Did you notice the change in the air? It smells different. Spring’s coming for sure now, at least here in Belarus. I’m always astounded at how well the Church arranges its celebration of Lent and Easter. At the cusp of winter’s end, but before things are in bloom, we tend to be in our darkest moods. February overcast is the worst, isn’t it?
So it’s not surprising that the beginning of Lent happens around this time. On the one hand, it’s depressing and dark and we’re reminded of death. On the other, there’s this hidden joy in the changing smells of the air, the tinge of warmth in the wind, the way the snow is definitely wet.
In this context, the Church’s reminder of Adam’s exile is especially apt. On the one hand, it’s the worst event in human history. The Fall (capitalized). On the other hand, with the Fall came the promise of the Redeemer. Even in the darkness of February, we can already smell the inklings of April.
Today, I’d like to share with you Evgenii Vodolazkin’s thoughts concerning the expulsion of Adam from Eden. Mr. Vodolazkin’s phenomenal novel Laurus (which I recently reviewed for Orthodox Life) is tangentially concerned with the loss of Eden, as indeed is most great literature (I would argue). The original article was posted on Foma magazine a few days ago, and can be found at this link.
Adam’s Expulsion from Eden: Eternity Lost
by Evgenii Vodolazkin
Time is an invitation to death
The search for Eden, in my understanding, is what determines the life of any person who is attentive to his own existence. Eden is an astonishing idea. It has neither place nor, even more so, time.
One of the heroes of my novel (Laurus) says, “It seems to me that Paradise is the absence of time.” Why? Because time is an invitation to death. If there is time, there is, consequently, death.
In Eden, we do have a kind of time measured in the days of creation when the world was made, when Adam and Eve were formed. But this is “Edenic” time, which isn’t time at all.What do Adam and Even receive first of all when they fall to earth from Paradise? Time. They are presented with the reality of limitation and death.
Every person, in some sense, repeats the existence of all mankind in his separate, small life. Every person has an “Edenic” time in his life—childhood. This is a time when the soul is still almost sinless. It’s a time of joy. No wonder that for the first seven years, all children can approach the communion cup without confessing their sins.
Then, a person matures, and the Fall into sin occurs in his own life (in all kinds of different ways). At a certain age, man becomes an adult in body, and before him arise all the problems of adulthood. And this moment is his first serious encounter with death. In our childlike state, we know that death exists, but we don’t apply it to ourselves. It’s as though we make an exception for ourselves. But in youth comes the understanding that we, like all others, are valid candidates for death. We discover death for the first time, and we are horrified.
I also had that moment of terror, not because I would cease to exist, but because, if there is death, if a person dies once and for all, without resurrection, then everything is pointless. And this thought upended me and determined a great deal of my future life.
The Time of the First People
Time was not always the same. What was time like for the people who had just lost eternity? What was Adam’s time like? From Genesis, we know that Adam lived 930 years, and Methuselah lived even longer—962 years. After that, each of the forefathers lived shorter and shorter lives. What does this tell us? That, at first, eternity battled time.
The unthinkable longevity of our forefathers showed that a spark of eternity still remained in their souls. But then, the time of life began to lessen, and finally it diminished to today’s state.
Time in a person’s individual life is also not monolithic. Time for a child is almost endless. It almost doesn’t exist. How long and lingering it is, and how unnoticeably it passes! But the older a person is, the faster time goes. Thus, I’ve reached a pretty mature age and a feel how fast everything’s starting to whirl about. This is what Okudzhava (a famous Soviet bard-poet) meant when he said, “The longer we live, the shorter our years.”
Time is completely relative, and not only because of the differences in how we perceive it in our own life. It also depends on the point of view of the observer. Medieval Man lived, on average, less than we do today. But his life was in some sense longer. Because part of it existed in eternity. His time was non-linear. Other than its horizontal movement from beginning to end, it also had a vertical axis: its relation to eternity.
This relatedness with eternity made the short life of Medieval Man longer than ours. Our own contemporaries often have no vertical axis to their timelines. And so, the greater part of their years seems to stick together, and their life seems trivial. This is especially true of the unexamined life.
I write the most difficult parts of my novels during Lent
Acknowledging his break with the Creator, man seeks to overcome the consequences of sin. In this sense, all are equal. Everyone sins—kings and paupers, poets and accountants. All people have one path toward salvation.
But for myself, I realized that for a writer or, for example, an actor, it’s sometimes especially difficult to reach any kind of spiritual equilibrium. When an actor plays a villain, he enters into the role completely, and this can seriously traumatize him in a spiritual sense. The same happens to an author. After all, he lives the life of all his characters, both good and evil. And in order to describe sin convincingly, he has to pass through it, mentally at the very least. He needs to plunge into an abyss that he normally would never approach.
It’s no surprise, then, that sometimes the sins of novelists’ characters are ascribed to the authors themselves, even if nothing of the sort every occurred in their lives. It’s a kind of spiritual trial, and it’s quite dangerous, since it’s very easy to stay in the deep place that you dove into for only a few minutes.
My own experience is this. The most difficult parts of my books—the ones that are spiritually, psychologically difficult—I write them during Great Lent.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Russian traditions and culture, consider joining my (Nicholas Kotar’s, that is) Readers’ Group. I’ll send you two chapters of my new novel as a thank you. Just tell me where to send them: