|27 - Expulsion from Eden, March 6, 2011|
Romans 13:11 – 14:4
Matthew 6:14 – 21
The bible and the liturgical texts of the Orthodox Church clearly show that the purpose of world history is to lead Adam and Eve back into Eden and to clothe them with God. The theological purpose of the world is proclaimed first in Genesis. Man was made from the dust of the ground, but he was clothed with Christ, for Christ is Himself the Image of God in which man was made.
Through disobedience, man was stripped of his “divinely woven garment”. Man’s disobedience was expressed by eating. He chose not to observe the “fast” God had commanded him to keep and he ate what God told him explicitly not to eat: “For, on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” And sure enough, when he ate from it, “his eyes were opened” like those of a corpse, and he saw that he was naked. He had been stripped of his “Robe of Light”. So, he sought to cover the nakedness of his shame and he clothed himself with fig leaves; perhaps leaves from the tree he had just eaten from, so that he was now clothed in garments of good and evil, pleasure and pain, life and death. God clothed him in garments of “skin”, which covered his shame but not his mortality; for, the garments of skin grow old and disintegrate, and man must one day take them off and clothe himself in the dust of the ground, in death and corruption.
St Simeon the New Theologian teaches that even yet, man could have stayed in the Garden, if he would have confessed his sin. But, he did not. He sought to excuse himself by blaming the woman; and the woman blamed the serpent. Neither Adam nor Eve sought forgiveness from God or from each other. And so they were cast out of Eden and the gates were shut behind them.
The world history we read about in the textbooks takes place outside the Garden. It is the record of the mighty works of each generation by which men seek to establish lasting memorials of themselves before each of them is forced against their will to clothe themselves in the dust of the ground.
The bible records the hidden history of the world. It is the theological history of the mighty acts of God by which God purposely leads mankind back to the dust of the ground in order to bring him back to stand before the gates of Eden. This theological history of the world moves through the generations of those holy men and women who have been obedient to God and who acted out their obedience by keeping the fast. It culminates in the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary Theotokos who by the Holy Spirit gave birth to Christ. She gave to Him our humanity, and in her womb, God clothed Himself in our flesh and became the Son of Man. But, if God the Word clothed Himself in our flesh, it means also that He clothed our flesh in His divine Person so that it was clothed once again in the “divinely woven garment of light.”
Having clothed Himself in our flesh, the God-Man voluntarily submitted Himself in obedience to the Father to death on the Cross, and so He clothed Himself in our death. Death is separation from God; but, Christ is God. If He clothed Himself in our death, how could death not be destroyed in Him? For, by clothing Himself in our death, Christ united death to Himself so that even in death, we are united to God. To die in Christ, then, is to be clothed in Christ. To be clothed in Christ is to return to the dust of the ground in Christ, and to descend with Him into hell beneath the ebb and flow of world history to stand again before the Gates of Eden that open onto Life in communion with God.
This is where we stand in the Church today. Here in the Church, the mystery of God, the theological purpose of the world, is all around us, clothing us like a garment. In the Church, in her icons and in the biblical, dogmatic and liturgical words of her proclamation, we can see and hear the mystery of God that is hidden to the world. The liturgical movements of the Church are not empty religious symbols. They are liturgical icons filled with the presence of the reality they open onto. From the scriptures assigned for our daily reading over the last two weeks, and from the liturgical texts of the Church that we find in her Lenten Triodion, we are given to understand that the reality which the liturgical iconography of the Church is opening to us is the Last Day of the world. It has dawned. It dawned at the death of Christ on the Cross on Great and Holy Friday, the Sixth Day of Creation, when He cried out from the Cross for those to hear who have ears to hear: “It is finished!” The Judgment of the Lord is at the door. The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord foretold by the prophets has dawned. Destruction hangs over us. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Therefore, repent!
Attend to all that we hear and see in the Church today through her liturgical iconography. There is sacred irony everywhere we turn. The terrible Judge Himself has allowed Himself to be judged by the world that He judges on the Last Day. He Who Is Himself the Life and the Resurrection, who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment, has allowed Himself to be clothed in the shame of condemnation and the death of sin. Finally, at the Vespers of Forgiveness today, the doors of the sanctuary will be shut and the curtains will be closed, and we will be shut out of the sanctuary. Clearly, we are to understand from this that are each one Adam and Eve who have been expelled from Eden; we are the goats of last Sunday’s Gospel to whom the Judge cries out at the Terrible Judgment on the Last Day: “Depart from me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And yet, we will see the Judge Himself standing with us outside the shut doors. He will be seen in the living icon of the priest vested in the epitrachelion; and the priest, vested in his epitrachelion, will be standing, too, outside the closed doors of the iconostasis as before the gates of Eden that have been shut, leaving us in the outer darkness with Christ who is in our midst.
What lesson are we to draw from this? The Gospels record how the curtains of the temple were rent in two exposing the sanctuary to all when Christ died on the Cross. But, that was but the earthly manifestation of what was happening in the “unseen” depths of hell as foretold by the Psalmist: The doors of bronze were shattered and the bars of iron were cut in two. The ancient doors (of Eden) were open and the King of glory entered, leading those who had been held captive there into what the Psalmist calls “their desired haven,” which surely is the Garden of Eden. Christ stands outside the gates in our midst because He is the Way back to Eden. He is the Door that opens onto Eden. He stands outside the gates in our midst in order to lead us back into Eden and to clothe us again with the “divinely woven garment of immortality,” with Christ Himself in the uncreated Light of His divine glory. If we want to enter Eden, we must unite ourselves to Christ in obedience to Him. If we practice obedience to Him, we will find that we are undoing our original sins. By asking forgiveness of each other, and by forgiving one another as God has forgiven us, we “die” to the hardness of heart that was ours in the Garden. By taking up the same fast God commanded us to observe in the Garden, we “die” to our disobedience; we die to self-justification, to making excuses, to blaming others for our sins. We take responsibility for ourselves, we confess our sins, and so we “return to the dust of the ground”, this time in union with Christ and in His obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. In this obedience, we die to ourselves; we begin taking off the garments of skin in order to become naked again before God, so that He can clothe us in the “divinely woven garment of immortality,” in the Holy Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
It is through the obedience of the Lenten fast that we are brought to stand before the gates of Eden as before the Judgment Seat of God on the Last Day. They are closed to us, for we have been expelled by our sins. It no longer matters whether we are the Publican or the Pharisee, the Prodigal or the Elder Brother. Even if we are sheep, we have been cast out of Eden and we stand as goats outside the Kingdom of Heaven. But in Christ the merciful Judge, the bronze doors have been shattered, the iron bars have been cut in two, the ancient doors of Eden have been opened to us. Through the Lenten fast, we practice repentance. We begin by asking forgiveness and forgiving as God has forgiven us. Then we take up the Fast as our cross and we step onto the Way that is Christ to follow Him back into the Garden. Let us therefore not be casual toward the disciplines of this blessed Lenten season:
“The arena of the virtues has been opened. Let all who wish to struggle for the prize now enter, girding themselves for the noble contest of the Fast; for those that strive lawfully are justly crowned. Taking up the armor of the Cross, let us make war against the enemy. Let us have as our invincible rampart the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and as our helmet almsgiving; and as our sword let us use fasting that cuts away all evil from our heart. If we do this, we shall receive the true crown from Christ the King of all at the Day of Judgment.” Amen. Christ in the uncreated light of His divine glory is the “divinely woven garment of immortality” with which Adam and Eve were clothed that we hear the Church telling us about in her liturgical texts.