Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Genesis. Lecture 7

1964 - 1966

We have now come to the point when it is time to examine the creation of man. We have already said a few things about it, to which we shall have to come back, but I would like first of all to draw your attention to the fact that we are in possession of two quite different records of the creation of man. The one is in the first chapter of Genesis, beginning with the 26th verse, and the other one is in the next chapter. The two records are very different from one another. Considered at a first glance it is obvious that they do speak of two different events and they are not two different reports about the same event seen from two angles. More or less modern criticism has seen in these two reports simply two different ways in which writers of different periods with different religious and cul­tural backgrounds wanted to account for the existence of man. But such was not the attitude of the early commentators and of the early writers of the Church. And if we believe that the Holy Scriptures are holy, that is, that there is as their background God’s wisdom, God’s will that things should be conveyed to us in order for us to know them, to know them for a purpose, to know them in order to take part in the divine knowledge, in order to take part in the divine action, then it is the second attitude – that of the early Church, and of later commentators who are in the same vein – that will be ours.

The characteristics of each of these passages are clear. The first passage in Genesis I (26-31) is a record of how the Lord God created man within the stream of these acts of creation, of this bringing to light, to life, into reality, of all the potentialities of the created world. All that I have said about the gradual unfolding of things, this movement from darkness into light in which yesterday’s light is today’s darkness, yester­day’s light is today’s evening, comes into it. On the other hand, here al­ready we have, as we have already seen, a new vision of the relatedness of God with the human being which He calls out of naught. Yet this is not a calling out of naught as the creation of all things described in the very beginning, in the first words of the Bible, when the word `created’ is used in its fullest and strongest sense. There is a link, a generic link between man and all things that were before. He is different, but different in the same way in which other things were different from one another. He is not described here assessing the spiritual qualities and being a revelation of God in the way he will be described in the next chapter.

And so to begin with we can perceive from these two reports, that man is rooted as it were in the created world, he belongs to it completely, he is the next step of the act of creation, and on the other hand, this being so, this being ful­filled, this being already done, man develops further towards his final vocation. He develops further, but he does not become different, it is a fulfilment and not the appearing of a new creature which we see in chap­ter 2. In the first place, the creation of man within the stream of all creation shows his kinship to all things that were made by God. In the second place we see that, however deeply rooted he is in those things, however much he belongs together with the created world, his call is to transcend it, to grow further, not only to know God but to be with God in a relationship that will be full of meanings and consequences, not only for him but for all other things created. `Let us make man in our image after our likeness and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle and over oil the earth, and every creeping thing that creepeth on the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.” (I.26) Here we see the creation of a being which, because he develops to­gether with all other beings’ can have dominion. It is not to the angels that this dominion is given. It is within the complex extraordinary rich family of those who are bearing flesh, in whom flesh and life are profoundly one, that man receives his power. And yet even here there seems to be a difference between his natural position among all the created beings and the position he is called to possess when he will become more what he is to be than in the first moment of creation. He has dominion, yes, but this dominion can be a wise and a creative dominion only later.

In the 2nd chapter of Genesis we see, verse 19-20, that the Lord has `formed every beast of the field and every fowl of the air and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them, and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.’ And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an helpmeet for him.

In the beginning there was a relationship between Adam and all other things, he is a fulfilment, he is a fulfilment according to nature, he is the next step of revelation of the potentialities or the created and this gives him authority or rather gives him dominion over all things. But dominion is not authority, and dominion is not a vocation, it is a situation. It is only later when he will have become capable of insight that he will become the head, the guide, the leader of those things created before him and which are therefore below him. This is quite clear from the passage I have just quoted now, because the idea of giving names to the creatures of God in Biblical thought or in ancient thought was absolutely clearly linked with insight. Names in antiquity were never supposed to be just nicknames, just ways in which creatures or objects or people can be identified by sounds: it was thought that between the being and the name there was an extremely deep link, that the name was a summing up of the being. And that applied to God, to this mysterious name of God that was never to be pronounced. It applied to man, it applied to things. This is the root, in a debased way, of this idea that magic can use names to achieve its purposes and aims. The name and the being coincide. For God every one, every single being has got a name, the name by which it is called out of naught, brought into being, the name by which it is sustained – because this name contains also the divine command to be, is upheld by the divine will. I have already quoted so often this passage from the Apocalypse, from the Book of Revelation, in which we are told that in the Kingdom to come every one of us will receive a white stone with a name written on it, a name known to none but God and who receives it, and this is, as far as the human being is concerned, the summing up of all that he is, in one word which is God’s knowledge of him. The same applies also to other beings: every one possesses a name by which he can be called. And the fact that it is not at the beginning but rather at the end of a whole period that God brings to man the creatures He has formed out of the ground, that He brings to man, who is also formed of the ground, these creatures, when he himself has grown beyond nothing but dust and fashioned clay, shows that this calling of all creatures was linked with the growth of Adam into knowledge. Now this knowledge of things, if you remember the white stone, can be possessed only from within the knowledge of God. St Paul advises us, calls us, to acquire the mind of Christ, not only His views, not only His approach to things, but something deeper, because the mind is not the actions that result from it, the activity thereof, but the mind is the very origin, the source, the spring out of which both understanding and action come, and that is what we are call­ed to possess. The mind of Christ means that we are called to gain, through purity of heart and the various ways in which God reveals Himself to us and helps us become what we are to be, to possess the vision of divine wisdom.

This point is important in connection with another passage concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it shows that the knowledge which Adam exhibited when he called all living creatures by its name and became a leader for every creature, one who knew profoundly, truly, its nature, its vocation, its potentialities,- that this knowledge which Adam had at that moment was derived from his communion with the knowledge divine. It is only in revelation that he could know creatures, if not as God knew them, at least in harmony with the divine knowledge, the difference between those two terms I am using lying only in the fact that the divine knowledge is infinitely deeper, and that, however complete, true and harmonious this human knowledge be, it is partial and incomplete, unfulfilled, and yet as we see it here, completely right and true. But this is not the way in which knowledge was present in the Garden of Eden. In Gen. II.17 we see: `But of the tree of know­ledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat, for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’

Let us leave aside this problem of language which is always raised: how could God speak of death in a world where death was not yet present? We must always remember that these chapters of Genesis that speak about what was before the fall are using the only language which made sense to us, that of the fallen world, to speak of a world to which we can have no direct access, the world as we do not know it any more. But something was conveyed to Adam of the tragedy that would follow the knowledge he could acquire from the tree, and this means that apart from knowing things in God there was a way of knowing things apart from God, not so completely apart that God was alien to this knowledge, not so completely apart that it was against the positive will of God that things were known, but outside Him. How can that be? The creation was not made static, it was not established, fulfilled and immutable. As one of the Fathers of the Church says: All things were created in motion towards fulfilment, and man was created in motion towards becoming God. In motion, which means that at every point of this motion every creature, and man in particular, was all he could be at this point, but also that this point was or was to be a transitory point, a point of transition that no creature, and man surely not, could stop at any of these points, because he was called to move steadily, constantly into the fulfilment of his own voca­tion. But between the two extremes, between the moment of creation and the moment of fulfilment there are two looming abysses, the one is the abyss of non-being, as a possibility sealed, but not as a possibility or a striving already outlived. The other one is the not less dread and mysterious abyss of the divine darkness, of the divine light, of the divine mystery, which is open, into the depth of which man proceeds, and yet which he has not in his possession. The one is sealed and yet still present, the other one is open and still yet there in abeyance, both partly present, both partly absent. The discovery of life of one’s own nature of being of fulfilment can take place only in the outliving and outgrowing of the very possibility of a return towards the sealed abyss and the outliving of the looking for the primeval chaos and the primeval absence. Yet, at every moment these two abysses are there, and they were not only there for Adam and all creatures in the beginning of days, they are looming within us, still more or less outlived, more or less out­grown, more or less completely sealed or opened, but present within a tension which we can discover within us..

And we can discover all things in God, through God, by looking at Him only from within the divine knowledge and the creative wisdom, but we can also find in ourselves a vision of that which God has sealed, that which God has condemned not to be, the naught out of which we are called and to look at things as it were outside God, to try to see the naught which is within and around, to try to understand and to perceive, in a way in which we can see and understand something which God does see and knows, but which He has sealed for us, until we are completely fulfilled and established in com­munion with His own eternity, that we can look back and see what is not as it is, as naught and not as an abyss that finds an echo in us and can attract us and swallow us.

This knowledge of good and evil, this notion of good and evil is creaturely, without being an evil in itself because God sees and knows and does not falter, but when man passes by the knowledge from within to cast a glance through a knowledge from without, he loses his relatedness to God and he can do nothing but die and surely die. And so here we see what happens in these conjunctions: On the one hand, man is confronted with all beings God has created, and insofar as he has grown in the knowledge of God and therefore partakes of the wisdom of God and the divine knowledge of things, he can call every living creature by its name, which reveals to the creature that man knows its vocation and can guide it towards its fulfilment. But when man shall turn towards knowledge for his and its own sake, he will bring destruction upon himself and break the harmony of the world he was called to lead and to fulfil.

`And Adam gave names to every beast of the field, but for Adam, there was not found a helpmeet for him’ (II.20). In the beginning, in the 26th verse we see that man is created, man is created male and female, man is created by a God who speaks in the plural. The word `man’ is in the singular and yet God refers to him calling man `them’. And yet we see that after all these events of growth, of fulfilment, that brings us to this point of true vision of the creatures of God, man, Adam, us, was alone. This of course is used very often as evidence that the two tales are incompatible and that one of them is untrue. But from the very early times up to patristic literature and to theologians of our day like Troitsky, who is still alive, there is in Orthodoxy an exegetic school that believes that this act of creation created man who possessed already the totality of human nature, yet unfulfilled,- man who was male and female, man who had all these potentialities, not in the monstrous aspect in which one can find throughout history human beings which had developed neither to a man nor to a woman, but a being which was not yet either. Also he possessed in himself both potentialities. This one can find corroborated in a remarkable way by the fact that every human being before its birth at a certain stage possesses all that could make him a man or a woman, a male or a female, and it is only late in the development of the embryo that one of the two becomes prevalent and gradually the other aspect fades away, yet never completely, and there remains in every human being of whatever sex, something of the other sex.

If anyone, – and I am not raising the problem with any insistence, to any depth – wishes to think in terms of an evolution, there is the point where it begins, there is a point where a creature which is man in its totality, male and female in its potentialities, is set as the last term of the divine initiative and which is called to grow into a greater fullness, to be as it were self-fulfilled until the day comes when it will split in two beings. In the first place already the notion of the divine image, the supra-personal, the supra-individual being is given but not yet fulfilled. And it is remarkable, and I think very important to notice that the blessing given by God to increase ,` be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it, and have dominion’, is given at this stage, and not at the stage when Adam and Eve are confronted with one another. It is a situation that belongs to the nature of man but not to the nature of marriage – and to that we will have to come back, but I mention it now because it is always described differently. Then how do the writers of old and of newer times see this gradual fulfilment? They see the total man with all the potentialities of manhood and womanhood included in him, but I repeat, not in the coexistence of two sexes, but in the virtual presence of all possibilities set within this creation. He becomes increasingly himself. All that is there in him, virtually present, germinally present, grows and comes to a point when a polarisation, a division becomes necessary, because a point comes when it is no longer possible for man to be at the same time the fullness of one and the other vocation.

And this is the point at which the Lord brings all creatures to Adam, for him to name them, and when he has done so he is con­fronted with an experience and a fact of observation: Adam saw that there was no helpmeet for him; he was alone. `And the Lord said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” This was said before God brought the beings to Adam. This aloneness is not good at this stage; yet when man was created in his aloneness God witnessed that it was good. Something had changed. What was complete harmony of potentialities has become now a tension that is to break the oneness if it is not reinstated differently. But here God Himself is confronted with the freedom He has given to man, because what is to happen now is not just a mechanical fulfilment in the realm of natural history; it is a fulfilment of man on the level of consciousness, on the level of vocation and, as we will see, on the level of self-awareness and of the revelation of love. And this cannot be done mechanically, done surgically, done one-sidedly by God. It is a fulfilment in which man must take part, a fulfilment which must not be only willed of man but discovered as a necessity and a possibility by him. And when man had found that there had been no helpmeet for him `The Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept, and He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh instead thereof.’ `And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and the woman, and they were not ashamed.’

The word ‘rib’ is in a way misleading; it is a word that may mean either a rib or a side: what is spoken of is that man was divided, but what happens here was not a conscious act of man, because man could not achieve, fulfil what he had himself found. He had discovered the tension, he had discovered the fulfilment that was possible, but fulfilled he could be only by a divine act, and so outside his consciousness he was disclosed to himself. He was divided in order to be disclosed to himself. He was confronted with himself, but with another aspect of self, and each of these two selves which stood fact to face were the real one, not one of them was the secondary, both were there from the first moment, both were the revelation to the other half of himself. And this is why Methodius of Olympus says that when man and woman looked at one another they did not see two persons as it were, they did not speak in terms of `I’ and `the other’, but each of them, seeing whom he could call the other, said: this is `alter ego’, `the other myself’, `the second myself’, and in that respect the promise of God and the longing of man was fulfilled. `Helpmeet’ is an approximate translation of something which means one that will stand face to face with him, one who is an equal and more than an equal, not an equal in the sense of being equal but alien, but one who is him and therefore equal to him and who is so much him that it is a revelation of him to himself. It was he and she, it was man and woman, and each of them was a revelation of fulfilment for the one who gazed at his other self. And the same Methodius of Olympia insists that the last words of this chapter “and they were both naked, the man and his wife and they were not ashamed” is a full, a complete assertion of this identity of man, of one unique personality in two persons because as he says, one can be ashamed only of the other and there was no other at that moment because again, as for us Adam and Eve, man and woman, he and she are two, for both of them they were one. `This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ does not mean `This originates in me’; it means, `I recognise myself, it is I’. And the other – whom we would call the other – says the same thing. It is only when the tragedy of the fall broke the oneness that the nakedness appeared,

because the nakedness is an assertion of alterity, of otherness, but not in the great total sense in which we have spoken of otherness between God and his creation, but a lower, an evil otherness that divides what cannot be divided, opposes what cannot be opposed, contrasts what cannot be contrasted. And this is why a man shall leave his father and mother, because the way in which the child is born of the bones of the bones and the flesh of the flesh of his parent is a derived way, it is not identity, while he and she are one in one identity of person, in being in their togetherness, in their oneness, indeed man.

Well, I think this is what I wanted to say about the creation of man. Next time we will probably come to a few more remarks concerning this creation and the relationship there is between the two and come back again to the Garden of Eden and to the two trees that stand in it, and move also to the third chapter of Genesis with the fall.

Answers to questions

About the two abysses.

What I meant to say is this: if you imagine a creature all of a sudden appearing – something that was not, suddenly is – and if you look at it in an almost static way for convenience’s sake, you will see that it has just come out of the possibility of not-being, it is moving into the possibility of full-being. Between the not-being at all and the total stabil­ity of being as real as God is, by participation, there is a whole movement, but all along the line of movement the not-being is there, and the fulfilment is there, but neither is complete because as long as fulfilment has not made us as stable as God is, there is an element of insecurity… as long as things are not fulfilled, our absence (not-being) is not yet completely blotted out. What we can say is that absence is sealed, the abyss is sealed…

 About the Incarnation

The mere Incarnation is not the salvation of all because there is a relationship which is necessary for salvation. In the same way in which the creation of woman could be willed by Adam and could not have happened without his discovering that there was no helpmeet for him, that he was unfulfilled, in the same way the Incarnation is an event without which salvation does not take place, and yet it is not by the mere fact of the Incarnation that the salvation of all takes place, because there is a choice, a decision, a way of treating the Incarnate God.


An evil cannot be made good by simply forgiving the person who has done it. It is the only way in which the door can be opened but there is still something to do to walk into the door. The act of forgiveness opens the door. Simple forgiveness without which nothing can happen is not yet the whole thing, because it must be accepted in such a way that you are no longer what you were before. You cannot simply be let in, because you would find Paradise pure hell, in the state of mind you are in!

About the Lord’s Prayer

If you think of the Lord’s Prayer no longer as one recites it from start to finish but as an ascent from the broadest and the heaviest and the lowest towards the last word Father, what you find is: free us from evil, help us not to succumb to temptation, then once more, forgive as I forgive. Once you cross that, then there is the daily bread and the ascent higher as if in terms of Exodus – which is the pattern of every salvation: – the first act is a mighty act of God that delivers from slavery, without which you cannot escape slavery, then a flight of the one who is delivered and who is pressed by Pharaoh’s army and says ` let me not succumb’, then comes to the Red Sea and crosses it. This is forgive and the next thing is the desert, bread here and the manna of the desert, the food which God gave in a place of total hopeless starvation, and then the outskirts of the Holy Land `Thy will be done’ and the rest, up to the point which is Zion, the city, the city which is Christ, which is everything and in which we used the word `Father’. And the same is true in the same way but in the other direction about the Beatitudes. If you take the Beatitudes you go down up to the 7th verse of the 2nd chapter of Matthew: blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Everything else could be given and received, poverty of spirit, the misery of the Jews in Egypt, the sense of their misery and the sense in the end that only one kingdom is their and it is God’s; the mourning, the meekness, the search, all that is Egypt with all the ways in which it wrings meekness, the search, all that is Egypt with all the ways in which it wrings out of man the longing for freedom; and then the decisive thing: you will receive it, but on one condition: be merciful and you shall obtain mercy; receive one another as Christ has received you, forgive your trespassers as you want to be forgiven, and so on, and then beyond this act of mercy, blessed are pure in heart, they shall see God. The wilderness in which there was divine food, severance from everything except God, – and indeed they saw God, Sinai, for instance, so many other things; then further, the peacemaker, persecution etc., which from that point onward are identification with Christ. He is our Peace, He is the One, and so on… But in the Lord’s Prayer as in the beatitudes after the pattern of Exodus, there is the Red Sea, which is `be merciful’, `forgive’, that is the moment when we take salvation in our hand. Before that, it was given (after that it is given, well, not without our effort and or participation) but this is something which we only can do. And if we do not, we still remain within the thirst, the hunger, the mourning and the misery. There is no other way out of it.

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