Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trouble in Paradise: Adam, Eve, and Me

Orthodoxy sees Adam and Eve as being created by God with a certain vocation: to gradually become one with God increasing in their ability to share in His divine life (deification). To embrace their God-given vocation would bring life, to reject it would bring death. Their vocation is the vocation of all humanity. Their failure to obey the commandment of God is our own failure to obey. The freedom to obey or reject God belonged to our first parents; for God made man free and sovereign. Adam and Eve were overcome with the same temptation that afflicts all of humanity: to go their own way, to try and realize the fullness of existence without God.

The result of this affliction is death. This is the curse of humanity - to die. Thus to be re-created, Christ the Savior took on our humanity in order to destroy this affliction. As the great Orthodox hymn of Pascha tells us: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" His death and resurrection is our opportunity towards salvation - sharing in His divine life. However, it is not forced upon us, to accept God's grace and love. 

Resurrection of Christ/Descent into Hades
Christ reaching out His hands to Adam & Eve

Image Source

Love is at the heart of all Orthodox theology. The love from God freely given to all is Christ's voluntary death upon the Cross (Tree). The ancestral curse (or original sin) that came into existence through the failure of the First Adam is destroyed by the Second Adam (Christ our Savior). We still live in a fallen world, and our acceptance of the God's grace and love is a process to be sure. But the opportunity to regain our vocation has been given through the Incarnation (God becoming Man), His death and resurrection.

For Western Christianity, original sin as described by Augustine is an inherit guilt felt by all of humanity due to the fact that we are all descendents of Adam. Because Adam, our first father sinned, I am also guilty in his turning away from God. Original sin becomes a legal, jurisdictional delimma for all of humanity.

This approach to the Fall from Paradise is foreign to early Christianity, which Orthodoxy continues to practice and believe. To be sure, our fallen nature is sinful. There is no man who lives and sins not; but my sins are my own choice. I choose whether to draw closer to God or further from Him.

In Orthodox thought, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise was not punishment done out of anger because of their sin, rather due to compassion. The expulsion from Paradise and from the Tree of Life was an act of love and mercy so that humanity would not become immortal in sin.

Expulsion from Paradise
Image Source

In simple terms, Orthodox approach to sin is therapeutic, viewing sin as an illness, while the Western Church tends towards a juridicial model seeing sin as moral failure. Orthodoxy focuses on the process and goal more than the sin. Salvation is a process that requires prayer, fasting, charity, and keeping vigil. A young monk was once asked what they do all day in a monastery, responding, "we fall and rise, fall and rise."

My parish priest/spiritual father once said, "if you're not struggling towards salvation, you're not doing it right!" This approach is crucial to our understanding of pastoral care; we need guidance and encouragement, hence the Sacrament of Confession is a face to face discussion. Humility is not an easy lesson to learn, real transformation is not instantaneous and we are in need of God's help.

Death has caused a change in the way we relate to God, to one another, and to the world. However, the choice offered to Adam and Eve remains our choice: to ascend to life or descend into corruption.

- A Day in the Life of the Youth Director

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