My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE TREE OF LIFE ACCORDING TO ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY
Some troparia (hymns) of the Christmas feast say that Christ, through His incarnation, is the tree of life. The dismissal hymn of the forefeast of Christmas is characteristic: It says: "Make Bethlehem ready, Edom has opened to all, prepare Ephratha, now in the cave the tree of life has blossomed from the Virgin. And Paradise, that womb in which the divine plant, to eat of which we shall not die like Adam, has been made known. Christ is born, resurrecting the image which had previously fallen".
In this troparion (hymn) the new Adam, Who is Christ, is contrasted with the old Adam. The first Adam ate of the tree, lost Paradise and thus caused the illness of the whole human race, with the entrance of corruption and death, whereas the new Adam who is Christ the tree of life, gives life to all who will unite with Him. The new paradise is the womb of the Theotokos, and of course the Church, and the tree of life is Christ Himself. Adam's descendants can eat of this tree and enjoy the true life.
In what follows I must speak about just what this tree of life in Paradise was and how Christ by His incarnation becomes the tree of life for man.
a) The Two Trees in the Original Paradise
The Old Testament preserves some indication of the blessed life of Adam and Eve in Paradise. According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, Paradise was intelligible and tangible. It was intelligible because it was man's communion with God, for after his creation Adam's nous was in a state of illumination, and by God's energy and his won synergy he should have attained deification (theosis). It was tangible as well, because it was a specific place.
There were many trees in Paradise, but two of them were different from the others. One was the tree of knowledge, and Adam received a command not to eat of it. "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From every tree in the garden of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat the fruit of it, you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). The other tree was the tree of life. And as the Old Testament says, after the man disobeyed and ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God drove him out of Paradise "and He placed Cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). The reason why God expelled the man from Paradise after his disobedience was that after his fall he was not to eat of the tree of life. "And now, lest he put out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Genesis 3:22).
So it seems that there were two trees in paradise which has a special meaning and purpose, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life. From one he ate and died and from the other he was prevented from eating, lest he remain in the fallen and evil state forever. So there we see God's love for mankind. He expels man from Paradise so that he will not remain mortal forever, but may repent and at the suitable time, through the Incarnation of the Son of God, may taste of the tree of life and overcome death and enter paradise again. So then man's expulsion from paradise was not a punishment by God, but an act of His love and philanthropy.
b) The Patristic Interpretation of the Two Trees
The Holy Fathers, interpreting Holy Scripture within the life of the Church and their personal experience, have handed down to us excellent analyses of these two trees.
We should first mention Saint Gregory the Theologian's interpretation of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In one of his homilies he says that this tree was neither planted in wickedness nor forbidden out of jealousy. This means that nothing created by God was evil, but everything was very good. Man was not forbidden to eat of this tree out of jealousy lest he attain deification (theosis). Moreover, this tree was the vision of God. "For the plant was vision of light". Man was to eat at the appropriate time, because first he was to be trained spiritually and this would constitute his deification (theosis). God forbade him to eat of it because he was still imperfect, he had not been suitably prepared, just as perfect and solid food does great harm to those who still need milk. The bad thing was that Adam partook of the tree of knowledge "at the wrong time, unsuitably". And since he missed the mark and lost divine grace, it was necessary that he did not then eat of the tree of life as well, lest he be permanently confirmed in the fall and death. The taste of the tree of life was "great and splendid", and this is why God commanded that it be guarded not by Angels and Archangels nor Principalities, Authorities, Powers and Dominions, but by the Cherubim, who belonged to the first rank of Angels.
Saint John of Damaskos, having in mind the interpretation by Saint Gregory the Theologian, whom he regarded as his spiritual father, follows the same tradition. He writes that the tree of knowledge is a test, a trial and a school, to test man for obedience or disobedience. This tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it gave to anyone who ate of it the power to know its nature, a thing that is good for the perfect and bad for the imperfect and those who lack control over their sensation. The tree of life is so called because it has an energy which provides life either for those worthy of life or for those not enslaved to death.
This interpretation of Saint John of Damaskos shows that man had to be tested before eating of the tree of knowledge and then to eat of the tree of life and live eternally with God. Without practice and preparation it is not possible for anyone to attain deification (theosis) and communion with God.
c) The Godman Christ, the Tree of Life
Man's failure to follow the way towards deification (theosis) which God had carved out for him was not completely catastrophic for man, that is to say he was not reduced irrevocably to his eternal destruction. What failed the test in the Paradise of Eden, Christ achieved through his Incarnation. However, man now went through terrible trials, deep pain and great affliction. He experienced what death means, what it means to be sent away from God. Anyone reading the writings of Saint Silouan the Athonite will discover what Adam's grief means. Only one who has been granted the great vision of God and then lost it can in any way understand and experience Adam's grief. And at this point we see the great value of Saint Silouan. I believe more and more that Saint Silouan has a very great and astonishing theology. Anyone reading his writings feels the great power and rich wisdom which they hold. He was truly a theologian, because he experienced the fall of Adam, Adam's grief, but also union with the New Adam, Christ.
By His incarnation Christ Himself opened the gate of Paradise. He does not simply let man enter it, but the tree of life itself, which is Christ, goes and moves toward man. Now the womb of the Theotokos, where from the first moment the Divine nature assumed human nature and deified (theosis) it, is Paradise. And the Church which is the blessed Body of Christ is the tangible and intelligible Paradise. All who are living in the Church and are really and livingly members of the Body of Christ can taste the tree of life, can overcome death and reach another dimension of existence. For apart from Christ and shadow and realm of death really holds sway.
With the union of Divine and Human nature in the Person of the Logos/Word, the journey towards deification (theosis) becomes more steady. Therefore now salvation is not a matter of obedience to a commandment of God, but it is man's communion with the Godman Christ. Therefore in the Church we must not just live sentimentally, nor simply aim to satisfy our individual and philanthropic feelings, but we must live ontologically, united with Christ. Our journey must be a journey of conquering death. And of course this will succeed only through the taste of the tree of life, Who is the Godman Christ.
So the incarnation of Christ is broader than any juridical redemption or any expression of outward and sentimental love. It is a correction of the path of the fall, enjoyment of the life before the fall, and a safer continuation of the journey towards deification (theosis). It is what Christ says: "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (St. John 10:10). This "more abundantly" is the deification (theosis) of man. (Source: The Feasts of the Lord: An Introduction to the Twelve Feasts and Orthodox Christology by Metropolitant of Nafpakos Hierotheos)
Next: The Tree of life in the Revelation
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Theophany,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God