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Man and his Fall - Third Catechismfrom the book "ENTERING THE ORTHODOX CHURCH"
by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos
The Consequences of the Fall.
After the analysis of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, that is, following all what we have said, referring to the Father, we must now go on to make a man-centred analysis of this parable. It will show us the true value of man and what true life is.
The father in the parable had two sons. Both sons lived at home and enjoyed their father’s goods.
God is called Father both in relation to His only-begotten Son and in relation to man. However, there is a vast difference between the two. The Father gave birth to the Son before all ages, whereas He created man within time. Man is also a child of God, but by grace, whereas the Second Person of the Holy Trinity is a Son by nature.
We can use an example to make this more comprehensible. An artist constructs a painting, which is his own spiritual creation, his own work. In a way, you could call it ‘his child’, because it expresses his thoughts and his gifts. At the same time, he begets children. Thus, he makes the painting, but begets the child. The same thing, with appropriate analogy, happens with God the Father in relationship to the Logos and men.
God created the whole world. In the beginning, He created the angels, what is known as the noetic realm. He then went on, within the space of five days, to create all the sensible world, nature, birds, fish, animals, plants and so on. Then, on the sixth day He created man, who was both noetic and sensible [sensory], i.e. he had a soul and body. As the Fathers of the Church say, first He created the Kingdom, the palaces, and then He created the King, man. From his very creation, man was called to be king of the world.
The Holy Scriptures say that man was made by God in His Image and Likeness. The “Image” refers to the noetic faculty and his free-will, i.e., he has a nous and freedom. Whereas the “Likeness” refers to the fact that, he was created to become by grace what God is by nature. That is to say, he was created to become a God through grace. Of course, according to the Holy Fathers, the “Image” refers to the triune nature of the soul. Just as God is Nous, Logos and Spirit man also has a nous, logos and spirit. The nous is the centre of his personality. The logos or reason is the articulated and spoken word that is formulated with reason. Finally, the spirit, which is man’s noetic eros, his intense longing, the power he has within him to achieve theosis.
This means that the archetype of his creation, we could say the model of man’s creation is God, and more especially the Logos of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Man did not happen alone; he had a model. We can compare man to having a film and printing off many photographs. In this case, the film is Christ, and man is in the image of the Logos, a photograph of the Logos. This is why he should be like its original archetype. He must keep his photograph clean; otherwise it does not correspond to its original creation, and, therefore, loses its value completely.
The term “the image” demonstrates his ontology, that is, the reality of his nature. Whereas “the likeness” demonstrates where he should go and what his objective is. This means that man must always bear his noble lineage in mind. He is a prince and noble. He comes from an important and elevated family. He should also know that he ought to strive to live up to this great mission. Man’s objectives are not exhausted on himself. That is to say, he should not only consider his food, drink, clothing and recreation, instead he should have high targets. Nor yet is it man’s goal to study, work get married etc. He will do these things to provide for and serve his life here. Ultimately, however, the deeper aim of his life is to become God by grace. St. Gregory the Theologian would make an amazing definition of man’s purpose. Man, he said, is a “living creature sustained here, but transferred elsewhere, and, the completion of the mystery, is deification through its inclination towards God.” That is to say, man lives and is provided for in this earthly existence, but he is journeying to the other life. This journey from biological life to Spiritual life is called a mystery. Furthermore, the end of the mystery is to become deified, by God’s grace.
In the parable that we studied the two sons are shown living in their Father’s house. According to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, this shows that immediately following his creation man lived in the house of God, i.e. in Paradise, and he had true communion with God. Paradise was both sensible and noetic. That is to say, it was a special place, but also a personal relationship with God. In the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis, in particular, we see that Adam had grace from God immediately following the Creation. This is why both he and Eve lived just like the angels in heaven.
The younger son in the parable sought his own share of his inheritance:
“‘Give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” So he divided them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:12-16)
At this point, the parable is fully compatible with the Fall of man and his detachment from God. We will look at its more central points.
According to St. Gregory Palamas, the younger son sought his corresponding property from his father, which means that sin comes later, whereas virtue is first-born. God created man pure, with the capacity to attain deification (theosis). Whereas, sin is ‘younger’, a “discovery born later”. It is the result of man’s bad choice. Man used his freedom to choose abandonment of God and his detachment from Him. Man’s sin was that he sought to appropriate God’s work and he attempted to continue his life according to his own will, and not according to the will of God. As can be seen in the Old Testament, man wanted to be obedient to himself and his own reason, and not to the will of God. He made himself and his desires the centre of everything, instead of God. This is the essence of the tragedy of ancestral sin, and, indeed, of all sin.
In reading the parable of the prodigal son, we observe the stages of the Fall, as well as the tragic figure of the younger son. We can delineate it as follows: appropriation of the property, emigration, squandering of the essentials, deprivation and subjugation. Within this framework, we can see the tragedy of the sin of the forefathers, as well as the tragedy of every other sin that man commits.
When one tries to expend all his life within the bounds of his biological life, interpreting it rationally, this constitutes a departure from God. Man emigrates to a far country. He loses his communion and unity with God. From the moment of his creation man has a body and soul inseparably joined together. The soul is the life of the body, whereas the life of the soul is the Holy Spirit. Thus, without the Holy Spirit, man is Spiritually dead. It is characteristic that, when his son returns, the father in the parable says, “for this my son was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:24). This means that departure from God creates this death. Indeed, without God, man is Spiritually dead. He may move, work, have a high place in society, yet, without God, everything is dead and life is insipid.
St. John the Damascene, in mentioning the Fall of Adam and Eve, says through sin man lost divine grace, his image was darkened and he [willingly through beguilement] was stripped of divine grace, resulting in the feeling of nakedness in the body, too. The consequences were horrific. Having lost divine grace, death came. First, Spiritual death and then bodily death, i.e. sicknesses, mortality and finally, later, the separation of the soul from the body.
The life of a man without the God Who created him is true deprivation. In that case, nothing has meaning in his life. He is completely discontented, because he has lost his archetype, God. He loses true love; he is even deprived of real freedom. This means that he is subjugated to the citizens of that country, faraway from his father’s house. These citizens of Hell are, in fact, the devil. He becomes the devil’s minion. This is true deprivation and subjugation of man. He was made to be a prince, to live in the royal palace and he preferred to be naked, in rags, a swineherd. That is to say, he preferred to expend himself solely on his biological strengths and the indulgence of his senses.
We said, previously, that without the Holy Spirit, man is Spiritually dead. St. Makarios the Egyptian uses two images to make this reality comprehensible. The first image is of unsalted meat. In this case, it quickly goes off and gives off a terrible stench. The other image is of a coin that does not have the King’s image upon it. Such a coin would be a counterfeit and would be completely worthless. The same thing is true of a man who does not have the energy of the All-Holy Spirit within him. He is not a natural man, and he does not have the true life.
St. Gregory of Nyssa would say something quite characteristic: “The person who does not live truly, does not have a true life; the life of sinners is not a life, as such, it is merely labelled as one.” This means that God is man’s life. Besides, Christ Himself said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Whoever lives apart from God does not have actual life. This is why the life of sinners is simply called life, in name only, but in actual fact, it is not a life at all. This means that it is tragic. He is locked up within the prison of his senses, of mortality and of corruption. He cannot reach out to the clear skies of freedom. He is tormented by all life’s tragic problems. He can find no escape. He is exiled to a desert island and there is no hope of salvation, unless he returns to God, through his own free-will.
Far from God, man is a prodigal. He loses his beauty and his worth. He has no father. He has no house. He does not have love. He has no friends. Everybody takes advantage of him. This is why, sometimes, from within his bitterness and tragedy, he seeks for God. The desire for Baptism can be seen in precisely this perspective. He wants to obtain life, which is God, and he wants to have a personal relationship with God, who is his archetype. The quest for Baptism does not have a social character; it should not be inspired by external, human questions. Rather, it must be placed within this perspective. Someone wants to be baptised so that they can return from death to life, from that far country to his father’s house, from deprivation to abundance, from being an orphan to having a father.
Article published in English on: 26-2-2019.
Last update: 26-2-2019.