What was the world like before sin? What is the world like in the presence of sin? What of mankind and our place in this world before and after sin? Would Adam and Eve be living in New York City if there were no fall? In many ways the real question to ask is from whence have we fallen, and where are we headed. By continuing our studies of Metropolitan John Zizioulas’ Lectures in Dogmatics, we can make some headway in understanding this overall question of the consequences of sin, and our hope of seeing those consequences overcome through communion and love. Let’s turn to section IV of chapter 3 of the Lectures in Christian Dogmatics.
To start, we can ask why the fall was possible. Wouldn’t it be better to live in paradise and bliss forever? Zizioulas helps us see this by pointing out that freedom is a unique gift to mankind. It is a gift which is greater than the potential to sin because it provides the door to love and relationship with God. We learn from Scripture that this relationship with God is itself the source of limitless life, but turning from that relationship carries the possibility for disharmony. When we make ourselves or nature our God and weaken or even lose that relationship, death enters into our life and the world. The middle paragraph on page 99 is key. Let us read it and realize that death is everywhere, inasmuch as we turn from God in so many ways. This can help us with the fact that God had said that Adam would die on the day he would eat of the fruit-He was not buried on the day of the Fall, but death truly entered on that day! More importantly for our own lives, seeing that death comes to the degree that there is a lack of relationship to God can help us understand why there is so much suffering in this world. Are we doomed?
Zizioulas continues and points us to the Gospel, which he calls “the breaching and breaking of death.” Think of our Troparia surrounding the Resurrection. From the Paschal Troparion which proclaims “by death He trampled death” to the common Sunday Troparia such as Tone 2’s confession “…You destroyed Hades by the brilliance of Your divinity…”, we always assert that death is an outrage to be destroyed, and that eternity is life itself. Because sin enters in at many points we can feel “fragmentary” in our own brokenness or this world’s brokenness. It is one brokenness that has one solution-the resurrection of Christ, His Gospel. Entering eternity is to leave this brokenness, and death is a passage through time from this world to eternity. When Zizioulas states, “The life that we know is a mixture of life and death…when our composite world breaks up into its constitutive elements we will disappear again: death is this disintegration”, what does that conjure in our minds? First, we should realize that our appreciation of life is clouded by this mixture. We can give up and feel that death is part of life, but Zizioulas reminds us that death is an outrage and there is a captivity of all creation seen in death. Why then, is there death?
On page 102 Zizioulas makes it clear why there is death. Death is not here because we have been punished for sinning. Being finite is a limitation and death comes from that limitation. And that limitation is something that we should also not link to our bodies but not our souls. All of our existence can be subsumed and saved by entering into eternity. This was our calling before the Fall, and it remains our calling after the Fall. Neither forgiveness nor the right juridical standing before God is the primary solution to death, the real need is for God to come to us by uniting the created to the uncreated. This was our original calling, and nothing has changed.
As we saw in our reflections on knowing God, so too we must focus upon personal relationship as we think of the fall and salvation. This fact has even been stressed by some Fathers such as Maximus who teach that the Incarnation would have happened even if Adam and Eve had not fallen. Union between God and Man is so central in this view of the salvation of mankind and the world. How does this differ from the idea that God sent His Son only as a response to our misdoings? Forgiveness of sins is a part of the picture, but the fuller story is seen to be one of relationship and union. It is a mediation of love that would happen regardless of sin. As man, the material can be united to the immaterial and we see union between the uncreated and the created. This is why Theosis is so prominent in our Byzantine perspective.
In addition to seeing the importance of love and relationship, we must realize that this union must be initiated by God. This is where a focus on sin and holiness has it right-God sends His Son because we are trapped in sin, and He takes the initiative to bring this relationship back. Again, He would have become Man without sin, but because of sin we see the need for the incarnation to be the spark that restores communion and relationship between fallen Mankind and God, along with the world itself.
If we start to think about what the incarnation should entail, we find some fascinating points made by Zizioulas. Yes, we see the need for initiative, relationship, union and the Incarnation. But we realize that since Mankind is trapped in a cycle of sin, Christ would need to be born of a most pure Mother to fully share in our humanity, but not in our cycle of sin. The Virgin Birth is not an accident or a miracle to prove Christ’s divine origin, it is therefore intrinsic to the plan of salvation. In Christ, we see a second Adam who lives the way that the first Adam should have lived. Indeed, Christ lives as we all should live. What do we learn about our calling through the second Adam?
Zizioulas shows us that in Christ we see that Adam should live freely, not enslaved to laws of nature or sin. His choice to come to this created life was free, and His life was lived with a focus on relationship and freedom. Note that he is teaching us the uniqueness of our Christian faith, in comparing the Incarnation of Christ to other narratives of gods coming to Earth. The free and personal consent on His part and on the part of Mary (and in turn all of mankind) emphasizes how relationship underlies Zizioulas’ perspective on Christianity. It highlights and answers our own sense of how we have fallen short, and how we aspire to live in Christ. Freedom and a loving relationship is the focus.
Further, in this freedom we can realize that the relationship sought by God and actualized by Christ as the second Adam is one where our love for God (and His for us) is primary. In sin, the world (our finite selves being a key part of the world where we can be tripped up) is the primary relationship focus. We then depend on laws of nature as opposed to freedom, love and communion. Is the earth or our bodies meaningless and to be ignored, as did some Gnostics and Neo-Platonists? No! But what Zizioulas argues, in line with St. Athanasius, is that the focus upon union with the Divine would subsume all things in right relationship. Man would be the mediator of uniting the world to God, only while maintaining the focus on communion with God. Without the fall, this would have happened by Adam living out His life. With the fall, we need God Himself to enter the world.
Chapter 3 continues with exactly how Christ’s entry into the world fulfilled the calling of Adam, and how it is that our communion with Him shows that the whole world can be reoriented towards God. The fall and its restoration is overcome not by neglecting the world or finding my own “stairway to heaven”. In Zizioulas’ framework (and arguably that of the Fathers), we see a consummation of the union between God and Man through Christ. As we are His Body and we unite the created world through offering our own bodies and the fruits of the earth in the Holy Eucharist, the plan of salvation becomes clear. The Fall’s consequences are overcome by Christ, and our participation in His life as the second Adam fulfills our common calling. Relationship and communion between God and Man saves the world, offered to God through Mankind. We will focus more on that aspect of how salvation comes to us in our next class. Glory to Jesus Christ!