Patristic Reflection for Sunday of Forgiveness

by St Symeon the New Theologian (+1022)

In the beginning God created man as the king of everything earthly, and not only of everything earthly, but of everything under the vault of heaven; for the sun also and the moon and the stars were created for man. And so being king of all this visible world, did man endure from this any kind of harm for his virtue? No, he did not. On the contrary, if he had always given thanks for this to God Who had created him, and had dedicated all of this to Him, he would have advanced yet more in virtues. And if he had not transgressed the commandment of God, of course, he would not have lost the kingdom which he had, and he would not have fallen away from the glory of God. But since he transgressed the commandment of God, he was justly banished from paradise and began to live in labors and cares, and died in banishment.

And now listen, and I will tell you something which no one has yet expressed with complete clarity. The Divine Scripture says: “God said to Adam: ‘Adam, where art thou?'” (Gen. 3:9). Why did the Creator of all things say this? Of course, it was in order to dispose Adam to come to his senses, to acknowledge his sin and repent. This is why He said, “Adam, where art thou?” As it were he said, “Adam, enter into yourself, acknowledge your nakedness and understand what a garment and what glory you have lost. Adam, where are you?” In a certain way, as it were, He awakens him and says: “O Adam, come to yourself and confess with humility your sin. Come out of the place where you are hiding. Do you think to hide yourself from Me? Say: ‘I have sinned.'” But he did not say this (or rather, I the wretched one do not say this, because this is my own passion). But what did he say? “I heard the sound of Thee walking in paradise, and I was afraid, because I am naked; and I hid myself” (Gen. 3:10). And what did God then say to him? “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee not to eat of it alone?” Do you see, beloved, the compassion of God? When God said to Adam: “Where art thou?” and Adam did not confess his sin, but said, “I heard the sound of Thee walking in paradise and I was afraid, because I am naked; and I hid myself” — He did not become angry at him immediately and did not turn away from him, but again asked him, saying: “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee not to eat of it alone?”

Do you understand the depth of God’s wisdom? When Adam said, “I am naked,” God said to him: “Why do you say that you are naked, and hide your sin? Do not think that I see only your body, but do not see your heart and your thoughts.” For Adam was deceived and truly thought that God did not know about his sin, saying to himself as it were: “I will say that I am naked. God, not knowing the reason for this, will ask, ‘How did you become naked?’ And I will reply to him, ‘I do not know.’ Thus I will deceive Him and again receive my previous covering. And even if I do not receive this, at least He will not banish me now from paradise and will not send me to a different place.” This is what Adam thought, as now also many people think — and first of all I myself — when we hide our sins.

But God, not desiring that the sin of Adam should be weighed down by this unawareness, said to him: “How did you know that you were naked, if you did not eat of the tree of which it was forbidden to eat?” He, as it were, said to him: “Do you think to hide yourself from me? Do you think I do not know what you have done? Why do you not say: ‘I have sinned?’ Say O miserable one: ‘Yea, O Master, in truth I have sinned, transgressing Thy commandment; I have obeyed the counsel of my wife and have committed a great sin, acting according to her word and transgressing Your own word. Have mercy on me, O God, and forgive me.'”

But he did not say this, did not humble himself, did not become contrite. His heart was hardened, just as mine is, the wretched one. But if he had said this, he would have remained in paradise and would not have been subjected to those deprivations which he later experienced. By this one phrase, ‘I have sinned,’ he would have redeemed all the multitude of years which he spent in hell. Here is what I have promised you to say! But listen a little longer, and you will understand how true my words are. God said to Adam: “In the day that thou eatest of it (that is, of the forbidden tree) thou wilt die the death” (Gen. 2:17) — that is the death of the soul. This happened immediately: Man was stripped of the garment of immortality; God said nothing more than that decree, nor did anything special happen after that. God, foreseeing that Adam was to sin, and desiring to forgive him if he repented, did not say anything more than the above. But Adam refused to acknowledge his sin and did not repent even when he was accused by God; for he said, “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me — she deceived me” (Gen. 3:12).

O woe to his blinded soul! Saying this, he as it were said to God: “Thou Thyself art guilty, because the woman whom Thou gavest me hast deceived me.” This very same thing I myself now suffer, wretched and miserable, when I do not desire to be humbled, and to say with my whole soul that I myself am guilty of my perdition. But on the contrary I say: “That person over there inspired me to do or say this. He advised me and knocked me off the path.” Woe to my poor soul which speaks such words filled with sin! O most shameless and irrational words of a shameless and irrational soul!

And after Adam had said this, God said to him: “In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread, till thou returnest to the earth, for out of it thou wast taken. For dust thou art, and to the dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). As it were he said to him: “I told you to repent in order to remain in your previous condition, but since you are hard of heart and unrepentant, therefore depart from Me. This your departure from Me will be a sufficient chastisement for you; you are dust; and to the dust you will return.” Do you understand now that Adam, because he did not repent and did not say “I have sinned,” was banished from paradise, condemned to lead a life in labors and sweat, and to return to the earth from which he was taken?

Then, leaving him, God went up to Eve, desiring to reveal whether she should be justly condemned with Adam to banishment because she did not wish to repent. And He said to her: “What is this you have done?” — so that at least she might say, “I have sinned.” For what other reason did God say to her such words unless to inspire her to say, “O Master, it was from my lack of understanding that I did this, poor and miserable as I am, and disobeyed Thee, my Lord. Have mercy on me and forgive me!” However, she did not say this, but what did she say? “The serpent beguiled me” (Gen. 3:13). O stony insensitivity! You also, Eve, after you agreed to converse with the serpent, who spoke to you words which were against your Master and God, preferred him to God your Creator. You found his counsel better than the commandments of your Lord, and considered it truer than the commandment of God. And you do not acknowledge that you did badly, and you do not repent. Thus, inasmuch as she also did not wish to say, “I have sinned,” therefore she also was banished from the paradise of delight and removed from God. Penetrate to the depth of the mysteries of the man-loving God, and know from this that if they had repented, they would not have been banished from paradise and condemned to return to the earth from which they had been taken. How this may be, now listen.

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