Daily Meditations

Members of One Another (Part VIII): The Total Adam

The sin of Adam is cosmic in its effects, destroying as it does the primal harmony that prevailed between humans and the rest of creation. So Adam exclaims in his ‘Lament’:

In paradise was I joyful and glad: the Spirit of God rejoiced me, and suffering was a stranger to me. But when I was driven forth from paradise cold and hunger began to torment me. The beasts and the birds that were gentle and had loved me turned into wild things, and were afraid and ran from me.

Because of our solidarity in the ‘total Adam’, writes Fr Sophrony, all of us share in Adam’s guilt. This does not mean that either he or St Silouan would endorse an Augustinian doctrine of original sin, in a fully developed form. But it does mean that, united as we are as members of a single human family, we are each of us ‘responsible for everyone and everything’, to use the phrase of Starets Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. Yet, if we are subject to a solidarity in guilt, we enjoy equally a solidarity in salvation: in the words of Khomiakov, ‘No one is saved alone.’ My personal salvation is bound up with the salvation of the entire human race, and indeed of the whole creation. Fr Sophrony neatly illustrates this interdependence in both sinfulness and salvation by recounting a conversation that he once heard between two Athonite monks:

The first said, ‘I cannot understand why the Lord does not grant peace to the world even if only a single person implored him to do so.’

To which the other replied, ‘And how could there be complete peace in the world if but a single malicious man remained?’

This understanding of the ‘total Adam’ means that, on each occasion when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we offer it not only on our own behalf but on behalf of everyone. As Fr Sophrony says, ‘When we pray “Our Father” we think of all mankind, and solicit the fullness of grace for all as for ourselves’. St Gregory of Nyssa emphasizes this same point when he states that, since we ‘share in Adam’s nature and therefore share also in his fall’, in consequence the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses’, is something that we offer for Adam’s sake as well as for our own. This fits exactly with St Silouan’s line of thought.

On the basis of this theology of the ‘total Adam’, the Starets is able to give a particularly powerful interpretation to Christ’s command, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 19:19). I am able to love my neighbour as myself, because by virtue of the unity of all humankind in ‘Adam our father’, my neighbour is myself. I am likewise to pray for others as I pray for myself: ‘All my desire’, says St Silouan, ‘is to learn humility and the love of Christ, that I may offend no man but pray for all as I pray for myself (350: italics in the original). In the same way the suffering of the other is my suffering, and my neighbour’s healing is healing for me as well; ‘my brother’s glory will be my glory also.’ ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it’ (l Corinthians 12:26).

This leads St Silouan to affirm in a strong and literal sense that my neighbour’s life is my own: ‘Blessed is the souls that loves her brother, for our brother is our life’. For the one who prays, says Fr Sophrony,

The existence of mankind is not alien and extraneous to him but is inextricably bound up with his own being…. Through Christ’s love all men become an inseparable part of our own individual, eternal existence.

Christ has taken up the ‘total Adam’ into Himself and has suffered for him; we therefore should take up into ourselves ‘the life of all mankind’, looking upon every other person as our ‘eternal brother’:

Each of us must, therefore, take heed not only for himself but for this single whole.

So it is that, according to the Starets, ‘in his deep heart the Christian after a certain fashion lives the whole history of the world as his own history’; for ‘no man is alien to him’.

Exactly because my neighbour is myself, because my brother’s life is my own, I am required to love my enemies.

Only in the light of St Silouan’s teaching on the ‘total Adam’ can we truly appreciate the crucial importance that he attached to love for enemies. I am to love my enemy, because my enemy is myself; I am the other whom I regard as my enemy. His life is mine, and mine is his. Love for enemies is a direct corollary of our mutual coinherence in ‘Adam, our father’.

~Adapted from Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, We Must Pray for All: The Salvation of the World According to St Silouan (http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html).