Title: The Christian Life 1: The Beginning
Subject: Paradise lost, the fall of man, renouncing this life
Age: 15+ years
The Christian story begins with the notion that something has been lost. It recalls a different mode of living in which:
"[Man] was…in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in his emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature as he was created. For, to the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues." (Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings, page77 On Renunciation).
In Genesis 2:15, we read, "Then the Lord God took the man He formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it." This is where the narrative of the Christian life begins with the idea that Paradise has been lost. This is the belief that life as it is, is not as it was intended to be. The story of the Christian life therefore begins with an idea that all is not well. From where or how does this idea spring forth? At the minimum, from man's experience of life as it is.
Before we get to that we must talk about man's fall. We can read about The Fall in Genesis 3. It is the contention of the Christian narrative that we fell from our first state; that is from our initial state of intimacy with God. We understand this fall to be personal and cosmic, involving all of creation. By saying we fell, we state that we now begin to operate in a manner that is actually contrary to our nature. We no longer live and operate according to how God created us.
The problem is that man experiences life. Within this experience, man sees that there is injustice, suffering, and death. Man witnesses evil, and even participates in evil; he comes to realize that something is not right with him and his neighbor. Man finds himself as we stated above: acting contrary to his nature.
Christians understand man as good. We believe that his nature which was designed and created by God according to God's likeness is good, and in falling he becomes something foreign, something deformed. Man who was intended to be free, who was created immortal, who had been clothed in virtue, becomes something else.
"Prey to sin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of this life and the other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave to them through transgression. Then little by little evil increased and death reigned." (Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings, page77 On Renunciation).
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come…)" (Romans 5:12-14).
Man, if he is honest, finds himself in a condition that is fallen and without his former beauty. It must be said that the recognition of such things is absolutely necessary. We cannot proceed further in the Christian story if we believe otherwise. It is literally true that virtue is not possible if we fail to recognize and accept that man is not as he should be. We run the risk, as the world has done, of losing what is possible or of our potential, and we will come to believe like the world has, that things are as they are supposed to be. We will even fight or begin to enshrine and justify sin. We see this all over in our daily lives, we arrange things to preserve and continue the sin we are in.
The narrative continues: God could not bear to see man suffer. Thus He sent forth the prophets, He exalted righteous men (Abraham, Moses, Isaiah), He provided the commandments, all in an effort to call man home. Finally we profess and proclaim that God sent forth His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Again we must stop for our ears sometimes grow tired of hearing. The story is that God enters His creation in an effort to rescue man and restore him to his proper and original nature. The reason for our fall includes arrogance or pride (See Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings, pages 81-83).
This first lecture is called "The Beginning", the beginning of the Christian life. It starts with the remembrance of paradise and the recognition that it is lost. It starts with an acknowledgement that we are fallen and things are not right. It begins with renouncing this life as not what was intended, and it concludes that this condition is a result of our arrogance or pride. Thus the Gospel begins with, "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Yet, the beginning is ultimately positive.
" ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.' Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.' ‘I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty.' Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the ear of God" (2 Corinthians 6:16b through 2 Corinthians 7:1).
When we step upon this path and begin the Christian life then, "…by keeping the commandments the soul is purified and the mind too is enlightened, and [we perceive] that it starts functioning as God intended it to. ‘The command of the Lord gives light and enlightens the eyes'" (Psalm 19:8).
We are not motivated out of a desire to erase or efface ourselves. No, we are on a mission of restoration and recovery. We reject this half-life in order to obtain life in its fullness. "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Remember the simple iconographic witness of the Church, paired with the icon of the Crucifixion is that of the Resurrection on the opposite wall.
Continue with The Christian Life 2: Humility
Prepared by Fr. Evan Armatas