The consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God were immediate. As soon as they eat the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened. But this opening of their eyes did not increase their vision and experience of God but rather it decreased it. The first thing that their eyes now recognized was their own nakedness, and this nakedness symbolically represented their vulnerability, their lack of protection and their total exposure to evil, to sin and to death.
Another immediate consequence was that the opening of their eyes resulted in the closing of their hearts and the diminishing of their love. That bond of love and trust they had between each other and with God was broken. Their communion with each other and with God was broken.
Because when they hear the footsteps of God, walking in the cool of the day, they would have before run to him, talked with him, experienced the unspeakable joy of being in his presence, but now they hide themselves and are afraid of him. Their love for each other and for God has diminished to such an extent that instead of asking for forgiveness from God, Adam blames Eve. And instead of admitting her mistake and taking responsibility for her actions and asking for forgiveness from God, Eve blame the serpent. In other words, they went from loving each other and God, to loving only themselves.
This behavior was the result of yet another consequence of their disobedience and their deliberate rebellion against God’s commandment. Their ontological nature, in other words, their physical and spiritual nature, their bodies, their hearts, their minds, and their souls changed. Because the moment that Eve fell for the trick of the devil, human nature lost its original beauty, it fell from its glory, it was stripped of its spiritual and physical powers, and left naked and vulnerable, because the source of that beauty, of that glory, of that life, of their spiritual and physical powers, was God and apart from him, nothing can exist, nothing has meaning, nothing has life.
Mankind, you and I, who was created in the image and likeness of God, is reduced to a broken creature that is vulnerable to sin, evil and death. Mankind, who once ruled over all creation, who named the animals, who spoke with God face to face, is now afraid of the animals, vulnerable to the natural environment and powerless against its destructive forces.
Banished from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all of the human beings after them, began our exile from Paradise, from the presence of God. And being separated from the source of life, human beings began to experience something they never felt before: fear, anxiety, stress, cold, heat, hunger, thirst, pain, all the while suffering a slow and hopeless death.
One of the hymns from Vespers last night paints a picture of Adam’s lament like this:
Adam sat opposite Paradise and, lamenting his nakedness, he wept, ‘Woe is me ! By evil deceit was I persuaded and robbed, and exiled far from glory. Woe is me ! Once naked in my simplicity, now I am in want. But, Paradise, no longer shall I enjoy your delight; no more shall I look upon the Lord my God and Maker, for I shall return to the earth whence I was taken. Merciful and compassionate Lord, I cry to you, ‘Have mercy on me who am fallen’
The separation of man from God, left Adam and all human beings who have ever lived and who will ever life with a feeling of emptiness deep inside our hearts and souls. This feeling of emptiness was the lament of Adam outside the gates of Paradise. It is the longing for God, the tragic, unquenchable desire for God. And every human being, and all of creation, feels it.
But there is a profound paradox here and an example of God’s infinite wisdom:
The Fathers of the Church teach that God removed Adam and Eve from his presence, from Paradise, and allowed them to experience death, as an act of mercy. Because otherwise, they would have lived forever in a state of disobedience, a state of brokenness, a state of separation from God.
And, if God had not expelled human beings from his presence they would have not had a reason to desire to return to him.
God allows his creation to die, not to punish them, but in order to set in motion the divine plan of their salvation.
This desire for God and the role that death plays in our salvation is at the heart of the journey of Great Lent.
Think for a moment about the words of Christ when he says,
“Unless a grain of wheat dies and is buried in the ground, it cannot live.”
That grain of wheat contains within it a pre-conditioned desire. A desire for the earth, for water, for the sun, a desire to become what it is meant to be, a beautiful, tall, golden stalk of wheat. But it cannot fulfill this desire unless it first dies and is buried in the ground.
In the same way, you and I, have a deep desire for God within us that is inescapable. We might try to satisfy that desire with material things, with money, with objects, with experiences, with being busy, with information and entertainment, but these are just distractions from the one thing our souls truly desire and that is God.
But here’s the problem. Because of our fallen, broken nature, we had no way of fulfilling that desire. We did not have the power or the means to get back into Paradise, back in the presence of God, in order for our hearts and minds and souls to be at peace. In his compassion and his wonderful love, God does not leave us suffering outside the gates, but rather HE comes to us, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Now that Christ has come, how do we experience his presence in order to satisfy our longing for him? How can we die in order to live?
“Unless a grain of wheat dies and is buried in the ground, it cannot live.”
Great Lent provides us the ground where we can die and be buried in order that we may live and become what we were meant to be.
In this ground we must put to death our egotism, hate and anger, resentments and envy, lust and self-love so that humility, peace, love, true joy may bloom in our lives. In this ground we must bury our negativity, our greed and apathy, our lack of compassion, our slander and gossip.
But for most of us, the ground will be hard to break open, difficult to dig into. The ground might be dry from years of us neglecting to nourish it with tears of remorse and repentance for our sins. Instead of flowers, it might be riddled with weeds of bad habits that we allowed to grow and take root. We will feel discouraged to start the work because it seems like such an enormous and difficult task.
But this is exactly why we must remember that we’re not doing this alone but as members of the worldwide community of faithful Orthodox Christians. And Christ, His Holy Mother the Theotokos Mary, and all the Saints, through the Holy Spirit, want to and will help us.
We must no longer try to avoid masking with distractions this painful desire for God that is within us, that emptiness that loneliness that only God can satisfy. But we should open the wound and really feel that hunger pain for God.
Great Lent is a time where we can strive to satisfy our hunger for communion with God. To being in his presence and experiencing his joy, his peace and love, now, today, in this life. The tools we must use to dig into the ground are fasting, prayer, almsgiving, confession and Holy Communion.
This Great Lent, we can take up the cross and follow Christ. We can die daily, as St. Paul says. We can bury ourselves in his words and in his love. In the sacrament of Confession, we can forgive others and ask for forgiveness for ourselves, for the Adam and Eve that are inside of us, for this broken and confused world.
This Great Lent, we can satisfy our deep hunger for the presence of God through praising and worshipping him at the many services that are offered, and especially the partaking of his Holy Body and Blood at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies.
In 40 days from today, we will chant the joyous hymn of Christos Anesti, Christ is Risen. In his great love, Christ freed us from death and sin and he offers us eternal life. Christ, although completely sinless, became that grain of wheat. He took our sins upon himself and died and was buried and then became alive again and ascended into heaven. He did this in order that mankind could finally become what Adam and Eve were meant to be: Sons and daughters of God the Father in the Kingdom of Heaven.
May you have a blessed and spiritually rewarding Great Lent.