This third Bible Study on the book of Genesis covers the second and third days of Creation wherein God divided the waters in the heavens and on earth, causing the dry land to appear, and created vegetation. Some familiar topics were re-emphasized, such as the question of how we can know about the days of Creation, the role of allegory in Patristic interpretations, and the instantaneous nature of the creative acts of God, as these issue apply to each of the six days of Creation.
What is the meaning and purpose of the firmament? What does it mean that God calls His creations "good?" What does it mean that the plants rerpoduced after their "kind?" Which came first—the chicken or the egg? Was the earth created corruptible or incorruptible? These and many more questions are discussed herein.
Below we present both the audio and the text of the Bible Study:
The first class was mainly introduction, and in the second class we covered the first day of creation. There’s a lot of theology in every day, so that’s why we went so slow. We talked about how in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and also time and the eternity that the angels live in. As He created both of these time-zones, He Himself is timeless, which distinguishes Him from pagan gods. In the first day we already see the Trinity with God speaking through His Word, Who we know is Christ Himself, and the Spirit hovers over the waters.
Let’s read the second day of Creation:
1:6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
On knowledge of Creation
One of the things we’ve talked about is that during this period of Creation, nature itself is being created, and it’s before the Fall of man, and is therefore a totally different world. The Fathers repeat over and over again that to understand this period we need Divine revelation. To reiterate this, St. Ambrose of Milan, who wrote hundreds of pages in his Hexaemeron, commenting on this day of Creation, says “To Him,” to God, that is, “therefore, ye faithful people, lift up your mind and bring to Him all your heart. God does not see as man does: God sees with His mind; man sees with his countenance. Therefore, man does not see as God does. Give ear to what God saw,” because who witnessed Creation other than God? “and what He praised.” He calls everything good. “Do not, therefore estimate with your eyes nor weigh with your mind the problem of creation. Rather, you should not regard as a subject for debate what God saw and approved of.” God’s way of understanding and seeing and knowing is totally different than ours, so we must give ear to the Scriptures, as read through the Fathers.
The Christian life is one of humility and one of the ways to find humility is to accept that when we can’t understand something, the problem is with us. If something in these verses doesn’t make sense to us it doesn’t mean Moses wrote poorly or incorrectly—the problem is with us, and one of the ways we can find humility is to accept this fact and really believe it.
The firmament and the heavens
The firmaments and the heavens can be confusing because Scripture talks about birds flying in the heavens, and we say “Our Father Who art in Heaven,” and Scripture talks about the heavens of heavens, so the question is how many heavens are there? There seems to be multiple meanings of “firmament” as well. We see here that it’s a barrier between waters, but Scripture talks about birds flying through the firmament of the heavens which means it’s the sky. The terms can be understood in various ways.
St. John of Damascus tells us that the heavens is everything both visible and invisible—that is our world and the world of the angels—but He distinguishes that God alone is uncircumscribable. He is not part of these heavens. I am bound by the limits of my body, and everything that God creates is like this, even the angels. They don’t have bodies like we do but of course they aren’t limitless. They do have some kind of body in comparison to God.
St. Basil mentions that some philosophers say there is one heaven, and others say there are many heavens, and some say there is an infinite amount of heavens, so he says that when they can make up their own minds then they can tell us we’re wrong. They don’t’ know what they’re talking about, so why are they trying to slander us as Christians? St. Ambrose says the same thing. Sometimes when the Fathers talk about philosophers outside the Church or heretics they like to mock them, so St. Basil says they don’t know what they’re talking about.
In ancient cosmology there was the idea of the planets moving in the sky according to many circular routes, and St. Basil wonders why, if they can believe in that, is it hard to believe that there’s more than one heaven—that this term can mean more than one thing? When St. Paul is speaking about a spiritual experience that he had, he says, “I knew a man in Christ and he was taken up into the third heaven.” There are various levels to what heaven is—the sky, the atmosphere beyond, where the angels live.
It’s important to note that when the Fathers talk about ideas outside the Church, they always say things like this, as St. Basil says: “But let me leave the vanity of outsiders to those who are without, and return to the theme proper to the Church.” Forget what the philosophers think—let’s come back to the teachings of the Church. The reason I emphasize this is because as far as the first few chapters of Genesis goes, there’s a common idea that we don’t have to pay too much attention to what the Fathers said because they lived 1500 years ago and they had primitive science. Scriptures are even older than that and of course Moses wasn’t a scientist, so how the Fathers interpreted Genesis was influenced by the science of their day and because the science of their day was primitive and we know better about science, the Fathers were wrong when they talked about Genesis. I’m not sure how prevalent this idea is here in Russia but I’ve encountered it a lot, so I like to emphasize that the Fathers themselves say they’re not talking about the science of their day. St. Basil says, let’s “return to the theme proper to the Church.” He says other things like this. They’re emphasizing that what they say is what the Church teaches. They’re drawing a line between theology and science. They understood the difference, but people today like to confuse the two.
What is the firmament? You sometimes see pictures of the Jewish cosmology and how they believed the universe was set up, and people say it’s primitive and stupid. They say based on Genesis and some other places that they believed the world was in a glass dome with stars fixed onto the glass of this dome and that the earth was actually held up by the pillars that the Scriptures talk about. In this sense they’re taking poetic language too literally. The firmament is a division between our world and our heaven, but that doesn’t mean we were really in some dome. St. John of Damascus and St. Basil say the firmament was not a hard crystalline dome, but they compare it to smoke, following Isaiah. St. Basil says "firmament" means extraordinary strength, and he quotes Ps. 150 which says Praise Him in the firmament of His power. Ultimately what the firmament should lead our minds to is contemplating the power of God. There are many layers of interpretation of Scripture and they don’t have to contradict one another, so we can say there really was some kind of firmament, but also it can lead us to contemplate something deeper, like the power of God. It’s not just something in the sky, but it leads us deeper or higher.
St. John Chrysostom says no sensible person would even try to figure out what kind of nature this firmament has. We should keep in mind that the Fathers say God didn’t go into details on some things, so don’t worry about it. They weren’t trying to peer into Creation with a precise scientific mind. That’s not what they were doing—they were doing theology.
St. John of Damascus talks about different theories of how creation is arranged—is the earth in the center or not?—but he says “some have thought.” He’s not teaching this or saying it’s what the Church teaches—he’s just giving the ideas. Whenever the Fathers reference some idea about which our science now knows better you can find that they weren't teaching it as dogma. They weren’t being firm, but there are many things in the Creation account that they are insistent about. We’ll see some of these as we go on.
A chasm of natures
After discussing the shape of the heavens he says it doesn’t matter, but what you need to know is that everything was established by Divine command. Everything has the will of God as its foundation. The fact that God speaks everything into existence, and that His will and the fulfillment of His will are inseparable, are ways in which God is not like the other gods—the gods of the nations, who we know are demons. The gods of philosophy and paganism were not this powerful—the earth was created through a struggle between gods. Our God is completely different and completely other. We can’t fathom Him because only He is Uncreated and we are created. That’s a huge chasm between us—a chasm of natures. Everything in the world is created, coming from the will of God. He had ideas in His mind and He speaks them into existence. Only He exists not this way. He just is. Christ in John’s Gospel says I AM—I AM WHO I AM, which is how God reveals Himself to Moses. He just exists. Nothing creates Him, so there’s a chasm in our natures.
There are small ways in which we can understand God, such as through His love. We know what love is so we can approximate what is God’s love, but at the same time we have to realize that His love is on a whole other level. We just have to experience His love. The love between two people is like a shadow of His.
The infallible Church
St. Basil says there is so much water in the universe and it gets divided—some on earth, some in heaven, and he reminds us of the end times. The beginning and the end are inseparably bound up together. How we were created already tells us how we should live and what we’re headed towards, and the Fathers link these things together. St. Basil says there is so much water, “However, a time will come, when all shall be consumed by fire;” and we read about this in the Epistles of Peter, but “as Isaiah says of the God of the universe in these words, That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers. Reject then the foolish wisdom of this world, and receive with me the more simple but infallible doctrine of truth.”
What the Church teaches is infallible, and the Fathers affirm again and again that the Scriptures are without error and we say that the Ecumenical Councils are infallible and really the Church is infallible. What is the Church?
Student: The people.
St. Paul uses imagery, which is more than just imagery. The Church isn’t just people, but all together they make up …?
Student: The Body of Christ.
Right—the Body of Christ. And we have to understand that this isn’t just nice poetry. In Communion we actually receive the Body of Christ in order to become the Body of Christ. We take Him within ourselves. So the Church is infallible because it’s Christ Himself—He is the Head.
Again we see God speaking to divide the waters. When it talks about God doing things like this—speaking, walking in the Garden—we have to understand them in a way fitting of God. Christ takes on a body but at this time it hadn’t happened yet. So does God literally speak the way that we speak? These things are personifications and we speak about God as if He’s a human person so we understand. But He didn’t move a mouth. When God speaks and creates through His Word, that’s Christ. Scripture is written this way to show us that the will of God and the movement of His intelligence are the Word of God. His will brings everything into fruition, accomplished through the Word of God, which is Christ, as we read in the first chapter of John.
An immortal abode
Fr. Seraphim Rose talk about that the firmament didn’t just divide the waters but thereby preserved a nice temperate atmosphere for earth. This body of water prevented the earth form being burned up. Existence before the Fall is simply completely different than we know. Just today we’ve had various kinds of weather—rainy and horrible in the morning, and now it seems pretty nice. The weather changes constantly. Of course it changes with the seasons but also within the seasons, but here we see that the firmament preserved a nice, temperate, pleasant atmosphere. Fr. Seraphim even says, before the creation of man, quoting Genesis The Lord had not caused it to rain upon the earth (Gen. 2:5). They didn’t even know what rain was, but the ground was watered by mist coming up out of the earth. This emphasizes that this is a different existence and we need to be open to understanding this through the revelation of God. He says that everything was temperate and pleasant and plentiful in moisture, and this mist was watering the vegetation which was meant to be the food for man and beasts. Even animals were not eating one another. Noah was the first human to eat meat, as God allowed him after the Flood, but even the animals were feeding upon plants. Even lions and tigers with their sharp teeth were eating plants. The world was different.
St. Epiphanius of Salamis says that Adam and Eve enjoyed breathing the purest air, given to them by God. The weather was mild and they were not affected by either hot or cold, and especially in the summer there was no unpleasant heat. “The land had been designed as an immortal abode very well made by God; it was filled with gladness and well-being, and as I said, got neither hot nor cold.” The land itself was immortal. Even plants and animals were not meant to die. God created man immortal. Man was not meant to die. The Church teaches, without a doubt, that man dies only because he sinned. But not only man—the fate of the whole universe is tied to the fate of man. Man is the crown and king of creation, and creation is therefore his kingdom. An immortal king who does not die deserves an immortal kingdom. This is an important point because obviously according to modern scientific theories death is just something that has always been there and was happening for billions of years before man came about by evolution. Before that everything was corrupting, decaying and dying for billions of years, so death is natural and does not happen because of sin. But here St. Epiphanius and all the Fathers say that the whole world was incorrupt. Nothing was dying. This shows us the problems of trying to talk about this period scientifically. We will inevitably make mistakes because we see all round us things decaying and dying so we can’t think any other way. But the Fathers tell us it was another way.
They say this for two reasons. First, Scripture tells us that this Paradise on earth will be restored and Revelation says the lion will lay down with the lamb. The lion is violent and the lamb meek but they’ll be peaceful together. This is the state that will be restored. But as we’ve said before, the Fathers can also understand and tell us these things because they themselves had spiritual experiences of Creation. God didn’t just tell Moses about Creation—He actually showed it to Him. Moses is the only prophet in the Bible who is a prophet of the past. Only God was there when He created, but then He showed it to Moses and he wrote what he saw. We have this possibility as well. St. Paul went to Paradise. St. Euphrosynos the Cook went to Paradise and brought back fruit. The saints are experiencing Paradise and see Creation happen. A good example I’ve given is that the former abbot of Vatopaidi Monastery, one of the twenty monasteries on Mt. Athos, Elder Joseph, who reposed in 2009, had a vision of Creation. I’ve heard this from two or three people who have been there. I can’t verify it one hundred percent, but I’ve heard it from multiple sources. Such spiritual states are still possible, and this is why the saints can tell us about this period. They don’t sit around and think about it, but they pray and God shows it to them, and so St. Epiphanius knows that the world was immortal.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, the brother of St. Basil, who also commented on the days of Creation, says the firmament is the border of invisible creation. Somewhere at the edge of this creation is the firmament and beyond it lies the realm of the angels. Compared to us they don’t have “form, size, place, temporal interval, color, shape, quality and any other thing under heaven” and all the qualities that we think of as belonging to bodies. The firmament divides these two means of existence. The Venerable Bede, a seventh century English saint, also says the firmament is the border between our world and that of the angels, although of course the angels come into our world, so they can pass through this firmament.
St. Epiphanius likes to stick it to Origen. He says that for Origen everything was an allegory—Paradise, the earth, the waters on the earth, the waters above the heavens. He says “He never stops saying these ridiculous things and others like them.” Whereas Origen is respected, the Fathers had no problem pointing out his problems. Lots of people today will tell you that Genesis is only symbolic, or it tells you God created and at some point man came along and sinned, but you can’t take the days literally. The sun was created on the fourth day, but the plants are on the third day—how can you have plants before the sun? Of course that can’t be literal! But the Fathers say if you reject the literal then we won’t listen to you. Goodbye.
It’s possible to have metaphorical understandings. St. Ambrose does say that some understand these waters to be the purifying powers of God, which water of course does symbolize. What do we use water for, first and foremost?
Yes. Water is used to purify us from all of our sins. So of course when you see water in the Scriptures you can think about this. St. Ambrose accepts this interpretation as a simple adornment to the story, but “it does not appear to be inappropriate nor absurd, if we are to understand these to be real waters …” They symbolize greater spiritual realities, but it’s really water.
We see God dividing things. First He creates the heavens and the earth and there was darkness, and then He creates light and He divides the light form the darkness, and here He divides the waters. He creates everting in a primitive form and then He starts to shape and divide and put everything in its proper place.
And God saw that it was good
God saw that it was good. What does it mean if God calls something good? It’s not like a good movie I enjoyed. When God calls something good it has much more depth than that. It’s not just that He looked at the earth and it was beautiful, which it was. For God to call something good means it fulfills His purpose. He creates it and it’s exactly as He intends it to be. God’s word is Law. When He says the waters should be divided, they do it. St. Ephraim the Syrian says this.
In the Hebrew it does not say that the firmament was called good, but in the Greek Scriptures it does. Depending on which version of Scripture the Fathers are commenting on they either write about why it does not say the firmament was good, or about why it does. St. Ephraim the Syrian was fluent in Hebrew, so he says God did not call it good yet because it’s not yet finished, but on the fourth day God will create the sun and moon and stars, and then when He says it is good, that is the firmament being finished with its proper adornment, fulfilling its purpose. But St. John Chrysostom is reading the Greek and says God calls the firmament good as something beautiful, and says: “So, whenever you raise your eyes and admire the beauty of heaven, its immensity, its usefulness to us, then move from there to its creator, as a wise man has said: ‘From the magnitude and beauty of creatures we can by comparison see the creator’” (Wis. 13:5). Nothing in creation is self-contained. It all came from God and thus leads us back to God. It’s not enough to admire the beauty of the sky. You can begin there, but let it lift your mind to the Creator. The saints contemplate creation, but by doing so, they contemplate God Himself, because everything in creation has its definition in the mind of God. When they see creation and spiritually perceive its purpose, as God sees it, they therefore contemplate God, from Whom these purposes come.
Scriptures say God looks and He sees that what He made was good. But of course God wasn’t taken by surprise but He’s affirming what He already knew, and it’s for our good. He knew we would read these Scriptures. A lot of people think that creation is not good. Especially in the ancient world there was the idea that spiritual realities are good and bodily realities are bad. In the early Church there were heresies that denied that Christ actually became a man, because they thought that to become a man is imprisonment in a body, and the spiritual and material worlds should not mix that way. But God tells us that it’s all good.
St. Ambrose says that the Son knows all that the Father knows and fulfills His will, and this fulfillment of the will is called “good.” And he says this is a mystic sense to the passage. We see here that it’s ok to not comment only literally, but he says there’s also a moral sense. So we have the literal sense, the mystic sense, and the moral sense, and he says, as I said, that God called it good so that we might know it’s good. There are many layers to Scripture and we shouldn’t believe or pretend that they are mutually exclusive. This is a mistake that many people make, thinking, for example, that Adam is only a symbol of mankind, and not a real man. The Fathers would say that Adam is a symbol of mankind, but it’s because he’s the first man. The symbol is grounded in historical reality.
We can also say that the firmament was not called good because God’s ultimate purpose is for our salvation and the transfiguration of the whole cosmos, which is fulfilled in the end times, but the firmament is not meant to continue through the end of times. In this sense we are speaking of the firmament as the boundary between our world and the angelic world. The firmament is meant to give way and these worlds will unite. The firmament is like a bridal veil. Moses wore a veil over his face when he came down from the mountain because the people could look at the light upon him. In the end of times when everything is consummated the firmament will be lifted, and the marriage feast of union with Christ will be ushered in, when the cosmos is transfigured, and hopefully we will all find ourselves in the Church then and be in the light of God and enjoy it. So the firmament is not good in the sense that it will come to an end.
So there’s a firmament and there’s water sitting on top of it. St. Ambrose says there were people who can’t believe that somewhere up there there was a body of water, but he basically says, “Come on, it’s God. He can do that.” Essentially he dismisses the doubt. Last time we talked about something St. John Chrysostom said—when you’re trying to talk to people about Scripture and they don’t trust the Scriptures, he says, “Ok, let them do their own thing.” But God can do these things. It’s not hard for us who believe in God to believe there was a body of water up there.
A mortal abode?
There’s an important distinction to make here. We already talked about how everything was immortal, but in another sense everything is mortal. St. John of Damascus says that all things are created corruptible, can decay and fall apart, including the heavens themselves. “But,” he continues, and this is very important, “by the grace of God they are maintained and preserved.” This is an important distinction. Some people believe that the Fathers disagreed. St. Epiphanius said all things are immortal, whereas St. John of Damascus said all things are corruptible. That seems like a contradiction. If the Fathers seem to contradict, probably we are the problem. The Fathers don’t just give opinions. Their purpose, especially as priests and bishops, is to teach the faith. Opinion has no place in teaching the faith. When the Fathers speak they tell us what they have read in Scripture, what their teachers told them, and they’re especially telling us what God Himself has told them. So if something seems to contradict, tell yourself, and really believe, that it’s because spiritually they are far above us, and we can’t see how they harmonize. But, on this point—is everything immortal or mortal? It seems confusing.
This is important because scientific theories of our day necessitate that everything is dying. So they’ll point to someone like St. John saying all things are corruptible and they’ll conclude that their theories can harmonize with the Fathers. But St. John said all things were maintained and preserved by the grace of God. There are different ways of talking about nature. If you say that man is naturally mortal you’re talking about just his body and soul. Our body and soul are created by God and as we talked about before, everything that’s created by God is already changing. Only God is unchanging. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. God doesn’t change because He has no beginning and no end; He is outside of time. We are within time, which means changing. So if you talk about his nature just as body and soul we are not naturally immortal because we’re not God. God possesses life; we don’t.
When Adam and Eve were created they were already in communion with God. They were receiving grace from God and had His Spirit. They were living as vessels of grace and that’s our natural purpose. So if in “nature” you include man’s quality of life—his mode of being—then he is naturally immortal. Our natural state is one of receiving grace from God. The frailty of our created bodies is supposed to be preserved by the grace of God, so in that sense man is immortal, and this is how man was created. In the Church we say that the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden before they fell is the natural state. People often say that death is just part of life—it’s just natural. Or when we screw up we say “I’m only human.” In our fallen world that’s true, but we have to understand that that’s because we are unnatural. Our inclination towards sin and dying are unnatural. Adam and Eve are natural. So that’s how St. Epiphanius is correct that everything is immortal, and St. John is correct that everything is corruptible—because he then adds that all was preserved by the grace of God.
The third day of Creation
1:9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
God gathers the waters into one place and dry land appears. On the first day light and darkness were divided; on the second day water and water were divided; and now water and land are being divided. Step-by-step God is putting everything into place. Of course God didn’t have to do it this way. He could have snapped His finger and everything would have been already exactly as He wanted it. But God is stamping into creation a pattern. He does everything in six days with a day of rest to give creation a cycle of weeks around which our life revolves. If He had done everything in one instant it wouldn’t have given us any kind of pattern. God does everything for our good. He didn’t need to do any of this.
Earlier the earth was invisible. And what does it mean that the earth was invisible?
Student: It means that the earth was under water.
Right—the earth was covered by water so you couldn’t see the earth itself. Commenting on these verses St. Basil refers back to that. He didn’t write his commentary but it was preached in church during Lent. It seems perhaps on this point some of his people didn’t believe him. He says, “remember when I told you the earth was invisible because of all the water? Here’s the proof! God specifically says He drew back the water and the land appeared.” Water was everywhere and now it’s drawn back and collected into various bodies. Before this the water was not moving, but now it is given the command to flow. Usually water has a flow to it, and when it doesn’t it’s pretty gross. Stagnant water is disgusting. The nature of water is being put into place and it becomes a law for all time. This emphasizes that God’s word is always put into place, just as we saw on the first day of Creation. God called the evening and the morning “one day” in order to define a day, and from there they simply continue that way. God’s word is put into place and it keeps on going. St. Ambrose says the same thing. He often based himself on St. Basil but expands on it.
Before the sun
Let the dry land appear—If the ground is wet, how does it dry? Normally we think about the sun drying the land, but there’s no sun yet. God specifically does things in this order to show that He is the one that does these things. Not everything can be attributed to a natural cause. Earth was totally covered in water and at the very instant that He says “let it be divided,” there is dry land. It is common in paganism to worship the sun, and it is seen as the source of life. Of course now we cannot live without the sun, but God is showing us that He is before the sun. And He is our spiritual sun. C. S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” We can spiritually see and perceive and understand the world because of God. God is infinitely greater than the ball of gas in the sky. If we got too close to the sun it would burn us up. It’s greater than we are, and God is infinitely beyond that.
Instantaneous acts of God
The Fathers emphasize that everything God does is instantaneous. When He said let the dry land appear, St. Ephraim says it appeared in the twinkling of the eye. Last time one student said “a glimpse of a moment,” and I said “even quicker than a glimpse of a moment!” God speaks and it’s already done. Everything is instantaneous and this is important. There are no long processes here. God speaks and creation obeys. That creation obeys God’s voice reminds me of when Christ goes to Bethany because His friend Lazarus has died, and He says, Lazarus come forth (Jn. 11:43). St. John Chrysostom says that Christ specifically says “Lazarus” and calls him by name, because were He simply to say “come forth,” all of the bodies in the grave would obey and rise up. All of creation obeys God, but we don’t obey God. We are infinitely greater than the earth, but it obeys, and the plants obey and the animals obey—what’s wrong with us? We alone don’t obey God. There’s always a moral sense. As I’ve said, it’s easy to read these verses and just move on, but if we take time to think about the Scriptures we’ll see such things. The irrational earth is immediately and completely obedient to God, and we who have a soul and were given His Spirit and were meant to be the rulers of everything are alone not obedient. In that sense we’re even lower than the earth. In 1 Cor. 4:13 St. Paul speaks about becoming the scum of the earth, saying Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. He’s humbling himself. Sometimes the saints speak of being worse than animals, because we have a rational soul and yet we do not do good with it. Let that be a lesson to us.
What’s the point of drawing the waters back? Dry land had to appear so that stuff could grow out of it later. Everything is being prepared. And if the entire earth was covered with water, then where did all that water go? How is there enough space? This is one of the times where the Fathers say that we should pass over it in silence since it’s not in Scriptures. God gives us what we need and if we’re too curious about things we don’t need, and we know we don’t need it because God didn’t give it to us, then we’re easily led astray. We come up with strange ideas. Let’s focus on what God did give us—the Scriptures and His Church to interpret those Scriptures. It would be wise of us to obey and listen. Be like the irrational earth and obey God. St. Gregory of Nyssa also says we don’t need to wonder about how every created thing came to be. It’s enough to know that God said it and immediately it was fulfilled. Just stand in awe before God.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. Again, He doesn’t look with His eyes and He’s not impressed by the nice blue tint of the water and how peacefully it flows and laps against the sand. He has wisdom far beyond ours and He’s contemplating all of creation there, and He calls that good which fulfills His purpose. Of course we need water to live and the water being collected provides us with the sources we need, it provides us with a means of transportation, and so on.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
You can’t emphasize enough being in awe of God. St. Ambrose says, commenting on this verse, “Let us pay heed to the words of truth! Their content is the salvation of those who hear!” Even a verse just about trees and plants being created leads us to salvation, because it shows us what God wants. Every verse, every word is inspired by God and has a reason.
The Fathers are very specific and don’t mind saying when God created. They say that God defined a day as twenty-four hours and they even say that the first day was a Sunday because God rested on the seventh, meaning it’s Saturday. This is tied to the Resurrection—God creates on Sunday and He re-creates through His Resurrection on Sunday. Several Fathers, including St. Basil, St. Ephraim the Syrian, and modern teachers such as Fr. Daniel Sysoev, say not only was it a Sunday, but it was a Sunday in spring. The Venerable Bede notes that God is creating so many wonderful plants and calling forth so much life that it must be spring—that is the appropriate season for nature to be blooming.
People argue about the length of the days—twenty-four hours or a billion years. Simply discussing the length is not that important, as Fr. Seraphim emphasizes. What’s more important is what happened during those days. But, although it’s not the most important, the Fathers are not hesitant to say it was a Sunday in spring. St. Ephraim the Syrian says the days were twenty-four hours and it’s impermissible to say anything else. The Venerable Bede says “without a doubt” they were twenty-four hours. The Fathers didn’t hesitate. They weren’t giving opinions.
Even though the world is fallen we see that it continues to bring forth. Being the word of God, this command is a command for all time. St. John Chrysostom says that the word of the Lord reaches to the very bowels, the very heart of the earth, to call these plants forth. Even the very core of the earth hears the word of God and obeys.
The creation of plants
Plants are growing, but as I said about the land drying, what is not there yet? What’s strange about there being plants growing on day three?
Student: The world is in darkness.
The earth isn’t in darkness because God did create light on the first day, but, you’re close in that as of yet there is no sun. There was light on day one but it wasn’t contained in a body yet. He’ll do that on the next day. If we take the sequence of the days seriously, we see that plants are older than the sun itself. Our experience can’t comprehend this. Nowadays plants need the sun to grow. But, again, don’t attribute life to the sun. All life must be attributed to God. This emphasizes that this time period is not scientific. It’s ridiculous and makes no sense to say there were plants without the sun, and so even some Orthodox Christians will argue that the order of the days in Genesis need not be taken seriously. If the days didn’t happen in this order then I have no idea what the purpose of telling the story in this order would be. Maybe it’s just some kind of poetry and it has some kind of purpose, but the Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom, say to pay attention to the sequence. It actually happened this way. Plants actually came first, and then the sun. Again, this is so that we would know not to worship the sun, which St. Theophilus of Antioch says. He was a second century bishop of Antioch and knew people who had known the Apostles. He talks about creation a lot and he interprets it very literally. It doesn’t confuse him that there are plants before the sun. He accepts it as coming from God. And St. John Chrysostom says we have in Scripture a very precise description of everything according to the order of Creation which God gave us to speak against those outside the Church who were using their own reasoning and saying the sun is responsible.
We need good soil, rain, the sun, and so on. But here we see that what we really need is God. Even in the most perfect of conditions we need the blessing of God. Everything is useless without the blessing of God: Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it (Ps. 127:1). Everything has its spiritual purpose given to it by God, and therefore the Church can bless it. We have prayers for blessings of livestock and crops, and so on. We talked about how the ultimate purpose of water is Baptism, but what is the ultimate thing we can do with the fruits of the earth?
Student: The Eucharist.
Right. We take the grains and we make bread and we take the grapes and we make wine, and God through His Church makes them Himself. Everything that God gives us is given so that we can use it properly and give it back to Him. In the Liturgy we say “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” That which you gave us, we’re giving back to you. Everything is for man, but not just for the enjoyment of a nice life, because it’s nice to swim and have cool water when you’re hot. Man is called to transfigure the whole cosmos and offer it back to God. God is here preparing everything for us and laying down the foundations for what will become the Sacraments and our spiritual life. We also use olives for oil in the Sacraments of Chrismation and Unction, and when we’re anointed at Vigil.
Once I was at a lecture and the priest told a story about a parishioner who came to him with a bottle of water and asked him to “supercharge” the water. He wanted a blessing of course, but so that it could become “super” water. The priest told him, “Actually, I would be making the water what it’s meant to be. All of nature was here, but then man fell and now all of nature is down here. When I bless the water it will come back to where it was.” We see the fallen world as natural, but we need to realize that it’s subnatural. Actually, that precise term—“subnatural”—is used by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov in a book of English-language interviews where he says that our fallen world is not natural, but subnatural.
On the angels
Student: Are angels also subnatural?
There are the fallen angels. The demons are subnatural of course. The angelic world is hard to comprehend. At every moment we can make decisions to turn to or away from God, and if we turn away from God we can always repent and come back. But because the angels live in a different kind of time they had one choice and now they’re set. The good angels, such as Michael and Gabriel, chose to stay with God, whereas Satan turned against God and took one third of the angels with him. But now they can’t repent. They’re subnatural and can’t repent and come back to being natural.
Student: And they were created on the third day?
St. Basil says they were created even before the first day and some others say they were created on the first day itself. In the book of Job it says that when God created the stars all of the angels saw it and praised God. The stars are created on the fourth day, so I think we could say at least by the fourth day they are created.
Student: I read that the reason for the fall of the angels was that Satan saw creation and became proud.
Yes, that is stated in Scripture in the Wisdom of Solomon 2:24. Sin and death came into the world through his envy of man. He was a great, glorious angel close to God, but then He seems man who is meant to be higher than the angels and he became envious. He couldn’t stand to think that he wouldn’t be the greatest. You’re right—he became proud and envious of man, and so he fell. And this is why he tempted Adam and Eve to sin—because he’s angry at us. He doesn’t want us to be higher than him.
So as we were saying, the demons are subnatural. In The Ladder of Divine Ascent of St. John Climacus it says that it’s the property of angels to never fall, of the demons to fall and never get back up, but man falls and he gets back up. We live in a time of succession and change where we have the option every moment to express our will towards or away from God.
Which came first?
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
I don’t know if any of you garden, but if you want to grow something, tomatoes for example, what’s the first thing you have to do?
Student: You have to plant the seed.
You have to plant the seed. In our minds the seed comes first, but here it’s the opposite.
Yes, exactly. God doesn’t plant seeds that eventually become grass and trees. He just creates a tree, and there’s no division of time between God speaking and the tree forming, and the tree has its fruit in it, and the grass has its seed. These things happen supernaturally by the Word of God, opposite of how we think, which tells us that we can’t think about these things purely scientifically. It’s just another time, another condition of the world. We have to accept that these things were theologically happening by the Word of God. The Venerable Bede says the initial creations shot from the earth, not from seeds. He says it’s proper for everything to come forth in its perfect shape, to be already mature, just as did man “in the freshness of young manhood.” We don’t believe that God created fetuses that became Adam and Eve, but they were already walking and talking and were as adults. As I said before, creation is man’s kingdom so the condition of creation matches the condition of man, and man is already in the primes of his life, so creation is created that way. Many Fathers say this, including St. Gregory of Nyssa.
As I said, sometimes the Fathers are very insistent on these kinds of things. St. Basil the Great, talking about how everything is created with its own seed, begins by saying, “There is nothing truer than this.” That seems pretty definite, right? This is completely true; “There is nothing truer than this, that each plant either has seed or there exists in it some generative power. And this accounts for the expression ‘of its own kind.’” And then he specifically says, “For the shoot of the reed is not productive of an olive tree, but from the reed comes another reed; and from seeds spring plants related to the seeds sown. Thus, what was put forth by the earth in its first generation has been preserved until the present time, since the kinds persisted through constant reproduction.” We see the same things with the animals—they reproduce after their own kind. Olive trees bring forth more olive trees and corn will bring forth more corn. They’re saying that God has commanded that everything will reproduce continually after its kind. We have species and genus and families in nature. We don’t know specifically what a “kind” is, but we know an olive tree will always be an olive tree. Trees will always be trees. There’s a limit to what everything can be. There isn’t one essence running through all of creation, and this lower lifeform will eventually give rise to the next one, which will give rise to the next one. No, a tree will always be a tree. They’re very insistent that these kinds persist, through constant reproduction, because it’s an unbreakable command of God.
Persistence of nature
Student: But can they change even a little?
That’s a good question. St. Basil here is the one speaking of the kinds persisting in his Hexaemeron 5.2, but in 5.7 he talks about variations. This is important to keep in mind. Of course the Fathers aren’t stupid. They believe the Scriptures when it says that kinds persist, but they can look around and see there are different kinds of trees or that even the same kind of tree does adapt. There can be changes. St. Basil was addressing people who were despairing over their sin and says, “Let no one, therefore, who is living in vice despair of himself, knowing that, as agriculture changes the properties of plants, so the diligence of the soul in the pursuit of virtue can triumph over all sorts of infirmities.” We do see the properties of plants changing sometimes, and that can be a reminder to you that your soul can always change and you can always repent. But St. Ambrose specifies that these variations don’t indicate a change in species. I don’t know what word he actually used or how it compares to what we call a species today, but in the English version I read it says “species.” Either way, we know there is some limit. There is variation within a limit.
Student 1: So if there are limits to the kinds of animals and plants, if a modern scientist tries to create some new species using genetic technology, is that a sin?
As I said, we don’t know exactly how broad or narrow a “kind” is so it’s hard to say where the limit would be of what you can combine together. I don’t necessarily think it’s a sin to make a super tomato that doesn’t get diseases. If your specific purpose is to make a new species or some kind of new lifeform then, yes, you’re playing God and ignoring the fact that He told us it doesn’t happen that way.
Student 2: I think that God still controls everything. For instance, if you breed a horse and zebra the child will be sterile. There are limits, so God is controlling everything.
I think you’re right! This reminds me of the Russian scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky who lived in the twentieth century. He was officially Orthodox, but not really. He spent a long time trying to mutate fruit flies, but all he ever got was screwed up flies. Flies have short life spans so you can work with many generations of flies much quicker than with many generations of humans. But all he ever got was flies with one wing and stuff like that. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t make something that wasn’t a fruit fly.
This conforms to what we see. We don’t look around and ever see an apple tree giving forth something that isn’t an apple. We always see like producing like, just as the Scriptures say here. For evolutionary theories to work we have to assume that if we waited long enough we would see something new. They said we don’t see changes on this order because it takes millions and billions of years. What they’re assuming is that there are no boundaries to nature. But here the Fathers tell us there are boundaries of nature. You have to assume that these minor variations will build on to another until they break through into a new nature. But, as we’ve talked about before, everything in creation is not fluid, going where it wills. Everything is defined by God, in the mind of God. Everything has its logos. This is why the Fathers emphasize that kind reproduces after kind and that the boundaries of nature can’t be broken down—you can’t break down the nature of dogness and make something new—because it’s defined in the mind of God.
St. Maximus the Confessor specifically talks about this and he says that variation happens not in nature but in mode of being. We talked about why creation is both corruptible and immortal and we talked about the quality or mode of being. Everything has its purpose but you can live in accordance with or against that purpose. For a period of time Adam and Eve lived according to the purpose of God, but then they sinned and they fell against the purpose of God, but they didn’t cease to be humans. Their quality of life, their mode of being fell, but it fell within the boundaries of the same nature. It didn’t become a new nature, but a diseased nature. Adam and Eve were here, they fell down to here, and then Christ came and took nature at the level of Adam and Eve before the Fall, and immediately raised it higher to hyper nature, above nature, but it was still human nature. After His Resurrection Christ even walked through walls. Even the worst sinner, such as St. Mary of Egypt before her repentance, no matter how debased and animal-like she was living, had the same nature as Christ, although a diseased version of it. This is where variations occur.
There’s a great article by a man named Vincent Rossi, who studied at Oxford, and he is the only person I know that has specifically addressed this theology of St. Maximus and the ideas in the mind of God in light of evolution. A lot of people try to say that St. Maximus is compatible with evolution, but Vincent Rossi concludes, and I think very convincingly, that he’s actually incompatible with evolution, because he says that natures never change. So where are new natures supposedly coming from?
St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain was talking once about how we have a supposed common ancestor with apes, and he said that when you stop and think about the fact that Christ was born of a woman, that means that the Theotokos and Christ are related to apes—that Christ Himself came from some lower beasts, and he says this is blasphemy! Many people say, “Well, St. Paisios isn’t a scientist. What does he know?” But he’s not making a scientific claim. He’s saying it’s blasphemy. He’s making a spiritual claim, and in that, St. Paisios knows way more than any of us. A few years ago I was at the monastery where he’s buried on the night of his repose, and in his homily Met. Athanasios of Limassol said, “If St. Paisios isn’t a saint then no one’s a saint.” He’s that great. If he says this concept is blasphemy, we should probably listen to him. He’s St. Paisios.
The Fathers are very insistent that kinds and nature persist. There are boundaries that cannot be broken down, although there is variation within that boundary.
Remembrance of death
By God’s simple command to bring forth plants, everything moved into action. St. Basil says in a reflection, “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that everywhere, wherever you may be, the least plant may bring to you the clear remembrance of the Creator.” That’s tough. I don’t look at grass and think about how great God is, but the saints can do that, so we can try for it. He wants creation to penetrate us, pierce into our hearts with so much admiration that the simplest plant calls to mind the Creator. This is another reason to study the book of Genesis.
Speaking of grass, St. Basil refers to Isaiah who compares man to grass, and says that when we read about grass, although we’re greater, we can remember death. Grass will die and so will we. Even if we have great money, power, and servants, suddenly one day we will catch a fever and die. We can’t prevent this, and this is why we’re compared to weak plants, so even seeing the grass calls to mind the Creator and also calls to mind our own death. The Scriptures say in the Wisdom of Sirach 7:36 that if we remember death—that is to contemplate that one day we will die, and stand before God Who will hold us accountable for our sins—we will never sin again. St. John Climacus also says this.
Student: You’ll never sin again?
You’ll never sin again, if you truly attain this remembrance of death. You’re always thinking about dying and standing before God with your sins. That will compel you to not sin anymore. Let’s work on it.
Student: There is an idea that some people do not think about death because it’s unnatural. Adam and Eve before the Fall didn’t know death and didn’t think about it, and so do we because we have some piece of these unfallen people.
I think we don’t think about death because it’s scary and it requires us to prepare ourselves.
Student: Maybe it’s natural …
Well death isn’t natural. It’s unnatural. That’s why we need to prepare for it.
Student: I mean that somewhere inside of ourselves we know that we are immortal.
Maybe—but we just use this remembrance of our immortality incorrectly. We inherently know that we’re immortal and therefore we don’t think about death? Instead we should think that we’re inherently supposed to be immortal and therefore we need to prepare for death because it’s our passage into immortality. I need to have a good passage.
Is God deceptive?
Again, God creates plants, not seeds. Even huge cedar trees are immediately grown. St. Ephraim says, “Although the grasses were only a moment old at their creation, they appeared as if they were months old. Likewise, the trees, although only a day old when they sprouted forth, were nevertheless like [trees] years old as they were fully grown and fruits were already budding on their branches.” People often ask, “Is God deceptive?! Why did God give us all this evidence in the layers of the earth and make it seem like everything is old? If God created instantaneously why does it seem like everything is old?” It’s not God being deceptive, because He tells us how He created and then He gives us His saints to reiterate it. God doesn’t deceive us, but we deceive ourselves by not paying attention. You choose not to listen to God and therefore you get the answer wrong. You’re deceiving yourself. Any time we don’t listen to God we’re deceiving ourselves. People get angry at God when everything doesn’t go well, but God never told us everything would go well, so why are you angry? We knew we would suffer. God Himself suffered, so suffering is a way to be united with Him. But when we forget that we get angry at Him.
Words from God
Student: But God doesn’t talk to us every day like He used to. He gives us the rules to follow, but He doesn’t speak to us. Maybe a few monks hear from God directly, but to other people He speaks indirectly.
Sure, but when you go to Confession, the priest says, “I stand here as a witness.” When you go to confession you’re not going to have a conversation with a man. A priest is not just a man. You’re going so that the priest can give you the word from God. Yes, it comes through the priest, but it’s a word directly from God. That’s why we have priests. They’re not a barrier between us and God as some think. The prophets spoke the word of God, and priests and spiritual fathers continue this prophecy in the Church. If we treat it like it’s the word of God, it will be the word of God. When we’re obedient, things work out. You’re right in the sense that God probably won’t appear to me as I’m walking home and ask me where I’m going, but He does speak to us every day through the services, through our spiritual fathers. And we all have the option to be on that level. We can all be like St. Seraphim of Sarov. Ultimately if God doesn’t speak to us that way it’s because we’re not listening. The earth listens to God and obeys, so let’s do it too.
The pre-fallen condition of vegetation
To end I want to read a few quotes to you on the condition of plants, that even the vegetation was immortal. People object that Adam and Eve ate fruit, so fruit died. We just have to remember that this was Paradise, and things worked differently. It just was different. St. Basil says, “There was no failure in this first vegetation.” No one was working the ground, there was no poor weather, and “nothing could injure it;” until man came along and sinned, and then the earth was cursed. Several Fathers even give the specific example that the thorns on a rose plant are a consequence of the Fall. The Venerable Bede says that “Before man’s transgression the earth brought forth nothing harmful, no poisonous plant, no unfruitful tree.” St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, a great Russian saint, says “Plants were not subjected either to decay or to diseases; both decay and diseases and the weeds themselves, appeared after the alteration of the earth following the fall of man . . . According to its creation, there was on it only the splendid, only the wholesome, there was only that which was suitable for the immortal and blessed life of its inhabitants ... The beasts and other animals lived in perfect harmony among themselves, nourishing themselves on plant life.” Again, it’s an immortal kingdom for an immortal king. It only changes because of the Fall which affects the entire creation, not just man. Sometimes people say, “Ok, we can accept that man wasn’t meant to die, but surely everywhere else on earth plants and animals were dying,” but the Fathers say even the plants were somehow immortal. St. Philaret of Moscow says that some plants are poisonous because of the Fall, and St. Symeon says that God created Paradise, but Scripture doesn’t say that only the Garden existed in this state. He specifically says the entire creation was incorrupt, “For their immortal bodies had to be supplied with incorruptible food.” St. Gregory of Sinai says the same thing—that everything became corrupted later when man fell, and St. Paul says that everything was subjected to futility by the Fall of man (Rom. 8:20).
So vegetation was created in a great, immortal, wonderful, refreshing state.
A Paschal revelation
There’s one last thing I would like to read to you. Yesterday I was at a meeting with Fr. Artemy Vladimirov, and he was talking about how once as a teenager he went into church on Holy Saturday night, but he wasn’t very churchy at this point and didn’t know what was going on. Someone asked him if he wanted to serve in the altar and so they gave him an altar boy’s vestment to wear. This is what Fr. Artemy said about it:
Shaking like a leaf, I put on the garment, and it was quite suitable for me, covering even my feet, and I was put in line by an altar boy, and these clothes were so similar to that of angels sitting on the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ who the disciples of the Lord thought were young men. I felt like an angelic being, and all my thoughts and feelings were there. It was something unbelievable. It seemed to me that I was flying.
But my outlook had been so impacted by school where they used to tell us that people have a common origin with apes, and we believed it. This was the Soviet style of thinking. This lie, this ugly, ugly outlook that was pressed into our hearts was still present in our section of the world, and I remember standing there and looking at myself and feeling bliss in my heart, and at that very moment I realized that we have nothing in common with apes. It was not a philosophical process in my brain, but it was a revelation to the heart.
Oh, how ugly this lie is. Now I know, I feel and understand and believe that we have nothing in common with animals. Certainly we are created by the hands of our Lord, because the human being is so close to angels, which I realized as I began to understand the words of the procession: “Thy Resurrection O Christ our Savior, the angels in Heaven sing, enable us on earth, to glorify Thee in purity of heart.” When I began to understand the meaning of the words all the remnants of this ape philosophy disappeared and thus I began to think, feel, see, and perceive the world as an Orthodox Christian.
My main point is that it was not a logical process of finding the Christian philosophy, but it was certainly a catharsis. I was delivered from this lie, but not just from thinking logically about evolution and creation, but it was the heart’s perception of revelation which was the fruit of my participating in the Paschal services.
I could have waited to say that until the creation of man, but since he just told us this yesterday I wanted to read it to you.