Christ the Eternal Tao - Part 2

Christ the Eternal Tao

Learn how Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality provides seekers of our day clear guidance on acquiring stillness, overcoming the passions, dealing with thoughts, and cultivating the virtues, as well as precise teachings on spiritual *deception, all of which* guides seekers more safely and surely on the path to communion with God (Tao – Chinese). In the profound mystical and contemplative tradition of the Christian East, seekers are able to go well beyond the realizations in Eastern religions. A long – awaited answer for those who, having turned away from modern Western religiosity, are drawn to the freshness, directness and simplicity of Lao Tzu and eastern philosophies, and at the same time are strangely, inexplicably drawn back to the all-compelling reality of Jesus Christ.

The Speaker:

Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) is an Eastern Orthodox priest, monk and spiritual child of ascetic and spiritual struggler Bl. Father Seraphim Rose, of St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California. Fr Damascene is the author of Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works and Christ the Eternal Tao, as well as numerous articles on Eastern Orthodox faith, doctrine and spirituality.

November 2009

Christ the Eternal Tao - Part 2

Part two followed by Q&A

November 13, 2009 Length: 1:00:05





Host: Last evening’s lecture introduced to us the work of Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, and a spiritual apprehension that only became clear with the revelation of Christ centuries later. In Part II today, Father Damascene will speak of the first created state of man, the fall, redemption, and the future age. Then he will speak about how Christ’s saving work is actualized in the Church through the Holy Mysteries, and through various types of prayer. After the lecture, there will a time for questions and we will take a lunch break, and a BBQ lunch will be available, as I said earlier, so please stay with us. Now it is my honor to introduce our guest speaker, again, Father Damascene.

Father Damascene: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Today’s over-arching theme is the Orthodox Christian teaching on union with God, and so, as was said in the beginning, I will outline the Orthodox Christian world view, by which we are to understand what it means to have union with God, and how we are to have this, and the reasons, or rather the cause, the possibility that we have for union with God.

As well, I will be speaking about the state of man before the fall, the fall and its consequences, and our redemption from the consequences of the fall by Christ. Then I will be speaking about how we can actualize these possibilities that have been made real for us by Christ through His redemptive work, through our life in the Church, and I will go into most detail when talking about watchfulness and prayer as a path to union with God.

And then finally, I will talk about the state beyond the resurrection, in which all the consequences of Christ’s redemptive work are realized, and man is restored to his original state, and the state that man was supposed to attain in the beginning is also brought into being through Christ. 

So let’s begin by looking at the spiritual state of man before the fall. In this talk, I will be going through a few of the handouts. l will be going through part I in this morning’s talk, and in order to give more time for watchfulness and prayer, will go partway into part II. We will talk about cultivating the seat of divine energy, foundations of the path to union with God, introduction to prayer, and then the afternoon session, we will devote entirely to watchfulness and prayer and union with God.

First of all, we will talk about the spiritual state of man before the fall. According to the world view of the Orthodox Church, as found in the Holy Scriptures and the writings of her holy fathers, the entire visible universe was made for the sake of man, and man was made for union with God. This is really key to the whole presentation today, and I also brought this up yesterday. We have to keep in mind that this is the reason that we were created, for union with God, and everything was created for us, and we are to bring the entire creation into union with God, as well.

The holy fathers teach that “man was created in divine grace, and that the glory from above garbed Adam and Eve better than any garment.” Those are the words of St. John Chrysostom. My patron saint, St. John Damascene, states that, “In paradise, Adam had the indwelling God as a dwelling place, and wore Him as a glorious garment. He was wrapped about with His grace.”

As I mentioned last night, the Orthodox Church understands grace to be the very energy of God, distinct, yet inseparable, from the divine essence. God is wholly present in His energies. Therefore, when man was created in grace, he had God, himself, within him. He was meant to participate in God’s life through the divine energies, to be fully and perfectly penetrated by grace, and thus to attain to union with God through love, a union which the holy fathers do not hesitate to call deification, or theosis. 

St. John Damascene teaches that Adam was not deified at his creation, but was created for deification. In St. John Damascene’s words he was to complete the mystery by being deified through reversion to God—this, however, not by being transformed into the divine essence, but by participation in the divine illumination. This is what I brought out last night, that we do not believe that we are absorbed into God, or that we become God by essence, but we believe that we can become one with God through His grace, or His energies.

We do not become sons of God by nature, like Christ was, but we become sons of God by adoption, by grace. According to the teaching of the Orthodox holy fathers, based on the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, both man and the entire cosmos, the entire visible creation, were incorrupt, or without decay, in the beginning. It was only later, at the fall of man, that death entered the world and the creation was made subject to the “bondage of corruption,” as we read in the epistle of the holy Apostle Paul to the Romans.

It is the unquestionable testimony of the Church that Adam and Eve were created conditionally immortal. That is, if they had not sinned they could have lived forever in incorrupt bodies, partaking of the Tree of Life in Paradise, and eventually attaining to Heaven, as well. There was no necessity either in their remaining incorrupt, or in their falling into corruption. Their free will was the determining factor. Originally, the incorrupt bodies of Adam and Eve did not have, in the words of St. Gregory the Theologian, “the coarser flesh, mortal and resistant,” that our bodies now have.

In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor, “they did not have the temperament which makes the flesh denser, mortal and tough.” It was a different kind of body, and a different kind of flesh. From the writings of many holy fathers, we know that before the fall, Adam and Eve were free from the bodily needs of shelter and clothing, and even of sleep. They had no sexual relations, or even sexual passions. They had no afflictions, infirmities, illness, disease, physical defects or maimings of the body. They knew no difficulty, sorrows, labors, sweat, hunger or thirst. They did not experience physical pain. They were not subject to cold or heat, or to the elements. Therefore, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, before the fall, man’s existence was akin to that of the angels.

From St. John Chrysostom we learn that Adam was originally created with ineffable intelligence, which endowed him with a capability to name all the animals, and with prophetic grace which enabled him to prophecy about Eve after her creation. 

St. Gregory of Sinai speaks of man’s memory in the state before the fall. The memory, St. Gregory says, was originally simple and one-pointed, but as a result of the fall, its natural powers have been perverted. It has lost its recollectedness in God, and has become compound instead of simple, diversified instead of one-pointed.

We are told by a more recent holy father, St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, that before the fall, the human mind was not held under the sway of imagination. In the theology of the holy fathers, the imagination is seen as a faculty belonging to the irrational part of the soul, which stores up images like treasures and brings them forth interiorly, even where there is no corresponding body present. These are the words of St. John Damascene and St. Gregory Palamas. 

Drawing from the common patristic teaching on the imagination, St. Nicodemus writes, “The first-formed man was created by God without imagination. His mind, pure and unified, functioned as mind, and so had, itself, acquired no impression or form under the influence of the senses, or from the images of sensory things. Making no use of this lower power of the imagination, he did not visualize the outline, color, shape or dimension of things, but with the higher power of the soul, that is, the intellect, he contemplated, immaterially, purely, and spiritually, only the bare, simple essences (or in Greek, logoi) of beings. 

It might be surprising to hear that imagination is a lower part of the soul, or irrational part of the soul. But if you think about it, animals, which are considered by the holy fathers to be irrational creatures, have imagination. You might have seen your dog having a dream, having a nightmare. Well, he is imagining things, he is having images in his mind. So the holy fathers say that this imagination did not influence man’s mind in the beginning. He just beheld things, perceived things as they were.

This was the condition of man in the beginning.  By drawing ever closer to God in love, by naturally directing his desire and longing to Him, rather than unnaturally turning it aside to the things of the senses, man was to become ever more holy and spiritual, ever more in the likeness of God, ever more transformed by the grace of God.

Earlier, we quoted the words of St. John Damascene, that man was to complete the mystery by being deified. Expanding on this theme, St. Maximus states that man, by freely following God’s commandment in Eden, would have become a deified Son of God, a God not by nature, but by grace. So, if man would have followed the commandment of God, stayed in the Garden of Eden, he would have eventually become deified and become spiritual, as well.

St. Symeon, the New Theologian, gives us an image of what life would have been like if the first people had fulfilled their original calling. Just think, he writes, what sort of life and way of living we might have had, if we had been preserved incorruptible and immortal in an incorrupt world, going through life manifestly without sin or sorrow, free of cares and untroubled.

Think, too, how by progress in keeping God’s commandments, and the putting into practice of our good intentions, we would have led up, in due time, to a more perfect glory and transformation, drawing nearer to God and to the rays which spring from His divinity. The soul of each would have become brighter, and the perceptible and material body of each altered and changed into an immaterial and spiritual one, into something beyond sense perception.

He was saying that eventually, we, and the entire cosmos would have become spiritual, beyond sense perception, and we would have become deified if we had kept the commandment of God.

Later, at the end of this seminar, we will talk about how eventually that will be brought into being in spite of man’s fall, by the coming, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This will come into being, of course, at the time of the general resurrection.

Although the first created world was made incorrupt in the beginning, as was man, it was, again, like man, not created in its final and perfected state. Since the visible creation was made for man, according to God’s ordering of His creation, it was through man that the creation was to reach its final condition, possessing both body and soul, man was the link between the originally incorrupt material world, and the noetic, or spiritual world, of the angels. As he became spiritualized and divinized, by drawing closer to God in love, man was to lead all of creation into such a spiritualized, divinized state, as well.

Such was man’s lofty original calling, but as we know and experience every day, the first man fell from this state and brought himself, and all of creation, into a state of corruption and death, again, what St. Paul calls the bondage to corruption in the 8th chapter of Romans. In partaking of the fruit that God had forbidden him to eat, man acted in a way contrary to his own nature, which had been created very good by God, as we read in the book of Genesis. With the entrance of sin through the free decision of Adam and Eve, human nature became corrupted.

St Cyril of Alexander writes of this in the 4th century, as follows: “Our forefather, Adam, by neglecting the commandment given him, struck out against God, for he slipped down into corruption. Then was sin also driven into the nature of man.

Thus many were made sinners, according to St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans. “Thence forward, pleasures and filthiness invaded the nature of the flesh, and there arose then, the savage law in our members. Our nature thus became diseased by sin through the disobedience of one, that is, of Adam. Hence, all were made sinners, not as co-transgressors with Adam, for they did not yet exist then, but because they were of his nature, which had fallen under the law of sin. In Adam, human nature became sick with corruption through disobedience, and therefore the passions entered in.”

Here, we might make a distinction between the Orthodox theology and the theology which developed in the West, where there was an idea that was put forth that we share the guilt of Adam’s sin, but as we read here in this teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria, we do not believe that we share in the guilt of his sin.  We are not co-transgressors with Adam, because we did not exist then. Adam and Eve bear the guilt of their own sin. We do not bear that guilt. However, because we are of one nature with Adam and Eve, we all come from them, we bear the consequences of their sin, and our nature became corrupted.

These consequences I will talk about now. At the fall, Adam and Eve acquired a tendency, or inclination, toward sin, and all their descendants, that is, all of us, inherited that inclination. In man’s now corrupted state, his mind, while still possessed of the faculty of reason, fell under the sway of the imagination, which, as we have seen, is a lower, irrational power of the soul.

St. Nicodemus of Mount Athos writes about this. “Just as the man-slaying devil fell through the imagination, that is, imagining himself to be God, so he caused Adam also to form in his mind that he was equal to God, and to fall through this same imagination. And thus, from that noetic, angel-like, unified, rational, and formless life of the mind, the wretched man, that is, Adam, was cast down to this sensory, many-sided and multiform imagination, and to the state of irrational animals. For imagination is a trait proper to a irrational animals, and not to rational beings. After man, through one act, fell to such a state, who can tell to what passions, what evils, and what delusions he was cast down by means of the imagination?”

The reason I am going into so much detail about the imagination, here, is because it relates very closely to what we will be talking about later, on the subject of watchfulness.

“Because of the corruption of his nature at the fall, man lost the grace in which he had been created.  He became separated from God. Grace was not foreign to his nature, and so it did not dwell within him as it had before.”

St. John Damascene, who, as we have seen, said that man was wrapped about with God’s grace at his creation, says later in the same work, that man was stripped of grace at the fall. This stripping of grace constituted a kind of spiritual death in the first created man. In the book of Genesis, God told Adam, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”

In fact, Adam did not die physically on the day he ate from the tree. According to the patristic teaching, however, God’s words were true. Adam did die on the day he ate of the fruit. He experienced spiritual death, the death of his soul. As St. Gregory Palamas writes, “It was, indeed, Adam’s soul that died by becoming, through his transgression, separated from God, for bodily, he continued to live after that time, even for 930 years.”

Elsewhere, St. Gregory Palamas speaks further on what is meant by the death of the soul. “The death of the soul is when God leaves the soul and is separated from it, although in another way, the soul remains immortal. Once separated from God, it becomes more ugly and useless than a dead body, but unlike such a body, it does not disintegrate after death.” That is, the soul lives on, but it is not true life because the soul is separated from God. 

Here it should be noted that the death of the soul that man suffered at the fall did not destroy the image of God in him. St. Gregory Palamas says that the human soul possesses the image of God inalienably, even if it does not recognize its own dignity or think and live in a manner worthy of the creator’s image within it.

As Vladimir Lossky says, in the book I showed you last night, the image of God in us is indestructible. Even the worst sinner, the worst criminal, still bears the image of God. So also, we do not believe in the idea that developed in Western theology, of complete depravity. We believe that our nature is corrupted, but still we have the image of God preserved in us. We still have an innate goodness in our being and in our soul.

At the fall, man’s spiritual death, which is the separation of the soul from God, made him, in turn, subject to physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body. St. Gregory Palamas writes of this as follows: The death, however, that befell the soul because of the transgression, not only crippled the soul and made man accursed, it also rendered the body, itself, subject to fatigue, suffering, and corruptability, and finally, handed it over to death.

As indicated in the passage of St. Gregory Palamas, physical pain and fatigue were introduced into human experience, together with bodily death. We find this expressed in the Genesis account in a sentence that God pronounces on Adam and Eve after their fall. Addressing Eve, God says, “I will greatly multiply thy pain and thy groaning. In pain thou shalt bring forth children.” And to Adam he says, “Cursed is the earth in thy labors. In toil shall thou eat of it all the days of thy life. In the sweat of they face shall thou eat bread, till thou return unto the earth out of which thou wast taken, for earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return.”

Also, in being given over to pain and death, fallen man has also been given over to physical corruption or decay after death. St. Maximus the Confessor says, “God, at the very moment that man fell, gave the body the capacity to suffer, undergo corruption, and to be wholly dissolved.”

When man fell from his original state of incorruption, his body became more grossly material. In the words of St. John Damascene, after the primordial fall, man was clothed in the roughness of this wretched life, and put on death, that is to say, the mortality and the grossness of the flesh. He was excluded from Paradise by the just judgment of God, and was condemned to death and made subject to corruption or decay. In such a condition of bearing grosser or denser flesh, man became subject not only to pain, death and corruption, but also to the bodily needs that we know today. St. John Chrysostom goes so far as to say that God refashioned man’s body at the fall to accord with his new condition and needs.

In addition to changing man’s spiritual and physical condition and handing him over to physical death and decay, man’s fall into corruption also determined the state of his soul after death, making it unable to partake of eternal union with God. Adam had been barred from Paradise during his earthly life, and he remained barred from both Paradise and heaven after death. After physical death the souls of Adam, Eve, and all their posterity went down into Hades where they continued to exist in a state of spiritual death.

Now, let’s look at the question of why God allowed the entrance of death and suffering into the world. Although the holy fathers declare, along with St. Paul, that death is an enemy which is to be destroyed, as we read in I Corinthians, they also affirm that the introduction of death was allowed providentially by God. Death, as we have said, was not part of God’s original ordering of His creation. However, after the fall, God used it for the benefit of man.

St. Irenaeus, a holy father of the 2nd century A.D., sees God’s love toward mankind in the fact that he allowed death to enter the world. St. Irenaeus writes, “God also drove Adam out of Paradise and placed him far from the Tree of Life, not because he envied him the Tree of Life, as some dare to claim, but because He pitied him, and did not desire that he should persevere forever as a sinner, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil unending and incurable, but He set a bounds to man’s sin by interposing death, thus causing sin to cease. So death puts an end to sin, so evil is not immortal.

St. Gregory the Theologian says the same, “Hereto he, Adam, makes a gain, namely death, and the cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal. Thus his punishment is changed into a mercy, for it is in mercy I am persuaded that God inflicts punishment. So God does not inflict punishment for the sake of inflicting punishment, He does it out of mercy, for good.

Just as God used death for the benefit of man in his fallen state, so also did He use the other physical consequences of the fall: suffering, bodily needs, labor, disease, etc. Like death, itself, these other consequences serve to humble man and bring him to repentance. At the fall, man succumbed to the temptation of pride expressed in the serpent’s words, “Ye shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.”

All the physical consequences of the fall serve to remind man that he is not God, but a created being who is dependent upon God. Adam and Eve, indeed, succumbed to pride in partaking of the forbidden fruit, but that was not the only source of their fall. As will be recalled, in the first sin they also turned their desire away from God and toward created things, seeking pleasure in them as an end in itself.

This, too, is expressed in the Genesis narrative. “And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and pleasant to the eyes, and a tree beautiful to contemplate.” That is, the forbidden fruit. Thus, the temptation that brought about man’s fall was two-fold. In the words of St. Mark, the Ascetic, in the Philokalia, all vice in the world is caused by self-esteem or pride, and sensual pleasure. Because of this, God employed the physical consequences of the fall as a two-fold remedy, not only to quell a man’s pride, but also to dampen his desire for created things, and his pursuit of sensual pleasure for its own sake. 

Physical death, then, puts an end to physical pain and labors. Here again, we see God’s mercy, for in allowing the entrance of physical death so as to prevent sin from being immortal, God also prevented bodily pain and labor from necessarily lasting forever. Furthermore, in His foreknowledge of man’s eventual salvation through Christ, God allowed man’s body to die so that it could be refashioned at the general resurrection.

As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “By divine providence death was introduced as a dispensation into the nature of man so that sin, having flowed away at the breaking of the union of soul and body, man, through the resurrection, might be refashioned sound, passionless, stainless, and removed from any touch of evil.

Man’s death opened the way to his refashioning into a better state. The actual refashioning of man, however, would occur not through the death of sinful men, but through the death and resurrection of the sinless God-man, Jesus Christ. Death, the ultimate physical consequence of man’s fall, would thus become a means by which God would redeem mankind from all the effects of the fall, spiritually and bodily.

As we read in the Holy Scripture, St. Paul writes in Hebrews, “Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” By means of death the redemption is accomplished. 

Now, let’s look more at the Orthodox doctrine of our redemption and deification. How are we to understand this mystery of man’s redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection? To begin our examination of this question, let’s turn again to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas on man’s fall. As you will recall, St. Gregory taught that through Adam’s one spiritual death, both spiritual and physical death were passed on to all men.

The same saint, however, affirmed that it is by means of death, Christ’s death, that the power of death is destroyed. He explains that as spiritual and physical death entered the world through Adam’s one spiritual death, so both kinds of death are overcome through Christ’s one physical death and His subsequent resurrection. 

That is, Christ did not die spiritually on the cross, as some more modern Western theologians say, because he is God and His divine nature is inseparable from His human nature. In order to die spiritually, His divine nature would have to be somehow ripped away for a time from His human nature, which was impossible.  So Christ did not die spiritually, He could not die spiritually, but by the providence of God, He died physically.

So, through His one physical death He overcame the consequences of the fall, which is both spiritual and bodily death. Out of His infinite love for us, Christ died on our behalf so that we could be given eternal life, both of soul and of body. In the words of St. Paul, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Also St. Paul says, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man.”

Speaking of the awesome mystery of His redemption of the world, Christ told His apostles, “The Son of man came to give His life as a ransom for many.” The image of Christ giving up His life as a ransom was later taken up by the Apostle Paul and also by the Orthodox holy fathers.

In the following passage, St. John Damascene makes use of this image of ransom, adding to it, the image of Christ’s body as bait attached to the hook of divinity. St. John Damascene writes:

Since our Lord Jesus Christ was without sin, He was not subject to death, since death came into the world through sin. He dies, therefore, because He took on Himself death on our behalf, and He makes himself an offering to the Father for our sakes. For we had sinned against Him and it was meet, or fitting, that He should receive a ransom for us, and that we should thus be delivered from the condemnation. God forbid that the blood of the Lord should have been offered to the tyrant, that is, the devil. Therefore death approaches, and swallowing up the body as a bait, is transfixed on the hook of divinity, and after tasting of a sinless and life-giving body, perishes and brings up, again, all whom of old it had swallowed up. For just as darkness disappears on the introduction of light, so is death repulsed before the assault of life, and brings life to all, but death to the destroyer.

He gives the image of a fish, and the fish here represents death. St. Gregory Palamas uses the same image and in his account the fish represents the devil. So death, or the devil, swallows every person who had ever lived, every person who lived after Adam dies. Death swallows them up, the devil swallows them up, and brings them down into Hades. All the souls from the time of Adam and Eve until the coming of Christ were, as I said, dragged down to Hades, which was a place of separation from God. And because sin is the proper food for death, and because all are sinners, and all are separated from God, all deserve to die, and then to go down into Hades.

When Christ died, and the devil helped to instigate that, of course, the death of Christ—when Christ died, the devil, or death, was just waiting to receive him into Hades, because that is where everybody else went. The devil really thought that he had defeated Christ, and Christ was there to mess of the devil’s plans, the devil’s operations. He thought he defeated Christ by causing Him to die. So the devil is here represented as a fish, just waiting to grab Christ, pull Him down into hell.

In this image, the flesh, or the body, of Christ, is the bait on the hook, that death, or the devil, is ready to grab. The devil sees the bait, but he does not see the hook. The hook is the divinity of Christ. When the devil, or death, grabs the bait, he also grabs the hook, which is the divinity of Christ, and because hell, or Hades, cannot hold God, obviously, death cannot hold God, therefore the fish basically explodes, it blow up. It destroys the power of death and the devil, and the devil has to basically release or cough up those that he had received into Hades.

We believe that not all the souls that were in Hades between the time of Adam and the time of Christ were delivered from hell, but all the righteous ones, or the ones who were turned toward God, were delivered from that state, and we will talk about that a little bit later.

St. Gregory Palamas calls forth the same image of the bait and the fish, and also uses the image of ransom. “The Lord patiently endured, for our sake, a death that He was not obliged to undergo, because He was sinless. To redeem us who were obliged to suffer death from servitude to the devil and death, by which I mean both of the soul and of the body to [??] eternal. Since He gave his blood, which was sinless, and therefore guiltless, as a ransom for us who were liable to punishment because of our sins, He redeemed us from our guilt. He forgave our sins, tore up the record of them on the cross and delivered us from the devil’s tyranny.”

The devil was caught by the bait. It was as if he opened his mouth and hastened to pour out for himself our ransom, the master’s blood, which was not only guiltless, but full of divine power. Then, instead of being enriched by it, he was strongly bound and made an example in the cross of Christ.

Here he brings out, also as St. John Damascene did earlier, that everybody who lives is a sinner, and therefore is deserving of death. But Christ, because He was sinless, did not deserve death, and that is another reason why the devil could not hold Him in hell, and He could not be held in the tomb in death.

So there are two reasons why He conquered death, and both of these reasons are inseparably bound together—first of all, because Christ is God, and secondly, because He was sinless. It is because He was God that He was sinless, because, as I said earlier, Christ’s human nature was, and is, inseparably, but unconfusedly, bound with His divine nature.

In order to sin, Christ’s human nature would have to be parted from His divine nature, because sin is separation from God. Because Christ’s human nature and divine nature are inseparable, therefore, Christ not only did not sin, but also He could not sin. He did not, and could not sin, even in thought. Therefore, Christ, because He was God, was totally sinless, and because of this, both because of His divinity, and consequently because of His sinlessness, He overcame the power of sin and death through His death on the cross, and His resurrection.

St. John Chrysostom further highlights this teaching with an image of his own. He says, “It is as if, at a session of a court of justice, the devil should be addressed as follows: “Granted that you have destroyed all men because you found them guilty of sin, but why did you destroy Christ? Is it not very evident that you did so unjustly? Well then, through Him the whole world will be vindicated. “

From these, and the other teachings of the holy fathers based on scripture, the Orthodox doctrine of man’s redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection might be briefly stated, as follows: Death is the consequence of sin. When Christ died on the cross, He took upon Himself this consequence. However, since He was wholly without sin, He was undeserving of death, and since He was divine, He was unable to be held in the bonds of death and Hades.

Thus, the spiritual and physical death that had entered the world through the fall of man were abolished through Christ’s death and resurrection, and all mankind was given the possibility of being delivered from them both.

The consequences of Christ’s redemptive work could pass to all people because, as we have noted, concerning the consequences of the first man’s sin, human nature is one. St. Paul writes, “If by one man’s offense, death reigned by one, that is, Adam, much more, they which received abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign by one, Jesus Christ.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria speaks specifically on how the consequences of Christ’s death on the cross, like the consequences of Adam’s fall, were able to pass to all men due to the unity of human nature. St. Cyril writes, “We were crucified with Christ at the moment when His flesh was crucified, because it somewhat included universal human nature in itself, just as universal human nature contracted the sickness of the curse in Adam at the same time that he drew upon himself the curse. In Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection, all the consequences of the fall are overcome. These consequences, however, are not overcome all at once, but in a certain order, corresponding to the order in which man first experienced them.

St. Symeon, the New Theologian, teaches that, just as Adam experienced first the spiritual death, and later, physical death, so likewise, Christ first overcame spiritual death in His own person, when He resurrected, brought to life, and deified the human soul at His incarnation. And then He later overcame physical death in His person at His resurrection from the dead.

St. Symeon goes on to say that the same order of redemption, first of the soul, and then of the body, was observed in those who had died before Christ. For immediately after Christ’s death, and while His body lay in the tomb, His soul descended into Hades, freed the souls of the saints held captive there, in everlasting bonds, raised them up, and established them in a place of rest and light without evening, but not yet their bodies, for those He allowed to remain in the grave until the general resurrection. 

So he is saying the resurrection already begins to occur when Christ dies, right when He dies, when His body is still in the tomb, and those of you who are Orthodox know that in the Church, while Christ’s body is still in the tomb, before Pascha, we are already wearing white vestment, or in some traditions, red vestments, representing Pascha. The time of the resurrection has already begun, although Christ’s body is still lying in the tomb, His soul is in Hades, resurrecting, spiritually, all the righteous ones who had died between the time of Adam’s fall and Christ’s coming. In the Epistle of St. Peter, we read that even some of those who died in the global flood of Noah’s time were delivered from Hades at that time while Christ’s body was in the grave.

Finally, St. Symeon teaches this order of redemption is also observed in the life of each Christian. Man is first spiritually resurrected in the Church through the Holy Mysteries that have been made possible through Christ’s redemptive work, and only later does he experience the physical resurrection that Christ also made possible. The beginning of our renewal, writes St. Gregory Palamas, is the mystery of holy baptism, wherein we are cleansed of sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. St. Gregory writes, Christ tore up the handwriting of our transgressions on the cross and made guiltless all those who are buried with Him through baptism.

In baptism we die and are buried with Christ, thus partaking of the saving power of His death, which frees us from sin. The Apostle Paul writes, “Know ye not that as many of us as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death. Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed.”

The mystery of baptism, however, does not only mean dying with Christ, it also means rising with Him and being given new life. The Apostle Paul affirms, “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so, we should walk in newness of life.”

This spiritual resurrection in Christ is the uniting of man’s soul once again with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Because man is cleansed of sin in Holy Baptism through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, grace is no longer foreign to his nature, and he becomes a fit receptacle of the Holy Spirit. In the mystery of baptism, together with the mystery of Chrismation that follows upon it, man receives the grace of the Holy Spirit, as he had it before the primordial fall—that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit united with his soul and his inward being.

St. Symeon, the New Theologian, explains how baptism, together with Chrismation, is both a death and resurrection for man, both granting man forgiveness of sins, and imparting to him the grace of the Holy Spirit that he had lost at the fall. St. Symeon writes:

The Son and Word of God, having become incarnate, offered Himself in the flesh as a sacrifice to the divinity of the Father, and of the Son, Himself, and of the Holy Spirit, in order that the first transgression of Adam might be benevolently forgiven for the sake of this great and fearful work, that is, for the sake of the sacrifice of Christ, and in order that, by its power, there might be performed another new birth and recreation of man in Holy Baptism, in which we are also cleansed by water mingled with the Holy Spirit. Christ called it being born again of water and the spirit.

From that time people are baptized in water, or immersed in it, and taken out from it three times, in the image of the three-day burial of the Lord, and after they die in it, to this whole evil world. In the third bringing out from it, they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life, and again receive the grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression, they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, or Holy Chrism, and by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ, and are fragrant in a way above nature.

Two things occur in Holy Baptism. First, we are cleansed of sin, the consequences of sin, and secondly, we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit. I’m not talking chronologically, but those two things occur at the same time. Because we are cleansed of sin we can once more receive the grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam and Eve had it before the fall.

St. Symeon continues to write about how those who are baptized and Chrismated into Christ’s Church are united to God through the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion. He says, “Having become, in this way, worthy of being associates of God, they taste His flesh and drink His blood, and by means of the sanctified bread and wine, become of one body and blood with God, who was incarnate, and offered Himself as a sacrifice.”

In a similar vein, St. Nicholas Cabasilas, holy father of the 14th century, speaks of how we partake of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross when receiving Holy Communion. He says, “Since therefore, the only begotten Son has left nothing undone which pertains to the Father’s glory, He alone has broken down the middle wall of division,” from the words of St. Paul, “and clears many from his sentence, that is, the sentence upon him for sin.

Christ’s body, then, is the only medicine against sin and His blood the only ransom from offenses. This is the body that was slain upon the cross. It paid the penalty of death, and that upon the cross. The blood springing out from the wounds darkened the sun and shook the earth. It hollowed the air and washed the whole world clean of the filth of sin.

Therefore,” St. Nicholas concludes, “the labors and tears of those who repent of sins after the baptismal washing, and plead for grace, stand in need of the blood of the new covenant, and of the body which was slain, since the labors and tears are of no avail without the body and blood.”

Elsewhere, St. Nicholas affirms that in the Holy Eucharist we also partake of Christ’s resurrection since we receive the risen one, Himself, the very benefactor, Himself, the very temple whereon is founded the whole compass of graces. Spiritual resurrection of Christ, uniting of man’s soul with the divine grace, reopens the way to deification, which had been closed to man at the fall. Through deification, or union, with God, we are to become, in the words of the Apostle Peter, partakers of the divine nature, from the second epistle of the holy Apostle Peter.

Christ, the incarnate God wishes us to be united with Him in love. He wishes us to dwell in Him, and He in us. He said to His disciples, “If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and We will make Our abode with him.” A little later He said, “Abide in Me,” or “Live in Me, and I in you.”

Throughout their lives, Orthodox Christians are to grow toward a more full deification, a more perfect participation in God’s life. This participation in God is never to end, but passes into everlasting spiritual life in the Kingdom of Heaven. As will be remembered, mankind had been cut off from both Paradise and Heaven at the fall. Now through Christ, both have been opened again to man.

When parted from the body at death, the souls of those redeemed by Christ not only pass to Paradise, which St. John Damascene describes as luxuriant, with ever-blooming plants, filled with fragrance, flooded with light, for they also pass through Heaven, the place in which the angelic powers dwell, and which is also described as a place full of light.

What we have described is only the first kind of resurrection, spiritual resurrection that has been made possible by Christ. The second kind, physical resurrection, will occur at the second coming, through the saving power of Christ’s resurrection. This accords with the order of redemption outlined by St. Symeon above. We will return to the subject of the physical resurrection at the end of the seminar.

Now we have completed part I of the seminar today, and as I said earlier, before ending this session I will read the first couple of sections of part II, but now, since we have covered this theme and it is fresh in your minds, I would like to see if you have any questions on this, and then maybe about 15 minutes of questions or so, and then I will continue and read the first two sections of Part II.

Questioner #1: If Adam and Even did not fall, would we exist?

Father Damascene: Yes, we would. Yes, somehow we would exist, or more people would exist. A number of holy fathers, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Blessed Theodore of Cyrus, and I can’t remember, there might be a few others—they say that if Adam and Eve had not fallen, then God would have increased the human race by some other means, not sexual reproduction, some other means He would have found.

St. John Chrysostom says that God created many angels, He did not need sexual reproduction, He created many angels. He created Eve out of Adam’s rib. The holy fathers do not say exactly how the human race would have increased, but they do say that there would have been increase of the human race, by some other means.

Questioner #2: I was wondering about the irrational part—imagination? I come from a Protestant background, with the idea that we are to share in God’s creative energy, so I always tied that closely with imagination, of thinking new things. How does that work in Orthodoxy? Not clear?

Father Damascene: Well, about the uncreated energy, I am not sure, like thinking of new things is part of the uncreated energy?

Questioner #2: No, I am speaking of imagination—I consider that as being very creative, but you are saying that is a lower form?

Father Damascene: Well, the Holy Fathers, when they talk about imagination—in Greek it is phantasticon or fantasia—they are referring to the formation of mental images after the corresponding body is not present. You can see something and then you can imagine it in your mind. After the fall, man’s mind came under the sway of the imagination.

The imagination can be used in all different ways, but it is not quite the same as the creative faculty. Adam did give names to all the animals and St. John Chrysostom says that God endowed Adam with ineffable intelligence, so that he could name all the animals and remember all the names, and describe the qualities of those animals with the names.

St. Ephrem the Syrian says that this was also with God’s inspiration that he was able to name the animals. So you could say that there was a kind of creative faculty in Adam, but he did not do it through the imagination. In other words, the imagination is something between the reality and the mind. When you have an image of something, it is not the reality, itself. You can remember that thing through the imagination, but it is not the reality, itself.

What St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain was saying is that Adam and Eve, before the fall, could perceive the essences, what we call the logoi, of the created things, directly, without the use of the imagination. Again, there was a creative faculty in Adam, but not through the imagination.

Questioner #3: I have a question in regards to the restoration and deification, with both the spiritual and the physical, the soul and the body, and in regards to when that is happening with the soul, and as you say, with the body that is not going to happen until total restoration of mankind. I am not sure how to pose the question, but is it an accepted pattern, or a state of being, that as the soul is restored more, or coming closer to Christ, the physical might tend to be more corrupted because of that growth? Is the physical just going to be where it is going to be, or is that affected as the soul is…?

Father Damascene: Like the soul of a Christian coming closer to God, is that what you are talking about?

Questioner #3: Correct.

Father Damascene: St. Symeon the Theologian says that in this order of redemption that he talks about—and you rightly recapped what I was saying—first the spiritual death came in through Adam’s fall, and then as a result of that, physical death came in. Christ first overcame spiritual death, and then He will overcome physical death in the future. So, for now, all Christians and even the greatest saints die, but God does grant, in some cases, a certain relative incorruption to the bodies of the saints.

That is why we have these incorrupt bodies of the saints in the Church. Some are quite amazing, like St. Alexander of Svir, who died 500 years ago. His body was hidden away somewhere during the Soviet area and they recently found it again, and it is completely incorrupt. All the flesh is there, it is soft, it is white.

There are some amazing cases like that, and also, we have cases of myrrh-gushing relics. Recently, in Greece, on the island of Andros, there is a whole series of relics that were uncovered where there was gushing myrrh. This is an indication from God, or rather a foretaste, or foreshadowing, of the future incorruption. It is not a complete incorruption, obviously, but it is a relative incorruption. So there is something we can speak about, in terms of incorruption, even now, but it is obviously not complete.

I think that the saints, even during this earthly life, can partake, to some degree of that incorruption. We read about some saints who were saying the Jesus Prayer with their head down on their chest, and they were praying in their heart, and then incorrupt fragrance of Heaven will come forth from their chest. These kinds of signs are given in the Church, these rather beautiful little miracles that are given in which God opens up the other world, and gives a sense and foretaste of the incorruption that He has planned for the whole creation, and also the incorruption that was there in the beginning of the creation.

Another account I could give you is the account of Euphrosynos the cook. Many Orthodox Christians have in their kitchen an icon of St. Euphrosynos the cook, patron saint of kitchens and cooking. St. Euphrosenus the cook was a monk, I believe, in Palestine, and he went to Paradise in spirit. His abbot had a dream in which he saw St. Euphrosynos in Paradise. St. Euphrosynos was there and the abbot asked him if he would give him something to take back and St. Euphrosynos gave him two pieces of fruit, I think apples, or something, and they were wrapped in a cloth. When the abbot came out of his reverie, there in his cell where these two pieces of fruit. They were somehow brought back from Paradise in a mystical manner. Paradise still exists. When Christ died on the cross, before He died He said to the thief, “You will be with me together in Paradise.” So Paradise still exists, although we can’t see it. It is a more spiritual, rarified realm.

Somehow these pieces of fruit were brought back from Paradise and they had this miraculous, heavenly fragrance. The abbot cut them up into little pieces and people came from miles around who were sick and had various diseases, and they partook of these pieces of the fruit, and they were healed. In other words, in this way, that incorrupt realm, which still exists, kind of impinges every once in a while, by God’s allowance, or God’s grace, His providence, by His will, upon this world, and we can somehow partake of that. Again, the same thing with the myrrh-gushing icons, that incorruption is made manifest to us, even in this fallen, corrupted state that we live in.

By the way, about St. Euphrosynos, the cook, after this happened he disappeared, because he knew he was found out that he was going to Paradise, and all these people wanted to go see him, and he became a celebrity, so he left to another monastery. He is considered a great saint of the Church and we have from him that image of the Paradise that still exists and there are others that have been to Paradise, as well—St. Andrew, Fool for Christ, and many others.

Questioner #4: In today’s talk you were talking about the state of man’s body before the fall and last night we were talking about God’s energies. As Orthodox, we believe in theosis and becoming like Christ. Looking at the lives of the saints, I just finished reading Father Arseny’s book, about his life, and about how when he was put into solitude with the other prisoner, Father Alexi. They should have died, they should have frozen to death, and they prayed and they survived. Were they allowed to be in the state before the fall, as though that was what our nature, our physical body was to be outside of the fallen state of the world?

Father Damascene: That is a good point, that is a good way to look at it. You are kind of reading into the text, but I think that is a good way to do that, because when miracles occur, when the order of the fallen creation, or the laws of the fallen nature, of the fallen creation, are changed by the will of God, then we do get a glimpse of that incorruption in which the world existed before the fall, which it will exist in after the fall, and the incorruption that man used to enjoy, and will enjoy after the resurrection.

« Back