Synaxarion for the Sunday of Forgiveness (Cheesefare Sunday).

On this day, Cheesefare Sunday[1], we commemorate the banishment of Adam, the First Creature, from the Paradise of Delight.

Our Holy Fathers appointed this commemoration before the beginning of Great Lent to demonstrate how beneficial the medicine of fasting is to human nature and how shameful are gluttony and disobedience by an example of the results of each. They set before us the example of Adam, the first formed man. Skipping over the detailed account of the innumerable things made for him in the world, they give a clear, case-in-point demonstration of how many evils he suffered – and hence introduced into our nature – from neglecting to fast for only a short time. Furthermore, they show that the first precept of God given to mankind was the ideal of fasting. By not keeping this precept but yielding instead to his stomach, or rather to the serpent-deceiver by the agency of Eve, Adam not only failed to become God, but he also brought death upon himself and communicated this sickness to the entire human race. In order to remove the first Adam’s indulgence, the Lord fasted forty days, thus obeying the commandment of fasting. This was the origin of the forty-day Fast of Great Lent. It was instituted by the Holy Apostles so that, if by means of Great Lent we keep the Fast, unlike Adam who did not, we might again enjoy the incorruptibility that he lost.

The purpose of the Holy Fathers was to include in the Triodion a concise account of the deeds wrought by God from the beginning of time to the end. Adam’s disobedience and subsequent fall from the delight of Paradise are the cause of everything relating to us. In today’s commemoration of the fall, the Holy Fathers develop the theme of disobedience so that we might avoid it and strive not to be immoderate in anything.

Adam was fashioned by the hand of God on the sixth day. He was honored with the Divine Image through God’s breathing life into him. He at once received the commandment not to eat the forbidden fruit but transgressed it after living in Paradise for all of six hours and was consequently banished. The Jewish historian Philo says that Adam spent a hundred years in Paradise. Others say seven days or years, because of the dignity of the number seven. It is believed that it was the sixth hour of the day when Adam stretched out his hand and touched the fruit. It was also at the sixth hour on the sixth day that the new Adam, Christ, stretched out His hands on the Cross, in order to remedy the first Adam’s min.

Theologically, Adam had been created in a state midway between corruption and incorruption so that he could obtain whichever of the two he would freely choose. God could have made him sinless, but He wanted the accomplishment to belong to Adam’s free choice. Hence, He gave the law that he might eat of all plants except one, meaning, perhaps, that he could comprehend intellectually the knowledge of God’s power which comes from the contemplation of all things created, but not the knowledge relating to God’s essence. In other words, God permitted Adam to ponder and examine attentively with his nous [intellect or mind] the various elements and different properties of Paradise and hence to glorify God (for this is true delight), perhaps even to scrutinize his own nature. On the other hand, he was not to seek knowledge concerning God and what He is in essence or where and how He produced the universe from nonexistence. But Adam, leaving the rest aside, sought instead to examine and understand God. And as he was overly curious about the exact essence of God, and being yet imperfect – very simple and a mere babe in such matters – he fell, Satan (through Eve) having put into his mind fantasies of becoming God.

The great and divine Chrysostom says that the tree of disobedience held something of a double meaning: Paradise was on earth, a material environment, and was also both intelligible and perceptible, just as Adam was midway between corruption and incorruption. In other words, Paradise was both a geographical place as well as a state of being. In saying this, the saint remains faithful to the scriptural passage without insisting on a literal interpretation.

Some say that the tree of disobedience was a fig tree, surmising this from the fact that Adam and Eve used its leaves to cover themselves immediately upon realizing their nakedness. This is why Christ cursed a fig tree? For having been the cause of the transgression. Actually, is does have a kind of resemblance to sin: first it has the sweetness of the fruit, the coarse texture of its leaves, and finally the stickiness of its milk. Some thinkers imagined that tree to be Adam’s martial relations with and “knowledge” of Eve, but this is not a correct interpretation.

In any event, after Adam transgressed, he put on mortal flesh, received the curse, and was banished from Paradise. The order was given to guard its gate with a flaming sword. Adam sat opposite Paradise and wept over his loss of so many blessings for neglecting to fast for just a short time, and the entire human race descending from him has shared the same fate.

Such was the case until He who fashioned us had mercy on our nature. Thus, to Satan’s ruin, He was born of the holy Virgin and led an exceptionally virtuous life, since He was God. He indicated the Way by fasting and humility, which were the opposite attributes of those of Adam. Thus, artfully outdoing the devil, who had deceived us, He brought our nature back to its former dignity.

The purpose of the God-bearing Fathers is, by means of the Triodion, to present the themes of all these events. They begin by recounting the events of the Old Testament, using the words of the Holy Prophet Moses and other prophets, and most of all the Holy Prophet David, the lessons from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Psalms appointed to be read throughout the Triodion. The first of these events is the Creation and Adam’s fall from the delight of Eden, the subject of today’s commemoration. Then they continue with the rest, interspersing some themes from the period of Grace – Church history and the lives of the saints, namely the miracle of St. Theodore and the koliva, the restoration of the holy icons on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, and the memories of Saints Gregory Palamas, John Climacus, and Mary of Egypt.

Then they recount in order the events of the New Testament. The first of these is the Annunciation, which, by God’s ineffable providence, almost always falls during Great Lent. They continue with the events of the raising of St. Lazarus, of Palm Sunday, and of Great and Holy Week. During Holy Week, the Holy Gospels are read aloud in Church in their entirety, and the events of the Holy and Saving Passion of Christ are extolled in detail through the Church’s hymnology. Then, with the book of the Pentecostarion, they relate the events of the Resurrection up to the Descent of the Holy Spirit. During this period, the book of Acts is read in Church daily, recounting as it does how the Gospels’ preaching was accomplished and how it led to the assemblage of all the saints. The Acts are read in the period alter Pascha because the miracles recounted serve to confirm the Resurrection.

Therefore, it is because Adam neglected to fast just once that we have had to endure such woes. The commemoration of this is appointed now at the beginning of Holy Lent so that by remembering how many evils the failure to fast has brought upon us, we might welcome Great Lent eagerly and gladly keep the Fast. For by means of it, we can attain theosis – deification – of which Adam fell short. We shall attain this only by lamenting and fasting until the appointed time that God shall visit us. For it is not easy or feasible to regain what we have lost in any other way.

We should know that today we ask forgiveness from our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may begin the race in die stadium of Great Lent unhindered by any animosity. As long as we live self-centered lives, we cannot forgive our neighbor – our ego will not allow it. Once our lives are God-centered, however, we are able to forgive others ad God forgives us. Let us remember that God’s mercy and forgiveness to us is often hidden in our mercy and forgiveness to others. Out Lenten journey is not an isolated or individual affair but a “family” event. Therefore? We are reminded in today’s reading from the Holy Gospel that unless there is mutual forgiveness between one another, there can be no true reconciliation with God.

We should also know that this Holy and Great Lent is like a tithe of the entire year. Due to our laziness, we do not choose to fast and abstain from evil all the time. Knowing this, the Holy Apostles and the Holy Fathers gave us this Lenten tradition as a kind of harvest-time for our souls. It provides us with the opportunity to remove whatever unseemly deeds we have committed throughout the year by now becoming contrite and humble through fasting. For this reason we ought to keep it all the more strictly. We should keep the other three fasts as well, the Holy Apostles’ Fast, the Holy Dormition Fast, and the forty-day Holy Nativity Fast. The Holy Fathers instituted four periods of fasting corresponding to the four seasons of the year. However, they ascribed greater prestige to this forty-day fast of Great Lent because of the Lord’s Passion, and because Christ likewise fasted forty days and was glorified. The Holy Prophet Moses received the Law after fasting forty days, and the Holy Prophet Elijah and the Holy Prophet Daniel likewise fasted, as did all those who were approved by God.

Therefore, fasting is something beneficial. Adam proved this by doing the opposite. It was for this reason the Holy Fathers placed here today’s commemoration of Adam’s exile from Paradise.

О Christ our God,

through Your ineffable compassion,

make us worthy of the Paradise of Delight,

and have mercy on and save us,

for You alone are the Lover of Mankind.

Amen.

 

The Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and the Pentecostarion, ed. Fr David (Kidd) and Mother Gabriella (Ursache), Rives Junction, MI: HDM, 1999, pp. 46-52.

 

[1] According to the practice of die Holy Orthodox Church, today is the last day to consume dairy products, eggs, and fish. If questions or problems arise concerning fasting, one should always consult his spiritual father for guidance.

14.03.2021