The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

Fr. Markellos Karakallinos

The following subjects are related to ancestral sin:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The Wood of the Cross.  The Tree of Life.  The Skin Tunics. Because these subjects are poorly known, but very useful in our spiritual progress, we will try to analyze them with the help of the Holy Fathers. God planted the tree of life and the tree of knowledge in the midst of the paradise: “And God made to spring up also out of the earth every tree beautiful to the eye and good for food, and the tree of life in the midst of the garden, and the tree of learning the knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:9). Many of the God-bearing Fathers tried to interpret “this much spoken of matter concerning the tree.1” It is tremendously beneficial for us to follow the way in which the Holy Fathers resolve this issue because many practical results emanate from this. The Tree of Knowledge was placed: “as a kind of pretext and test and exercise of man‟s obedience. This is why it has also been named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or because it gave to those who ate from it the power to know their nature, which, of course, was good for the perfected but dangerous for the imperfect and more gluttonous as to desire.2” The opinion St. John Chrysostom expresses is similar: “This is why the tree is called „Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil,‟ because the commandment that exercises obedience and disobedience was given in relation to the tree. Adam knew beforehand that obedience is good and disobedience is evil. Later, however, he learned this very clearly from his own experience of things.3” St. Gregory the Theologian’s view is also very interesting. According to him, “The tree of knowledge was not planted initially with an evil purpose nor was it forbidden out of envy (let not the tongues of God‟s enemies reach here and let‟s not imitate the serpent). But it was good if someone tried it at the appropriate time (because in my opinion, the tree was the vision of God which only those who

had been perfected with ascesis could approach without danger). But it was not good for those still untested and most gluttonous as to desire, just like solid food isn‟t beneficial for those who are still weak and have need of milk.4” St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite deduced four conclusions based on the above: a) Adam was still imperfect (or incomplete). b) The Tree of Knowledge was noetic. c) This noetic tree—namely, this theoria/theory intended Adam to enjoy it conveniently/appropriately—when he wanted to reach perfection. d) That noetic tree was not yet good for the imperfect, like Adam, as perfect and solid food is not beneficial for those needing milk.5

St. Gregory Palamas adds that if that tree was understood perceptively, again it would not benefit Adam, imperfect beings, to passionately behold and to eat from that sweetest fruit because it was the most pleasurable to the sense out of all the other trees of Paradise. “For only the perfect in the habit of divine theoria and virtue are able to come into contact with the many pleasures of the senses without distancing their nous from the theoria of God and from the hymns and prayers to Him. Rather, they convert the beautiful things of the world into material and reason to elevate towards God and they completely master sensual pleasure with the noetic movement towards higher things. 6” This teaching of the Holy Fathers concerning the Tree of Knowledge has also permeated into the hymnology of our Church. This is why the Church prepares us to better comprehend the meaning of the Lord’s Feast Days. Apolytikion. Forefeast of Theophany “Zavoulon prepare, and make ready Nephthalim; river Jordan stand, leap for joy as you receive the Master who comes to be baptised. Adam with our Foremother be glad, do not hide yourselves as in Paradise of old; for seeing you naked, he has appeared that he may put on the first robe. Christ has appeared, as he wishes to renew the whole creation.” Notes 1) Ιωάν. Χρσζοζηόμοσ Έργα, ΕΠΕ, ηόμος 2, ζελ. 366. 2) Ιωάν. Δαμαζκηνού Έργα, ΕΠΕ, ηόμος 1, ζελ. 203. John Damascene, “On Paradise”-Book II 3) Ιωάν. Χρσζοζηόμοσ Έργα, ΕΠΕ, ηόμος 8, ζελ. 121. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis, 16:18. 4) Γρηγ. Θεολόγοσ Έργα, ΕΠΕ, ηόμος 5, ζελ. 156. St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38:12. 5) Νικοδήμοσ ηοσ Αγιορείηοσ, Εορηοδρόμιον, ζελ. 39. 6) Φιλοκαλία, ηόμος Δ', ζελ. 312. St. Gregory Palamas, 150 Texts #49.