Saturday, October 12, 2013
St. Symeon the New Theologian: On the Banishment and Repentance of Adam and Every Christian
Christ raising Adam and Eve, Fresco of the Resurrection, Chora Monastery, Constantinople (source)
St. Symeon the New Theologian: On the Banishment and Repentance of Adam and Every Christian
Being banished from Paradise, Adam and Eve immediately began to thirst and hunger, to freeze and shiver, to have labors and sweat, and to endure all those difficulties and griefs that we even now endure. Therefore, they soon felt into what a bitter condition they had descended, and to what a great misfortune they had become subject. Then they realized both their own hardness of heart and their lack of repentance, as well as God's unutterable condescension and compassion towards them. Therefore, even walking and sitting outside Paradise, they repented and shed tears, beat themselves in the face and tore out the hair of their head, lamenting over their former hardness of heart.
And this they did not for one day or two, or for ten days, but for their whole lifetime. For how can one not weep, remembering their meek and condescending Master, that unutterable delight of Paradise, those indescribable good things and beauties of the flowers of Paradise, that care-free life without labor, and that communion with angels? In worldly life, when servants are appointed by an eminent master in order to serve him, as long as they preserve attention, respect, and obedience towards their lord they have boldness before him, enjoy his favor and love, and live with him in peace and satisfaction. But when they become proud and begin to step away from the will of their master and despise their fellow servants, they lose not only their boldness before him, but even his favor and love; and at his order they are banished into a far country where they are subjected to innumerable necessities and sorrows, and the more they suffer and are in misfortunes, the more they feel the bitterness of their condition, remembering the peaceful and satisfied life that they have lost.
This same thing was experienced by our first ancestors also, who lived in Paradise and took sweet delight in its great good things. They acknowledged the greatness and value of these good things after they had lost them, being banished from Paradise; then they recognized also the whole greatness of the evil which they had done. Therefore they ceaselessly grieved and wept, calling on God's compassion.
And what did God do, being quick and ready to mercy, and slow to punishment? He foresaw that they would finally become humble and repent, and therefore He foreordained a special means for abolishing His righteous sentence upon them. But, He did not immediately bring into execution this foreordained decree, but assigned for this His own place and time and fashion, so as to teach us to love wisdom and not to rise up against our Creator and God.
Just as He foreordained, so later did He do: for those whom He banished from Paradise for their brazenness before Him and their unrepentant heart, since they had humbled themselves and wept over themselves, He arranged a way for the restoration of what had been lost.
And this is what it was: The Only-begotten Son and Word of the Unoriginate Father descended from the heavens to earth, and not only became man like them, but even was pleased to endure a violent and shameful death; then He descended into hades, brought them up from there and restored them. And thus, since Christ so suffered for them, as you hear every day, that He returned them from such a distant exile, would He not have had pity on them, if they had repented then in Paradise? How could he not have had pity on them, when He by nature is the Lover of mankind and compassionate, and He created them in order that they might take sweet delight of the good things of Paradise and might glorify their Benefactor?
But so that you might the better understand this and believe my words, hear yet more: If they had repented then, when they were still in Paradise, they would have received again only Paradise and nothing more.
But inasmuch as, being banished from Paradise for their lack of repentance, they then repented, wept much and were in great misfortunes, therefore God the Master of all, for their labors and sweat, for the misfortunes which they endured and for their good repentance, was pleased again to honor them and to glorify them so as to cause them to forget the whole evil that they had caused.
And what did He do? Behold how great is God's Love of mankind! Descending to hades and bringing them out, He did not bring them again into the same Paradise from which they had been banished, but He raised them up to the heaven of heavens; and when He sat down at the right hand of His God and Father, He sat them down together with Him. Just think what great honor He gave to Adam who by nature was His slave, and vouchsafed him to be God's own father according to His grace-given dispensation. See to what a height our Master Christ raised him up for his repentance, humility, lamentation and tears! O the power of repentance and tears! O the ocean of Love of mankind which is beyond words, and mercy which cannot be traced out!
And not only Adam did God honor and glorify, but also us his sons--those, that is, who have begun to please him by repentance, tears, lamentation and by all of which we have spoken; and even up to now He glorifies and honors like Adam those who repent well and do what Adam did. Further, those who up until now and in the future will do this and repent, whether they be laymen or monks, He will glorify like Adam, as He Himself, our true God, has said: Truly I say to you, I will not leave them ever, but show them to be My brethren and friends, fathers and mothers, kinsmen and co-inheritors. I have glorified them and will glorify them, both in the heavens on high and on the earth below; and of their life and rejoicing and glory there shall be no end.
Tell me, then, my brother: What profit was there for our first ancestors in that laborless and carefree life which they had in Paradise, when they were careless, disdained God by not believing Him, and transgressed His commandment? For if they had believed Him, Eve would not have considered the serpent to be more trustworthy than God, Adam would not have believed Eve rather than God, and they would have refrained from eating of the forbidden tree. But they ate and did not repent, and for this they were banished from Paradise.
Moreover, from banishment also they received no harm, but great benefit. This is by power of the dispensation of our salvation. For our Master Christ descended from the heavens, by His death loosed the bonds of our death, and took away the condemnation that came down to us from the transgression of our first parents; by the power of holy Baptism He regenerated us, recreated us and delivered us from every condemnation and made us in this world completely free, so that our enemy the devil might no longer act in us and against us by violence and force. He honored us with the same autonomy which was given us in the beginning, and He gave us more power against the enemy than all the saints had who lived before the dispensation of Christ, so that those who desire might easily conquer the enemy. And when such ones die they do not descend to hades like the ancients, but ascend to the heavens and are vouchsafed to receive the repose and eternal joy which are there--only to a certain degree at the present time, but completely and entirely after the resurrection.
And so let no one invent excuses for his sins and say that we, by virtue of the transgression of Adam, are entirely subject to the action of the devil and are dragged by force into sin. They who think and speak thus consider that the dispensation of the Incarnation of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ was useless and in vain. Such an opinion is the opinion of heretics and not of the Orthodox. For what other reason did Christ descend and become Incarnate, and for what else did He suffer if not in order to loose the condemnation which proceeded from sin, and to deliver our race from slavery to the devil and from the activity in us of this our enemy? This is true autonomy: in no way to be subject to someone else. We are all born sinners from our forefather Adam who sinned; we are all criminals from a criminal, slaves of sin from a slave of sin, subject to the curse and death from him who was subject to the curse and death.
And because of Adam who received the action of the cunning devil, and by his counsel was moved to sin, and enslaved himself to him and lost his autonomy--we also, as his children, are subject to the action and the compulsory dominion of the devil and are his slaves. But our Lord came down from the heavens, was Incarnate and became man like us in everything except sin, in order to annihilate sin. He was conceived and born so as to sanctify the conception and birth of men. He was raised up and grew little by little so as to bless every age of life. He began to preach at the age of thirty, having become a full-grown man, so as to teach us not to jump out of line and go before those who are greater than us in mind and virtue, that is, are more intelligent and virtuous than we, especially if we are still young and not perfect in understanding and virtue. He preserved all the commandments of His God and Father so as to loose every transgression and to deliver us criminals from condemnation. He became a slave, took the form of a slave, in order to raise us, the slaves of the devil, once more into the condition of masters and to make us masters and possessors over the devil himself, our former tyrant.
(This is confirmed by the saints who have cast out the devil, as a weak and infirm one, as well as his servants, not only in their lifetime but also after their death.). He was hung upon a Cross and became a curse, as the prophet says: Cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree (Deut. 21:23), in order to loose the whole curse of Adam. He died in order to put death to death, and He rose in order to annihilate the power and activity of the devil who had authority over us by means of death and sin.
Thus out Lord, having cast into the midst of the death-dealing poison of sin the unutterable and life-giving activity of His Divinity and His Flesh, has liberated our race from the working of the devil; and purifying us by holy Baptism and bringing us to life by the communion of the most pure Mysteries of His precious Body and Blood, He makes us holy and sinless. But He then leaves us again to have autonomy, so that it might not seem that we serve our Master by compulsion, but rather by our own free will. Therefore, as in the beginning Adam in Paradise was free and sinless, and by his free will obeyed the enemy, was deceived and transgressed the commandment of God--so on the contrary we, being regenerated by holy Baptism, delivered from slavery and becoming free, if we do not obey by our own free will our enemy the devil, this cunning one will in no way be able to place in us any kind of evil.
Now, before the law and the coming of Christ, without the aid of those means of which we have spoken, many and very many pleased God and manifested themselves as irreproachable; among their number the righteous Enoch was honored by God by being translated, and Elias was raised to heaven in a fiery chariot. Therefore, what kind of justification can we give, if after the manifestation of grace, after such and so great benefactions, after the annihilation of death and sin, we do nor manifest ourselves as holy; if after being regenerated by the holy Baptism which we have received, standing under the protection of the holy angels by whom we are surrounded, and under the action of the grace of the Holy Spirit which we have been vouchsafed to receive--we do not become even like those who were before grace, that is, before Christ, but we remain in carelessness, and disdain and transgress the commandments of God?
And that we, if we are careless about our salvation, will be punished more than those who sinned before Christ, the Apostle Paul indicates when he says: If the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:2-3).
And thus, each one of us, no matter what transgression he might have fallen into--let him not accuse Adam, but let him reproach himself. And let him show true and worthy repentance like Adam, if he desires to be vouchsafed the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!