Ancestral Sin and Death

Fr. Markellos Karakallinos Death is closely linked with the ancestral sin because it’s the result of disobedience. In the beginning, death in human nature was not a natural event but was inserted as a foreign element. Holy Scripture repeatedly reminds us that God did not make death but it entered into the world through Adam's sin. The wise Solomon says: “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity. Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world” (Wis. of Sol. 2:23-4). God is good and evil cannot proceed from Him. Therefore, He did not fashion man to die. Consequently, Adam and Eve’s sin was the cause of death entering the world. The Apostle Paul says concerning this: “Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to everyone” (Rom. 5:12). Adam’s fall from the paradise of delight is the sin that brought death. This was God’s commandment; not to eat from the forbidden fruit “for in whatsoever day ye eat of it, ye shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). So he did. Firstly, spiritual death, which is man’s separation from God, entered into human nature. Then came bodily death; namely, the soul’s separation from the body. At the moment Adam sinned, he died spiritually. He lost communion with God his Father and hid because he was afraid and naked. Later, however, he also died bodily. Death is a horrible event and completely unnatural for man, wherefore this spectacle always causes great grief and suffering. The troparion of the Funeral Service also declares this: “Truly, there is nothing more fearful than the mystery of death.” According to St. Gregory the Theologian, death is an expression of God’s philanthropy. He punished Adam with death because he was unmindful of the command he was given and was conquered by the temporary taste of the forbidden fruit. So he was automatically expelled from Paradise so that he would not stretch out his hand and eat from the tree of life and thus both he and sin would become immortal. “Certainly he gains something from this: The fact he becomes mortal and sin is broken off so that evil doesn’t become immortal. In this way the punishment becomes philanthropy.1” The prayer read at the funeral service is based upon these words of St. Gregory: “...gave command for this reason, as God of our fathers, to prevent evil from becoming immortal, decreeing that his composite and mixture, this bond which You made for joining body and soul unbreakably, should be sundered by Your divine Will, and be dissolved.2” The devil sought man’s extermination with death. However, God’s philanthropy made death a means for renewal, both of man and all of creation which “groans and travails” (Rom. 8:22) together with man from sin. Namely, through physical death, man was given the opportunity to not live with sin eternally. Here, God’s philanthropy is very great because God interrupted this sinful life of man in place of man living eternally and being eternally a living dead man. For separation from God is spiritual death. This eternal spiritual death would have been a terrifying and unbearable event which human nature would not be able to endure. And God’s philanthropy finds this way of escape from eternal spiritual death. It dissolves the union of soul and body and it will be united again, renewed and made incorruptible, during the general resurrection of the dead at the Second Coming of Christ.

This event of death makes St. Gregory Palamas philosophize and marvel. He says, “0 the depth of God's riches, wisdom and philanthropy! If there was no death and if the human race was not now corruptible and mortal even before death—for it is from mortal roots—we would not have acquired in practise, by means of Christ, the commencement of our immortality, we would not have been called back to heaven, human nature would not have been enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, higher than every angelic principle and power. Thus God, in His wisdom, power and philanthropy knows how to convert the slips we suffered through our free-willed loss of control.3” Death happened to Adam and Eve. Death also waits us who still live because our body became mortal. Our life is a continuous death; one death succeeds the other until we reach final death. Decay follows us daily and we are never the same. This is why the Apostle Paul says, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:34). Indeed we always remain in the same home of our body, but we are changed [transfomed] daily and we live in a new body. This is why death shouldn’t scare us; because this life should be a continuous study on death and asceticism. Our life resembles the growth of plants. Firstly, the seed falls to the earth and then becomes a blade and after the grass fades then the ear of wheat ripens up. When the flower falls off at maturity and the grass is dried up, then the fruit ripens and is ready for alimentation. This is the natural way for fruit to be perfected; from seed and grass. The same thing also happens with our body: conception and formation of the fetus, infancy, youth, old age and death. These are all certain grasses and blades in the life journey towards our perfection and the happiness and blessedness to which we expect. In his homily, To Those Who Have Fallen Asleep, St Gregory of Nyssa very accurately observes the different stages of our life: “All these things and the like are parts of the road we walk and the purpose and end of the path is the restoration to the original beauty, which is nothing more than a likeness to the divinity.4” The Apostle Paul also uses the example of the seed to demonstrate the resurrection of the dead: “This is comparable to the resurrection of the dead: something is sown in corruption but raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is then raised in glory. It is sown in weakness then raised in power” (Rom. 15:42-43). Notes 1) Αγίοσ Γρηγορίοσ Θεολόγοσ, Έργα, Ε.Π.Ε., τόμος 5, σελ. 57. St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38:12. 2) 3) Φιλοκαλία, τόμος Δ', σελ. 314. St. Gregory Palamas, 150 Texts #54. 4) Γρηγορίοσ Νύσσης, Έργα, τόμος 10, σελ. 179.