Happiness does elude us, because we have recanted our vocation as homo adorans. As a result, we have not only wronged ourselves, but we no longer “do” the material world the way it was meant to be done. God’s response was, characteristically, merciful: God expelled us from the environs of the Tree of Life lest we be eternally disfigured. Do not think we were expelled from paradise because God was jealous of divinity and would not share it with anthropos. The Christian narrative is not the myth of Prometheus.
The expulsion was on account of man and woman’s untimely grasping at that for which they were not prepared. The sin was not that man and woman took something which God never intended them to have; the sin was that the serpent convinced them to take it prematurely. Thus, Ephrem says,
He deceived the husbandman
so that he plucked prematurely
the fruit which gives forth its sweetness only in due season
—a fruit that, out of season,
proves bitter to him who plucks it.
God would have given Adam and Eve the knowledge they sought after preparing them for it, but when grasped precipitately the knowledge impaired their created capacity for liturgical priesthood. A double knowledge was hidden in the tree: knowledge of God’s glory and of our lowliness:
But when Adam boldly ran
and ate of its fruit
this double knowledge
straightway flew toward him,
tore away and removed
both veils from his eyes:
he beheld the Glory of the Holy of Holies
he beheld, too, his own shame and blushed,
groaning and lamenting
because the twofold knowledge he had gained
had proved for him a torment.
Whoever has eaten
of that fruit
either sees and is filled with delight,
or he sees and groans out.”
If anthropos had eaten the tree’s fruit as God gave it — in love — then men and women would have seen everything with a knowledge that is delighted by the sight of God’s glory and by the sight of their humility (just as Dante describes souls in heaven). But when anthropos ate the tree’s fruit as the tempter gave it — in jealousy — then the sight of God’s glory and our humility filled men and women with envy (just as Dante describes souls in hell). Through time, sin’s cataracts have obscured anthropos’ liturgical vision.
Because of our fallen state, we no longer see the world as material sacrifice for the glory of God, or as sacramental means for communion with God. Man and woman no longer fulfill their vocation as homo adorans because they are plunged into a sea of forgetfulness. Makarios of Egypt says the prelapsarian soul was to have progressed and attained full adulthood, just as a newborn child, who is the image of a full-grown adult, must progress and grow up.
But through the fall [anthropos' soul] was plunged into a sea of forgetfulness, into an abyss of delusion, and dwelt within the gates of hell. As if separated from God by a great distance, it could not draw near its Creator and recognize him properly. But first through the prophets God called it back, and drew it to knowledge of Himself. Finally, through his own advent on earth, He dispelled the forgetfulness, the delusion; then, breaking through the gates of hell, He entered the deluded soul, giving himself to it as a model. By means of this model the soul can grow to maturity and attain the perfection of the Spirit.
Since that cataclysm, material things have held so much potential to make us amnesiac that the ascetical tradition warns us to discipline the body, warns about material things, and even warns about the danger of these things recurring in memory and imagination.
We have lost our equilibrium. The fall affected our nature in such a way that we have grown accustomed to the unnatural state of forgetting the sacramental dimension of good, material things. In Schmemann’s words, “the `original’ sin is not primarily that man has `disobeyed’ God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for God and God alone…
The only real fall of man is his non-Eucharistic life in a non-Eucharistic world. The microcosm that God had created — a spirit in matter should have spiritualized the material universe in which it was placed. Instead, man and woman abdicated their office in the cosmic liturgy.
This causes Evdokimov to lament, “There are no more singers for the cosmic liturgy because the Taboric light [the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.] has no longer been seeded the opacity of our bodies, and the glory of God has lost its place in a nature put to another and illegitimate use.”
Although the fall took place on a spiritual level, it affected matter, which is why this asceticism must be done to the body, through the body, by the body, for the body. “By what rule or manner can I bind this body of mine?” asks John Climacus. “He is my helper and my enemy, my assistant; and my opponent, a protector and a traitor…. If I strike him down I have nothing left by which to acquire virtues.”
Asceticism is necessary in order to think straight — about ourselves (anthropology), the world (cosmology), and God (theology). The place where we can think straight is the place where we stand straight. At the opening of the anaphora in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the deacon bids the Church, “Let us stand aright; let us stand with fear; let us attend, that we may offer the Holy Oblation peace.”There is nothing wrong with matter, but matter has been wronged by us. By turning away from the Creator, anthropos does not use matter eucharistically or receive matter sacramentally. We have wounded creation, and by our fault matter does not fulfill its end anymore. Ephrem describes the reaction of the sun to human idolatry:
The sun bellowed out in silence to the Lord against his worshippers.
It was a suffering for him, the servant, that instead of his Lord he was worshipped.
Behold the creation is joyful that the Creator is worshipped… .
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord. All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants…
Since fools honored the sun, they diminished him in his honor.
Now that they know he is a servant, by his course he worships his Lord.
All the servants are glad to be counted servants.
Blessed is he who set the natures in order!
We have done perverse things that we should be servants to servants.
That is why creation groans in travail, waiting for the redemption of anthropos. Asceticism is required of the liturgist so that earth may be healed; asceticism is required of the theologian in order to see the matter clearly.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes the effect which eating enchanted food could have upon a son of Adam. A little boy named Edmund and his siblings had stumbled into Narnia and threatened the reign of the white witch, so she gave to Edmund a candy upon which an enchantment had been placed. Its first effect was “anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they had killed themselves.”
Second, when Edmund sat down to supper, he did not enjoy the meal because, Lewis observes, “There’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”" The Christian doctrine of original sin claims that each human being is born with a spoiled appetite, and that humanity was expelled from paradise before we killed ourselves eternally, and that the memory of this bad magic food has spoiled the taste of this good ordinary earth. Asceticism is the weaning of our appetites from magic food, but it does not make us less human, it makes us finally human. Man and woman were plunged into a sea of forgetfulness by the delectability of the world, and the first reaction of God was mercy: They were expelled from the garden until they got their appetites under control. But this was not the last action of God.
The way to rectify the being of a microcosmic hybrid who had come under the trance of the corporeal is for God himself to become corporeal flesh. Satan warped our spirits so that creation would work an opposite effect upon an unrighteous being. We are idolatrously blinded by the heavenly luminaries, impoverished by the avarice that the goods of creation create in an unrighteous heart, and alienated from God by the very book of nature that was created to disclose God. The only countervail would be an incarnate inversion. In Ephrem’s words,
The All-Knowing saw that we worshipped creatures.
He put on a created body to catch us by our habit,
to draw us by a created body toward the Creator.
Blessed is He Who contrived to draw us to Him.
The evil one knew how to harm us; with the luminaries he blinded us.
With possessions he maimed us, by gold he made us poor.
With graven images he made us a heart of stone.
Blessed is He who came to soften it!
If the sinner will no longer look through matter to God, then God will himself become matter to be looked at. It is a principle of iconography that the faculty of sight is the most active of the senses, reaching out to seize and take in the object apprehended. We become what we look at. God became human so that we might see him and he made divine. Irenaeus says, “The Word was made flesh … that all that exists could see … its King, and also that the paternal light might meet with and rest upon the flesh of our Lord, and come to us from his resplendent flesh, and that thus man might attain to immortality, having been invested with the paternal light.” The incarnation is crucial to our justification.
When Satan burgled Eden, he took the most valuable possession and imprisoned it in a stronghold he thought was secure. The evil one thought he could hide anthropos from God by shame and accusation and death. He took Adam to a place he thought was out of God’s reach, but he was mistaken.
Adam was heedless
as guardian of Paradise,
for the crafty thief
leaving aside the fruit
—which most men would covet—
he stole instead
the Garden’s inhabitant!
Adam’s Lord came out to seek him;
He entered Sheol and found him there, then led and brought him out to set him once more in Paradise.
When the man and the woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden, the Lord God called, saying, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). The cry, “Adam, Eve, where Are you?” sounded in the garden that first time. Then angels went to the corners of the universe shouting the question, not only because they were bid by their Lord to do so, but also because they missed the humans’ voices in the celestial choir. The king sent inquisitors with the question through the long corridors of history — Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah — but neither could find Adam and Eve. Finally, the Lord put on flesh, so that he could die, so that he could look in the last, last place. And there, in Sheol, he found them: deaf, mute, ashamed, dead. And the Lord brought out the man and woman and led them once more to paradise. This dogma is written in icon, too.
Whereas Christ overcame the passions; whereas struggling against the passions increases the share we have in Christ’s life; whereas our renewed humanity is an icon of Christ, who is the icon of the invisible God; and whereas the work of this renewed humanity is to perpetuate Christ’s own ergeia in the world, therefore the discipline practiced by Christ’s mystical body ought to be called liturgical asceticism. Liturgical asceticism was not possible until after the incarnation any more than iconography — and for the same reason. The uniqueness of liturgical asceticism derives from the uniqueness of the hypostatic union. And since liturgy is living by grace this hypostatic union that was natural in Christ, the new reality into which a Christian is baptized brings with it a discipline to make Christ’s image visible in our faces. It begins with death. It is sacramental, spiritual, pre-biological death, made efficacious by mysterious union with Christ’s own death.
Evdokimov states, “If philosophy brings knowledge of death, Christian ascesis offers the art of going beyond it and thus anticipating the resurrection.” Liturgical asceticism corroborates the death of Christ in our own bodies by taming those passions that accompany life-in-the-body so that we may notarize with our hope that death has not been victorious. Instead, death, when grasped in a radical act of faith, has been made a portal to the new age. The pall has become a white baptismal garment, which is our swaddling cloth.
That is why liturgical life begins in the font. The asceticism, which is made possible by the theological virtues infused by baptism (faith, hope, and charity), is the discipline that increases the measure by which the Christian can participate in the liturgical life this sacrament initiates. Baptism drops the spirit of the Holy One into our veins, but there is no fire where there is not matter to burn; liturgical asceticism makes us combustible. In his foreword to Unseen Warfare, Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain describes the book’s ascetical subject matter in this way: “It teaches not the art of visible and sensory warfare, and speaks not about visible, bodily foes but about the unseen and inner struggle, which every Christian undertakes from the moment of his baptism, when he makes a vow to God to fight for Him, to the glory of His divine name, even unto death.” If it is remembered that the word sacramentum once meant the vow taken by a soldier upon enlistment in the army, then it will be understood that liturgical asceticism is the fulfillment of every Christian’s baptismal sacramentum. If it is remembered that baptism creates the people of God, named by the word laos, then it will be understood that this life is the ergeia of the laos.
Liturgical asceticism is not born out of hatred of the world, and it is not an exercise of our religious faculty alone. Christian liturgical asceticism is born in the waters of the font where the liturgist-information is immersed into the blood of a suffering Christ. Evdokimov sees the cross “planted at the threshold of the new life — vita nova — and the water of baptism receives the sacramental value of the blood of Christ. From then on, ascesis teaches participation in the `health’ of the Savior, but this entails a victory over death and therefore a preliminary purification.”
This labor is incumbent on every Christian who has passed through what Gregory of Nyssa calls the mystical sea:
Those who pass through the mystical water in baptism must put to death in the water the whole phalanx of evil—such as covetousness, unbridled desire, rapacious thinking, the passion of conceit and arrogance, wild impulse, wrath, anger, malice, envy, and all such things. Since the passions naturally pursue our nature, we must put to death in the water both the base movements of the mind and the acts which issue from them…. If someone should still serve them, even if he should happen to have passed through the water, according to my thinking he has not at all touched the mystical water whose function is to destroy evil tyrants.”
‘Therefore, liturgical asceticism is for every baptized Christian. It is not confined to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, but they blazed the trail and it is to them that generations have turned when seeking creative recovery and interpretation of this spirituality.
Paul Evdokimov describes the kingdom of God in this way:
“It is in the offering of the heart to God that the Spirit manifests itself and introduces the human being into the eternal circulation of love between the Father and the Son, and this is the `Kingdom.’”
I suggest that this is the only adequate definition of liturgy. Liturgy is living in that eternal circulation of love within the Trinity. For us to love God, our appetites must be put into control: ordo amoris. In the liturgy God presents himself to be loved and by loving we know Him, and knowing the trinity is what Athanasius simply called “theology.” It is liturgical theology practiced by liturgists in the ascetical discipline of theologia prima.