Monday, March 18, 2013

Returning To Paradise

Today is called Clean Monday in the Orthodox Church; it is the first day of Great Lent. Yesterday, the Sunday before Great Lent begins, is called Forgiveness Sunday and commemorates the expulsion of Adam from Paradise.  It may seem strange to some to call the Sunday that commemorates the expulsion of Adam from Paradise "Forgiveness Sunday," but it actually makes perfect sense.  What does forgiveness mean if one does not first understand the need for forgiveness?  The Church teaches us not to look at Adam so much as a historical person, but as every person, or more specifically, as ourself.  That is, every man and woman is Adam.  Every man and woman is deceived and driven away from Paradise, not the Paradise of a specific garden somewhere in Central Asia; but rather, every man and woman is personally alienated from the kind of relationship with God that would make all of the world--existence itself--a Paradise.  

The first three hymns of Vespers for Forgiveness Sunday all assume that the singer and/or hearer is Adam: 

Verily, the Lord, my Creator, took dust from the earth and with life-giving breath gave me a soul and revived me, honoring me and setting me in the earth as chief of all things visible, to live like the angels. But deceiving Satan, using the serpent as an instrument, deceived me through eating, and separated me from the glory of God, delivering me by nether death to the earth. But since You are Lord and compassionate, recall me.

Lord, when I disobeyed Your divine command at the counsel of the adversary, I, wretched one, was stripped of my God-woven robe. And now I have put on the mantle of skin and fig-leaves, and have been condemned to eat in sweat the bread of hardship. The earth was cursed to bring forth thorns and husks for me. Albeit, O You who in the last days was incarnate from the Virgin, recall me and make me to enter the paradise of bliss.

O most-honoured Paradise, comeliness transcendent in splendour, the dwelling-place perfected by God, unending joy and enjoyment, the glory of the righteous, the joy of the Prophets, and the dwelling-place of the saints, beseech the Creator of all, by the tune of the rustling of Your leaves, to open for me the gates which I closed by sin, and that I be worthy to partake of the Tree of Life and joy, which I enjoyed in You of old. 

The Tree of Life that we partake of in Joy is Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist.  Paradise has been opened again.  The struggle of Great Lent is to learn to return to Paradise, to learn to return to that relationship with God that turns all of the world into Paradise.  

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