“And God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
The external material world has been created and formed, the dwelling has been prepared. Earth – the physical world – is no longer chaotic or shapeless, but it is still empty, since it still has no moral value, not being yet morally liable or responsible.
And so, in order to fill the vacuum, in order to give moral meaning to the whole of creation, in order to call into being creatures who would be capable like the angels of the same absolute enjoyment of being that is inherent in God, the creative word of God is heard: “Let us make man.” In order for this new creation to be truly good, it must be like its Creator, and thus the Lord says: “Let us make man in our image.”
Here, in this most important and most solemn moment of creation, in the moment of calling into being a godlike creature who gives moral meaning to the entire material world, we once again see the sacred seal of triunity: “In Our image,” not Mine, says the Lord. Triune Himself, united into a single Divine Being by the absolute Divine love of the Three Persons, He makes His creation as He formerly did the angels, in the same image, not in one person, but in two persons, so that afterwards a multitude of persons would come from them, but all would be a single being.
“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them: be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”
In all these verses of the 1st chapter of the Bible which speak of the initial creation of man, the Hebrew word “bara” is used – to create out of nothing. Consequently, paraphrasing the first Biblical account of the creation of man, we could say thusly: God, one in essence but triune in Persons, created man in His image and likeness out of nothing, man and woman simultaneously – two persons in a single being, and blessed them to multiply the number of persons and to have dominion over the visible world.
But the Bible speaks of the creation of man not once, but twice: the first time in the 1st chapter and the second time in the 2nd chapter, in verse 7. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” Both these accounts are diametrically opposite: in the first it says that God “bara,” i.e. created man in His image and likeness out of nothing, and in the second that He “assa,” i.e. created him out of the dust of the ground just like all the animals, of whom it says that “out of the ground the Lord God formed (the same Hebrew verb “assa” is used) every beast of the field and every fowl of the air” (Gen. 2:19). And it says in the 2nd chapter of Genesis about man, just like it does about animals: “and man became a living soul.” Furthermore, in the first account the Lord creates man and woman simultaneously – two persons, potentially many persons like unto the multidinous host of angels, in one being, while the second account speaks only of the creation of man – Adam, and a while later from his rib is created (“assa”) his wife – Eve.
This duality and this great difference in the account of the creation of man was naturally used by enemies of Christianity as proof of the Bible’s inconsistency and the different origin of the Biblical accounts. Meanwhile, if we keep in mind the basic truth about man being a dual spiritual/physical entity, we will clearly see the ecclesiastical understanding of the duality of the Biblical account of man’s creation as an exposition on the different aspects of man’s nature – spirit, soul, and body: the 1st chapter speaks of the creation of man’s spirit, while the 2nd chapter speaks of the creation of his body and his animalistic soul. The word of God created man’s spirit in the image and likeness of God out of nothing, the male and female persons simultaneously, each with its own personal qualities but a single nature, a single essence, just as the Persons of the Divine Trinity have individual unmixable qualities, yet constitute a single Being. Man’s body, however, animated by an animalistic soul, was formed (“assa”) from previously-created material, from the dust of the ground, i.e. out of dust, out of elements, out of earthly atoms and molecules, just as out of the same material the Lord created the animals, whom the Lord also gave a living soul, created out of nothing, but did not make in His image, and they were thus without liability.
In his work “On the formation of man,” St. Gregory of Nyssa points out the duality of the creation and formation of man and says: “God created (i.e. “bara”) the inner man and shaped (i.e. “assa”) the outer one; it was the flesh that was formed and the soul that was created.”
This is why in his bodily nature man is entirely and absolutely a part of the external animal/material world. In his body, just as in the body of animals, there is not a single particle, not a single atom of substance that is not of the surrounding world. Everything that there is in us is also in the world that surrounds us, up to the most remote nebulas and stars, attesting to the Single Creator Who created all these so very different manifestations of the external world and to our physical affinity with the entire universe created by God. We are even closer to the animal world, animate as we are, with living souls created by God. Therefore, a Christian may very tranquilly agree to the observation that man and the chimpanzee are very close in their physical nature. Speaking of man’s physical nature, we are in no way embarrassed by the possibility of placing man, according to modern classification, in the class of mammals.
But a Christian cannot believe that our place in the gamut of creation is limited only to this. To such an – alas! – widespread notion the psalm-writer replied back in ancient times: “Man was in honor and realized it not; he became like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12). No, in spirit we are godlike creatures, minimally below the angels, and between us and the rest of the animal world there is an immense abyss; in realizing our likeness to God, we can recognize both the animals of the earth and the farthest worlds in the universe, but no one in the entire immense physical world except us can comprehend us, or himself, or the outer, or the inner world.
St. Anthony the Great says the following about the interrelation between the human and the animal worlds: “With his mind man comes in contact with the indescribable power of Divinity, while with his body he is akin to the animals.”
And again: “Every growing thing may be considered to be living, because it grows and lives, but one cannot say that everything like that has a soul. Plants have a physical life, but do not have souls. Man is called a spiritual (sentient) animal, because he has a spirit (mind) and is capable of acquiring knowledge. All the other animals are animate and have a soul. There are four different kinds of living beings: some are animate and immortal, such as angels; others have a spirit, a soul, and are alive, such as humans; still others are alive and have a soul, such as animals; and the last are only living, such as plants.”
“And God said (to the humans): have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every beast, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
“And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is a fruit yielding seed; to you it shall be for food” (Gen. 1:28-29).
Having filled the earth and having introduced into it the one who was the bearer of moral value, of a godlike spirit, God subordinates to this bearer of the spirit all the material that He had previously created and shaped, thereby realizing and developing his likeness unto God. Being Himself the Master of the universe, the Lord makes man the master of the material and animal world, at the same time making this material and animal world, which in itself has no moral value, a participant in man’s godlike and morally-valuable life: the inanimate world as space for man’s dwelling, the plant world as food for man’s body, the animal world to serve man, and this latter world, as being of the greatest affinity to him, man recognizes, learns, understands, gives a name to (Gen. 2:20).
“And it was so” (Gen. 1:30).
In this world there was not even a trace of evil, everything was wisely set up, everything was absolutely good, in accordance with God’s will, with God’s design.
The creation of the world was completed. Through man’s godlike spirit the Lord joined to Himself the enter material and animal world that He had created, making it a participant in a godlike, bright, joyous, sentient, just, and good life. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”
“And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work” (Gen. 2:2).
This seventh day, in which God rested from all His work, i.e. on which was finished the creative act of bringing forth and establishing new creatures, according to the teaching of the Church continues to this day and will continue until the end of time.
“And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed” (Genesis 2:8).
Summoned to a God-like life equal to the angels and to constant communion with God, to a greater and greater comprehension of God and likeness unto God, man was not supposed to be distracted from this most important goal in the world by any concern for himself in the world that had been created by God. For this reason the plants, extracting liquids from the earth and the air, performed for him the task of converting lifeless inorganic matter into organic matter capable of taking part in living processes; the animals served man, becoming submissively obedient to his will. Man could concentrate on communion with God.
The Lord gave man the commandment: “Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Gen. 2:16-17).
As in each act of God, there are many meanings, many facets in this first commandment of God to man. Man’s freedom is being established in reality: man is free, he can either obey or disobey. There was no guardian, as the later archangel with a fiery sword, standing at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This commandment was intended to educate man, to make him grow in love for God. Like the angels, man was created by God for a life of rapture and joy. A life of rapture is provided by a life of love. Man was created for a life of love for God and for creatures one-in-essence with him, i.e. for other humans above all: Adam for love for the one who in spirit had been created jointly with him, as another person of the same being, and in body was created from his rib, and Eve for her spiritual mate and bodily origin.
But love as a theoretical confession, as a simple statement of fact is fruitless and immobile, it does not develop, even more than that – it dries up. Love requires its manifestation. And the most direct and natural manifestation of love is the fulfillment of the beloved’s will. Thus in fulfilling God’s will: of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat, the love of Adam and Eve for God was to grow and develop, their will was to become stronger, their entire spiritual organization was to be perfected.
The Church rejects the ancient widespread belief that the eating of the forbidden fruit symbolized something else, in particular the physical joining of Adam and Eve. This union came about later, after the Fall, and in itself had no relation to it whatsoever.
The first people, childishly inexperienced, simple and primitive, more inexperienced even than modern children (for children, though lacking personal experience, now have the inherited experience that was lacking in Adam and Eve), these first people who were wise through grace-filled communion with God but absolutely simple personally, were to be given the very simplest commandment. God does give such a commandment: you may eat of all the trees, but do not eat of one of them. In this commandment we very easily recognize one of the simplest and most basic church commandments, ancient as the Church itself, accessible to all people, and yet so arrogantly disregarded today by so many – the commandment on fasting.
Why is the forbidden tree called the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Because man came out of God’s hands as an absolutely good creature without an iota of evil, and consequently could not know about good and evil. Through his eating of the forbidden fruit evil would enter into him, and he would begin to differentiate between it and his own inherent good with which he was invested by God. But God did not wish His most-loved creation to know evil. Just like parents in old-fashioned, good, strong families tried to guard their children as long as possible from knowing the worst and seamiest sides of life, so does God wish the same for His beloved earthly child.
It is absolutely futile to guess at how man’s fate would have turned out, if the originator of evil, the fallen angel, were not already in the world at that time, rejecting God and all His qualities. Motivated by all that was contrary to God and His qualities, i.e. by hate instead of love, ill will instead of goodwill, the devil – Satan – the dragon, “that old serpent, called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9), could not but attempt to incite God’s new creatures – the humans – to the same insurgency against God and disobedience to Him, in which he himself had engaged and had involved the multitude of spirits who had fallen together with him.
St. Basil the Great speaks thusly of this: “The devil, seeing himself ousted from the host of Angels, could not look with indifference upon how the human creation was succeeding in being elevated to angelic honor.”
And the serpent said to the woman: “Yea, hath God truly said: ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?
Having rebelled against the Truth, the father of deceit is unable to speak the truth. The devil is a slanderer; he uses slander in the very first words that man hears from him. He knows that God had allowed the first people to eat of all the trees except one. This commandment concerning the one tree the devil wishes to libelously present as God’s prohibition to eat of all the trees. At the same time, the slander is constructed in such a way that at a superficial glance it does not strike the eye. People who read the Bible inattentively often do not notice right away the slander in these devil’s words. In this ancient technique of Satan’s we likewise easily recognize his modern maligning techniques, both on the wide scale of various contemporary antireligious and anti-Christian forces, as well as in one’s own soul, when grumbling against God or maligning our neighbors in anger. This is just another confirmation of the lack of creative diversity in God’s enemy and of the sameness of his techniques in tempting humans throughout many millennia.
And the woman said to the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said: ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”
By the very fact that she enters into conversation with the serpent despite having heard him malign God, Eve shows that love for God has not been kindled within her, has not developed, has not grown. And in her response she clearly yields to the serpent’s lie: she also slanders God to some degree, exaggerates His demand, describes His commandment inaccurately. God did not say: “neither shall ye touch it.” If Eve had described God’s words with absolute accuracy and truthfulness, the devil would have perhaps run from her, for he not only abhors, but cannot stand the absolute truth of God’s words. But a distorted half-truth, however, he is able to stand and thus continues his slander.
“And the serpent said unto the woman: ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
This slander is sophisticated and significant. God created people to be God-like and to gradually become more and more like unto Him through love for Him, as St. Basil the Great teaches: “We are creatures, but are summoned to become gods through grace.”
Afterwards the Son of God would come down to earth in order to deify man, as the church hymns continuously tell us. “God became man so that man would become god.” If the devil did not know this plan of God for man, for he does not know God’s plans, he still could have guessed it, because such was God’s plan for him, too, when he was still an angel of light, since God had created the angels also to become like unto God. Therefore, Satan knew that the temptation “ye shall be as gods” was very real for the human soul, which was created expressly for that purpose. But instead of becoming like unto God in love for God and in union with Him, the devil offers likeness unto himself in rebellion and disobedience to God.
“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.”
The devil does not know the depths of the human soul that is still uncorrupted by sin, but he is quite cognizant of all the superficial movements of the soul that are tied to its essentially neutral physical nature, which can be equally directed towards good or evil. And these movements, just as everything else that he has on hand, he mobilizes in this decisive moment of enticement, subsequently repeating this technique of enticement millions and millions of times on all humans throughout the entire centuries-old and sorrowful history of mankind. “Lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, worldly vanity,” – so do the Holy Fathers, who know human nature, label this threefold temptation used by the devil upon our foremother at the dawn of time.
“And she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” – A catastrophe of cosmic proportions occurred here, yet how simply and outwardly unnoticeably. Thunders did not roar, the heavens did not tremble, the mountains did not shake – nothing outwardly reacted to this terrible catastrophe that broke up the entire universe, broke up God’s entire design for the world He had created.
However, the fall into sin of every person is essentially the same kind of catastrophe, the same kind of tragedy, and each one of us knows from his personal experience how outwardly simply and insignificantly such catastrophes occur. If we were to need confirmation of the genuineness of divine truth in each word of the holy Divine Revelation, this simple and outwardly unremarkable description of the catastrophe of the fall of the first people would be one of the best and most striking testimonies to the fact that we are not dealing with a myth. Human mythology would be unable to describe this event in such a manner.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden…, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.”
The poison of the fall immediately impacts upon Adam and Eve in many ways. Up to that time, communion with God was the primary joyous content of their life, encompassing everything else. For this they had been created, and this was the source of their greatest bliss, for it comprised within itself all the subsequent pure delights of man: both artistic delights, because God is the fullness of Truth and Justice, and the delights of scientific creation, which is the study of the laws of nature, whose Law-giver is God. But now, when God appears after the fall, for the first time Adam and Eve try their utmost to avoid communion with Him. “And Adam and his wife hid.” For the people who have sinned and who are no longer like unto God, but are like unto His adversary with whom they have just been in contact, communion with God becomes unbearably tormenting.
And they immediately lose the knowledge of God that had been inherent in them. Prior to the fall they knew God with an inner consciousness of their Godlike soul, and with a knowledge stemming from a communion of spirit with Spirit, a knowledge that was not fixed, not formulated, and therefore immediately lost as soon as communion was lost. Sin had interrupted this communion and had destroyed their likeness unto God: in God there is no sin, but in man it has appeared. Therefore, man has ceased to know God. This is straightaway seen in the fact that Adam and Eve have forgotten about God’s omnipresence and omniscience. They naively tried to hide from the All-seeing Eye among the trees. In this erroneous image of God in the very first moments of the fall lies the seed of all subsequent false teachings, idolatry, and heresies, for all of them are essentially the same: attributing non-existent traits to God or taking away those that are inherent to Him.
And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him: Where art thou?”
The Lord exhibits the greatest paternal forbearance towards the first people’s sinful folly. He does not hurry to censure them. With the most delicate care He wishes to summon them to repentance. He pretends not to uncover the sinners’ childishly-na?ve hiding-place, but summons them to acknowledge their guilt, calls man by his name.
Adam says: “I heard Thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
The first barest sign of a small turn for the better in Adam can be seen in that he responded to God’s summons and did not continue to hide in his place of concealment. But even this scant improvement he immediately spoils by his attempt to deceive God: “I was afraid, because I was naked.”
The Lord waits, but man does not acknowledge his sin, does not confess it, does not repent of it, and yet it would have been so simple and easy. What depth of subtle human drama, known to us from our personal experience, is described to us in the few sparing words of the holy Bible.
“And God said: who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”
Adam does not offer confession, does not express repentance. God’s forbearance goes even further. Like a considerate spiritual confessor dealing with a penitent sinner, God Himself states Adam’s guilt for him, names his sin, leaving for the sinner himself to say only a brief penitent “yes.” The merciful Father goes out all the way towards the prodigal son.
But adding towards the already committed sins of trampling upon God’s love and His commandment, of the attempt to hide from God and deceive Him, Adam commits yet another sin, and this time not only against God, but also against his unfortunate accomplice in crime, his one-in-essence spouse. “The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”
Piling crime upon crime, with these words Adam breaks the tie of love – the pledge of unity between himself and Eve, and intensifies his rebellion against God, striving to place upon Him a portion of the blame for his own crime: “the woman whom Thou gavest to be with me…”.
The Lord then leaves Adam, in order to prevent him from increasing his sins, and turns to Eve. Up to now He did not address her, because, bound together in essence, she and Adam represented a unity, and to address one of them was the same as to address both. But in placing the blame upon his wife, Adam broke up this unity and, therefore, the Lord turned to Eve separately, so that perhaps Eve herself would repent.
“And God said unto the woman: What is this that thou hast done?”
But Eve, too, continues the same line of behavior as Adam.
“And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat…”
The Lord does not address the serpent – the ancient dragon, called devil, slanderer, deceiver, “which deceiveth the entire universe” (Rev. 12:9) – at all. Not a single action, not a single word does the Lord do or say in vain. And it is useless to speak with a slanderer: there is no hope for his repentance.
Without asking him anything, the Lord places a curse upon him, which ends with a promise that is terrible for the devil and joyously-comforting for the people who have sinned heavily, but are not hopeless: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
These words of God, which gave hope immediately after the fall to the people who had sinned, the Church calls the first Gospel, the first glad tidings.
“Therefore the Lord God sent Adam forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken, and He drove out the man.”
God’s expulsion of the sinners, like all of God’s acts, is a multifaceted action. One of the reasons is pointed out by the Bible directly: “lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and live for ever.” The stay in Eden was tied in with eating from the tree of life, with eternal life. Meanwhile, for the sinful people with their newly-corrupted nature such eternal life in a lasting sinful condition and in the resulting continuous alienation from God would truly have been a hellish existence, a source of interminable anguish and torment. The sinners had to be exiled from Eden for their own good.
The paradisiacal state was tied in with communion with God. Meanwhile, in accordance with the spiritual law which we see especially vividly in children who have committed an offence against their parents, the communion that was previously a source of the greatest and most complete bliss, from the moment of the fall became a source of unbearable suffering. A child who feels his guilt towards his parents will try to never stay in the same room with them. The sinful people had already tried to hide from God among the trees of paradise. Out of pity for them, they had to be expelled from Eden.
Also from the example of children who feel guilty towards their parents and suffer from this guilt, we know how harmful it is for the soul to allow them to overcome this burden without repentance, since then the sinning child falls morally and acquires arrogance, impudence in sin, and shamelessness in regard to the offended parents. From this further fall, which may be prevented by either repentance or expulsion, when the repentance that was in the people’s will did not occur, the Lord delivers them with that which is in His will, i.e. expulsion.
Furthermore, the expulsion was the implementation of God’s original plan for man, whom, in contrast to the immutable angels, the Lord had made as a creature subject to continuous changes. St. Basil the Great remarks on this: “Of all sentient creatures we humans are subject to daily and hourly changes and transformations. We never remain the same, neither in body, nor in inner disposition. On the contrary, our body continuously flows and disperses, is in constant movement and transformation… There is not a single moment in which man is not changing.” The entire man changes, both his physical and inner composition, but this change depends not on man’s soul, which is immutable like the angels’, but on his body, which is closely tied in with time and, therefore, like time flows continuously. And only then the bodily composition, being closely tied to the soul in each human individual, changes the soul. But the greatest impact upon man’s external physical nature is to be had from external changes. Therefore, in order to take man out of his sinful tormenting impasse after the fall, he had to be subjected to a harsh external change, and for this reason, along with those mentioned above, he is expelled from paradise.
Before the expulsion the Lord gives Adam a commandment on work: in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground from which thou wast taken.” This commandment of God, like the majority of God’s acts, is multifaceted. It contains both a punishment for sin and a treatment for it.
In paradise the people were free from all work and cares related to their physical nature, for the earth that was subordinated to them obediently did all the work for them as regards their nourishment and accommodation, seeing in this its own purpose and by this service to man being bound to God. And as long as man remained righteous, he morally required such freedom from work and cares, in order to have the opportunity to be continuously engaged in communion with God.
Expulsion from Eden
But from the moment when man transgressed his duty to God, nature rebelled against him. Having transgressed his duty to God, he also transgressed his duty to nature, ceasing to serve as the tie between the external world and God. From that moment the plants and the animals ceased to freely serve man without any care on his part.
And man himself, having earlier needed all his free time for communing with God, from the moment of the cessation of such communion began to need to have his time filled up. Without such filling up of time, his life in alienation from God would be unbearable. When our soul is tormented, the only balsam is work. And for this reason, expelling him from paradise, the Lord gives man the commandment on work.
The first human generations
The fifth chapter of Genesis opens with a brief repetition of the account of the creation of the first people (and here once again the word “bara” is used – i.e. to create out of nothing) as a unity in plurality, in the image and likeness of the unity in Trinity that exists in the Divine Being.
“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name ‘adam’ (generic name for humans), in the day when they were created.”
After that Genesis gives the number of years of Adam’s life and speaks of the birth of the righteous son of Adam and Eve – Seth: “and he begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth.”
The Lord had created Adam and Eve in His own image and likeness, and retaining this image and this likeness (though corrupted by sin), Adam passes them on to his descendants.
“And he (Adam) begat sons and daughters.”
If in the previous chapter we remarked upon the Holy Fathers’ exclusively loving attention to each word of the Bible, here we must comment upon the blindness, sometimes even non-deliberate, of the most recent unbelieving or little-believing critics and researchers of the Holy Writ.
In the Book of Genesis, in verse 4 of chapter 5, it is clearly stated that Adam begat sons and daughters, and yet the great majority of contemporary critics of the Bible wonder: how does the Bible imagine the propagation of mankind, if only three sons of Adam and Eve are mentioned? Whom did they marry?
Of course the majority of such critics were dishonest people, consciously and deliberately maligning matters of faith. At the same time, they counted upon their readers’ not noticing the slander, being certain that these readers had not read the Bible and at best knew of its contents only from various and often vulgarized so-called “Holy Stories,” in which in fact only the names of Cain, Abel, and Seth are usually listed as sons of Adam, and there is no mention of the others sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
The sons of Adam and Eve naturally married their sisters, without falling into incest in doing so, for at that time such marriages were dictated by simple and natural necessity and not by perversion. Moreover, mankind was young and fresh then, and marriages between close relatives could not yet bring those elements of degeneration into it that invariably accompanied later incestuous liaisons.
This same freshness in young mankind may also explain the exclusive longevity of people in those times. Originally created for eternal life, people of the first human generations did not yield for a much longer time to the unnatural for humans power of death. Adam lived for 930 years and Methuselah – with the longest lifespan – for 969 years.
Of the ten names of Adam’s descendants prior to the world Deluge, let us stop at the name of Enoch, seventh after Adam. Enoch means “dedication.”
“And Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
It is said of the righteous Enoch in the Book of Sirach: “Enoch pleased the Lord, and was taken up to heaven; he was an example of repentance to all generations” (Sir. 44:16).
And the holy Apostle Paul says of him: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him” (Heb. 11:5).
The holy Apostle Jude has preserved for us even the original words of the righteous Enoch, testifying in his epistle: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
Blessed Theodorite teaches that the Lord allowed Enoch to bypass death, in order to attest even to the early antediluvian mankind that “the sentence of death is temporary and will be rescinded.” Blessed Theodorite ends his commentary on Enoch with words that may be very aptly cited: “Thus we know that he was translated alive, and we know that he lives even to this day, but how and where –remains unknown, since the Scriptures say nothing about it.”
There is a very important church tradition connected with Enoch, of which the blessed Jerome and Augustine speak in great detail. This tradition is especially important for our fiery times. The righteous Enoch did not die. However, according to God’s command: “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” all humans must pass through the gates of death, and we know that even the One Who is more honorable than the Cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim – the Mother of God – passed through the threshold of death, in order to be resurrected by Her Son and God. Of two people only do the Holy Scriptures say that they did not die: the righteous Enoch and the prophet Elias. To both of them apply the words of Blessed Theodorite: “They live even to this day, but how and where – remains unknown.”
And church teaching tells us that in the end times, when human iniquities increase and love disappears, so that all manifestations of fervor for God among people become exhausted, there will appear “these two witnesses, two olive trees, two guiding lights” (Rev. 11:4), who will preach God’s truth among the fainthearted mankind. By God’s allowance these two guiding lights will be killed by the Antichrist and will arise on the third day. Church teaching says that these two guiding lights/witnesses will be the holy Enoch and Elias, those righteous ones of the Old Testament who had never died, specifically in order to do God’s work at the end of time, when human strength becomes depleted.
As Blessed Theodorite points out, the righteous Enoch’s prophesy applies much more to the end times than to antediluvian times: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His angels, to execute judgment upon all.”
The fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis is also tied up with the problem of Biblical chronology. It is well-known that in Byzantium and in Russia before the reign of Peter the Great, the years were counted “from the creation of the world” and not from the birth of Christ. Even now this count still obtains in our church calendars: we are now in the 7517th year from the creation of the world (A.D. 2009).
This count of years is unfailingly mocked by opponents of faith, and its brevity sometimes throws into doubt even some of the faithful, whom scientific research forces to imagine the history of our earth as being of far greater duration.
There are two responses that may be given in interpretation of this problem.
First of all, what exactly should we understand to be the date of the creation of the world? In the word of the holy prophet Moses himself, and the holy apostle Peter, and the greatest church interpreter of the Holy Scriptures St. Basil the Great, we may, and even should, imagine the epoch of days of creation to be long and even exceedingly prolonged periods of time, because the Church names the seventh day that follows in the series of the six days of creation as the period of time, still continuing now and due to last no one knows how long yet, from the end of creation to the end of the world, when the seventh day will be replaced by the shining eighth day, which will be never-ending.
Consequently, in church terms we may pose this question in the following manner: when did the sixth day end and the seventh one begin? According to the Biblical narrative we may say: at the time when the creation of man in his present spiritual form was achieved. But when exactly did this moment occur in the external historical process – we do not know. And it is important to note that not a single clear historical testimonial of man’s spiritual life, like a written testament or a religious monument, goes back beyond these 7517 years.
Secondly, God’s immutable word – the holy Bible – does not give us chronological tables. It only gives us the years of life of the patriarchs – Adam’s descendants – from the beginning of mankind to the Deluge and then from the Deluge to Abraham. Counting up these years, a certain pious medieval monk – Dionysius the Minor (the same one who calculated the year of Christ’s Nativity) – calculated the years from the creation of the world, and this epoch was accepted in Byzantium solely for the sake of convenience, and was later taken over from Byzantium by Russia.
However, if we look closely at the text of the Bible, we will see that it does not provide a key to chronology.
What does the Bible say? “And Adam lived 230 years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth. And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were 700 years; and he begat sons and daughters. And all the days that Adam lived were 930 years.” And likewise for every descendant of Adam, the days of his life are given until the birth of his offspring, whose name is provided, and then after that.
But, in fact, the Biblical expression “so-and-so, son of so-and-so” and “so-and-so begat so-and-so” does not always mean that a particular someone was the direct son of someone else. In the Old Testament we see that it is said of almost all the Jewish kings: “he did (or did not) like his father David did (or did not).” And in the New Testament Christ the Saviour is called the Son of David, Son of Abraham, and Son of Adam. And in the Lord’s genealogy, presented to us by Apostle Matthew, we see that when the evangelist says: “Ozias began Joatham,” he leaves out four generations.
Consequently, when the Bible says that X is the son of Y, we must only understand that X is a direct descendant of Y, but we do not know how many generations there are between them. Ozias begat Joatham, but there are 4 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of David, but there are over 30 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of Abraham, but there are almost 50 generations between them; Christ the Saviour is the son of Adam, but between them there is an immense number of generations that cannot even be calculated. But at the same time there is one thing we know indisputably and absolutely: if the Bible calls someone the son of so-and-so, he is undoubtedly his direct descendant. Christ the Saviour is called the son of David, Abraham, and Adam because He is their direct descendant. And this is what the Holy Scriptures underline and confirm, because this is what we need to know in order to recognize Christ as the Saviour of the world, announced by God to the first people at the beginning of their earthly history, to Abraham during his resettlement to the promised land, and to David after his repentance, – recognize the One Whom the prophets foretold as being precisely the son of David and the son of Abraham.
Thus the calculation of chronology is not one of the purposes of the holy Bible. That, just like all external scientific research that is not “the one thing needful” for the eternal salvation of human souls, the Lord leaves to the independent research of human scientific creativity.
“When men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, then the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Genesis 6:1-2).
From ancient times these lines in the Holy Bible seemed puzzling: who were these “sons of God” who took for themselves the daughters of men? In pre-Christian times the Jewish scribes often interpreted these lines of the Holy Scripture as a joining of angels with women. However, such an idea obviously does not accord at all with our Orthodox teaching on the angels as being bodiless spirits, nor does it accord with the extremely important truth of our belief in the unique provenance of mankind from Adam and Eve. At a time when ancient pagan traditions often ascribed divine or semi-divine origin to their kings and heroes, the Holy Scripture has always categorically insisted on the sole provenance of all people from common forebears. For this reason the earliest Fathers of our Church did not accept the rabbinic interpretation of these lines, but taught that the term “sons of God” referred to the righteous part of mankind.
In truth, already in the Old Testament the righteous ones were referred to as sons of God. And the Lord Himself says: “But they which shall be accounted worthy to reach that world… are equal unto the angels and are the children of God” (Luke 20:35-36).
St. John the Theologian attests: “The Father gave us love, in order for us to be named and be the children of God.” St. John Chrysostome teaches: “Each time we do good, we are born of God, because His seed remains in us.” And St. Basil the Great writes: “Many in the Scriptures are called sons of God, as was written: “I have borne sons and have elevated them.”
Thus, in full accord with the testimony of the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of the Lord Himself and of the Holy Fathers, we understand the first lines of the 6th chapter of Genesis as being an account of how righteous people looked upon the daughters of unrighteous ones and were tempted by them.
And recalling that at that time there were two major branches of mankind – the descendants of Cain, the first murderer, and the descendants of the righteous Seth, who were always calling upon the name of the Lord, – we will easily understand what is being said: the descendants of the righteous Seth began to be attracted to women from among the descendants of the immoral Cain and became depraved as a result.
Why does the Holy Bible still call those people “sons of God,” despite their corruption? The descendants of Seth were sons of God not because they were righteous themselves, but primarily because after the passing of many centuries through them would be given to the world the incorrupt light of the Law of God, and the sole supreme Son of God – the Lord Christ – would appear to mankind.
And the Lord said: “My Spirit shall not always remain among these men, for they are also flesh.”
We may imagine the state of antediluvian mankind rather well by analogy with contemporary mankind, because in our times we basically see the same thing: people are becoming flesh, they are interested only in worldly, material things, spiritual gifts are dying out in them, even their souls are becoming blunted, and since all things of the flesh are powerless in themselves, the driving force within this flesh-bound mankind becomes the unimpeded action of the spiritual power of evil.
“And God saw that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was continually only evil.”
Just as He previously did with the angels, so the Lord created man in order for man to attain blissful eternal life, as we have already said: “Being All-Blissful and All-Joyous Himself, He wished other creations to have this same joyous life, joyous existence.”
Mankind sinned and thus violated God’s plan for it: instead of an immortal and blissful life, through sin it acquired a sorrowful and mortal life. But this situation for mankind is only temporary, not hopeless. Adam and Eve repented. Seth was righteous. Enos’s generation called upon the name of the Lord. Enoch pleased the Lord to the highest degree. Within mankind, within its spiritual depths there continued to occur the most precious process of spiritual maturation, which brought ever nearer the moment when it would become possible for the Son of God – the Saviour – to come down to mankind, become joined with men, and once again make them the inheritors of God’s Kingdom.
This process went on in the best and most righteous parts of the righteous branch of mankind. For the Lord, for His loving and salvific purposes, this process was very precious. But even for the sake of it He did not take away from men their free will. The process of spiritual maturation continued within mankind as long as men went along with it of their own free will.
But in the antediluvian epoch this process within mankind stopped. The sons of God, the relatively righteous descendants of the righteous Seth, Enos, and Enoch saw the seductive daughters of men from the cruel and depraved branch of mankind, from the descendants of Cain, and were tempted by them.
The process of the spiritual maturation of the human spirit ceased. Men became flesh, only flesh, without any spiritual movement whatsoever, and evil entered within them unimpeded, and all their thoughts and all their desires became continually evil.
But if this process of spiritual maturation in human souls stops completely, then the existence of mankind becomes meaningless. In truth, for a soul-bearing creation to be born into the world in order to experience some pleasant physical sensations for a certain number of years, and then to die and descend into hell without any hope to ever be free from agony and torture – what can be more horrid and senseless than such a prospect? What can be further away from God’s plan for man as a co-inheritor of God’s Kingdom, summoned to eternal joy and eternal bliss?
Antediluvian mankind reached the edge of such an immeasurable distortion of God’s plan for itself. Having become only flesh, it shut itself off from the possibility of spiritual perfection, instead of which there began a great corruption.
The Lord reduced the years of man’s lifetime: “Yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years,” in order to try to make men come to their senses by making their hour of death be so much nearer. But this did not help. The wickedness continued.
(Note: According to modern biologists, taking into account the slowness of man’s growth and maturation, his life should have been of much greater duration, if not to the length of the antediluvian patriarchs’ lives, then at least to an age of 250-300 years. A certain medical journal suggested that at the dawn of its life all of mankind became infected with some kind of illness which continues in us up to now, and that this illness is the cause of the brevity of our lives. We, however, may suppose that this moment of mankind’s universal infection, so assiduously sought by the medics, was precisely the moment of the Lord’s determination concerning us: “Their days shall be one hundred and twenty years” – as the maximum time limit for our life on earth.)
Among all of mankind at that time there was one bright exception.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”
Noah had three sons – Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Upon them were centered all the hopes for the possibility of mankind’s moral development and, in consequence, the possibility of its spiritual salvation, its return to God, to eternal divine rapture.
But if Noah and his children were to be left among the depraved mankind, they would inevitably become corrupted, would become infected with the general corruption, and if not Noah himself and his children, then his children’s children would definitely yield to the general depravity, for under the influence of the sinful fall of our forebears, human nature had become easily inclined towards evil.
And then the Lord, the All-merciful and mankind-loving Lord, decides to apply an extreme measure, decides to destroy the majority of the mankind whose life had lost all meaning, in order to preserve the only human branch that had not yet lost this meaning and was capable of moral and spiritual improvement.
And the Lord said: “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth.” The Lord decided to destroy mankind by means of a deluge.
And God said unto Noah: “The end of all flesh is come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
However, in order to save Noah and his family, the Lord commands him: “Make thee an ark of gopher wood (apparently cypress)… with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. And behold, I do bring a flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh… But with thee will I establish My covenant, and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee.”
Let us review here in greater detail the issues related to the Holy Scriptures’ account of the Deluge. This account is the one that is most frequently subjected to blasphemy and mockery on the part of the enemies of faith.
One of the primary testimonials to the indubitable veracity of this account is the exclusive universality of its tradition. The French writer and archaeologist Francois Lenormand – a far from religious scientist – attests to it very vividly: “The Deluge is not a myth, but rather historical fact, for at least three independent racial branches of the ancient civilized world have preserved a similar account of it.” (The list of ancient peoples among whom this tradition was noted in an era that preceded the appearance of Biblical accounts among them, includes the Babylonians, the Syrians, the Arabs, the Greeks, the Persians, the Hindus, the North American Indians called the Algonquians, the Aztecs, and the Polynesians.)
When did the Deluge take place?
We do not know at all. We have previously spoken of the impossibility of creating chronologies on the basis of accounts in the Book of Genesis. In any case, the Deluge goes back to an extremely distant era of human history. This is confirmed by the very extent to which accounts of it had spread.
Personally the writer of these lines believes it to have most probably occurred in the era known to the science of prehistoric archaeology as the borderline between the Mousterian and the Aurignacian eras, the borderline between the Lower Paleolithic and the Upper Paleolithic, when the up to then numerous race of Neanderthal man, – some of whose characteristics (total absence of burials, which consequently suggested a total lack of belief in the afterlife, and a complete absence of pictorial designs, i.e. contempt for the sense of beauty, etc.) accorded with the basic traits of the negative branch of antediluvian mankind: “My spirit shall not inhabit among these men, for they are flesh,” i.e. without any signs of spiritual life, – unexpectedly disappeared from the face of the earth.
The account of the Deluge, important for all times and for all people, is especially important for our times, because to them apply Christ’s words on this subject: “And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man: they did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26-27).
We have already spoken of the fact that the Universal Deluge, which destroyed the ancient mankind that had fallen into corruption, despite the seeming cruelty of such a measure was actually a manifestation of God’s concern for mankind. In order to save the last branch of mankind capable of spiritual renaissance and perfection, so that some day, even in the most distant future, it could become capable of once again inheriting paradisiacal life, – in order to save this branch it was necessary to destroy the remaining depraved mankind, so that it would not be able to infect this last sound branch with its spiritual illness.
But having destroyed with the waters of the Deluge this hopelessly corrupt majority of mankind, did God forget it, did He disdain until the very end this multimillion, perhaps multibillion multitude of human beings, who had been created by Him for the eternal bliss of paradisiacal life, but who had forgotten Him and had disdained His commandments?
For us, for our generations, the eternal fate of the antediluvian mankind may be especially important and interesting. Earlier we had already pointed out the fact that there are many similar traits between modern mankind and that ancient antediluvian one.
And we can attest with great joy that the Merciful Lord did not forget His lost children who had forgotten Him. When the appearance of the Son of God in the world and His redemption of mankind took place, – which, let us remember, was ensured by the safeguarding of Noah and his family from corruption, – then the Lord, as the holy Apostle Peter attests, stretched out His saving hand in hell to these human souls who had perished in the Deluge.
“Christ… also went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient to the longsuffering of God that waited for them in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared" (1 Peter 3:19-20).
In interpreting these words, Blessed Theophylact says that this refers to the entire antediluvian mankind from the time of Adam, but primarily to the generation that was washed away by the waters of the Deluge.
At the same time, St. Gregory the Theologian reminds us that “Christ, appearing to those who were in hell, did not save everyone indiscriminately, but only the ones who came to believe in Him.” And although the great mystery of who is saved in eternity and who perishes is concealed from us, we may, however, hopefully suppose that a great multitude of those unfortunate souls who had perished in the Deluge for having forgotten God and become flesh, after tasting the torment of hell, took advantage of Christ’s glad tidings to believe in Him and follow Him into His kingdom of eternal joy, His kingdom of love, just as did a great many other Old Testament souls. But, of course, this did not apply to Cain, who had become steeped in evil, or Lamech, who surpassed him in cruelty.
After the Deluge
“And God remembered Noah… and the fountains of the deep were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. And the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat.”
Here for the first time in the holy pages of the Bible there is mention of a province which much later would be destined to be part of the Russian state.
This is an important region in other aspects, too. Here was subsequently formed an important and powerful nation which the holy Bible calls the land of Ararat and modern science – the state of Urartu. This state performed a great service to mankind in the sphere of culture: here for the first time, in the 11th-12th centuries B.C., was discovered the art of obtaining iron from ore, and the Iron Age began with the mass production of various objects out of iron. (Up to that time mankind had used only the rare meteorite iron, which was chemically more or less pure, and to the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians iron was more precious than gold).
The state of Urartu fulfilled another, more spiritual service. With the appearance and wide expansion of the militant Assyrian kingdom, Urartu took the strongest blows of the Assyrians onto itself, and it turned out to be the only state bordering on Assyria which did not submit to the brutal conquerors. Throughout several centuries Urartu fought with Assyria, thus diverting the attention and powers of this predatory state onto itself and in this manner saving other nations from terrible Assyrian slavery. Does this not remind us of the role that many-many centuries later was played by Russia, which saved the Christian world from Asiatic conquerors?
Thus we may rightly say that the land of Ararat is a blessed land.
“And it came to pass at the end of forty days that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made… and he sent forth a dove. But the dove found no rest for the sole of its feet… And he stayed yet another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove. And the dove came in to him in the evening, and lo, in its mouth was an olive leaf. And Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”
From that time the image of the dove with an olive leaf in its mouth became a symbol of God’s goodness, God’s mercy, of peace with God.
We may suppose that the Holy Spirit, appearing at the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ “in the image of a dove,” thus reminded people of the hour of God’s mercy after the Deluge. Hence outwardly differently, but inwardly similarly, in both cases the Lord “drowned sin in water,” and a dove was present at both events.
And it is such blasphemy that in our times this holy symbol has become the symbol of a hideous caricature of peace, the symbol of lying propaganda by the enemies of God.
“By the first day of the first month the waters were dried up from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry… And Noah built an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.”
On the blessed land of Ararat, after the hour of God’s wrath there rose up to the Lord this first human offering in the hour of God’s mercy and blessing.
It is interesting to compare this short Biblical description of Noah’s offering after the Flood with the description, though the nearest one to the Biblical, but still a heathen narration, about the same event in the Babylonian epos.
The Babylonian Noah – Utnapishtim (or Noepishtim, which means “rescuer and savior of life,” whereas Noah simply means “rescuer”) narrates:
“When the seventh day came, I took the dove out and set him free, the dove flew away, flew in circles, there was no land, and he came back… I took a raven out and set him free, the raven flew and saw the water drying. He ate, cawed, and did not come back. I went into the four winds, and made a libation, I made a burnt offering on the peak of a mountain. I set up seven incense burners and spread under them reeds, cedar branches and brushwood. The gods sensed the odor, the gods sensed the fragrance, the gods, like flies, gathered above the altar… ”
We will disregard the repulsive image of gods, as flies, gathering above the altar. We understand that the Babylonians did not imagine their gods as flies, as we do not imagine the Holy Spirit as a dove. These are images. But what an attractive image is the one, and how repulsive is the other.
But in the very description of the offering of Utnapishtim our attention is drawn to the difference from the Biblical story. How many unnecessary details we see in the Babylonian story. They do not exist in the Biblical narration. Perhaps historically it happened the way Utnapishtim describes it: he put down reeds, cedar branches, and brushwood. But all these details do not serve the aim of the Bible to nurture human souls. And in this example, we can see how under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the hand of Moses, recording the history of mankind, purified the ancient legends, eliminating everything secondary and superfluous from them. When it is necessary, even for a limited historical period, the Bible is able to present the most minute details in its narrative, as, for example, further on, when recording the rules of Old Testament offerings. When this is not necessary, the Bible, passing over meaningless details, relates only the essence.
This example also clearly shows that we should not look in the Bible for anything that is foreign to its purpose or for any scientific, geographic, or ethnographic details, if such are unessential.
In this same example of the two narrations, close in their natural origin (let us remember that Abraham, an ancestor of Moses and the entire chosen nation, traced his ancestry from Ur of the Chaldees, i.e. Babylon), we see the difference between an account written under inspiration from the Holy Spirit and an account that is purely human.
“And the Lord said in His heart: I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake… While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”
“And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and have dominion over it. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.”
Once again the Lord repeats the commandment given to people in Eden. But now He adds something different. The Lord says: “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth.” In Eden it was only said: “Have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Here, because of the changed relations between man – the crown of creation, who because of his sin did not fulfill his designation – and all other creatures, which arose against him because of that, man is given the weapon of fear instead of the former tranquil and friendly dominion.
And the Lord adds: “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.” Here man receives the blessing to eat meat. This was not originally part of God’s plan for man. According to the Divine plan, it was plants and not animals that were to be food for man. Man was to eat the best parts of plants: their fruits, tubers, seeds. Animals were to be man’s servants and participants in his endeavors. Through sin man violated his calling and consequently severed his connection with the animal world, his understanding of the animal world, and the animals’ amicable cooperation with him.
Instead of submitting to man and cooperating with him, the stronger animals started attacking people, while the smaller ones proceeded to harm him in all possible ways. Man became imbued with fear of animals, with hostility towards them, entered into battle with the animal world. After the Deluge their relations changed. Man acquired power over the animals. Now animals would begin to fear man. They would begin hiding from him. But would this not sever all connection between mankind and the animal world? Would they not be divided into two camps that had nothing in common between them?
It was in order to overcome such alienation that Lord gave man permission to eat meat.
Instead of the bright, friendly, and unselfish relations with animals that had predominated in Eden, instead of the tortuous and unnatural relations of men fearing animals, new relations with the animal world are now introduced, built upon the lowered moral state of people after the Fall: mankind starts to see animals as a source of nourishment.
One can only guess that man started to eat meat much earlier, in the antediluvian period of his existence. At least this is what pre-historic archeological data suggests, testifying that Neanderthal man, in whom we can recognize features of antediluvian man, was primarily a meat-eater. But then it was the result of human willfulness, while now Divine permission was given to people for such nourishment, and we know that later on, the Lord miraculously sent His prophet “bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening” for food. And the very Son of God ate “a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb” (Luke, 24:42). And the 51st Holy Apostolic Rule prescribes: “If someone… refrains from eating meat not for the endeavor of abstention, but by reason of disdain, let him reform, or be excommunicated.” The Church, which esteems fasting so highly, does not approve of vegetarianism as a philosophy.
The difference between the willful meat-eating of primitive man and the God–permitted nourishment of man with meat after the Fall is striking if one delves into its essence. Previously there had existed an embittered struggle between man and beast: the terror of predators and the merciless unconditional extermination of the herbivores for food. Now there was perhaps a selfish, but still caring regard for the animal world. The domestication of animals and care for them became possible.
All the bright and kind relations between man and animals: friendship with a dog, the attachment of horses, the care of a shepherd for mules, sheep and goats, the protection of the animal world that is so highly developed nowadays, but which existed much earlier as well, – all this has its roots not so much in the commandment given by God to people in Eden, but in His new blessing to postdiluvian mankind.
“And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you…neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood… This is the token of the covenant which I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you… I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of an eternal covenant between Me and the earth.”
Is it possible that there had never before been a rainbow? – a skeptical critic would ask. Undoubtedly there was. The Lord does not create it anew. This would contradict the Biblical definition of the seventh day, existing then and lasting till now, as the day when the Lord rested from all His work. But until that time a rainbow was a simple physical phenomenon that had no special meaning, like the fata morgana, the northern lights, etc. From that moment, however, it acquired the meaning of a reminder about the covenant between God and people and the whole world. And blessed are the people who look upon this beautiful natural phenomenon with a feeling of awe and joy.
“And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.”
The English theologian T.C. Chain, a professor at Oxford University, speaking about this extract from the Bible, seriously expresses the opinion that apparently there are two narratives in the Bible about two different Noahs, for the Biblical testimony that “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God,” and the proof given here that Noah drank wine are incompatible. We can only smile at such a typically Anglo-Saxon na?ve idea, to which indecency is a worse crime than sin. There was no sin here: Noah did not yet know the intoxicating properties of wine. And the fact which shocks the English theologian the most – that a righteous man could drink “an intoxicating beverage,” – seems droll to anyone even slightly acquainted with the nations of the Mediterranean culture, for whom wine, usually a weak one, is not a luxury, not an excess, but a daily necessity. Not for nothing does the Lord establish His holiest Sacrament under the guise of bread and wine as the most natural products for man.
“And Ham saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.”
The selection of mankind had just been performed, it had just been cleansed of corruption by the waters of the Flood, and only the best in it was preserved for further history. And now, in the very first generation of these best people saved by God, a new, disgusting type of sin is born – insolence: a son’s mockery of his father, an inferior’s of a superior, an impudent and shameless insolence.
Noah, upon awakening and learning of his offspring’s behavior, cursed Ham in his posterity and blessed Shem and Japheth. The first racial division of mankind is associated with this event.
Abraham, Moses, and Elijah
As the Preparers of the Salvation of Mankind
The names of three righteous men– the Patriarch Abraham, the God-Seer Moses, and the Prophet Elijah – mark the stages of mankind’s spiritual ripening for salvation in the Old Testament.
St. Basil the Great says that he could never look without tears at the depiction of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. In truth, if one ponders the moral image of the righteous Abraham in this matter, our soul cannot but be filled with the most ardent admiration.
At a single word from the Lord, Abraham leaves his native city of Ur of the Chaldees, which was flourishing culturally, with conveniences for living, everything attractive for life, and goes to a wild, faraway country, which the Lord promises to give to his descendents to rule over forever: “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
Many years passed after that migration. Abraham, already old, but still childless, asks God: “Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?... Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir” (Gen.15:2-3).
But with what ardent love is inflamed this powerful patriarch, great in his righteousness, for his long-awaited lawful son Isaac, born in his old age! This love is all-embracing, it comprises all: both the natural attachment of a father to his son and the joyfully triumphant contemplation of the beginning of the fulfillment of the Divine promises, which were to be fulfilled through this son. Therefore, in the love of Abraham for Isaac one can see the origin of the elements of the most perfect love on earth, which will be revealed two thousand years after Abraham through his blessed Granddaughter in Her relationship to Her Son and God.
And it is this son, loved with such great love, that at a word from God Abraham leads to be slain, ready to sacrifice even him to the Lord God Whom he loves more than anything in the universe. Moreover, this decisiveness to sacrifice his son at God’s command is not a brief elevation of feelings, not simply a burst of ardor. For three days Abraham and Isaac walk towards the place of sacrifice; for 72 hours lasts the torturous agony of the sacrificing father, his readiness for this terrible offering. In truth, there can be no human heart so hard that it would not tremble with anxiety while carefully reading this Biblical narration (Genesis, chapter 22)
Abraham receives the highest honor which is accessible to man in this endeavor of his. According to the Church’s view, he becomes the prototype of the Almighty God Himself – God the Father, Who for the sake of mankind’s salvation sacrifices His Only-begotten Son. And meek Isaac, carrying the wood for the burnt offering on which he was to lie down as a sacrifice, humbly questioning his father and being bound by him without complaint, – becomes the prototype of Christ the Saviour.
The first people sinned through disobedience, and through the endeavor of the righteous Abraham and Isaac disobedience is conquered with the greatest power and vividness. Human nature ascends to the highest stage of obedience, dictated by the purest love for God – the quality which the Lord, in giving man the original commandment, wanted to develop in him as the governing one, for He created man to grow in submission and love – the Divine-like qualities which the Son of God later manifested on earth in such abundance.
Truly the Lord brings us to salvation not without our participation, but in His concern for us He chooses as His co-participants those from amongst us who are faithful to Him.
But we have the right to ask: why then, if Abraham rose to such spiritual heights through his endeavor, why did he remain only a prototype of the Lord, but did not take part in the incarnation and real salvation of mankind? Why did the Lord not hurry to descend upon the Mount of Moriah, where this tremendous sacrifice was being carried out, the way He later descended to the room in Nazareth and the cave in Bethlehem? Why did He linger for over two thousand agonizing years before coming down to mankind?
In order to answer that question, we should sorrowfully turn our attention from the shining peaks of holiness which Abraham had attained, to those testimonies of slip-ups and frailties into which the same great patriarch fell.
We see that, before the birth of Isaac, fearing the Egyptians and Abimelech, Abraham twice hid behind his wife Sarah and out of fainthearted cowardice was ready to sacrifice her – the co-participant in his holiest endeavors – and lead a whole nation to Divine punishment (Gen. 12:11, 12). We see Abraham after the death of his wife Sarah, being consoled by the handmaiden Keturah.
Let not any pen or any tongue judge the greatest and holiest of the Old Testament patriarchs. But, seeing such slip-ups, such human frailties, we understand why the Lord could not descend to him in closest unity, could not make him, the way he was, a co-participant in Divine life: we see that human nature in Abraham was not yet mature enough to accept God. But Abraham participated, like none other, in the process of preparing mankind to accept the Lord, in the process of maturing for Divinely-human life. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad,” – said the Lord – the son of David, the son of Abraham.
With Abraham the Lord talked in visions at night or appeared before him in the image of the Three Wanderers. Meanwhile, before the Fall, people talked with God face-to-face, knew Him as a Person, for they were created to know God in love and obedience to Him. And it was necessary that even before the coming of the Lord to mankind, people would be given back the possibility to know God, see Him, and recognize Him.
For this the Lord calls upon one of Abraham’s descendants – the righteous Moses, filled with love for his brethren, the co-heirs of the promise, to such an extent that he abandons his brilliant (by earthly standards) state as the adopted son of a princess, Pharaoh’s daughter, as something contemptible and not deserving attention, comes to the defense of an offended countryman-Jew, and runs from Egypt. If in Abraham we see the peak of Old-Testament human love for God, then in Moses, in addition to love for God, which is not any less than that of the righteous Abraham, we see the incarnation of the second half of the basic Divine law: the peak of love for others as for oneself.
The Lord greatly elevates Moses among the elect. In storm and thunder He gives him His law on Mount Sinai, talks with Moses face-to-face, and, for the first time after the Fall, the only time before the pre-Golgotha hours, the Lord calls a human being, in the person of Moses, His friend: “If there be a prophet among you, I make Myself known unto him in a vision, and speak unto him in a dream, but not so with My servant Moses, who is faithful in all Mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark speeches; and the image of the Lord shall he behold” (Num. 12:6-8) and “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex.33:11).
(Another time in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, Abraham is called the friend of God, but not during his lifetime, only many centuries after his death.)
Using his friendship with God for the realization of his strong love for others as for himself, in the terrible hour of Divine anger for the sin of the Israeli nation, Moses turns to God with a most daring prayer: “Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin… and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written” (Ex. 32:32).
(Note: Since the sin of the nation was in violating the Covenant, then the request of Moses “to forgive their sin” is equal to an appeal: “Do not think the Covenant to be violated, do not reject Israel, do not take away its name and rights as the God-chosen nation.” The need for such a request was caused by the following. The Lord answered the first appeal of Moses with the promise not to destroy Israel. In this way its continued existence was guaranteed. But such a promise did not yet mean that the Jews would remain the God-chosen nation. The very frame of mind of the nation raised doubts, for not only did it not reveal a readiness to reclaim for itself the mercy of God, but displayed extreme stubbornness, which placed them under the threat of being fully rejected by God. In view of this Moses begs: “Forgive their sin.” If forgiveness cannot be granted, then he offers his life as a sacrifice: “Blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.”)
Moses is the tool of a great Divine act: through him the Divine law, of which people were deprived after having sinned in Eden, is returned to them; they are given back the possibility of Divine Services, partial communication with God; the earth ceases being totally alien to heaven. Incompletely, imperfectly, in shades, in images and conjectures, but still through Moses, in the God-given Divine Service, into terrestrial life comes the uninterrupted process of the preparation of people for the acceptance of the Son of God. Therefore the Church especially sees in Moses the prototype of Christ, and often in the festal divine services sings chants which relate to him and to Christ the Lord, drawing comparisons between them: “The shadow of the law has passed now that grace has come…instead of a pillar of fire the Sun of righteousness has dawned, instead of Moses – Christ, the salvation of our souls” (Dogmaticon 2nd tone).
But to Moses likewise the Lord could not descend in closest union.
In the hour of his selection we see him bargaining with the Lord, evoking Divine anger by his persistent unwillingness to follow the Divine call: “O my Lord, send another one whom Thou wilt send”; we see Moses sinning before God by the waters of Meribah in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin (Num. 20:12 and 27; Deut. 1:37 and 32:51).
The Lord said to Moses: “Yet thou shalt see the (promised) land before thee; the land which I give the children of Israel” (Deut.32:52). The Promised Land was not only a real manifestation, but it was also the prototype of the Kingdom of God, and God’s words to Moses referred to both meanings of the Promised Land: the great holy righteous God-Seer Moses was given the chance to see the Divinely-human life – the tabernacle of God and men, but was not permitted to enter it.
Abraham, Moses, and Elijah
As the Preparers of the Salvation of Mankind
The third great spiritual figure of Old-Testament mankind is holy prophet Elijah.
Unusual power and zealous love for God permeate the entire activity of this greatest of righteous men. In the days of the unrighteous King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who became the symbol of everything vicious and wicked, a mighty prophet arose, burning with great zeal for the Lord. By Divine will he sealed the heavens with a single word, as a result of which not a single drop of rain fell onto the whole land of Israel for more than 3 years – as punishment for idolatry. In his zeal for God, Elijah called fire down from heaven on a sacrifice to God, so that Israel would cease “floundering,” so that the people would admit who is the true God – the wicked Baal or the righteous Lord. In an unrestrained but righteous rage against the deluders and corruptors of the people of God, with his own hand St. Elijah slew 450 prophets of Baal and Astarte.
The holy and righteous Elijah cannot be reproached for anything. His devotion to God was not less than the devotion of Abraham, his forefather. At the same time, he had no slip-ups similar to those of Abraham. He is able to communicate with God no less than Moses: the Lord appears to him, as he did to Moses, on the Mount of Horeb, and in the New Testament only these two – Moses and Elijah – from all of Old Testament mankind were called upon to see the light of Mount Tabor, the revelation of God’s essence in the Divine Transfiguration.
Perhaps one could reproach the Prophet Elijah for the fear of death, when he runs from Jezebel, pursuing him: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life” (3 Kings 19:3). But this fear is an absolutely natural feeling, typical of every man, and the Lord does not reproach His prophet for this fear, because Elijah does nothing wrong or in opposition to Divine will under the influence of his fear, even on a scale similar to the self-willed blows of Moses upon the rock by the waters of Meribah. Only after fully completing God’s mission does he run from the pursuing Jezebel
Holy prophet Elijah
But Elijah also cannot become the vessel of the Divine incarnation due to the unrestrained character of his anger, his all-embracing fiery zeal for the Lord God. This rage, this zeal differ in spirit compared with the New Testament spirit, with the spirit of the One Who is meek and humble in heart. That is why, when Christ’s disciples James and John want to “command fire to come down from heaven, even as Elijah did,” Christ prohibits them, saying: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:54-56).
The Lord speaks of this with love and delicacy to the Prophet Elijah as well, when He appears to him on Mount Horeb: “What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said: I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
And He said: Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by; and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice – and there was the Lord” (3 Kings 19:9-12).
Elijah was a great and strong wind that rent the mountains, and broke into pieces the rocks before the Lord, but not a still small voice. The Lord waited for this still small voice in mankind, which was not in Elijah, for many more centuries. The Lord, carrying out the salvation of those created by Him in His image and after His likeness, and, consequently, spiritually autocratic creatures, could not come down to men without this still small voice, without their participation, for He is not in the wind or fire, but in the breath of a quiet wind.
This breath of a quiet wind appeared in mankind when “in the sixth month the Angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth… to a Virgin… and the Virgin's name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27), and when in answer to the Annunciation, which was more amazing than the one to Abraham, more crucial than the one to Moses, and infinitely much more blissful than the one to Elijah, a quiet voice sounded: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38). This was the moment when the Son of God’s descent to man could occur, and it occurred at that same moment, for the Omnipotent Lord, long-sufferingly awaiting many centuries for this moment, did not wait a jot longer, but immediately united with the human nature created by Him, torn away from Him by sin, but not forgotten by His love, recreating it in the womb of the Ever-Virgin.
Still, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah were not left without involvement in this affair.
The Holy Annunciation
The Holy Virgin was the descendant of Abraham in soul and body. It was in order for Her to appear that he left the flourishing culture and conveniences of his native Ur of the Chaldees. From him, Her forefather, She inherited the highest transport of sacrificial love for God, manifested by Abraham on the mount of Moria in sacrificing his son. This transport of sacrificial love is revealed by Her in an even purer and more elevated way through Her participation in the salutary sufferings of the Lord on the Mount of Golgotha.
The Virgin Mary grew and was brought up in the Law given by God through Moses on holy Mount Sinai, was brought up in the temple built by Divine will through Moses, and She corrected that inadequacy of his which had caused God’s rage by the Ever-burning Bush (Her image), for She did not express any doubts, did not oppose God at Her election, but with the humble answer “behold the handmaid of the Lord,” She effaced the inappropriate indolence of Moses’ words at his election: “Send another one, whomever Thou canst.”
With the stirring of a quiet wind, with a still small voice She rights the scorching storm of Elias’s zeal, and in this endeavor of Hers She is joined by Her relative, coming after Her, the great prophet, who appeared in the spirit and strength of Elijah, i.e. in no way inferior to Elijah in zeal for God, but who summoned to repentance even the Jewish elders whom he denounced, instead of slaying them with a knife. He (John the Baptist), this new Elijah, was not frightened by his contemporary Jezebel (i.e. Herodias), but accepted a martyr’s death from her on the border between the Old and New Testaments, in order to become the Forerunner of the Lord even in hell.
In comparing the Most-holy and Most-pure Virgin Mary with the spiritual giants of the Old Testament, we would like to touch upon a certain issue: why did the Mother of God, the holiest of holies, more honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, still have to pass through the threshold of death, to drink mankind’s bitter cup of death, while the prophet Elijah avoided death and was taken to heaven alive?
In answering this question one must remember that the Lord always fulfills the sincere, mature, and profound desires of His loyal servants. The Mother of God was not afraid of death, did not try to avoid it, because She knew that death was already vanquished by Her Son and God. More than anything else She wished to be with Him, Her beloved Son and God, in soul and body. And as we are told in the church narrative on Her dormition, She asked the Lord for one thing only: “May I not see the dismal gaze of the evil spirits, because they are foul and vile.” Chastity and modesty naturally tend to avoid any touch and even nearness of carriers of filth, impudence, and shamelessness. And the Lord fulfills this virtuous wish of His Most-holy Mother: She experiences death, but gives over Her most-holy soul into His embrace, invisible to the demons, and He resurrects Her on the third day in His own image, in order for Her to be with Him in body and soul, on the right hand of the throne of God.
The prophet Elijah did not wish for death at the hands of Jezebel not because he feared death in general: immediately after fleeing from Jezebel he himself asked God for death. But he simply could not accept the power of evil, nor the shameless prophets who were corrupting the people of God, nor Jezabel, who was ruling over Israel. And the Lord could not take this loyal servant of His down to hell, which was inevitably linked with death in the Old Testament, could not give him over into the power of enemies much more vile than the shameless and abominable prophets, than the loathsome Jezebel.
The Prophet Elijah was taken to heaven alive, but church teaching tells us that when in the last days iniquities will increase and the love of many will dry up, i.e. all manifestation of zeal for God will be exhausted among people, then two witnesses, two olives, two candles (Rev. 11:3-4) will appear that will testify to the Divine Truth among the mankind grown fainthearted, putting fresh heart into the small flock of those who stayed faithful up to the end, embarrassing and exposing the multitudinal, impudently gloating enemies of God. By Divine tolerance they – these two candles – will be killed by the Antichrist and will be resurrected on the third day. Church teaching says that these two witnesses will be the holy Enoch and Elijah, those righteous men of the Old Testament who did not taste death, precisely in order to fulfill God’s plan at the end of ages, when human powers will be exhausted.
Now, as never before, we clearly and painfully feel this terrible depletion of human moral forces. Does it mean that the hour of the coming of the prophet Elijah and righteous Enoch, as the forerunners of the Second Coming of Christ, is close – we cannot say, but we undoubtedly believe that sooner or later this will happen, and the earth will still hear the formidable voice, saying: “As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand… How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him” (3 Kings 18:15-21). And many, many of the signs of modern days testify that perhaps we, our generation, will meet face to face on this earth, in our actual modern surroundings, with the formidable, fire-breathing prophet of God, who is called in the church chants “the second Forerunner of the coming of Christ, the glorious Elijah.”
(Note: According to the interpretation of the Revelation by St. Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea, the Antichrist, coming out of the dark and infernal places of the earth, to where the devil was banished by God’s tolerance, will kill Saints Enoch and Elijah, and will leave their bodies unburied in the same ancient and ruined Jerusalem where the Lord had suffered. In this city he will establish his kingdom and royal throne like David, whose Son in flesh was Christ, our true God, in order to prove that he himself is Christ, fulfilling the prophetic word: “In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and will revive its fallen ones,” which the wayward Jews accept and relate to his coming.
Deluded by the false miracles of the Antichrist and having engraved him upon their hearts, the Jews and pagans will not allow the holy bodies to be buried, and will rejoice over their deliverance and freedom from the punishments which they had suffered for their own admonishment.
The fiery ascent of Prophet Elijah
Lying dead for the same number of days as the number of years their prophetic activity lasted, Enoch and Elijah again, to the fear and horror of those who see it, will ascend to heaven in a fiery cloud.)
Manasseh, King of Judea
Among the many extremely dramatic personalities commemorated in the Holy Scripture of the Old Testament, one of the most dramatic is Manasseh – one of the last kings of the southern Hebrew kingdom.
In his time the northern Hebrew kingdom – that of Israel – was already destroyed and conquered by the bloodthirsty Assyrians, Salmanassar and Sargon had already conquered Samaria, taking tens, and maybe hundreds of thousands of Israelites, the elite of the nation, into cruel Assyrian captivity, and resettled the pagans from the Aramaic provinces of Assyria in their place. But the southern kingdom – Judea – was still standing. Politically weak, unstable, trembling before all its neighbors, fragmented, weakened, often betraying its Lord, the sole True God, often falling into the most disgusting idolatry, already often punished for that by God, losing the greater part of its former possessions, former wealth, former glory, it is precisely at this particular time that it still bore inner fruits of amazing purity and greatness, spiritual fruits which it had not borne even in the best periods of its political golden age. In the streets of Jerusalem thundered the voice of the relative of kings, the Holy Prophet of God Isaiah; his almost Evangelical words were already heard: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee,” “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation.” His vivid sermon about the coming Savior had already rung out: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 49:15; 52:7; 53:4).
The father of Manasseh, King Hezekiah, was a pious man. He listened reverently to his relative (an uncle or cousin), the prophet Isaiah, and the Lord gave the king vivid proofs of His power, both in the personal life of the king, and in the destinies of his state: having fallen fatally ill, and having been notified through the prophet Isaiah that his days were numbered, King Hezekiah appealed to God, saying: “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.” And he wept bitterly. The Prophet Isaiah had not yet left the city, when he heard the Lord’s word: “Go, and say to Hezekiah: thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears. Behold, on the third day thou shalt go into the house of the Lord, and I will add unto thy days fifteen years.”
The Assyrian king Sennacherib, the ruler of the entire Middle East from the Caucasus to Egypt and from the Mediterranean Sea to India, invaded Judea and surrounded Jerusalem, in order to conquer and destroy it, as were destroyed the northern Jewish capital Samaria and other Israeli cities. But Hezekiah prayed: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims. Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he hath sent to reproach the living God. It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings hath devastated all nations and lands, and hath cast their gods into the fire; yet those were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone; therefore, the Assyrians could well destroy them. Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from their hands, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the Lord and God, even Thou only.”
And the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to tell the king: “Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: he shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it for Mine own sake, and for My servant David's sake.”
“Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians 185,000 men; and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. So Sennacherib, king of Assyria, departed, and went, and returned” (Isaiah 37:33-37).
And Hezekiah, who began his rule in political restraint and poverty, ended it in wealth and glory, both spiritual and terrestrial.
“And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant vessels. Storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks. Moreover, he provided him cities, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very much substance” (2 Kings 32:27).
Such were the impressions, such were the influences under which was spent the early youth of the future king Manasseh, the youngest and most beloved son of King Hezekiah, the child of his old age. It seemed that one could hope that Manasseh – the son of a pious father – would inherit his piety and would continue his father’s deeds. But that did not happen. Manasseh’s mother was a Phoenician princess by the name of Hephzibah, which means, “in her is my delight.” She was lovingly called so by her husband, King Hezekiah, when in his old age, after God had heard his prayers and had given him 15 more years of life, he married a young and, one might think, beautiful Phoenician.
The influence of the Phoenician mother upon Manasseh was extremely pernicious. Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem for 55 years. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. For he again built up the high places of idols which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he constructed altars for Baal in the house of the Lord; and he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the Lord.
The significance of these deeds of Manasseh was intensified by the fact that the temple of God in Jerusalem was at that time the only temple of the True God in the whole world, at a time when the entire earth was filled with heathen temples. And so, Manasseh did not spare this sole temple of God, but filled it with Phoenician abominations. The indignation of the Jews who had stayed faithful to God was particularly aroused because Manasseh set a graven image of Astarte and her idols in God’s temple. The worship of Astarte and her idols (phalluses) was connected with the cult of corruption and prostitution of boys and girls.
Manasseh caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the sons of Hinnom. The holy prophet Jeremiah recalls this event several centuries later with indignation: “They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of tophet in the valley of the sons of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire in honor of Moloch” (Jer.7:30; 32:34).
“Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (2 Kings 21:16).
He ordered the execution of his elderly relative, the spiritual leader of his father, the great prophet Isaiah. Exhibiting refined cruelty, Manasseh ordered the prophet of God sawed in half with a wooden saw.
“And Manasseh, King of Judea, hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that did the Amorites, which were before him, and hath made Judea also to sin with his idols” (2 Kings 21:11).
Of course, the cruelties and abominations in the beginning of Manasseh’s rule, while he was still an adolescent, can be assigned to his Phoenician mother and her entourage. But the horror and abomination of Manasseh’s acts lasted for 45 years, when his mother was long dead. In these abominations passed his youth and mature life, and his old age approached.
Could there be any hope for the change and moral revival of such a man? For he had not sinned out of ignorance: he was the son of a most pious king, he had heard the almost Evangelical sermon of the holy Prophet Isaiah, his relative. And he trampled upon everything; he bathed everything in blood and dirty, disgusting impurities. Can such a man repent? For certainly there must be a limit even to Divine forgiveness.
But there is no limit to Divine all-forgiveness.
And Manasseh repented.
It is hard to ponder this without inner spiritual agitation. In our terrible time, which has seen the blood of the righteous copiously shed in the streets of our villages and our cities, and which even now at every step sees abominations exceeding the Phoenician ones, we, the children and descendants of pious fathers and forebears, we who have trampled upon their faith, surely need to know that there is no limit to Divine forgiveness, that the gates of repentance are shut to none, even to us.
In 647 B.C. Shamash-shum-ukin, the brother of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal and governor-general of Babylon, incited a rebellion against his brother, the king, and invited Manasseh, a semi-vassal kinglet in respect to Assyria, to join Babylon as an ally against Assyria. In his turn, Manasseh had to enter into negotiations with other equally semi-vassal kinglets of the Phoenician city-states, winning them over into an alliance with Shamash-shum-ukin. Manasseh agreed, but acted indecisively. Meanwhile, Ashurbanipal aggressively invaded Babylon, routed his rebellious brother, and the latter, being afraid to fall into the hands of his enraged brother, who was famous for his cruelty, burnt his palace and himself in it. Ashurbanipal demanded that Manasseh appear before him in Babylon to give an account of his actions.
Representatives of the Assyrian king arrived in Jerusalem.
The moment was decisive and ominous. The Assyrian king, at the head of his triumphant troops, animated by success, was in Babylonia, several days’ march from Judea. If Manasseh did not exhibit submissiveness, Ashurbanipal, invading Judea, would capture the country and Jerusalem. The Lord would hardly repeat for Manasseh the miracle He had performed for Hezekiah. Even if Manasseh showed submissiveness, then maybe this fate would bypass his country, but for him personally there was almost no hope. Now, for the first time, Manasseh exhibited some glimmerings of kindness and courage: a 59-year-old man, on the threshold of old age, he agreed to go to the king of Assyria without resistance.
The messengers of the Assyrian king did not stand on ceremony with him. They clapped Manasseh in irons, and bound him with fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.
The Assyrian chronicles also speak of this event. In listing the kings defeated by Ashurbanipal, they name “Menasseh, the king of Yagudu”.
Manasseh spent several years in this captivity, exactly how many we do not know, but certainly not less than five.
The Holy Bible narrates: “And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto Him, and God bent down towards him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom” (2 Kings 33:12-13).
This prayer, composed by him in captivity, reached us, but not in the Hebrew original which was lost at some point, but in the ancient Greek translation, though it is mentioned in the Hebrew variant of the Holy Scripture.
It is astounding in its power. The Russian and Church-Slavonic variants literally reproduce the Greek text in a word-for-word translation.
O Lord, Almighty God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of their righteous seed; Who hast made heaven and earth, with all the ornament thereof; Who hast bound the sea by the word of Thy commandment; Who hast shut up the deep, and sealed it by Thy terrible and glorious name; Whom all men fear, and tremble before Thy power; for the majesty of Thy glory cannot be borne, and Thine angry threatening toward sinners is importable: but Thy merciful promise is immeasurable and unsearchable; for Thou art the most high Lord, of great compassion, longsuffering, very merciful, and repentest of the evils of men. Thou, O Lord, according to Thy great goodness hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against Thee: and of Thine infinite mercies hast appointed repentance unto sinners, that they may be saved. Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against Thee; but Thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. My transgressions, O Lord, are multiplied: my transgressions are multiplied, and I am not worthy to behold and see the height of heaven for the multitude of mine iniquities. I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release: for I have provoked Thy wrath, and done evil before Thee: I did not Thy will, neither kept I Thy commandments: I have set up abominations, and have multiplied offences. Now therefore I bow the knee of mine heart, beseeching thee of grace. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge mine iniquities: wherefore, I humbly beseech Thee, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me, and destroy me not with mine iniquities. Be not angry with me for ever, by reserving evil for me; neither condemn me to the lower parts of the earth. For Thou art the God, even the God of them that repent; and in me Thou wilt shew all Thy goodness: for Thou wilt save me, that am unworthy, according to Thy great mercy. Therefore I will praise Thee for ever all the days of my life: for all the powers of the heavens do praise Thee, and Thine is the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
From the many historical sources which described those times, we know of tens and hundreds of thousands of prisoners who suffered in the cruelest Assyrian bondage. Rarely had any nation, even in pagan antiquity, had such an insatiable thirst for torture and murders. “It is in its heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few” – says the prophet Isaiah about Assyria. He calls the Assyrians “a fierce people.” And the holy Prophet Nahum calls the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, “the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery.”
Many of the proud and cruel statements of the Assyrian kings about how many countries they had devastated, how many cities they had destroyed, how many people they had killed, had blinded, had driven into bondage, have reached even us. They boast of their cruelty, mercilessness, ruthlessness. Contemporary museums and collections of historic artifacts are filled with these boastful monuments.
Meanwhile, the voice of their victims, those whom they captured and tortured, is almost not heard, it does not reach us, muffled not only by the passage of many centuries, but also by the fact that probably no one came out of Assyrian bondage alive to tell about his sufferings and those of his co-prisoners, with only one exception: with the exception of the above-mentioned prayer of king Manasseh. Therefore, we can say that in it he speaks not only for himself, but for the hundreds of thousands of those, who, like him, were suffering in the terrible Assyrian prisons. More than that, he speaks on behalf of millions of other prisoners, including contemporary ones.
When he says: “I am bowed down with many iron bands, that I cannot lift up mine head, neither have any release” – he does not speak figuratively. He speaks of his actual physical state, when he could not lift his head because it was bound by iron chains and bands. And, conversely, he could only say figuratively that he “bows the knee of his heart,” – he could not kneel physically to pray at that time.
For us, as for all the rest of the readers of his astounding prayer, an important and profound figurative meaning is hidden within these concrete images, for sin binds and ties man no less severely than the Assyrian prison guards.
Returning to Jerusalem, Manasseh tried as much as possible to efface the harm which he had done. “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord He was God…And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city…And he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel” (2 Kings 33:13-16).
It is hard to say why the Assyrians, contrary to their custom, took mercy upon him. Perhaps, not having conquered Judea, they thought it wiser to place on the throne of Jerusalem a man who had seen their might and was overwhelmed by their cruel power. And we can guess that it was by Divine will that this greatly sinful and ardently repentant king was freed from his terrible captivity, in order to tell the world about his experience and to pass on his impassioned prayer to all repenting generations, showing by his example the truth, essentially vital to all people, that there is no limit to Divine all-forgiveness, and that the gates of repentance are never shut to anyone.
Included as part of the Great Compline, and found in all Christian books of Hours, read in Orthodox churches daily during Great Lent and many times throughout the rest of the year, reverberating therefore in hundreds of millions of hearts, this prayer of Manasseh, the king of Judea, composed in the putrid darkness of an Assyrian prison, resounds, of course, infinitely louder than all those boastful monuments of the Assyrian rulers, superficially recalled for just a few minutes by visitors of museums and compilers of historical collections, attesting to the fact that the power of God is accomplished in frailty from ancient times until now.
Archbishop Nathaniel (Lvov)