The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. (Genesis 2:15-17)
i was talking to my priest last Tuesday morning and asking him to explain to me the Fall.
Here's the understanding if the Fall of Man in the early chapters of Genesis i was brought up with:
God made a law, the first humans broke it, so God administered due penalties. Adam and Eve didn't drop dead immediately, so 'you shall surely die' can't mean they would physically die upon eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. So instead, they died spiritually--they were hell-bound from the moment they broke the law. They committed a moral error which incurred legal penalty, and God's speech to them in Genesis 3 records God's meting out of justice and retribution for their moral slight. And it just so happens that proper retribution for the crimes of the first humans includes physical changes about the world. That is, God chose to punish human. So spiritual death meant that their relationship with God was broken in the sense that He became offended and mad at them, and as their judge had to punish them, and the laundry list of things He mentions in Genesis 3 are at least part of God's choice of punishment.
So i've learned, this is not the way the Orthodox Church understands the Fall of Man.
There's at least two very important differences between the view i've described above, and what Orthodoxy teaches:
First, the consequences of the Fall are not 'punishment' or 'retribution.' The deacon at the parish i attend put it this way: Suppose you had a rodent problem in your house. And in order to get rid of the vermin, you set out several old-fashioned mouse-traps around the house. Then suppose your nephews or grandchildren want to come and visit your home. What would you tell them? "Do NOT go near those traps. If you play with those traps, your fingers will get snapped!" But, of course, what do children often do? They play with things they shouldn't even after you warn them. So pretty soon you hear it: WHAM! And then screams and crying.
How is this analogous? It's analogous in that the injury that resulted from the disobedience was not a matter of punishment or meted out retribution. As Deacon Ezra put it, "The 'wham' was in the trap!" Your nieces/nephews/grandchildren's fingers aren't bruised and broken because you got mad and offended and decided to punish them. Rather, hurt fingers are just what happens when you play with mousetraps because that's how mousetraps work. This is (as i understand it) the Orthodox view of the Fall. The consequences of the Fall of Man do not manifest the punishment or retribution or penalty that God chose to mete out as a result of His offense that His creatures broke His law. From what i can tell so far in my intro-to-Orthodoxy classes at church, that's just not how Orthodoxy conceives of the character/nature of God anyway. The first humans who disobeyed had to face the consequences that they did because that's the way the world works.
Second, "die" and "death" does not refer to a category or state or point-in-time. The death and the dying that resulted from mankind's disobedience is a process of decay and corruption. Father Jeremy told me that God is the source of all life and existence. When God created mankind and the world, God's life flowed into man, and through man into the world. But in the Fall, when man disobeyed, man unplugged himself from God, and thus the life of God no longer flowed into man nor through man into the world.
It's as though man himself was a leaf on a tree. As long as the leaf is connected to the tree, the life of the tree flows into that leaf, and it remains green and functions the way it's designed to. But if you pluck the leaf from the tree, the tree is no longer feeding the leaf. Does it immediately "die"? Well, not really. It will probably stay green for a while. But every moment after it is plucked, it will wither and decay more and more. With every moment, that leaf will come closer and closer to returning to just dirt and dust. The leaf 'dies' in the sense that from the moment it is plucked, it loses its sources of life and begins to rot and decay.
This is the spiritual death to which mankind is subject, and it is this state of things into which we are all born. We are born as corrupted, decaying bodies that are unplugged from God, the source of life. And so from the day we are born, we are heading back toward the dust. And not only does corruption refer to the mere aging and decay or our bodies, but this is also what is meant with our moral corruption. Our commission of sins and development of sinful habits--these are also marks of corruption and decay, being unplugged from the life of God. And the world itself is in a state of decay as well since the life of God does not flow through us to the world.
This is really fascinating to me because from an Orthodox point of view, the metaphysical and the moral are not separable or extricable categories in the world. In some sense they describe the same reality or are co-extensive or something [i'm struggling for the appropriate philosophical description]. Whereas i think the view i was raised with treats the moral and the metaphysical as only arbitrarily joined--mankind did something immoral, and God decided to tack on metaphysical changes in man and in the world as a means of retribution for man's moral errors.