Modern Approaches to the Problem of the Fall in the Context of Greek Orthodox Theology.
By Giotis Kantartzis, Pastor of the First Greek Evangelical Church of Athens
The thesis of this article is that the difference between Orthodox and Protestant Christians, in terms of their understanding of what salvation in Christ Jesus is, results from the differences between them regarding their understanding of the fall, its nature and its consequences. In other words, we disagree on the solution because we do not agree on the exact nature of the problem! It is consequently imperative to attempt a dialogue with Orthodox Christians on this issue. In this paper, it is our aim to study the basic outline of thought of two significant contemporary Greek Orthodox theologians who represent two basic trends in relation to interpreting the issue of the fall: John Romanides and John Zizioulas.
Α. The fall as “Desertion”: John Romanides’ analysis
Our study on this significant theologian will focus on his work “The Ancestral Sin”, which is regarded by many as a point of reference in Modern Greek theology. Before moving into the analysis of the basic outline of his thought, we should make a general note first. In order to understand Romanides’ basic line of thought, one should rather start from what he himself calls “the entire basis of patristic theology”, that is, from the fact that God “creates and saves not by created means but by His uncreated energy” (page 2, footnote 2). This statement may seem to a Protestant to be, to say the least, incomprehensible or irrelevant. However, it appears to be, in the final analysis, the key principle for understanding and explaining the concept of the fall as well as of salvation or – more correctly put – of “theosis” (deification) for many Orthodox theologians. In order to understand how this is so let us think of an example. When we as Protestants speak of the fall and its consequences we frequently speak about the offended divine righteousness. However, if God’s “righteousness” is not meant as an “attribute” of God which defines His very nature but as an “uncreated energy” distinct from God’s “essence”, then it seems impossible and absurd to “offend” divine righteousness and, as a result, God himself. We understand, thus, the different premises defining the questions of Orthodox and of the Protestant theologies.
Even though a comprehensive discussion of this distinction lies beyond the scope of this study, I will dare to make a brief comment. Apart from righteousness, Romanides also regards “love” as an “uncreated energy”. This energy, being “uncreated” and not part of God’s nature, can be “absolutely selfless” and “absolutely free” (page 116), which means that God “loves humanity because He wants to love it ” (page 117) without being obliged by any necessity (namely His essence). That of course is true especially on the account of many biblical texts as for example Deuteronomy 7 and Romans 5:6-9. However, we can point out the following problem. John in his first Epistle states that God “is love” and, thus, love is not an energy emanating from nowhere but stemming from what God is. This act is not, therefore, rootless and detached but the manifestation (or according to the biblical terminology, the “glory”) of the divine being. God loves as a “person”. This love, however, is not an impersonal energy but the love of the God of the Bible. It is not a love considered vaguely but the love of a specific person. And it is this person which gives it content and form. Otherwise, it will become amorphous and impersonal, a bare notion.
The fall and Death. The view that Adam was not created as “morally perfect” but “to become perfect and to reach theosis” (page 122), which is a situation also entailing immortality, is the key to understand the fall in Romanides but also in Orthodox Theology in general. Therefore, the fall is not a “fall off” a position or a status but “man’s failure to become perfect” (page 122) or, in other words, it is the desertion “of the way to perfection” (page 123). This would have happened “through the spiritual exercise of the will” (page 100). As a result of the fall, death and mortality invaded. However, on no account does death mean “punishment” but “is meant as the automatic result of man’s own distancing from divine life” (page 21). What is more, death, in a sense, is meant as an act of “injustice” to man, who was misled by the devil to commit disobedience (page 88). Thus, this “injustice” that happened to us, namely death, “generates” sin from the moment it invades human experience. The tendency to sinning is due to our mortality. He writes characteristically that “the source of man’s sins is the power of death in the devil’s hands and man’s voluntary submission to it” (page 122).
However, apart from mortality as a result of the fall, Romanides does not fail to note that there is also a kind of moral corruption which has invaded our nature. In his analysis, nevertheless, he will clearly appear to give priority to the significance of death as the centre of man’s decadent situation. God, however, justifies man through Christ Jesus, that is, He, through the work of Jesus Christ destroys the injustice “through the ‘zoopoiesis’ (quickening) of the righteous detained unjustly by the devil” (p. 89). According to Romanides, the Pauline teaching about justification means only one thing: ‘zoopoiesis’ (quickening). Justification is the removal by God of the injustice man has suffered, that is, death. Death is not the punishment for man’s trespass but becomes the “fair punishment” of only the unrighteous who persist in remaining impenitent. Hence, the removal of the root cause of the human problem is achieved through the work of Jesus Christ, which is primarily the victory over death. Hence, the way is open again so that man will enjoy the life-giving Spirit of God “as the fruit of spiritual exercise” (p. 130). The Spirit provides him now with the power to “crush the sin dwelling in him” (p. 165). The significance of the Spirit is so great that Romanides will say that “the concept of the incorruptibility-granting action [my note: of the Holy Spirit] is the key of his being perceived as created in God’s image and likeness” (p. 144).
Death and Sin. As previously mentioned, a basic thesis in Romanides’ analysis is the connection of sin to mortality. Although one notices that there is an ambiguity in relation to how death enters mankind eventually in his analysis, one thing is absolutely clear: death is on no account a “punishment” or “penalty” imposed on man as a consequence of his sin. In his opinion, it is Augustine, who “due to his wrong concepts about God and to his eudemonistic presuppositions”, processed a “forensic” reading of Genesis chapter 2, according to which “God, along with other commandments, gives also to Adam and Eve a prohibitive commandment the violation of which would entail hardships and death» (p. 119). We ask, is a theologically biased “processing” really necessary in order that one may see death in Genesis as the punishment of God to man as a result of his disobedience? A close reading of this passage is beyond the scope of our study. However, we will mention two brief remarks. First of all, the “commandment-warning” scheme, which Romanides will attribute to the distortions of Augustine, is visible in the “great theological traditions of the Old Testament. The theology about a covenant, expressed in a clear way in Deuteronomy stresses that disobedience to God’s commandments results in curse and, finally, death (i.e. Deuteronomy 30:15 – 19). The prophecies will speak in the same way and this idea is central also in the wisdom tradition.» Therefore, the so called “Augustinian” reading of chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, seeing the existence of a “prohibitive commandment”, is not a theologically biased innovation but it is in line with what we read in the entire Old Testament. In addition, although we are grateful to Romanides for the way in which he helps us see how mortality generates sin within human experience, I do believe that his analysis is characterised by a significant omission. Saying only that death generates sin without at the same time saying that sin generates death is, at best, a partial picture of biblical teaching. By saying that sin generates death I mean that death is not only the cause of sin but also the penalty of sin. Romanides mentions, as a biblical documentation of his view, Romans 5:21 where we read that “sin reigned in death”. While this is so, it should also be noted that the Apostle Paul presents death as “condemnation”, judgement and conviction for the “trespass”, in verses 17-18. It is this dimension that is absent from Romanides’ analysis as well as from much of the Orthodox theology. I dare say that, to a certain extent, Romanides is reduced to the same trespass as that which he accuses Augustine of committing. He bypasses the dimension of death as penalty because he himself – but also Orthodox theologians in general – has rejected the possibility that salvation may have a “forensic” dimension. If death is merely a “power” acting in our lives, salvation is that Jesus Christ “defeated” this power and, in so doing, freed us. That is true of course. However, it is, at the same time, true that death is a «penalty» encumbering our lives and relations with God and, thus, salvation means that Jesus Christ undertook and lifted the penalty so that he will forgive us.
The Concept of Justification. Further to the previously-discussed issues, we come to another concept we believe it is also presented in a way not corresponding to the fullness of biblical revelation. It refers to justification. Romanides understands justification as the removal of injustice towards humanity inasmuch as Jesus Christ acts “by restoring the righteous held unfairly by evil” (p. 87). In consequence, justification is identical to ‘zoopoiesis’ (quickening). Commenting on Galatians 3:21, he writes that “it is evident that Paul identifies justification with ‘zoopoiesis’ (quickening)” (p. 87) and continues to say that “thus, the justification of the unjustly or temporarily held righteous by death and the devil is exactly this very ‘zoopoiesis’ (quickening) of them, that is, then the provision of the Holy Spirit’s uncreated and life-giving action and grace” (p. 87). I dare say that this understanding of justification even though it is absolutely conceivable within Romanides’ system of thinking is partial and defective when seen within the context of the biblical evidence as a whole. We will try again to show it through a scripture passage he employs in support of his view. Thus, he interprets Romans 3:21, arguing that «when Paul writes that ‘the righteousness of God is revealed’, he means that God is revealed through Christ Jesus, destroying evil, abolishing unrighteousness and restoring the righteous held unfairly by evil” (p. 86 – 87). However, reading this verse in its context, that is, in relation to what precedes and follows, one may see easily that the issue of justification concerns a totally different issue. Hence, Paul says to us in Romans 3:19 – 20 that that the law of God exists “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable [ὑπόδικος] to God”. The issue here is not why good and innocent people die but the fact that “the whole world” is under judgement. Our guilt is the problem. Hence we run again into the stumbling block of the “forensic” or “juristic” language which Romanides has decided that it does not exist (or should not exist) in the Holy Scriptures. The “forensic” language is not the only way in which we can and should speak about salvation but we cannot reject it completely. Moreover, sin is what condemns us in verse 20 and this conclusion is rephrased by Apostle Paul also in verse 23. How then does God reveal His righteousness in the context of all this? Apostle Paul explains in verses 24–26
“and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Let us point out again that the puzzling and at the same time marvelous element in justification is not the justification of the just but, as Apostle Paul writes further on, the justification of the unrighteous. So, in verse 4:5, he describes God as He who “justifies the ungodly”. How, though, this is possible? Here the “judicial” jargon will arise inevitably before us again: it happens because “his faith is counted as righteousness” (verse. 5) and negatively, “the Lord will not count his sin”(verse 8). Note, however, that the “judicial” nature of the language does not mean that it is dry and barren. Paul will use the word “blessed – blessing” four times. Justification is a celebration of doxology and not just a legal procedure
Β. The fall as an “Existential Missing the Mark”: The Analysis of John Zizioulas
In this part of our study, we will discuss the fall in the context of a recent trend that has been developed in Modern Greek Orthodox theology. The critical distinction here is not now to be made between God’s “substance” and His “energies” but between God’s being and His way of being. Speaking of way of being we refer particularly to the fact that God is personal. One could argue that in these there is a transposition of dynamism from the “ομοίωσις” (likeness) to the “εικόνα” (image). Thus, while in the context of the classical orthodox approaches to the In such a context, sin becomes conceivable in ontological terms as a failure to actualize your very existence. That is the reason why we opted to discuss this approach using the definition of the fall and of sin as an existential failure or missing the mark. For this part of the study, we will look at one of the most significant theologians of Modern Greek Orthodoxy, the Metropolitan of Pergamus, John Zizioulas.
The Ontology of the Holy Trinity. A basic stance in Zizioulas’ work is that the study of anthropology, our view about humanity, is determined by theology, our view about God, and, more specifically, by our understanding of the Trinity. Thus, the question of what man is will be answered only by the question of who God is. Zizioulas’ answer to this question is simple and clear: God is a person. God is not a being which is also personal but someone whose existence is constitutionally personal. In other words, God is not of some other substance which happens also to have, or be in the process of acquiring , personhood, but He exists inasmuch as He is a person. More specifically, he exists as a “Father”. What then does it mean that God is a person and more specifically a Father? It means freedom of exit from himself . He is a Father who begets the Son freely and from whom the Holy Spirit also proceeds freely. Thus God is defined by an absolute freedom in the mode of His existence which is not bound by any necessity (as i.e. of a pre-existing substance) but is spontaneous, unsolicited and self-determining (autexousios). According to his analysis, this introduction of the concept of personhood in the ontology of the Holy Trinity is a breakthrough made by the Cappadocian Fathers. This “personalistic” ontology is also what differentiates the east from western “essentialism.” He writes,
«The Holy Trinity is a primordial ontological concept and not an idea added to the divine substance or rather following it, as it happens in the Dogmatic Manuals of the West, and, unfortunately, in the modern ones of the East. God’s substance has no ontological content and spiritual existence beyond communion»
The Father is perceived not as a “source” but as the “cause” of divinity. The notion of “source” is related to substance (ουσία). However, the “cause” contains the concepts of personal initiative and freedom. The divine being owes its existence to a free person and not to an impersonal substance. Therefore, God exists as a product of freedom. No substance dictating a “necessity” in existence precedes. God exists as a Father continually “affirming His free will to exist”.
Freedom. Of course, it should be noted here that what happens in Zizioulas’ analysis is a transposition of the necessity from the substance in the relational nature of God . From “essence” to “relationship”. In other words, the Father’s monarchy, which is so emphatically stressed by Zizioulas in his works, implies that in order that the Father may exist, He should beget and not merely wish or choose to beget the Son and in addition He should have the Holy Spirit proceed from Him. If we say that He freely wished so, then we introduce the possibility that God may not have wished the Son to exist. This way we reach the absurd possibility that God may have not wished to exist since the constitution of His existence is His relationship to the Son. Therefore, although the freedom of God is stressed in this scheme, in reality we have another kind of God’s “hetero-determination”. God is not defined by substance but by relationship.
Nature as fall and the fall as the Image of God. After considering the theological prerequisites set by the Metropolitan of Pergamos we come to discuss and interact with his anthropology and consideration of the meaning of the fall. The work on which we will focus is the chapter entitled «Man as Priest: The Hope and Earnest Expectation of the Creation” from the book “The Creation as Eucharistia: Theological Approaches to the Problem of Ecology”. In this book, Zizioulas points successfully to the restrictions that exist in taking the concept of “image” to refer to man’s reason, suggesting freedom in its place. However, what kind of freedom is this? Is it the freedom of choosing from a set of already given possibilities and alternatives, or an absolute freedom corresponding to a creation “ex nihilo”? His analysis and Trinitarian presuppositions will lead him to draw the conclusion that it is about the second kind of freedom. Thus, since man is made in “God’s image”, he prides himself in his “αυτεξούσιο” (self-determination), that is, the freedom to be sovereign both over the world and himself. Thus, according to Zizioulas salvation is defined as the absolute freedom explained as being liberated from the necessities and limits linked with nature and creatureliness. However, this ontological freedom has to face the inevitable reality of creatureliness, which generates the essence of the tragedy of human existence.
One may wonder here why would God give Adam (creaturely) nature if, simultaneously, He also gave him image, in the sense Zizioulas conceives of it, namely as desire and call for freedom from nature and the necessity derived by it? This is to say, why is it that God should give us something from which He will call on us to escape or exit? According to Zizioulas’ analysis, nature will tend “by nature” towards the “nothingness” from which it came. Adam, as part of the creation, but also as “God’s own image”, is given the “ontological proposal for exceeding death”, firstly for him and, then, as “the priest of the creation” for the rest of the creation. Therefore, we wonder whether, in the final analysis, Zizioulas suggests that nature is the fall in an absolutely Platonic manner , even if this is done unconsciously. Furthermore, his negative conception of “nature” bypasses the biblical reference to the divine approval of the created creation. If creation was thought of as “exceeding beautiful” by God, then why should we transcend it? According to Zizioulas, therefore, the basic anthropological question has to do with
the “exercise of freedom”. Within this context, the fall is not a moral trespass but an exercise of freedom missing the mark, the “case of applying absolute liberty in a wrong way” (p. 109). The fall is not failing to give something that we owe to God but something that we owe to ourselves. Nevertheless, despite all these negative aspects and precisely because freedom proves eventually to be of larger importance than any concept of morality and of law, man’s choice will not move against the original intention inherent in man’s creation to be “God’s image”, but will do the opposite. As he puts it, “it was better that Adam fell in the pursuit of his right in absolute freedom than having remained not fallen and denying this right, which would reduce him to the status of an animal” (p. 111). Yet, we notice a paradox here: moving against God does not mean moving against my call to be “God’s image” but exactly the opposite since I act in absolute freedom, that is as God’s image. Thus, summarizing Zizioulas’ thought about the fall, we encounter the paradox that for him the real fall is creatureliness and nature and that the biblical account of the fall is not a fall but the rescue of the image of God.
Epilogue: Main points in the dialogue
Brining our study to conclusion, it is helpful to consider what we have to listen to and what we have to say in our dialogue with the Orthodox. Let’s start with what we have to listen to. The first is to see the fall not only as a fall-out from a position but also as the loss of a future destiny. This aspect is what Karl Barth described as “sloth”. We can enrich our analysis including the concepts of the fall as failure to fulfil our calling, something that can be exegetically supported by the narratives of Genesis. That of course should be done without reducing the creation of man to a mere potentiality.
A second thing we need to listen to is the dimension of fall as a failure the fulfil our constitutional identity. We may need to qualify the orthodox proposal and say that by our creation we are not called to be free but to be in relationship with God. The fall then is not simply a legal event but the severing of that relationship something that creates an ontological shortcoming.
On the other hand what I believe that we have to say to the Orthodox is the fall is an event that it’s not primarily about us but about God. In many of the Orthodox treatments of the subject one gets the impression that the fall is all about us forfeiting things that we own to ourselves. We believe that the Biblical witness sees the fall as something that has to do with a debt that we own to God. Our sinfulness is not simply our problem but it is a problem that stands as an obstacle in our relationship with the God. Recovering that will help the Orthodox theology to make more sense of the need and scope of Jesus’ death on the cross. To see it in other words not only as a means of victory of the power of mortality but also as a sacrifice which provides forgiveness and atonement for our sins. Something necessary in order to have a relationship with a holy God who also insists in being a God of love.
 The term is borrowed from Florovsky , who describes the fall as follows, “Also the Original Sin was not merely a choice of the wrong direction but rather a refusal that man ascend to God, a desertion from God’s service” (the emphasis is mine. In Creation and Redemption, [Thessalonica: Pournaras Editions, 2008], page 95).
 All the references in this article will be from the Second Edition of the book in Greek (Athens: Domos, Second Edition, 1989 [1st Edition 1957]).
 For a thorough discussion on the problems stemming from the distinction between essence and energies see Catherine Mowry LaCugna God For Us, New York: HarperCollins, 1991 (especially chapter 6 of the book where she deals with Palamite theology.
 One of the important elements of Romanides’ stance is that the fall is a “situation” (p. 165).
 It should be noted at this point that there is an ambiguity here. The passages from Irenaeus Romanides mentions in order to substantiate his views speak about “man’s” zoopoiesis (quickening) in general. Romanides speaks about the justification of the righteous.
 The commandment was not a “police regulation” (p. 120 – 121) the violation of which would entail punishment. Moreover, the God would in the end give the first-created man and woman the right to eat of tree of knowledge (p. 121 – 122); he simply wanted them to become mature and perfect so that they could consolidate it.
 The fact that this was only for them who also had the extenuating element that they already possessed the sinful nature and mortality and not for Adam only, who in Paradise lacked the encumbrance of sin, is not a problem according to Romanides.
 Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1 – 15, WBC, 1987, p. 90.
 He writes, almost aphoristically, that the “interpretation of the word ‘justification’ according to Paul as connoting a quasi change in the divine disposition to man through the satisfaction of the quasi offended divine nature is unacceptable” (the italics in this footnote are mine, p. 88).
 For an elaborate presentation of the issue which clearly aims to mitigate it, cf. Aristotle Papanicolaou’s article, “Divine Energies or Divine Personhood: Vladimir Lossky and John Zizioulas on conceiving the Transendent and Immanent God” (Modern Theology 19:3 July 2003).
 For example in Matsouka’s work, the concept of the image is perceived as “dowry” (Dogmatics, p. 199) and as an “irremovable relationship between God and man” (Dogmatics, p. 195).
 In the chapter entitled, “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: the Significance of the Cappadocian Contribution” in Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays in Divine Being and Act ed. Christoph Schwöbel (Edinburgh: Τ & Τ Clark, 1995), p. 55
 Being as Communion, the translation is mine, 1985, p. 17.
 Supra, p. 299.
 All the references will be from from the Greek edition of this book edited by Acritas Publishing House, Athens, 1992 (first re-edition November 1998).
 Cf. his article “Preserving God’s Creation: Lecture Three”, King’s Theological Review Vol. 13 (1990), p. 2.