The Orthodox Church takes a different approach to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Rather than the bare bones approach modern theologians take with the story (Adam is created, then Eve, then they are tempted, and expelled), the Orthodox Church has a rich tradition of expansion to the narrative. I explore a few of the aspects here.
Protestant scholars seem to be split on whether or not Adam was created with immortality inherent in his body or whether it was a side-effect of him being created without sin, a temporary reality as long as he trusted in God. Calvinists, who say that God ordained all of history to bring himself glory, say that God orchestrated the Fall to bring about his plan of sacrificing his Son on the Cross. The Orthodox tradition, while not exactly monolithic, wants to absolve God of blame in Adam’s fall. On the created state of Adam, St. Innocent of Alaska says:
Adam was created sinless and pure, enjoying all the blessings of life. He knew neither sickness nor suffering. He feared nothing, and all beasts submitted to their master. Adam suffered neither cold nor heat. Although he toiled by caring for the Garden of Eden, he did so with pleasure. His soul was filled with awareness of the Divine presence, and he loved his Creator with his whole heart. Adam was always calm and happy and knew no unpleasantness, sorrow, or concern. All his desires were pure, righteous, and orderly; his memory, intellect, and all other faculties were in harmony and were constantly being perfected. Being pure and innocent, he was always with God and conversed with Him as his Father, and in return God loved him as His own beloved Son. In brief, Adam was in Paradise, and Paradise was in Adam. (The Way into the Kingdom of Heaven)
St. Gregory of Nyssa (On the Making of Man) says similarly: “it is not allowable to ascribe the first beginnings of our constitutional liability to passion to that human nature which was fashioned in the Divine likeness .” The original state of Adam was good, and created by God in such a way that his propensity toward sin was not the fault of the Creator. Rather, Adam was made “holy, passionless and sinless in His own image and likeness” (St. Symeon, The Sin of Adam) and St. Gregory (The Great Catechism) says, “Adam was beautiful in his form, being created an image of the archetypal beauty; he was without passion in his nature, for he was an imitation of the un-impassioned God.”
God’s plan was to have Adam come to the fullness of maturity in his prelapsarian state rather than sinning. St. Irenaeus tells us that Adam was created as a child, given the opportunity to grow into the knowledge of God. It was in this immature state that he was able to be tempted. Rather, Adam was made “holy, passionless and sinless in His own image and likeness” (St. Symeon) and St. Gregory says, “Adam was beautiful in his form, being created an image of the archetypal beauty; he was without passion in his nature, for he was an imitation of the un-impassioned God.” All of Adam’s and blessings were granted to him because “God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world.” (Wisdom 2:23)
While Adam, and mankind in Adam, was created passionless and for incorruptibility, this state was not permanent. It relied fully on the grace of God to remain the way it currently was. (Hatzidakis, p. 51) This absolves God’s “guilt” in creating man that could fall into sin and turn against him. The devil acted quickly: St. Maximos (Ad Thalassium) teaches that Adam fell very close to his creation, and he activated his passions through his senses in “his very first movement”! Because of his fall, and the early tempting from Satan, Adam was subjected to spiritual death, which allowed bodily death to come to his body (cf. St. Alaska again, ) and that man’s evil would not become immortal (St. Maximos, ).
Most Protestants say that Adam’s sin gave humanity a sort of “total depravity” or “original sin” because in Adam all mankind sinned, as in some sort of headship theology. The Fathers look at it somewhat similarly, but with a major difference. Through Adam, death invaded the world “in the members of our flesh” because Adam turned them over to death in his passions (St. Cyril, ). Cyril also says:
Our nature, then, became diseased by sin through the disobedience of one, that is, of Adam. Thus, all were made sinners, not by being co-transgressors with Adam, something which they never were, but by being of his nature and falling under the law of sin…Human nature fell ill in Adam and subject to corruptibility through disobedience, and, therefore, the passions entered in. (Commentary on Romans)
Rather than having sinned in Adam (a sort of participation theology), mankind is liable to death because death is inherited in our now mortal bodies.
Christ, as the new Son of God, and Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, the one whom the Spirit hovered over to cause birth, was free from the corruption of Adam because he was born into the state Adam began in (cf. John 10:18).
Not everybody needs to accept the teaching of the Fathers. But there is more to the stories than the text: every Christian will, and must, develop a theology of the texts. New or novel approaches to theology should bring warranted suspicion. At least knowing or grasping the ideas of the Fathers can be elucidating in shaping our theology.
(Inspired by Emmanuel Hatzidakis’ Jesus: Fallen? of Orthodox Witness.)