Having become more than a little bored with anatomy and microbiology readings and with Great Lent and Holy Pascha upon us, I decided to undertake some readings in the Church Fathers, specifically Ss. Chrysostom and Athanasius.
I briefly scanned Chrysostom's On the Priesthood but was forced to put it aside - not for any defect in the writing, but because of certain realizations I had when reading even the small sections I made it through. I hope to expand more on this in the future when I am able to take the work up again, but basically I came to understand that in all likelihood I was fired from my youth pastor position because God was sparing me the judgment that was my due for not taking my pastoral duties seriously enough. There were aspects of that position I was quite good at, others where I needed some work or mentoring, but the reality is that I did not the charge of those young souls with the depth and gravity such resonsibility warranted.
This theme of "being spared" actually came up in a book by Fr (or was he a bishop?) Anthony Bloom on prayer. I don't want to get to in-depth with that right now, but in discussing those times when we fell cut off from God in prayer it may be because God is sparing us his presence because of the damage it could do to us at that time. If we are in sin or unrepentant, or if our attention is elsewhere, then the presence of God could be to our judgement and condemnation instead of our salvation. This theme also came up in "Mary: The Untrodden Portal", wherein the author argues that the curse of death was not a punishment for Adam and Eve's trangression; rather, removing them from the Garden was God's way of keeping sin, and the resulting separation from God, eternal. Had they eaten of the Tree of Life, their rebellion would have been made permanent with no chance of redemption.
St Athanasius also discusses creation in his "Incarnation of the Word", again in the context of being spared. But his is a point I found quite startling:
For transgression of the commandment was turning them back to their natural state, so that just as they have had their being out of nothing, so also, as might be expected, they might look for corruption into nothing in the course of time. For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God, who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. Incarnation, 4:4-5
You see, I had always assumed that man had been created "on high", so to speak, that we were made at an elevated level. Adam's human perfection (as opposed to the true perfection of God) was an inherent part of his being - put there by God no doubt, but still something integral to who and what he was. But Athanasius says otherwise; man was created out of corruptible and impermanent matter and is, therefore, by nature corruptible and impermanent. It is only man's knowledge of God and participation in God's life that pulls man up out of nothingness and impermanence into being. When Adam turned to rebellion, he turned away from being and "looked for corruption into nothing...." Man, then, was not created at an elevation from which we fell. Rather, Adam was made at the bottom of this metaphoric mountain and raised to the top by communion with God. At the top of that mountain, he rebelled and fell back to the bottom.
Our "elevation" was, and still is, always external to us. This lays to rest any notion of man's inherent goodness or ability to raise himself up to God's level, to earn heaven. How can the imperfect, corruptible nature of man makes itself perfect and incorruptible? How can the flawed make itself into the unflawed? How can the product make itself into the source? This vision, of man being raised up and falling down, of our being actually existing outside of us, has profound implications. And it is helping me to see the contours of the seamless Orthodox theology - more on that later.