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PARADISE LOST

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Word Magazine May 1999 Page 8-9

PARADISE LOST

By Fr. Daniel Griffith

Adam sat before paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept, “Woe is me! By evil deceit was I persuaded and led astray, and now I am an exile from glory. Woe is me! In my simplicity I was stripped naked, and now I am in want. O Paradise, no more shall I take pleasure in thy joy; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken. O merciful and compassionate Lord, to thee I cry aloud, ‘I am fallen, have mercy upon me’” (The “Glory .. .“ from Great Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday)

Adam, our forefather, was indeed the first-created man. But he differed from us in many ways. Man, from the beginning, stood midway between God’s spiritual creation, the vast angelic realms, and His material creation, the visible, sensible universe, the earth, its flora and fauna. Man was created to be the vital link between these two aspects of God’s handiwork.

Adam’s body resembled ours but was more subtle, closer to that of the angels than to that of the brute beasts. His body was like the resurrected body of the Lord Jesus, the New Adam, Who entered in where the disciples were though the door was closed. Further, in Paradise, Adam (and Eve) was not naked but was clothed with a garment of Light, this being the glory of the all-holy, life-giving Spirit. Like the Lord Jesus at His transfiguration upon Mount Tabor, Adam in Paradise shone with a light and radiance more glorious than the sun. The light-filled garment of the Holy Spirit which abode upon him, but was not an essential aspect of his nature, preserved him from the effects of corruption: change and death.

When Adam was brought into existence by God, the eternal Son and Word, his rational soul was created in an instant while his body was crafted by God from the material elements. Thus, his rational faculty had priority over his physical body, governing it as he, God’s steward, was to govern the brute beasts. With his eyes he looked into the fiery countenance of an angel companion and beheld a gentle, graceful deer silhouetted against the sunset. With his ears he heard the ceaseless, thrice-holy song of the seraphim before God’s throne and the gentle lowing of cattle. He “worked” Paradise, not with the sweat of the brow, but by being the conduit of divine grace to the material world. He conversed with God as an intimate. The divine life flowed into him, nurturing him, and radiating from him to the beasts, the vegetation, even to the rocks and minerals themselves. He was like a second sun, shining forth upon the earth’s surface.

Paradise, where he dwelt in Eden, was a physical place but in nature somewhat midway between this world and the heavenly realms. Its streams sang gentle hymns; the leaves of its trees whispered prayers and the air was filled with a fragrance sweeter than the finest incense. It vibrated with divine life. Indeed it was a fitting “heaven” for Adam, a “second sun.”

When Adam and Eve heeded the serpent’s lie, they turned their backs upon God. Their act of rebellion was inexcusable. It was not necessity which made them sin, neither was it God; they wanted for nothing. They were loved by God and in many ways the glory which He bestowed upon them transcended that of the holy angels. Nor can it be said that God tempted Adam by setting an arbitrary commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was always God’s intent to give both Adam and Eve to eat not only of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but of the Tree of Life as well, but only when they had attained sufficient maturity. Not even the devil can be held to be ultimately responsible for Adam’s sin, though he was their tempter. Their rebellion sprang from “pure” pride and envy.

At this dread act, the Holy Spirit left them, leaving them naked of the divine glory and now prey to the ravages of corruption: change and death, pain and suffering. Their sin was even more serious, for finding themselves naked, they did not repent but attempted to conceal their act from God and, when confronted, sought to excuse it. In unrepentant pride and envy they had turned their backs upon God and upon the angelic world.

Having estranged themselves from God, they now took as their models, not the angels, but the beasts, imitating their manner of procreation and producing as a first fruit of their rebellion fratricidal murder. Prior to their rebellion they had been the source of life for the flora, the fauna, even for the water, rocks and minerals. Their rebellion brought blight upon all the physical, sensible, material creation by interrupting the flow of divine energy. This same material realm, being God’s handiwork and therefore possessing seeds of divine goodness and justice, was horror-stricken by Adam’s deed; and enmity was sown between man and nature.

Deprived of the only true source of pleasure and fulfillment, i.e., intimate communion with the living God, Adam and his descendants threw themselves into the vain pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment in this fallen material realm. He and we became, and are, enmeshed in an endless cycle of pursuing the unattainable and being ever more wounded by the pain of loss.

The sin of the forefathers is no mere “religious dogma”, having little relevance to our daily life. Each and every one of us eats the bitter fruits of our first parents’ sin and is caught up in a terrible cosmic tragedy.

There is one and only one solution to this grotesque situation, a solution given by God Himself. In His immeasurable love for His own creation, the eternal Son and Word of the Father took flesh and by his Cross and Resurrection opened again the gates of Paradise which had been closed at Adam’s fall. The first to receive the inheritance which Adam had forfeited was the Good Thief who confessed him on the Cross; and in his wake came all the righteous from Adam to St. John the Baptist. Paradise is now their dwelling-place as well as that of all those who, born of the Church’s womb, the baptismal font, have kept the shining robe of incorruption which they received unspotted and unstained. Or, failing that, have washed it clean by a second baptism of tears of profound and sincere repentance. In Paradise, Lost Eden, they await the great and terrible day of the Lord’s coming, the resurrection and judgment, and God’s creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

Rt. Rev. Daniel Griffith is pastor of St. Michael Church, Geneva, New York.