Orthodox America

Editorial -  Regaining Paradise Lost

May I  perceive the glory from which I have fallen, and hasten with lamentations to regain what I have lost. (Ninth Ode, Matins, Sunday of Forgiveness)

Given the social fragmentation, the moral disorder and economic insecurity of our times, it is not difficult to explain the popularity of Edward Hicks' painting, "The Peaceable Kingdom."  Appropriated by more contemporary artists, it has been reproduced in its various renditions on posters, cards, gift wrap; it has even found its way into a TV advertisement for Merryl Lynch.  Hicks, a devout Quaker, took his inspiration from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning Christ's Kingdom in the age to come, when the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid... (Is. 11:6-9).   For most people in this secular age, less conversant with the Old Testament, it illustrates an unidentified utopia, a world of peace and harmony and love that speaks to the deepest yearnings of the heart.  And well it might, for man was created for just such a world; it is a world we once inhabited and to which we innately long to return.  The satisfaction of this longing is a principal motivation of our spiritual struggle.

Most of us will admit that our efforts in this struggle are less than inspired.  Now, it should be apparent that the degree to which we exert ourselves in satisfying a desire is proportional to the intensity of that desire.  It is also evident that we can only desire strongly something which is more than a vague notion.  It would benefit us, therefore, if we were to have a clearer image of that world, that Paradise which we lost and must now struggle to regain.

In the Book of Genesis, it is briefly stated that after God had ended His work and rested on the seventh day, He planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put man whom He had formed.  And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food (Gen. 2:8-9).  In the divinely-inspired church services, we read, "O precious Paradise, unsurpassed in beauty, tabernacle built by God, unending gladness and delight" (Vespers for Forgiveness Sunday).  St. Symeon the New Theologian, his mind illumined by the Holy Spirit, elaborates for us: "[The trees in Paradise bore] various fruits which never spoiled and never ceased, but were always fresh and sweet and furnished for the first-created ones great satisfaction and pleasantness.  For it was fitting to furnish also an incorruptible enjoyment for these bodies of the first-created ones, which were incorrupt.  Therefore, their life also in Paradise was not burdened with labors and not weighed down with misfortunes.  Adam . . . was placed by the Creator God as an immortal king over an incorrupt world, not only over Paradise, but also over the whole of creation which was under heaven" (Homily 45, "Adam and the First-Created World").   How should we not desire to dwell eternally in such a blissful state? The saints, who had a foretaste of this delight while still here on earth, burned with desire for it to the exclusion of all earthly pleasures. They were able to imagine what it was like for Adam-bearing within him all of humanity-to have been expelled from his home in Paradise, where he had had such close communion with God.  In the vigil for Forgiveness Sunday, when the Church commemorates Adam's banishment from Paradise, we hear him lament:

"Woe is me, for the serpent and the women have deprived me of my boldness before God, and through eating from the tree I have become an exile from the joy of Paradise. Woe is me!  No more can I endure the shame.  I who was once king of all God's creatures upon earth have now become a prisoner, led astray by evil counsel.  I who was once clothed in the glory of immortality must now, as one condemned to die, wrap myself miserably in the skins of mortality."

Elder Silouan of Mt. Athos wrote a hauntingly beautiful prose-poem called "Adam's Lament." He says that Adam "sorrowed less after Paradise and the beauty thereof: for he sorrowed that he was bereft of the love of God. . . . 'And my spirit strains to God, and there is nought on earth can make me glad.' . . . And his sorrow stretched wide as the sea.  And only the soul that has come to know the Lord and the magnitude of His love  for us can understand."

If there by such disconsolate grief over the loss, what must be the joy in its recovery?  And what must be the love for the One Who made such recovery possible?

"Paradise," writes St. Symeon, "is the image of the future unending life of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven." Let us sharpen our desire for it by listening well to Adam's lament, and by grasping more fully where sin has brought us and where repentance can take us.   May it energize our struggle that we may share with the saints a life of eternal joy with our God in His Peaceable Kingdom.