Where are You?
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away (and much closer than you think), a shepherd waited for his friends in the evening. He was waiting for a walk, under the rusting leaves in the cool of the day. In the perfect summer breeze, every evening, he and his friends would walk and talk.
It was the morningtime when everything was new. The friends of the shepherd would talk with joy of the beauty of the trees, the playfulness of the animals, and the lushness of the plants. Even the whisper of the river seemed to sigh with happiness.
So the shepherd waited. And waited.
For the first time, his young friends failed to show.
And sadly, the shepherd knew what had happened, and he knew where they were. His friends had failed a simple test, though a very deep one. It was a test to see if they would follow him and his path, to grow and mature into his life.
Or, if they would turn aside and live on their own.
Obviously, they chose their own naked path of shame. They attempted, like the Serpent of Testing did ages ago, to invent their own process of self-deification.
“Where are you, Adam?” he called out.
Which was a very odd question, in a sense. Because this shepherd knew exactly where Adam and his wife had hid themselves. The nakedness of independence and autocephaly could not be covered by a bush or fig leaves.
The rest, one might say, is history. Adam and Eve and the human race left Eden, dressed in garments of skin -- furnished by the death of other animals, who had been named by Adam and had frolicked with him in the Garden. These garments of skin partially accommodated the first couple’s weakness, and shielded them from the bitter winds and thorns of ego-centric living.
It seems that death and degeneration always follow the quitting of perichoresis -- the free flow of mutual submission and self-outpouring. The animal skins were the first sign of that death: and it is interesting that it was animal skins that predicated human culture as we know it -- what a "non-deathwork" culture might have been otherwise is as mysterious as the meaning of prelapsarian nuptial union.
Things got worse as humanity ran further away from the Garden of the Holy Trinity. “Where is your brother, Abel?” the shepherd asked Cain, and the shepherd already knew the answer. Abel had been killed by the violence of the world that cannot tolerate any sacrifice of peace and obedience of salvation -- that is, God’s way of deification, not the satanic, worldly way of an independent attempt to work out one’s own immortality by way of self-esteem. Cain killed Abel because’s Abel’s sacrifice was the surrender of his ego in exchange for the fullness of divine love. Cain’s sacrifice was the usual pagan sacrifice of attempting to pay off a vengeful, wrathful god for the sake of good luck: the true, Triune God is neither vengeful or wrathful, and therefore the sacrifice ended up as a prayer of vain repetition -- like so many pagan sacrifices that would follow in the course of time.
The shepherd kept waiting under the rustling leaves of Eden, waiting for his friends. Waiting for the prodigal sons, and daughters, to come back home.
Surely the shepherd had made for his friends a lovely pasture of life. Surely he had designed the human nature with such infinite beauty that it was the crown of the entire created universe, even a higher beauty than the angels, since man alone was both bodied and bodiless. And with all beauty there were affirmations and there were indictions, things to be done and things to be not. This Design for human nature was called the Law, and it had little to do with a courtroom: it had everything to do with the heart.
And most of all, most beautiful in man, was the free choice of love. The friends of the shepherd were to be completely free to choose, because there is no love without freedom. So the shepherd did something that offends philosophers to this day. He made something so large that he could not move it. He made man to have a free choice whether to love him and to become like him, to enter into his trinitarian familiarity of love. Man could accept this invitation and grow and becoming more beautiful in the participation of divine nature forever -- an infinite stairway, St Gregory of Nyssa says, in which each successive step opens up another infinite vista of splendor.
Or, he could refuse, and man could, like the devil, try to deify himself.
That single choice is what man makes over the span of his lifetime, as an aggregation of all his thoughts, words and deeds. That single, momentous free will choice is the rock so large that God cannot move. This is not a philosopher’s paradox. It is the single greatest moral reality writ large on every human heart.
So in the face of the Testing Serpent, who advertised his own plan of demonic deification, Adam and Eve, so immature, so headstrong, so childish, chose the way of ego-centric artificial immortality. They left Eden, and immediately set out into the hell of denouncing God. God was all around them in His uncreated energies -- but that light, even then, became harsh: if you reject God’s love, and it is all around you, then you have embraced rejection as your very being, as the very darkness of your soul.
Hell thus began at the first step out of Eden. The “weeping and gnashing of teeth” described in the Gospels is always the self-imposed condition of rejecting love and embracing darkness.
So the shepherd let them leave the sheepfold of immortality. Death -- a new unnatural condition, the separation of the soul from the body -- would limit the scope and extent of evil. Human evil would not be so infernal, so horrible, as angelic evil, as Lucifer and a third of the angels fell like lightning from heaven and were imprisoned in this earthly plain.
Despite this limitation of evil, Adam and his children wandered far, far away from the earthly paradise. Cain invented a city, built on fratricide. Lamech invented vendetta and calculated murder to further his aims. The children of Cain invented technology to manufacture a false immortality. The weak and the powerless, the widow and the orphan and the illegal aliens were sacrificed, repeatedly, for the sake of profit and good luck.
And the shepherd, meanwhile, kept asking, “Where are you Adam? Where have you gone?”
He sent his friends to the wanderers in the storm of denunciation and rejection, where they found the children of Adam trying to remember Eden, trying to re-create the humanity they had lost and defaced. The shepherd sent saints and prophets, apostles and servants and beautiful artists and preachers and singers who reminded the wandering sheep that the pasture of the Pastor was green and running with cool water.
But they still wandered, creeping closer to the abyss. It seemed as though they were addicted to the hell of ego, to the luxuries of anger, lust and gluttony, despair and pride.
So one day, the shepherd left the cool of the day and the rustling leaves. He left the ninety-nine sheep that were the myriads of the faithful angels -- the ones who manage the oceans and constellations, the stars and tides, the numbers pi and e and the golden mean, the four forces and the jovial ways and means of the holy earth -- he left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold.
And went out into the stormy night of the hell that rejected him.
And he kept asking, “Adam, where are you?”
He became, in the womb of the Theotokos, the Second Adam, joining human nature to his divinity. And he traveled the complete path of humanity, renewing every single phase of human experience -- infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, feast and famine, joy and sorrow, poverty and desperation.
In each of these moments he recapitulated humanity. He, as the Second Adam, succeeded at what the First Adam failed to do. At every moment he fulfilled the design of humanity (which, unfortunately, is called the “Law”). And at every moment he freely emptied his ego, he poured out his life in kenosis, for the sake of others.
And why would he not? Is this kenosis, this self pouring of ego, not the very same thing as the self-pouring-out of perichoresis that is true of the fellowship, the koinonia, of the Holy Trinity itself? Is this holy, mysterious, ineffable perichoresis not the basis for every single moment of love that has ever existed? Is not the love of every baby suckling her mother’s breast tied inextricably to the outflowing of love of the Trinity? Is not the love of every father for his altar-boy son in liturgy organically connected to the caritas of the Father for the Son in his begetting, the Son for the Spirit in his sending, and the Spirit for the Father in his glorification?
So the shepherd, from Eden, who missed his friends, obeyed and gave his life away. Not just at the Cross, but at every moment of every day, in every way.
Not just at the Cross, but especially at the Cross.
For the Cross was the full extremity of the violence of the world and the devil who could not tolerate kenosis, especially since kenosis is the only way to divine theosis. Kenosis -- the pouring out of self -- is the complete and utter rejection of the devilish world’s greatest lie that one can achieve theosis on his own.
No. True theosis, which is the whole meaning of salvation, must be preceded by kenosis. By the sacrifice of the ego. This, friends, is the meaning of taking up one’s cross and following Him.
Follow Him, because He did exactly that. He took up his cross and ascended it, Tsar Slava, and poured out his life infinitely, so that his theosis might be available to every man and women, boy and girl. God the Father neither forsook His Son, nor did He inflict His wrath upon Him. The Trinity poured out infinite love that day, in earth and sky.
At the Cross, finally, and perfectly, God said, “Peace on earth, good will to men.” And the glory left the Ark and the Temple, and resided infinitely at the Cross. That, my friends, is really why the temple curtain was torn in two.
As St. Maximos the Confessor once said, “Christ’s death on the Cross is a judgment of all judgement.” No principality or power or violent domination, no determinism or blasphemous pre-birth damnation can stand in the face of such a terrifyingly infinite tidal wave of Divine Peace. (Calvin's crowd never really "got" the liberationist Cross.)
Then Jesus, the Good Shepherd Who ascended voluntarily -- not as a victim -- descended into hell to end its imperial tyranny, once and for all.
* * * * * * *
The shepherd still asked, “Adam, where are you?” and didn’t find him at the cross. He found only the skull of Adam planted at the stake of the hanging tree.
So the shepherd, in his human soul, descended into hell, searching for the lost lamb.
Here is the mystery that has always bedeviled the scholastic theologians. Why on earth would the devil ever let the Son of God into hell, knowing that his divinity would destroy it?
I rather think that Satan is a typical Arian in his theology -- Arius had taught that Christ was a creature, not God Himself. Satan must have thought along the same lines: he always knew the shepherd was special, even a “Son of God.” But mythology is chock full of “sons of god.” So Satan, I think, thought the shepherd was just another special prophet, a superman perhaps, like Hercules or Odysseus.
The Fathers all agree that Satan was fooled on Holy Saturday. The humanity of the shepherd was like the bait on a fishhook. Satan thought he had trapped a human Jesus.
Boy was he surprised.
The divinity of Christ -- whose Father never forsook Him, utterly shattered the damnation gates of brass. In a word, the utterly surprising Divine Glory trampled down death by death.
Smertiju smert poprav.
(How I love those words. They rather forced me to be Orthodox: I was captured by infinite, Paschal beauty.)
* * * * * * *
“Adam, where are you?” the Good Shepherd called, finally finding the lost lamb in the wilderness of hell.
“Here, Lord, I remember your voice, so long ago.”
“Come with me, Adam and Eve. We have an appointment to keep under the evening summer leaves. The animals -- whom you named -- and the angels, are waiting.”
* * * * * * *
So where are you?
In the hell that starts even before death,
which is everywhere God’s Orthodox Triune Love is rejected?
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, left His ninety-nine to find you. He calls you by name.
The sheep hear His gentle, meek Voice.
Listen to Him.
Go with Him. Step into Easter.
Easter is Eden today. The Eucharist is the fruit of the eschatological Tree today.
The leaves are rustling in the breeze of Paradise.
Listen to them call.
They call for you. You belong in Eden.
Follow Him, the Shepherd Who is very much alive and calls you by name.
In His Peace.
Praying for the Paschal Brightness of the Risen Christ
to dwell richly in your hearts
and to grant you the perfection of the Peace of Zion,
I rejoice to say to you,
CHRIST IS RISEN! CHRISTOS VOSKRESE!
HE IS RISEN INDEED! VOISTINNU VOSKRESE!
Very Rev. Jonathan Tobias