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And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them. And God said, Behold, Adam is become as one of us, to know good and evil, and now lest at any time he stretch forth his hand, and take of the tree of life and eat, and so he shall live forever— So the Lord God sent him forth out of the garden of Delight to cultivate the ground out of which he was taken. And he cast out Adam and caused him to dwell over against the garden of Delight, and stationed the cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to keep the way of the tree of life. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and brought forth Cain and said, I have gained a man through God. And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And it was so after some time that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice to the Lord. And Abel also brought of the first born of his sheep and of his fatlings, and God looked upon Abel and his gifts, but Cain and his sacrifices he regarded not, and Cain was exceedingly sorrowful and his countenance fell. And the Lord God said to Cain, Why art thou become very sorrowful and why is thy countenance fallen? Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him. – Genesis 3:21-4:7
“And he cast out Adam and caused him to dwell over against the garden of Delight, and stationed the cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to keep the way of the tree of life.” The Lord placed Adam “over against” (i.e., nearby and directly across from) the gate to Paradise, so that the sight of Paradise, the rustling of its leaves, and its ineffable life-giving fragrance, ever near to him yet ever closed to him by the fiery cherubic sword, would provoke him to weep fiery tears constantly in profound grief over the perfect happiness he threw away for one moment of “freedom” from God. Adam and Eve lived the rest of their long lives in constant repentance, and we rank them with the saints of the Church.
Man, even in his most depraved representatives, still seeks Paradise. He desires an ultimate happiness that he cannot lose, and he spends his life seeking it. He seeks it on this fallen earth and cannot find it. He seeks to build Paradise on earth and creates hell for himself. He ignores God’s command and tries to circumvent the fiery sword of God’s judgment, to take Paradise by stealth. He always fails.
Blessed are they who bow to God’s judgment and weep over their sins. Blessed are they who take compassion on their fellow penitents and weep with them, feeling the sorrows of the other as their own. Blessed are they who gratefully acquiesce to the limited earthly happiness God has decreed for them in this life, whether great or small. Blessed are they who do not seek Paradise on earth but in the age to come.
May we, this Great Lent, stand before the fiery sword at the gate of Paradise, scenting its fragrance and hearing the rustle of its leaves from afar: that is, may we stand in the Church of God, judging ourselves before the Judgment and receiving within our hearts the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins, the bright sorrow which gives hope, and the pledge of eternal life.
This commentary was taken from The Eternal Sacrifice: The Genesis Readings for Great Lent by Fr. Steven Allen. You can order a copy from Lulu at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/FrStevenAllen