The Orthodox Pages



11th January 2007









































































The Founder of the Christian religion is our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity teaches and demands of its followers, faith in the one true God, the Holy Trinity. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate (that is he became flesh) of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary and was made man. Thus Jesus Christ is both God and man. He is one Person with two natures, the Divine and the human. But how by becoming man does God save mankind? Why in the first place did mankind need saving? To answer these and other similar questions one must first understand how God created man, for in the beginning, Adamís nature was different from the nature he past down to his descendants.

When God created Adam, He made him according to His image and likeness. What do we understand by this? We understand that the image is manís spirit, the soul, which is endowed with intelligence, with thought, wisdom and prudence, so as to be able to discern good from evil. It is manís sovereign state and free will to choose his own destination: to choose between knowing and having communion with God, or to separate himself from God. To be in the likeness of God is the ability to acquire the grace of God: to be deified by the Holy Spirit and become a god. In other words, to be united to God through our own free will by accepting Godís will and making it ours. We acquire this likeness through Godís help and by our own efforts. If we make proper use of our free will, we can reach the ultimate aim for which man was created, to be a god by grace.
Adam was created immortal, that is to say, as long as he lived in Godís will and likeness, he would live forever. He was as yet innocent and sinless, one can say almost perfect, except for his knowledge, which was only theoretical. We say theoretical because by nature, Adam possessed theoretical knowledge of good and evil, i.e. it was innate and natural to him. This knowledge was included in the ďaccording to the imageĒ, which was his wisdom and prudence, his gift of discernment. ďAdam could discern both these things [good and evil]Ē, says St. John Chrysostom, and ďit was impossible for him not to know what was good and what was badĒ, for ďGod from the very beginning in creating man placed within him natural lawĒ. Thus, man knew from the moment of his creation what was good and what was evil; what was beneficial and salutary and what was harmful and destructive. But this knowledge was theoretical. He possessed knowledge but not experience. He knew that his aim was to reach perfection and union with God, but perfection could only be achieved through practical and experiential knowledge.
God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden and gave him Eve, whom He created from Adamís rib, to be a companion for him. God gave them a commandment that they may eat of all the fruit of the trees except of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and on the day they eat of it, they would surely die. Many people speculate on what this forbidden fruit might have been. In truth, it doesnít matter what the fruit was. The reason for the commandment was not to deprive them of the fruits of paradise, but to give them the opportunity to exercise their free will, either to follow Godís will or to reject it. It was a simple command, which gave them the opportunity to practice and advance in obedience, virtue and sanctity, an opportunity to gain the much-desired experiential knowledge. The Devil, appearing in the guise of a serpent told Eve that if they eat of the tree ďye shall not surely die. For God knew that in whatever day ye should eat of it your eyes would be opened, and ye would be as gods, knowing good and evilĒ (Gen. 3: 4-5). Eve was guileless and innocent, and did not immediately recognize that the serpent, the most cunning of all the beasts on the earth, was evil. She struck up conversation with the serpent and with great trust, she listened to the Evil one slander God and allowed herself to be led to the precipice of evil. Indeed Eve was as St. John Chrysostom says, ďpuffed up with the hope of becoming equal to God and imagined great things for herselfĒ. Thus, the tree, which she had seen many times before and only identified it with Godís commandment, suddenly looked very different. She looked upon it as for the first time and saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate. Believing therefore the serpent, she ate of the fruit and gave to Adam also with her, and they ate. At first glance, one might say that their intention was good because their one desire was to reach perfection, but they sinned because they disobeyed Godís commandment [not to eat of the fruit]. They freely chose not to follow Godís will and this destroyed or distorted in them the likeness of God.
The significance of their action has a much deeper meaning for by doing what the seducer suggested, man appeared to be saying to God: I have no need of You. I shall live by myself, self-sufficient and independent. I donít need Your guidance and protection. Iím able by myself to live and to achieve great things. Indeed manís original sin revealed his unbelief in God, his egoistic rebellion against the Divine Majesty, his thanklessness and ingratitude toward the beneficent Creator and Father, his contempt, insult and blasphemy against the Holy and Heavenly King.
Because Adam did not conceive and discover evil by himself, but was tempted from without by the devil and thus led into sin, God gave them the opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness. He first approached and asked Adam what he had done, and Adam replied: ďThe woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eatĒ (Gen. 3: 12). Adam did not accept that he had made a mistake, but passed on the blame to God for giving him the woman. God then approached Eve and she replied: ďThe serpent beguiled me and I did eatĒ (Gen. 3: 13). Like Adam, Eve was too proud to accept her mistake and ask for forgiveness and passed on the blame onto someone else, in this case the serpent. The first sin therefore was disobedience to Godís will and this immediately produced an offspring in pride, and subsequently a long chain of other sins.
The fact that God gave them the opportunity to repent does not necessarily mean that if they had taken this path, they would have regained the likeness of God. God never lies; He said that on the day they eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die. This did not mean that they would undergo an immediate physical death. Eternal life can only be lived as long as it is lived in the likeness of God. They freely chose to separate themselves from Godís likeness by following their own free will. This separation from God set in motion a slow deterioration of their bodies, which had undergone a transformation. In Genesis 3:21, we read: ďUnto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed themĒ. It is easy to come to the presumption that these skins were animal skins in which God clothed them to hide their nakedness, but the Church understands this as something completely different. The skins in question are the skins of our bodies. It was the transformation from the immortal bodies into mortal bodies. This drastic change was necessary for manís salvation, otherwise sin would have reigned in Adamís immortal body and union with God would have been eternally impossible.
This change was in fact their death, because they had lost immortality. They were in a state of death and subject to cold, hunger, illness, diseases, pain, suffering and ageing bodies, which eventually would bring about their death. God did not create evil or death. Evil is the state of the free will that is opposed to Godís will, and death is the consequence of this evil state. A free will choosing not to follow Godís will, follows its own destination and destruction. God could not force Adam not to sin because that would have put a restriction on Adamís free will and therefore he would no longer be in the image of God: he would become a form of mechanical robot or android, programmed in what to do and say.

Separated from God and eternal life, man freely accepted communion with the devil and so fell under his jurisdiction and became a slave to sin and death. Man abandoned God, but God did not abandon man. He made it possible for man to recreate and regenerate life by having children, therefore although a man dies, he passes on his human nature to another person. If man did not die, sin and death would have become immortal and reigned forever and so union with God would have been impossible. But this process of regeneration, made it possible that manís nature did not die completely: it delayed the inevitable and final moment of manís final destruction, until God could put into motion His plan to save him from death, manís last enemy.
We inherit the original sin of Adam because he is our father and so he passes on to all his children, the fallen state of his human nature. All of Adamís descendants, until the coming of Christ, had lost the likeness of God and therefore lost the ability to achieve union with God. The only way to save man from death and to unite him with God and eternal life, was to have someone break the chain of inherited original sin. To do this God, had to create a new Adam that would not inherit original sin, but at the same time, he would have to have a common link with the rest of humanity. Man is conceived through the seed of man and original sin is passed on through this process, so how did God solve this problem. God willed that He would himself become a man and live as one of us. This He did by taking flesh from the Virgin Mary. Mary was born from a line of ancestors who were prepared by God until the right person was found who could give Him birth. Whatever preparation was needed, this in no way affected their free will: they could accept or reject Godís will at any time.
Mary, born of the seed of man, became the common link with the rest of humanity, right back to Adam. She lived without sin, choosing from her birth to be guided by the Holy Spirit, until God chose the right time for His incarnation. Living without sin does not exempt someone from original sin. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the dogma of the ďImmaculate ConceptionĒ. In other words it believes that Mary was born without original sin. This is ludicrous and blasphemous because then Mary would no longer belong to the human race and in fact would be God incarnate. Joachim would not have been her father and Anna, her mother, would have been the Mother of God. God himself would not have needed to become man to save us, because if Mary was born outside of original sin, she would have been a perfect human being, thus not needing to be saved and we could all find salvation through her. On the other hand, the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was born with original sin, but was cleansed of this the moment she accepted to become the Mother of God. How this was possible is not for us to ask, but remains one of the mysteries of salvation. One can try to explain this cleansing of original sin with the Mystery of Baptism. When we are baptized, we are immersed into the water, which signifies the death of the Old Adam, the death of the body that inherited original sin. When we are raised from the water, we are joined to the Resurrection Body of Christ. In a similar manner, with the annunciation story where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, one can interpret this as a form of baptism that cleansed Mary from original sin and prepared her to receive God in her womb. What is definite is that God could not have taken His abode in Maryís womb if her body still had the scars of original sin, because God can have no part with sin.
Christ is therefore the New Adam, He is God become man, but He was not subject to original sin. He was not created like the rest of mankind, but in a way that has already been explained. From His birth to His Crucifixion, death and Resurrection, we learn all we need to know of His life as a man, in the Holy Gospels.
Death can only have a hold on someone if that person inherits of falls into sin, because death is the consequence of sin. Christ was free from all sin and so when he was crucified and laid dead in the tomb, death had no legal claim over Him, and so His body was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Christís human nature, free from sin, had broken the barrier that separated us from God. The New Adam had pulled down the middle wall of partition that had been erected by the fall of the Old Adam. In the same that we are all one and share in the fallen human nature of the Old Adam, we can now become one with the renewed and deified human nature of Christ, the New Adam.

But how does someone join and become one with Christ? Is it enough to say that I believe in Christ therefore I am saved? Christ Himself said: ďNot every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heavenĒ (Matth. 7:21). Here the Lord is saying that not everyone who prays to me shall be saved precisely because prayer is not enough. The Gospels speak very clearly on what we must do to be saved. They are not only a historical account of Christís life on earth, but also His teaching in words and deeds, His commandments and His promise to all that follow Him. The New Testament is the instructions handbook for eternal life and all Christians would do well to continually read from it all their life, but for someone wishing to join Christ and His Church, it is the first step in coming to know what the Christian faith teaches. Christ Himself set the order of things after His Resurrection when He said to His disciples: ďGo ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. AmenĒ (Matth. 28: 19-20). You see that He says to His disciples to teach first and then to baptize. Again He says ďHe that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damnedĒ (Mark 16:16). For salvation then it is not enough to believe, one must also be baptized. But even Baptism is not enough by itself to guarantee us eternal life. Jesus said: Truly, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him .(John 6: 53-55) The Jews were rather puzzled and said: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? But we know that we can do this when we attend the Divine Liturgy and partake of His precious Body and Blood in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Through Holy Communion, we join and become one with Christ. But again, this does not mean that if we partake of this Holy Sacrament once, that this is enough to save us and therefore continue to live a life of leisure as it pleases us. God opened the way to salvation, but He cannot save an individual without the conscious effort of that person taking part in his own salvation by accepting Godís will as his own. Man still has a free will and continues to sin, but this time, one manís sin does not set up a universal barrier that separates everyone from God. In the beginning, Adam, the first man, set up the wall of partition through his one and only will, but now we are myriads of people, each one possessing his own free will. Each person that falls into sin, builds his own personal barrier which he can pull down with the help of the sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, and by striving to be with God and making Godís will his own. No matter how many times a person falls into sin and sets up a wall separating himself from eternal life, God has given him the means through the Church to tear it down and start again.