St Herman's Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America (OCA)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
September 13, 2020

TWO WAYS. TWO TREES

This morning's sermon can be viewed on our St Herman's YouTube channel.

In the mystery of His Sabbath Rest, the LORD God raised Adam from the ground and breathed into him the breath of life. Adam became a living soul (Gn 2.1-7). Then, note well, the LORD God led Adam, as on an Exodus, into the Garden of Eden, and gave him the task of working it and guarding it (Gn 1.15 LXX). Would Adam have found the Garden if the LORD had not led him there?

The LORD planted two trees in the Garden, the tree of learning [eidenai] the knowledge of good and evil and the Tree of Life. He gave Adam the command not to eat from the tree of knowing (Gn 2.9&17 LXX). Note that the task of working and guarding the Garden goes with the command not to eat from the tree of knowing good and evil.

In the teaching of the LORD to His disciples, found in a primitive Christian text called the Didache, we read: ‘There are two ways, one of Life, the other of death, and there is a great difference between the two.’ The two ways go back to the two trees in the Garden. The way of life is obviously the Tree of Life. The way of death is the tree of knowing good and evil.

Except, God did not create the tree of knowledge as the tree of death. It says in Wisdom: ‘God did not create death; He made all things living’ (Wisd 1.13&14). And, the tree is called the tree of learning the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of death. Moreover, God does not say, do not eat of it because it is the tree of death but rather, on the day you eat of it, you will surely die.

 In fact, the tree of knowing good and evil was a living tree, a very good tree, because it is the emblem of Adam who was created in the image and likeness of God, and who became a living soul when God breathed into him the breath of life, the Holy Spirit. The tree represents Adam’s heart, which is the spiritual organ by which he could learn the knowledge of good and evil, if he kept the commandment. See how knowledge of Truth is acquired not by developing one’s brain but by working one’s heart in obedience and guarding it against the disobedience of greed, or idolatry. For, the commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge was but the commandment for Adam to deny himself so that he could become a communicant of the divine nature, the Tree of Life which, following early Jewish and Syriac Christian tradition, was at the top of the Edenic mountain where earth opens onto heaven and onto the uncreated ‘mystery of God hidden from the beginning of the world’ (Eph 3.9), the mystery of God which is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1.26-27) the hope of the Holy Spirit breathing Life into you and filling you with the uncreated Light of God (Jn 1.4) as He did the tabernacle of Moses, as He did the temple of Solomon, and as He did the Living Temple of the Holy Virgin (1.34) as Ezekiel foresaw.

The tree of knowing good and evil, then, became the tree of death when Adam in his secret heart (Eve; for, fashioned from Adam’s rib, she is bone of his bones, flesh of his flesh), chose to deny God rather than himself. For, apart from the living God, man is as a ‘flower of the field that flourishes until the wind passes over him, and he is gone, and his place knows him no more’ (Ps 103.15-16). Apart from God, he is not the ‘breath of life,’ the Holy Spirit; he is just ‘a breath, his days but a passing shadow’ (Ps 144.4). The best he can do is to become as though he is a god (Gen 3.23). The emblem of man’s heart, the tree of learning the knowledge of good and evil fell away from the Tree of Life when man separated himself from God. Man’s eyes were opened not to the Glory of the WORD of God in him (Dt 30.14) but to his nakedness. As the emblem of Adam’s soul, the tree of knowing became the tree of death for, like Adam, it is of the dust and so returns to the dust. Man became enfeebled, even paralyzed (Dt 32.36), a spiritual corpse and could not ascend the Way of Life to the Tree of Life at the top of the Edenic mountain in order to become a communicant of life eternal by eating the Fruit of the Tree of Life. Instead, he went down the mountain, following the way of death down into the region and shadow of death, eating his own anxious toil as his bread (Ps 127.2). Raised by God a living soul from the dust, separated from God, his heart became a stone, a tomb, and he now lives in the dust as a dead man toward God (St Macarius Hom 11.11).

The whole of Scripture, the whole biblical history of Israel, as well as our own biographies: are they not all the one story of the man created by God choosing the way of death, the way of idolatry? We are like the idols we worship; we have eyes, ears, mouths, hands and feet that do not see, hear, speak, feel or walk in the Spirit of the Living God (Ps 135.15-18). We have the odor, the stench of the world. We walk in the darkness. We live in the region and shadow of death. And yet, we present ourselves to everyone around us, and even to God Himself, as though we were gods.

But, in the Church—the mystery of the Body of Christ!—we hear at every Divine Liturgy: ‘Through His tender mercy and compassion, God did not forget the work of His hands (even though we forget God). He did not cease to do all things until, when the fullness of time had come, He emptied Himself and was incarnate of a holy Virgin.’ The Theotokos is the ‘Garden of Eden who has within her the Tree of Life.’ (Tone 4, p. 127) In her ‘the ancestors of our race rejoice, receiving through her the Eden they lost through transgression.” (Tone 1, p. 15)

The Tree of Life is the mystery of Christ who on His Cross makes Himself known to the whole world (Ps 97.4). The sun was darkened, it says. Note the passive voice. It was darkened by the Sun of Righteousness whose uncreated light shines so brilliantly from His Cross that all can see it. The LORD’s Tomb is His Sabbath Rest in which He re-creates Adam in His Holy Spirit and through which He leads Adam out of the dust of Egypt into the Garden of Eden that faces East.

Eden and the Tree of Life at the top of the mountain (Golgotha) in the Tomb, the Gate that opens onto heaven: all of this is the mystery of the Virgin and her Son, the mystery of the LORD Jesus Christ incarnate. That’s why Adam could not have found Eden on his own; and neither can we. We need the LORD to lead us on the better and changeless Path of the inner Exodus of the Gospel to His Tomb and into the Garden of His Resurrection; for He is the Path. In His Holy Mother, He is the mystery of Eden. This is the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’ (Col 1.26-27)

Narrow is the gate, says the LORD, and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life, and few there are who find it. But, the LORD tells us: ‘I love those who love me and those who seek me diligently find me.’ (Prov 8.17) ‘Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.’ (Mt 7.7) If few find the narrow gate, it’s because few are searching for it.

Dear faithful, understand that the Church is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all (Eph 1.23). Here in the Church, you have found the narrow Gate, you have found the narrow Path. You are standing on it here in the Church, here in the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of Christ in you. In your own heart, the tree of learning the knowledge of good and evil, you are standing before the Tree of Life. The better and changeless Path that ascends to God, the Way of Life, Christ Himself is invisibly present. If we receive Him and work the garden of our heart to guard it from the greed of idolatry, then when we eat the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the mystery of Holy Eucharist, our eyes are open to behold the Glory of God working in us what is pleasing in His sight, equipping us with everything good that we may do His will (Heb 13.21), which is to become a partaker of His own divine nature (2 Pt 1.4) in faith and in love that He may share with all the riches of His glory (Col 1.27).

To walk this Path, we need only to take up our Cross. That means to do as the Church directs us to do. It means centering our life in the world on this Life of the Church—and not the other way around. Work your soul in attentive prayer. Work your mind in study of the Scriptures, for the LORD speaks to us through the Scriptures. Come to Church not just on Sunday but for the feasts, at Saturday Vespers, so that the rhythm of the Church becomes the rhythm of your life and your sojourn through the days of your life becomes an Exodus on the Way of Life and not on the way of death. Put away from you and clear your home of everything that draws you away from the remembrance of the LORD. Guard your thoughts, your eyes, your ears, your tongue, your hands, your feet. Clothe your life with the Church. She is the Robe of Light that clothed us at our baptism. Keep yourselves pure and chaste in your inner man as well as in your bodies. Be faithful to your spouse, teach your children the way they should go, honor your parents. Do good to those who are not good to you, be kind to those who are not kind to you; and let’s take up our Cross to follow the LORD on the Way of Life that leads to the joy of Bethlehem and the beauty of His Holy Pascha in the Garden of His Resurrection. Amen!

 
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