BASIC DOGMATIC TEACHING
An Orthodox Handbook
by Protopresbyter Fr. Anthony Alevizopoulos (1931 – 1996)
Dr. of Theology, Dr. of Philosophy
Chapter 7 – The Fall
1. The fall of the demons
God’s creations were discerned for their inner unity and harmony. The divine love was the life-giving force for the entire world.
But man did not remain faithful to that communion with the divine love, and sought to emancipate himself from his Creator.
However, even before man’s Fall, another fall had taken place among the angels which had been created prior to the visible world.
«How is fallen from heaven the Day Star, which used to rise early in the morning!» asks the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 14:12) and he replies that this was on account of his excessive vanity:
He said to himself: «13 “I will ascend to heaven; I will set my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on a lofty mountain, upon the lofty mountains toward the north; 14 I will ascend above the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” 15 But now you will descend into Hades and into the foundations of the earth!“» (Isaiah 14:13-15).The Lord Himself mentioned to His disciples: «“I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven“» (Luke 10,18).
2. Temptation on the part of the devil
Satan was not innocent of man’s Fall. The Old Testament narrates the incident, with the following words:
«…And the snake said to the woman, “Why is it that God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree that is in the orchard’?” And the woman said to the snake, “We shall eat of the fruit of the tree of the orchard, but of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard, God said, ‘You shall not eat of it nor shall you even touch it, lest you die.’ “ And the snake said to the woman, “You will not die by death, for God knew that on the day you eat of it, your eyes would be opened, and you would be like gods knowing good and evil.”» (Gen. 3:1-5. cmp. Isaiah 14:14).
3. Revolting against God’s love
This temptation by Satan would not have had destructive results if man had remained stable in his loving union with God. However, he fell into that temptation and sacrificed divine love for the sake of his personal pursuits.
In order to perceive the abyss in which man let himself fall into, it suffices to underline that he had preferred as a rule in his life – not the paternal advice of the God of love, but the words of the one who had defied God Himself:
«And the woman (Eve) saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasing for the eyes to look at and it was beautiful to contemplate, and when she had taken of its fruit she ate, and she also gave some to her husband with her, and they ate. And the eyes of the two were opened, and they knew that they were naked…» (Gen.3:6-7).
God had rendered all of the fruits of Paradise at man’s disposal (Gen.2:16); however, the fruit of one tree was not designated by God for that purpose. It was not offered as a gift to man by his Creator. (Gen.2:17)
Thus, when man ate of that fruit, he ate something that had not been blessed by God as sustenance. Consequently, this action by man was not an act of communion with God; in other words, it was not in accordance with man’s nature – in accordance with the image of God. It was an act of selfishness – or, as it has been said – an act whereby sustenance was condemned to be in communion with itself only, and not with God.
With this disobedience of his, man did not use the material world in accordance with God’s will; he did not make use of Creation but rather a misuse. And it was in this way that man’s revolt against God’s love was manifested.
4. Man’s alienation
The results of that disobedience were horrendous for man. His action did not correspond to his true nature, because man, as an image of the Trinitarian God, was by nature love. Thus, this action of his towards God could not possibly be characterized as a mere disobedience, but as a lapsing from human nature per se – as an alienation of man.
Indeed, God was no longer man’s prototype, his centre and his orientation. Having been carried away by the counsel of Satan, who is the father of division, man began to seek outside of God the centre of his actions and his entire life , and to see in God’s creations a purpose outside of their Creator. In other words, he did not perceive that each thing that is excised from God has no worth whatsoever, nor has it any life within it; that every thing that ceases to hunger for God dies. (cmp. John 6:58)
It was thus that man’s works also fell into the status of deterioration, as they had lost their reference to God and consequently had lost their true meaning. «…cursed is the earth in your labors» said God to Adam (Gen. 3:17).
Prior to the Fall, when man was in communion with God’s love, his life was a perpetual participation in the life of the Trinitarian God; a continuous course towards the deification of man within a full communion with God.
Following the Fall, man abandoned God’s love, seeking deification (theosis) apart from God. The result was the opening of man’s eyes, but in reality it only made him see his own nakedness (Gen.3:7) into which his own falling away from God’s love had led him (Gen.3:7)
«I have lost the first-created beauty and my comeliness, and now I stand here, naked, and am disgraced», as stated in a hymn of the Great Canon.
5. The fragmenting of mankind
From the moment of his Fall, a huge adventure began for mankind: following the disruption of the loving relationship with God, which held all of Creation in unity, everything contained in Creation was also disrupted.
Man became fragmented and turned into an egotistic being, no longer having God as his reference point. When a child is born, it causes pain to its mother, while the woman becomes entirely dependent on her man (Gen.3:16)
Worth noting at this point is Adam’s excuse-giving; he blamed Eve and isolated his own responsibilities from her, as though she were something entirely foreign to him.
«“The woman, whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”» (Gen. 3:12).
How different are these words, compared to what Adam had said when he first saw Eve, prior to the Fall:
«“This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Wo-man, for out of her Man she was taken.”» (Gen.2:23).
The complete unity which dominated between humankind prior to the Fall – which was an image of the life of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity – was disrupted, so that Adam no longer recognized Eve as being the «bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh» (Gen.2:23, 3:12).
In fact, the alienation between humans later on even reached the point of fratricide. The dialogue between God and Cain is characteristic for our topic. When God asked Cain «where is your brother Abel?», He intended -precisely- to point out the loss of brotherly unity and the destruction of the element of love. (Gen. 4:9) However, instead of coming to his senses and allowing his soul to re-live the tender union of brotherly love, Cain presented the absolute alienation from his brother as something natural and self-understood:
« “I do not know; surely I am not my brother’s keeper?”» (Gen. 4:9).
Something therefore far deeper had changed mankind after the Fall, so that the man saw his woman and his brother as something separate, as something entirely foreign, and hostile.
6. The fragmenting of Creation
With man’s Fall, everything around him lost its cohesion and its true destination. Everything fell away from God’s love, which gave them life. They lost their primeval beauty and ceased to be “very good”. Everything entered the kingdom of corruption and death:
«Then to Adam He said, […] cursed is the earth in your labors; with pains you will eat it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall cause to grow up for you, […] By the sweat of your face you will eat your bread until you return to the earth from which you were taken, for you are earth and to earth you will depart”» (Gen.3:17-19).