Greetings with the arrival of Great Lent!
Today, this last and final day before the 40-Day journey of Great Lent, on this very Sunday, we come in the ancient commemoration to "The Casting Out of Adam and Eve from the Paradise of Old".
What is Man?
Man, every man without exception -- body, soul, and spirit -- is made in "the image of God".
In the person of our forefather, the first man Adam, we all received the "spark" of Divinity, the "first-fruits" of the Spirit, the "in-breathing" of God's very own Divine Breath, "eternity" in our hearts -- the call and summons to be sons of God!
But, we have slipped from our initial bearings.
We have lost our footing.
We have become uncentered and unhinged.
We have been exiled from our ancient delight.
It is for this reason that we now enter symbolically into that time, to use the words of the Holy Prophet Moses, of "The Coats of Skin", that mixed providential blessing of "mortality and corruption", the divinely salvific subjection to that feeling, that sense, that ever-present and gnawing awareness (in both body and soul) of having somewhere, somehow, along the way, "fallen apart"!
We, with Adam and Eve, are cast out of Paradise.
We, with them, are fallen.
We, with them, are subject to the pain, heartbreak and exigencies of our own mortality and corruption.
We, with them, have seen and beheld our own falling apart!
In the glorious and succinct phrase of St. Cyril the Great - ancient Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria in Egypt: "we suffer the tumult of stupid propensities."
But, as St Athanasius the Great, his predecessor, has told us, "Without temptation, there is no salvation!"
Thus we see the ancient, biblical meaning, often repeated, of "The Time of the 40" -- 40 days or 40 years of "trial and testing".
The number 40 is the image of our earthly wandering, a time of exile and dryness before we reach the Promised Land with Jesus, who is our "New Joshua" who leads His People into "a land flowing with milk and honey", the land of the Resurrection!
And while "The Time of the 40" is a time of mourning with Adam and Eve, a time of fasting with the Children of Israel in the wilderness or with the Ninevites (of the Prophet Jonah's day), it is also a time of joy, a time of revelation - a time of revalourizing our senses and regalvanizing our minds.
In "The Time of the 40" we strengthen our resolve to identify with the Lord Jesus in his time of the 40 days in the wilderness beyond Jordan after His Baptism.
Just as the 40-Day fasting period in the darkening Autumn and Fall of the year (November/December) awaits and prepares for the Nativity in the flesh of Christ our Saviour, so this 40-Day fast awaits the New Springtime of Christ's saving Passion, Harrowing of Hell, and glorious Resurrection!
And so, brethren, let us gladly and warmly forgive and love one another, and "let us call brothers even those that hate us, for the sake of the Resurrection, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!"
Let us forgive our neighbour (and even our enemy) just as Christ has forgiven us, for, as St John of Kronstadt said:
"Do not confuse man, the image of God, with the wickedness that is in him, for the wickedness is only accidental, his misfortune, a sickness, an illness of the devil; but his being, the image of God, still remains."
In that spirit, let us struggle!
Asking your forgiveness,
Archimandrite Maximos and the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross