But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent, becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 25-26)
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3: 22-24
In my humble opinion, there are three things a person needs to believe in order to be a Christian: First, that God created the world. Second, the world fell. And third, the world is redeemed by the salvific work of Jesus Christ.
If God didn’t create the world, then who did? If the world isn’t fallen, then who needs Jesus? And if Jesus didn’t redeem the world, why are we following after Him? The last reflection was about the creation of the world. This one shifts to the fall.
As we read in Genesis 3, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve with a lie. God said that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would cause man to die. The devil said that was not true. And because, as we read, since the woman (and we’re not blaming her here, the man was just as culpable) “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took the fruit and ate.” (Genesis 3:6)
There were a couple of things at play in this first sin. The first was ingratitude, which perhaps is the root cause of all sin. God had placed mankind in a garden of Paradise, with one “restriction” if you will. And instead of thanking God for ALL that God had given them, mankind decided that all of that wasn’t enough, they wanted what they were not supposed to have. The second thing at play is lust, to look upon something that we should not have and to find it attractive and tempting. The third thing was the actual sin of willful disobedience. And the fourth thing is that when confronted by God, they were not contrite or repentant.
When they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, their eyes were opened. They now understood the difference between good and evil. They understood that they had done evil. And now they felt shame, something they hadn’t felt before. In fact, they knew they were naked, and they were ashamed of their nakedness. So, they made garments for themselves.
Later in the day, when they heard the sound of God walking in the garden, where they once had walked intimately and joyfully with the Lord, they now hid themselves. When God asked, “where are you?” the man responded that he was afraid because he was naked and was hiding. Of course, God already knew this but asked man to explain himself. He knew that man’s understanding of nakedness and shame meant that he had eaten from the forbidden tree. Man passed the buck; he blamed the woman. The woman passed the buck; she blamed the serpent.
We learn that in addition to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, there was also a tree of life. Mankind would not have known about this tree, because prior to the fall, there was no life and death. Death is the absence of God. This is why death is the ultimate indignity because it separates us from God. Life is to be with God. In Romans 6:23, St. Paul writes that “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (In the world, we call the state of breathing “life” and the absence of breath, we call “death.” In Orthodox terms, what we are doing while on earth is “preparation” for either eternal life—being in the presence of God—or eternal death—not being allowed in the presence of God. The day we cease breathing, we pass either to eternal life or eternal punishment. We either go to life, with God, or we go to death, separated from God. Our souls will live eternally, it’s just a question of where they will live.)
The consequence of the sin of mankind was expulsion from Paradise. God sent forth mankind from the garden, now forced to till the ground. At the gate to Paradise (Eden), God placed the Cherubim with a flaming sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24) Incidentally, on the icon screen in every church, it is the Archangel Michael, who is the angel holding the flaming sword, guarding the gate to Paradise. Every entrance/procession in the church emanates from that door, representative of the fact that the Archangel Michael guards the door to the place we can out from.
As we look at the prayer from St. Basil’s Liturgy, this section recounts the Fall of humanity, and how it led the human beings to become subject to death. This happened by the transgression of mankind, not because of God’s will. Yet, there was a consequence to the fall, which was expulsion from Paradise (and now living in this world) and death (returning to the earth form which he was taken, St. Basil’s Liturgy, p. 25)
Just like the last reflection, the story of creation, didn’t end there, so this reflection on the fall of man doesn’t end here. And that is fortunate indeed. The rest of this prayer and the ensuing reflection on it will focus on the idea that after man was expelled from Paradise and became subject to death, that God provided for mankind “the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ.” (p. 26). St. Basil was indeed pastoral as he spent only a few sentences on the Creation and the Fall, and will spend the rest of this prayer talking about the salvation of regeneration in the person of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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