the Prophet Elisha and two bears come out and devour the men. They are responding to the holiness of the prophet and protecting him. He doesn’t command them—they just do it (4 Kings 2:23-25). St. Basil is very specific. He says that vultures that circle the earth looking for carcasses to eat did not do that before the Fall. And why didn’t they do that? Because nothing was dying—there was nothing for them to look for. He says that all animals lived on plants, because “nature had not yet divided” against itself. Nature hadn’t become wild but was in its proper order in subjection to man. Even animals that we see eating animals were not that way. It was a different quality or mode of creation.
Pre-eminence of theology
St. Theophan the Recluse says that the Tradition of the Church is pre-eminent. We’ll end with a few quotes from him:
The positive teaching of the Church serves to know whether a concept is from the Truth. This is a litmus test for all teachings. Whatever agrees with it, you should accept it, whatever does not—reject. One can do it without further deliberations.
You don’t even need to think about it anymore. Compare them, and if it’s not harmonious, reject it, and that’s what Elder Joseph the Hesychast said to the theologian. St. Theophan also says, “Believers have the right to measure the material things with spiritual ones,” so pre-eminence is given to spiritual knowledge. And “when materialists get into the realm of the spiritual without a slightest scruple ... We have wisdom as our partner, while theirs is foolishness. Material things can be neither the power nor the purpose.” The purpose for everything is spiritual, coming from the mind of God. I see the bark and leaves of a tree but the saint sees the inner purpose of the tree and sees it glorifying God. “They are just the means and the field of activity of spiritual powers,” so the material world is neither bad nor an illusion, but ultimately it speaks to us of spiritual realities. Finally he says,
Science goes forward fast, let it do so. But if they infer something inconsistent with the Divine Revelation, they are definitely off the right path in life, do not follow them.
St. Theophan the Recluse is a great Russian saint of fairly modern times. He knew about modern science. He’s not stupid and he’s not just being reactionary, but he says to give pre-eminence to spiritual knowledge. If you’re grounded in what the Church teaches you have a means to understand everything else. The more you understand the Church the more you understand everything else, and what’s true.