The Fifth Sunday of Repentance
O Lord, you are a dwelling-place for us unto the ages
Fruit-bearing trees and all cedars
He has seated him upon the power of the earth
Man does not consider his honor
He is father to the many nations
A land flowing with milk and honey
A delightful dwelling was given to Adam, the father of all, but he forsook it through his weakness. And because he had broken the commandment, the Evil one guided him and handed him and his children over to insatiable Death. But when the Creator saw that [Adam’s] constitution had been corrupted by both of them, he sent his Son and he saved him from their hands, and, instead of the inheritance of the garden, he gave him a dwelling in heaven, and treaded a path for Adam and his sons from Sheol below to that land upon which the angels do not dare to gaze out of fear. For this, let us cry out and say: Glory to your mercies, O Lord of all!
Due to a well-intentioned attempt to moderate the excesses of fallen human nature, the term “pleasures of the flesh” has acquired an ugly tone in theological discussion. But, as Christ says about the ugly reality of divorce, “from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8) In the beginning, we have every reason to believe that the intention of the Creator is that we should enjoy the good things of this world in their fullness because they are, in fact, “good.” This adjective is in fact repeated after each day of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, and made superlative in regard to the whole of the created world: “God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
But, unfortunately, it is no longer “the beginning” and we cannot overturn all of human history by pretending that it never happened. We no longer possess that innocence we had in the Garden, and therefore are unable to enjoy the “pleasures of the flesh” in the perfect way Adam and Eve did before the Fall. Delight is no longer simply delight; now it is a temptation to excess, to selfishness, to greed. Now it must be approached with a conscious moderation lest it destroy us in its draw, and more often than not its draw is more mighty than our moderation. This is the reality we refer to as “concupiscence.”
The Basilica Hymn of the Sixth Sunday of Summer recalls this unfortunate turn of events with both sadness for the loss and a touching longing for the days “in the beginning:”
A delightful dwelling was given to Adam, the father of all, but he forsook it through his weakness.
This weakness which caused Adam to forsake or abandon the “delightful dwelling,” both of the Garden of Eden and also of the peace of his own soul in union with God, was unfortunately only the first of many dark elements to rear its head in his life.
A Horrible Team
Centuries before John Milton personified Death in his masterpiece “Paradise Lost,” the Church of the East had become well-acquainted with it as the logical, just consequence for sin, but one which was given through the instrumentality of “the Evil one,” the devil:
And because he had broken the commandment, the Evil one guided him and handed him and his children over to insatiable Death.
The greed and selfishness that characterized Adam during his “weak” moment, the fall, are here shared by the character of Death, “insatiable,” unable to fill his appetite and quell his desire even with the countless millions numbered among the children of Adam.
The Evil one therefore taking over and becoming the guide of the human race enslaved to sin, and Death its final dwelling-place, the plan of God seemed lost completely. These two, the devil and Death, seemed victorious for that dark and ugly time.
The Happy Fault
But God does not give up so easily, nor stand idly by while his plan for the world is skewed. Effort is a human reality, as is difficulty, and neither is it a matter of effort nor of difficulty for God to overturn the devil’s scheme. Even more amazing is that, in the salvation offered in Christ, an even greater good is given to us than the one we had in the Garden. The delightful dwelling of Eden becomes less than a shadow in comparison to the dwelling of heaven to which we are called by the Lord. Even the basic construction of our nature, which was ruined by the devil and which deteriorates through the work of Death, is not only restored to its original splendor, but is made so much more magnificent in the resurrected Christ:
But when the Creator saw that [Adam’s] constitution had been corrupted by both of them, he sent his Son and he saved him from their hands, and, instead of the inheritance of the garden, he gave him a dwelling in heaven, and treaded a path for Adam and his sons from Sheol below to that land upon which the angels do not dare to gaze out of fear. For this, let us cry out and say: Glory to your mercies, O Lord of all!