The Garden of Eden

Bethlehem prepare; Eden is opened for all. Make ready Ephratha, because the tree of life (Genesis 2:9) has flowered in the Cave from the Virgin. For her womb has been revealed as the spiritual Paradise in which is the plant of life; eating from it we shall live; we shall not die like Adam. Christ is born to raise up his image (Genesis 1:26.-27) which had fallen. 

Apolytikion of the Forefeast of the Nativity of Our Lord 

Eden is mentioned several times in the Orthodox hymns before Christmas. Why is this?

The hymn, or troparion, compares New Adam, i.e. Christ, with the original Adam. The first Adam ate freely from the Tree of Life in the Garden, but then broke the commandment by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This resulted in the loss of Paradise and exile from the garden. The whole human race was affected by the arrival of sickness, corruption and death. In contrast, the new Adam, Christ, the Tree of Life, gives life to all those who unite with him.  The new Paradise, the New Eden is the womb of the Virgin, and also, the Church. Adam’s descendants can taste of this tree and enjoy true and real life.

Eden, or Paradise, according to the Fathers, was both noetic and tangible. Noetic, because here man communes with God, and vice-versa. Following his creation Adam’s nous was illumined and through God’s energy and his own synergy he should have achieved theosis,  or deification. It was also tangible, because it was an actual place and the Bible gives it a geographical location.

exileThere were many trees in the Garden, but two stand out. The first is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil, which Adam was forbidden to eat from (Genesis 2:16-17). The other tree was the Tree of Life. The Bible tells us that following human disobedience by eating of the Tree of Knowledge, God exiled them from the Garden. “So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Geneis 3:24). God exiled man in the garden of Eden following his disobedience “lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”  (Genesis 3:22).

Why would God prevent them from eating from the tree of life? Having partaken of the Tree of Knowledge corruption and death came into the world. Adam was prevented eating from the other tree so that he would not remain eternally in a state of corruption. Man is exiled from Paradise to avoid his permanent mortality. Instead, he is given the opportunity to repent. Moreover, when the right time came with the Incarnation of the Son of God, he would once again taste the tree of life and transcend death and again return to Eden. From this perspective, the exile from paradise was not a punishment from God, but an example of His love for the human race.

It is clear that Christ mission was to “re-open” Eden. This means that in each Divine Liturgy when we partake of the divine we find ourselves again in that garden of paradise. Here, the human being again communes with God, as he did in Paradise. This is a union “in the flesh”, some Fathers speculate that this was part of the divine plan, and that perhaps the Incarnation may well have happened without the Fall.

Consequently, the existence of the church has already been renewed in Eden, through the Kingdom. This is the loving self emptying of God towards his creation, something that presupposes free consent of man and obedience commandments of God. It is enough for us to know as human beings, the actions of God, as outlined in the Bible, are actions that restore that communion which was cut off in Eden. This happens with the appearance of the church in time, as a preparation for the coming Kingdom.

It is interesting, that in the book of Genesis, we see that the creation of the world is “very good”. Whereas in the final book of the Bible, the Revelation of John, speaking of the new creation, of a or a new heaven and a new earth he makes mention of the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Thus the beginning already contains within itself the end. This means that creation is an act of God, contains within itself formation of the Church, as a communion of saints.

More specifically, God created the world and having made it a dwelling place went on to create the beautiful paradise in Eden where He placed his last creation, man, as kings and priests of creation. The seeds of man’s perfection were laid in Eden.

The Garden of Eden is kind of primitive church, since the first being, Adam communes there with his Creator. Divine grace fills everything so that Creation, God, man and the world live in harmony with each other. This is an archetype for the Church and the whole of divine history can be read as a journey towards the paradise of Eden. Eden gives us the means by which we understand the historical presence of the Church since the beginning of time.

The Church has a heavenly origin, but was planted on the earth as the New Eden. Christ by uniting heavenly things with early things, as the New Adam., achieved what the Old Adam had failed to achieve. He united heaven with earth and took away the sins of the world, and in doing so opened up Eden again, calling all human beings to salvation. This is just a shadow of the heavenly gifts to come, which Christ promised to those who joined him his journey to the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.

This is evident when we remember this Kingdom, this Reign of God, at the beginning of each and every Divine Liturgy. The priest starts, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. This Kingdom is also identified with the absolute communion of love found in God in Trinity, the eternal Church and archetype of every historical form of communion with others.

The Church is found here on earth, but raises us to Heaven. While it has begun already it is subject to the future age, of the recapitulation of all things in Christ, who will rule all things.

However, God’s plans are halted by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, which have a catastrophic effect on the world.Why would a good God allow this to happen?

St Gregory the Τheologian, in speaking of the Tree of Knowledge says that it was neither planted in evil or banned in envy. This emphasizes that everything God creates is good and nothing is evil. The ban on eating from the tree was not through envy or from fear that man might attain theosis  or deification. Besides, St. Gregory says, this tree was the vision or theoria of God. Man would eat from the tree at the given time after having been suitably prepared spiritually and this would have brought about his deification. God banned him from eating this tree because he was still imperfect, he was still not ready; it would be like giving solid food to infants.
The problem came about when Adam took from the tree of knowledge as an unsuitable time and having made this mistake he lost of Divine Grace.  He could not then go on to eat from the tree of life because this would make the fall and death fixed and permanent. The taste of the tree was great and wonderful. This is why God ordered the first rank of Angels the cherubim to guard it, over and above the angels archangels and all other ranks of angels.
Man’s failure to continue this journey towards theosis, that God had set out for him, was not a complete disaster for the human race, i.e. it did not result in the eternal extinction of the human being. Through His Incarnation Christ achieved what had not been achieved in the attempt in Eden. However, this time man went through a harrowing trial, profound pain and great suffering. He experience what death and separation from God means.
The true tragedy of Adam’s exile from paradise is expressed in all its fullness by St. Silouan the Athonite in his meditation Adam’s Lament. How was Saint Silouan able to express the feelings of Adam so eloquently? Only someone who has themselves attained the vision of God and then gone on to lose it could possible express Adam’s sorrow. His theology is of such depth and greatness through this experience.
However, Christ opens the gates of paradise, through His Incarnation. Not only does Christ enter therein,  but the Christ, the Tree of Life, walks towards man. Indeed, we could speak of the womb of the Mother of God being Paradise or Eden, because it was here that divine nature assumed human nature and deified it. The Church, the Body of Christ, is both the tangible and noetic paradise. Those who live within the Church are real living members of the Body of Christ and can partake of  the Tree of Life, surpass death and achieve eternal life. Away from Christ there is the shadow and land of death. However, through the union of human and divine nature in the Word of God, Christ, salvation is no longer a matter of obedience to God’s commandment, but communion of the human person with the God-Man Christ.
The Church is fundamental to our being, where united with death we are led on a journey of complete victory over death. In Christ’s Incarnation we see the realization life before the Fall and the way towards theosis. This is what Christ means when He says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

In Eden we find the beginning and the end of our salvation. Through Christ’s Incarnation Eden is made open and we continue our original calling.

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done!I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things,and I will be his God and he shall be My son. (Revelation 21:5-7)

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