by St. Symeon the New Theologian
1. In What Consisted the Transgression of Adam?
THE FIRST-CREATED ADAM, being in Paradise, fell, at the instigation of the serpent, into pride; and having dreamed of being a god, as the devil told him, he tasted of the tree from which God had commanded him not to eat. For this he was given over to great chastisements – to corruption and death, for the humbling of his pride. But when God condemns for something, he gives also a sentence, and His sentence becomes deed and an eternal chastisement, and there is no longer any possibility of annihilating this chastisement which has come from the decree of God.
But think now: Adam sinned with a great sin because he did not believe the words of God, but believed the words of the serpent. Compare God and the serpent, and you will see how great was the sin of most-wise Adam. In his great wisdom he had given names to all the animals (Gen. 2:19-20). But when with his whole soul he believed the serpent and not God, then the Divine grace which had rested on him stepped away from him, so that he became the enemy of God by reason of the unbelief which he had shown to His words. Adam thought that God envied him and did not wish that he also should know good and evil; and he thought that God had commanded him not to taste of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order that he might not become a god like unto God Who had created him. And he tasted, and immediately he knew his nakedness, and instead of becoming a god he became corruptible, and as corruptible, mortal.
2. How by Reason of his Transgression did all Men become Corruptible and Mortal?
And behold, as you see, the sentence of God remains forever as an eternal chastisement. And all of us men became both corruptible and mortal, and there is nothing that might set aside this great and frightful sentence. And when there is no possibility to set aside this sentence, then what benefit is there in wisdom or in wealth, or in power, or in the whole world? For this reason the Almighty Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, came so as to humble Himself in place of Adam. And truly He humbled Himself, even to the death of the Cross. The word of the Cross, as the Scripture says, is this: Cursed is everyone that hangeth upon a tree (Gal. 3:13).
Adam, without having any need for this, took from the fruit of that tree (from which God had commanded him not to taste, threatening him that if he should only taste of it he should die); he tasted and died. One should know that since a man has a body and a soul, therefore he has two deaths also: one, the death of the soul, and the other, the death of the body. Likewise, there are also two immortalities, one of the soul and one of the body, even though both of them are in one man, for the soul and the body are one man.
Thus, in soul Adam died immediately, as soon as he had tasted; and later, after nine hundred and thirty years, he died also in body. For, as the death of the body is the separation from it of the soul, so the death of the soul is the separation from it of the Holy Spirit, by Whom God Who had created him had been pleased that man be overshadowed, so that he might live like the angels of God, who, being always enlightened by the Holy Spirit, remain immovable towards evil. Later, for this reason, the whole human race also became such as our forefather Adam became through the fall—mortal, that is, both in soul and body. Man such as God had created him no longer existed in the world. And there was no possibility that anyone should become such as Adam was before the transgression of the commandment. But it was necessary that there should be such a man.
3. How did the Merciful and Philanthropic God, through the Dispensation of the Incarnation, Deliver Mankind from Corruption and Death?
And thus God, desiring to have such a man as He had created Adam in the beginning, sent in the latter times to the earth His Only-begotten Son, and He came and was Incarnate, accepting a perfect humanity, so as to be perfect God and perfect man, and thus the Divinity had a man worthy of It.
And behold the Man! Such a One there has never been, there is not, and there shall never be. But why did Christ become such a one? In order to keep the law of God and His commandments, and so as to enter into battle with and conquer the devil. Both the one and the other occurred in Him by themselves; for if Christ is that very God Who gave the commandments and the law, then how could He not keep that law and those commandments which He Himself had given? And if He is God, as He is in truth, then how is it possible for Him to be deceived or deluded by any trickery of the devil? The devil, to be sure, being blind and senseless, rose up against Him with warfare. But this was allowed so that there might be performed a certain great and fearful mystery, namely, so that Christ, the Sinless One, should suffer, and through this Adam, who had sinned, might receive forgiveness. For this also, in place of the tree of knowledge, there was the Cross; in place of the stepping of the feet by which our first ancestors walked to the forbidden tree, and in place of their stretching out of their hands in order to take of the fruit of the tree, there were nailed to the Cross the innocent feet and hands of Christ; in place of the tasting of the fruit, there was the tasting of gall and vinegar, and in place of the death of Adam, the death of Christ.
And then what happened? Christ lay in the grave three days, for the sake of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, so as to show that even though He alone, the Son, became Incarnate and suffered, still the dispensation is the work of the All-Holy Trinity.
And in what does this dispensation consist? One Person of the Holy Trinity, namely the Son and Word of God, having become Incarnate, offered Himself in the flesh as a sacrifice to the Divinity of the Father, and of the Son Himself, and of the Holy Spirit, in order that the first transgression of Adam might be benevolently forgiven for the sake of this great and fearful work, that is, for the sake of this sacrifice of Christ, and in order that by its power there might be performed another new birth and re-creation of man in Holy Baptism, in which we also are cleansed by water mingled with the Holy Spirit. From that time people are baptized in water, are immersed in it and taken out from it three times, in the image of the three-day burial of the Lord, and after they die in it to this whole evil world, in the third bringing out from it they are already alive, as if resurrected from the dead, that is, their souls are brought to life and again receive the grace of the Holy Spirit as Adam had it before the transgression. Then they are anointed with Holy Myrrh, and by means of it are anointed with Jesus Christ, and are fragrant in a way above nature. Having become in this way worthy of being associates of God, they taste His Flesh and drink His Blood, and by means of the sanctified bread and wine become of one Body and Blood with God Who was Incarnate and offered Himself as a sacrifice.
After this it is no longer possible that sin should reign and tyrannize over them, for they are gods by grace. Since Adam had fallen under the curse, and through him all people also who proceed from him, therefore the sentence of God concerning this could in no way be annihilated; and therefore Christ was for us a curse, through being hung upon the tree of the Cross, so as to offer Himself as a sacrifice to His Father, as has been said, and to annihilate the sentence of God by the superabundant worth of the sacrifice. For what is greater and higher than God? Just as in this whole visible creation there is nothing higher than man (for everything visible was created for man), so also God is incomparably higher than everything created, and nothing can enter into comparison with Him, not the whole visible and invisible creation.
Thus God, Who is incomparably higher than the whole visible and invisible creation, accepted human nature, which is higher than the whole visible creation, and offered it as a sacrifice to His God and Father. Being shamed by such a sacrifice (I speak thus), and honoring it, the Father could not leave it in the hands of death. Therefore He annihilated His sentence and resurrected from the dead first of all and at the beginning Him Who had given Himself as a sacrifice for the redemption and as a replacement for men who are of the same race as Himself; and afterwards, in the last day of the end of this world, He will resurrect also all men. Moreover, the souls of those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in this great and fearful sacrifice, God resurrects in the present life; and a sign of this resurrection is the grace of the Holy Spirit which He gives to the soul of every Christian, as if giving a new soul. Such a soul of a Christian is called “trustworthy” (or “faithful”), because to it is entrusted the Holy Spirit of God and it has accepted Him – the Spirit of God Who is life eternal, since the Holy Spirit is eternal God Who proceeds from the eternal God and Father.
4. And in What Consists the Mystery and the Three-Day Burial of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ?
Inasmuch, therefore, as the Cross has become as it were the altar of this fearful sacrifice – for on the Cross the Son of God died for the fall of man – therefore the Cross is justly revered and worshipped and depicted as the sign of the common resurrection of all men, so that those who bow down before the wood of the Cross might be delivered from the curse of Adam and receive the blessing and grace of God for the doing of every virtue. For Christians the Cross is magnification, glory, and power: for all our power is in the power of Christ Who was crucified; all our sinfulness is mortified by the death of Christ on the Cross; and all our exaltation and all our glory are in the humility of God, Who humbled Himself to such an extent that He was pleased to die even between evil-doers and thieves. For this very reason Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the Cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling and with extreme reverence. For the image of the Cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.
Therefore the demons also fear the image of the Cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the Cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately knowing that the Cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God, and that they, as apostates and enemies of God, being far from His Divine face, do not have any longer freedom to draw near to those who have become reconciled with God and united with Him, and they can no longer tempt them. And if it seems that they tempt certain Christians, let everyone know that they battle against those who have not properly understood the exalted mystery of the Cross.
But those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the Cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the Cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom. These with great joy cry out: Far be it from me to glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). And thus, inasmuch as the sign of the Cross is great and fearful, every Christian has the duty to make it with fear and trembling, with reverence and heedfulness, and not simply, and not as it happens, simply out of habit and carelessly: for according to the degree of the reverence which one has towards the Cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To Him may there be glory and dominion forever. Amen.