Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Fr. Wells bulletin inserts


On Easter morning we will sing St Paul's words, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Today we begin with the first part of that antithesis, with words which echo Genesis 3, "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return." It is too bad that the advocates of politically correct language have dropped the key word of that solemn formula, "O man." As each man woman and child is marked with ashes, we are reminded of a jarring fact. Each of us is a member of the human race and is therefore "in Adam." The address "O man" is directed simultaneously to the individual and to the entire human family. To delete it obscures that truth.

The formula is adapted from even more solemn words in Genesis 3, from that painful conversation which God held in turn with the serpent, with Eve, and with Adam just before they were banished from the garden. After He had dealt with the Serpent and with Eve, God said to Adam:

Cursed is the ground because of you,

In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,

and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

till you return to the ground,

for out of it you were taken.

for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

However you choose to read the mournful tale of Genesis 3 (as myth, or as poetry, or as a parable which echoes a terrible moment in clock-time history), we have in those words a powerful description of the human condition. Doomed to death after a lifetime of drudgery in a world where the very ground itself is cursed. This terrible predicament did not just happen at the caprice of a cruel god. No, this is the result of Adam's sin.

On Ash Wednesday we make not one but two trips to the Altar rail. The first trip reminds us again of what St Paul wrote, "For as in Adam all die." We are all, by virtue of our humanity, under that curse which sent our first parents out of the garden into a world of thorns and thistles. But the second journey to the Altar rail, when we receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour, reminds us that "even so in Christ shall all be made alive." The first trip recalls the terrible moment when, in Milton's words at the end of Paradise Lost, "They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow, Through Eden took their solitary way." But in the second journey, we are permitted to run breathlessly like the disciples to the empty tomb of Jesus of that first Easter morning.

The ashes on for foreheads remind us that we are truly "in Adam." The Body and Blood which we will receive remind us that we are "in Christ."


Anonymous said...


BigTex AC

Священник села said...

Not so long ago there was some discussion about the Atonement. Against the suggestion that the Orthodox do not have sound understanding of the atonement, or a place for it in their thinking, I argued that it is part and parcel of our use of scripture in worship and devotion, citing a number of liturgical texts. Neophyte academics are one thing, but the lived theology of worship are another.

At a recent conference on the Atonement (see there was much said of interest, for example:

... as Father Florovsky wrote, “The redeeming death is the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation.” .... the Fathers ... see Christ’s salvific work as an organic whole -- Incarnation, Crucifixion Resurrection, Ascension, and the sending of the Spirit to establish the Church.... Christ’s death on the cross is still a central reality in Orthodox theology. As Saint Gregory the Theologian says, “We needed an Incarnate God; God put to death, that we might live” (Oration 45.28). Here we see the profound place of the cross within the larger “divine economy” of salvation. In his essay, “The Lamb of God,” Father Florovsky puts it this way: “Death is vanquished not simply by the appearance of Life in the mortal body, but rather by the voluntary death of the Incarnate Life. The Word became incarnate on account of death in the flesh, Saint Athanasius emphasizes. ‘In order to accept death He had a body,’ and only through His death was the resurrection possible.” .... we experience the redeeming power of the cross in our liturgical life and spiritual struggle. In Baptism, we die and rise with Christ. We receive the Eucharist for forgiveness of sins. And, ultimately, through the ascetic struggle to die to our own desires, we enter into true union with God. This sacramental and ascetic reality is essential...

Allen Lewis said...

Wonderful excerpt from the conference on the Atonement.

Those concepts should be taught more widely and more often than they are.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The issue was not whether or not the Orthodox believe in the Atonement, but rather that a school exists among modern Orthodox people (especially converts) that teaches very disturbing things. I fully expect some of them to get enraged simply because Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon said, in the current Touchstone, that St. Anselm was not a heretic. My own position has been, all along, that this new school does not represent the authentic doctrine of the OC.

Fr. Wells said...

" And, ultimately, through the ascetic struggle to die to our own desires, we enter into true union with God."

How does this differ from the Pelagian heresy? I would rather say that our "true union with God" is estabished firmly in our regeneration, signified by Holy Baptism, and that "true union" is what enables our mortification.