Man's Fall and Resurrection

Childmartyr Gabriel of Bialystok

Childmartyr Gabriel of Bialystok

My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord, Redeemer, God and Only Savior Jesus Christ,

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

We usually think of the fall in juridical terms, in meanings which have been taken from the law courts. We consider that Adam's sin was simply a transgression of a law, an external one, and that this transgression created guilt in man, with the result that this guilt has been inherited in Adam's descendants.

But this view of sin is not Orthodox. In Orthodoxy we regard sin as an illness of man. Man fell ill and this illness had an effect on the whole human race. Saint Cyril of Alexandria uses the image of the plant. When the root of the plant has become ill, then the branches also fall ill. We can interpret Adam's sin in this way as well.

Saint Maximos, speaking of the fall of man and his restoration, puts them n a theological basis. He says that at the creation of the world and of man there were five divisions. The division between uncreated and created, noetic and tangible, Heaven and earth, Paradise and world, male and female. Adam, by the grace of God, but also by his personal struggle, an expression of his freedom, would have to overcome these divisions and reach communion and unity with the uncreated. To be sure, this last division, that between created and uncreated, could not be abolished, but the created would attain unity with the uncreated. Moreover, in the Church we say that there is no division between physical and metaphysical things, as philosophy claimed, but between created and uncreated. And further, we accept that the uncreated enters into the created, and thus man himself, as Saint Maximos the Confessor says, also becomes uncreated by grace.

Adam failed to transcend these divisions. And not only did he fail to transcend the division which we mentioned, but he also lost the purity which existed between the two sexes, with the result that decay and mortality entered into nature, that he wore the coats of skin and decay and mortality. Therefore now man's way of conception, gestation, birth, etc., is a result of the fall, it is what the holy Fathers called coats of skin, which he wore after the fall.

The transcending of the five divisions took place in Christ. By His Incarnation, by His birth from a Virgin, by the union of Divine and human nature, He united the uncreated with the created, the heavenly with the earth, the noetic with the sensible, Paradise with the world, and He even transcended the division between male and female. Thus, man's restoration was successful and every person was given the possibility that in Christ he too could transcend all the divisions and achieve his salvation.

If we want to look more concretely at the matter of the fall we will say that, as Saint John of Damaskos teaches, the fall in reality is darkness of the image, loss of the divine life and putting on the coats of skin. The darkness of the image is nothing else but the darkening of the nous. The nous was darkened and could not have communion and unity with God. Of course it must be said that according to the anthropology of the holy Fathers, man's soul is rational and noetic. This means that man has two centers of functioning. One is the reasoning mind, which is connected with his nervous system, and the other his nous, which is connected with his heart. Adam's fall, then, is the darkening of his nous, the loss of its noetic function, confusion of the nous with the functions of reason and its enslavement to the passions and to the environment. Instead of moving according to nature and above nature, instead of moving towards God and being mindful of God, man's nous is turned towards the created things and the passions. That is why in the Church we speak of repentance, which is not simply of change in the head, as some theologians say, but a change of nous. The nous must break away from the created and the passions and turn towards God.

A result of the darkening of his noetic energy is that man's relationship with God and his fellow man is upset. Because of his darkened nous, man does not find meaning in life, he turns his attention to the external things, with the result that he comes to blows with men, and he has no inner peace. This is analyzed in a wonderful way by St. Gregory Palamas. Fallen man uses God to safeguard his individual security and regards his neighbor as an object for predatory exploitation. He cannot have selfless love, because all his expressions and all his love contain the element of self-seeking, which is to say that man is characterized by self-seeking love. So the darkening of the nous has drastic social consequences. Sociology cannot be regarded as independent of theology.

In this sense (and only in this sense) we can speak of inheritance of sin and of the ancestral (original) sin, which man inherits at birth. In this sense too we can speak of the catholicity of the fall of man.

What Adam failed to do, Christ, Who is called the new Adam, succeeded in doing. By His incarnation Christ deified human nature and became the strongest medicine for men, in the sense that He gave every man the possibility of achieving his theosis (deification). In this light we can interpret the phrase from the troparion that Christ raised up "Adam with the whole human race."

At this point I would like to look at two passages in Saint John of Damaskos which will help us to understand in some way the mystery of the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It must of course be emphasized that this too is a subject not of rational understanding but of spiritual experience, yet we can say something about the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Son and Logos (Word) of God.

Saint John of Damascus, repeating a passage from Saint Gregory the Theologian whom he calls his spiritual father, says that Christ took on the whole human nature, because "what is not assumed is not cured." Saint John of Damascus goes on to say that the ruling center of the soul and the flesh is the nous, which is the purest part of the soul, but also that the ruling center of the nous is God Himself. When God acts, then the nous manifests its own authority, and then "it is under the control of the stronger and follows it, doing things which the divine will desires." The Son and Logos (Word) of God has united with the flesh "be means of the nous," which is midway between the purity of God and the grossness of the flesh. So the nous became the place of its personal union with divinity. The saint writes characteristically: "The nous becomes the seat of the Divinity which has been hypostatically united to it." This has great importance, because it shows that man's salvation begins and works in the nous and then extends to the whole body. Thus we understand "the great importance of the neptic tradition of the Church.

The other point from the teaching of Saint John of Damascus which is useful to us here is that by His Incarnation, the Logos (Word) of God did not assume the human nature "that is understood in pure theory," that is today, He did not assume a simple nature, that which is seen externally, because then it would not have been incarnation, but an illusion and fiction of incarnation. Also He did not assume this nature "regarded as a species", but that which is seen in the individual, which at the same time belongs also to the species, because Christ assumed the whole mixture of what was our own from the beginning. This is important because, as Saint John of Damascus again says, human nature rose from the dead and sat at the right hand of the Father "not implying that all human persons arose and sat at the right hand of the Father, but that our entire nature did so in the Person of Christ." That is to say that human nature has been deified in the Person of the Logos. So human nature has been deified in the hypostasis of the Logos, but our own human hypostasis (person) must be deified as well.

Therefore, the catholicity of Adam's fall has the meaning of the illness of human nature and the catholicity of the resurrection through the New Adam, Christ, it again has the meaning of the cure. Christ cured human nature, He Himself became the strongest medicine towards the cure, and He gives every man the possibility of being cured. Thus we can maintain that "Christ is both the physician as well as the medicine; He is man's cure and his health.

(Source: Orthodox Heritage)





With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

+ Father George