The Village Inside Us – The Whole Adam

Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of my father’s passing. I have felt the day approaching for a few weeks now. I have also been reflecting on why I feel it so poignantly. The truth is that we know a parent in a unique way, indeed, in a manner that differs even from that of our siblings. What we know is never really the person as they stand, fully themselves. We know them as they stand within us. Thus, much of what I feel about my father is rooted in the experiences of a young boy and of that stranger/man standing inside me. Depending on the nature of those experiences, it is possible to spend years (or a lifetime) working out this primal relationship, remembering, understanding, disentangling, blessing, mourning. I think it is never truly resolved, for the simple fact that we ourselves are a moving target, a dynamic line through time that never fully resolves itself, perhaps until its end.

This is the witness of the Scriptures:

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”(Colossians 3:2–4)

Who we are, what we shall be, is unknown to us, a mystery hidden in Christ that will be revealed only at the end. St. John offers the happy promise that “we will be like Him,” just as St. Paul says that “we will appear with Him in glory.”

I have also thought long and hard about the reality of the self that is being saved in this manner. Who I am is hidden with Christ in God, but it is also the hiding place of so much more (or so many more) as well. I know that “who” I am cannot be understood without reference to the boy who carries his father inside him (or some small part of his father). At the same time, the boy/man carries mother, brothers, wife, children, and so many others. We are not, strictly speaking, individuals, but a village occupied by so many others, or some small portions of them. In short, I cannot be saved without them, nor can my being saved not save them in some manner.

St. Silouan wrote about what he called the “whole Adam,” meaning, the whole of humanity throughout time. He seemed to have a profound sense not just that we are in a relationship with others, but that we ourselves are the others – all of them. The story of our lives is always in the plural.

The last few years have seen the passing of a number of my friends, people from my past who were significant in my life, people who would have to be included if I were trying to tell someone about who I am. I have found that when I pray, their names come before others, together with that of my parents and grandparents and at the head of a list that grows year-by-year. That I can name only a few seems to me to be a measure of the smallness of my heart. I cannot, like Silouan, speak of the whole Adam without passing into abstraction. I can, on the other hand, imagine what that might mean, should a heart be so enlarged.

This, I think, is the heart of Christ who prayed for us all (“Father, forgive them”) from the deathbed of the Cross. He alone could say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and He alone is fully and completely the whole Adam. That He can be named the “Second Adam” by St. Paul is a profound thing in and of itself. God incarnate takes the name of another man (Adam) in order to name Himself, and in doing so takes the name of every man, every woman, that all might be saved.

All of this is hidden with Him, waiting to be revealed at the last day. At that time we will at last know who we are (who all of us are) and come to see what this long journey has been about. But today, I ponder just a small portion of that journey that bears my father’s name, just as he had to ponder his father’s name.

After my grandfather died, my mother called me with a concern. She said, “Your father goes to the grave every day and sits there. I’m concerned.” I assured her that it was normal. After some months, he stopped going every day, and things returned to what seemed acceptable to her. I do not know what conversations passed between my father and his father at that graveside. That they covered many hours suggests a lot.

Gathering the whole Adam into Christ is the work of a lifetime, perhaps the work of all time.

41 comments:

  1. I was especially struck by “The last few years have seen the passing of a number of my friends, people from my past who were significant in my life, people who would have to be included if I were trying to tell someone about who I am.” As an adoptive child there were several women of great importance in my formative years, and this describes something I had not named. Thank you..

  2. My dad, still farming in east Tennessee, turns 92 later this year. There is so much of him I do not know, although I see now so much of him in me. Thank you.

  3. I have been pondering how “who we are is hidden in Christ”. The best I can come up with is that our humanity is not measured by our desires. I am clearly too focused on modern times and thoughts in my approach to this statement.

    I remember you saying, Father, that God is revealed in the particular. I need to consider my humanity closer to home, so to speak (or I too tend to fall into abstraction). Thank you for this writing.

  4. Byron,
    When I was younger, I imagined that “who I am” was either a project of my own making, or something solid that already existed and was to be discovered. Over time, understanding that it is intentionally hidden (with Christ in God), and even still God’s work-in-progress, has removed a lot of the anxiety that I once associated with that question.

    It is a fantasy (that I entertained for a long time) that I “knew” my father. It’s more accurate to say that “I knew my father as he lived/lives in me,” which is quite a different thing, with, no doubt, a fair amount of distortion. Nonetheless, it certainly had some truth in it.

    This is like many things. I once said to Fr. Thomas Hopko that the longer I write (and think), the less I seem to know. He said, “Good! Keep writing. Someday you’ll know nothing, then you’ll be holy!”

  5. I am seeing some of my lives in my son and that is not always comfortable. But also his mother and my mother too whom he never met. I also see the comforting possibility that my repentance also helps the whole bunch of us
    Such a sense makes my Dad’s thesis on the health of a community (he was a public health doctor) is directly related to the health of the least among us. A great deal of Holy Scripture is suddenly a bit more clear.

    My Dad grew up in the early 20th century 9n the high plains of eastern New Mexico on the ground his father homesteaded prior to 1912. Living and surviving there led him to experience the incredible interconnectedness if each part of creation with and through every other part.

    His traditioning of his belief/experience to my brother and me made us becoming Orthodox quite easy.
    His memory is eternal.

  6. My adult son shaved his shaggy beard several weeks ago. When I first saw him, I was dumb struck as his mouth is just like my father’s. It was seeing my father again after 17 years. My eyes filled with tears and I have to fight the tears every time I look at him now. It was a revelation of the continuity of the generations, as every time I look in the mirror, I see my mother. It is a blessing as they were wonderful people and to know that we carry their seed is a true miracle that I need to remind myself of all the time. Like you said, I cannot be saved without them and they cannot be saved without me, neither can my children be saved. Thank you for this.

  7. Your thoughts here, Fr. Stephen, remind me of something D.B. Hart says. I might add that he notes this when thinking of universal salvation. To be fully in heaven who we are here cannot happen if all relationships, if all memories are cut off. We are who we are here because our father, mother, and many other relatives and friends mold us into being who we are, through our associations, connectiveness, interrelationships with them here on earth. So, someway these relationships, this “village” within us must continue with us throughout eternity. This brings great comfort to me knowing that I am not saved alone and will not be saved alone, that even when the “hidden” Dean who I am is fully revealed, it will be a recognizable Dean glorified in Christ, and yet reflecting that glory with those who have helped make me who I am on earth.

  8. Father,
    Do you visit your father’s grave, as he visited his father’s? You don’t know what conversation passed between your father and his father, yet their many hours in silent communion suggests a lot. Both of my parents died many miles from where I was, their bodies were cremated and they simply disappeared. Their ashes are in a wall somewhere but I have never visited. This is a daily source of pain for me. How I long to sit beside their graves and commune with them, as I loved them both so much and miss them intolerably. Like you, my list of departed grows longer every year, and I don’t know where any of them are. I must be growing holy in Fr. Hopko’s terms, as I no longer feel as if I know anything, when I used to think I was pretty smart. Everyone flings their beloved’s ashes to the winds, yet a grave is a gift to those left behind.

  9. Thank you Father for this. An editing issue:
    I am sure you meant to say instead of “i cannot, like Silouan, speak of the whole Adam with passing into abstraction.”…. “I cannot, like Silouan, speak of the whole Adam *without* passing into abstraction.”

  10. Essie,
    My parents are buried some 200 miles away (in my hometown). I visit the graves from time to time. I brought some dirt back from their graves that now rests in my prayer corner, along with so much else that I’ve collected through the years. Spiritually, through prayers and such, I talk to my parents more now than when they were alive. I reflect on them, and am sometimes intensely aware of their presence. There are many things in those relationships that needed healing as I work through my own inner healing.

  11. Alas, incomplete and just plain wrong understanding of the nature of our being leads to horrible political/economic systems. They are all a disaster. Each one to some degree or another requiring domination, war and slavery to function. Each gives opportunity to prosper to some while denying it to others. The belief that a change in system or philosophy will improve anything is a great delusion that takes focus and resources away from what is real.
    God forgive us.

  12. Thom Bales,

    My dad turns 70 this year, and he and my step-mom are, Lord willing, moving to a city just 5 minutes from me. I’m very excited to have him close by, this will be the first time we’ve lived this close to each other since I was 7. I too see a lot of him in myself.

  13. The community(koinonia) that Father is talking about that including the living and the “dead” in Christ is the only way but that requires repentance. If I see something wrong, I must repent, giving glory to God. If there is something I can do, that I do but I cannot even change myself by myself much less “the world” or society.

    I am begining to see that there is nothing to fear in repentance–nothing at all. Neither is it dark and gloomy — just the opposite. Matthew 3:2 says it: Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. ” That is a cause and effect proposition, Then is the deep communion for which we are created possible. Then all of the injuries, real and imagined be healed. Then and only then can I begin to say: Glory to God for all things because I can enter into His Life where ” all things work together for good.

    The intuitive understanding of that which my parents had is a great start but it is left to my brother and me and our children’s children to go deeper yet. All by God’s enduring mercy.
    That is the rest of the story.

  14. Dean,
    I have to confess that I don’t spend much time thinking about issues like universalism (on the presumption that I can’t know the answer to that question). But I do know some of the small things – such as how truly we are all the whole Adam. Salvation is the problem of us all – though I can only see a small part of it. One bit of present tense salvation is to be ok with not knowing the larger thing.

  15. Dean, I would look at it like this: I can only know salvation through the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus. I am not Him. He has revealed to me some of my own sins (to the extent that I can bear them) and when I repent he heals me of those sins– and reveals more usually. Or I am so thankful for His mercy, I go looking to repent more deeply.
    My sins are all that I can handle and even them I need a lot of help.
    Since I require repentance to forgive others due to the hardness of my heart and it does require repentance I assume others are in a similar position. But the more and deeper my repentance, the less I judge others.
    God’s mercy endures forever and covers all sins, even mine. What I cannot know is the willingness of others to repent.
    Still, God is not bound by my logic and all things are possible. It is at this point I am usually so dizzy from my head spinning, I tend to say: Lord, Jesus Christ. Have mercy on me, a sinner. Both my head and my heart are far less painful that way.

  16. Father,
    Your words are a potent reminder that we must do all we can to heal our relationships, with our parents in particular, while they are still with us. Sometimes that’s impossible, in which case all we can do is love them and keep them in our hearts. And try not to blame ourselves for the disconnect, which leads, as you know, to shame, about which you have written so eloquently.

  17. Essie,
    It is good to do all the good in this life that is possible. I believe that the healing of my parents now is affected by my own continued healing, and that I think mine is affected by what Christ is doing in them now. Our prayers for the departed are of great benefit – though it is wrapped in a mystery. It is among the many reasons I think it is important to “forgive everyone for everything.” Again, the full meaning of that is seen only by great saints.

  18. Michael,
    Yes, brother, what you say is true. Not many of us ever reach the true depths of repentance. I appreciate this emphasis in your comments. My head spins when I read DBH. I realize many of his arguments are philosophical. My freshman college philosophy doesn’t carry me far.
    I think I gravitate toward him because I grew up hearing fire and brimstone sermons. And growing older I, with children and grandchildren, desire all to be saved. And so I pray and hope.

  19. Father Stephen – As I read this, I thought about my grandparents who have now been dead for over ten years. I cannot say that they were pious Christians, but that is not why I loved them, and why I still remember them with love. They were kind and generous grandparents who made it know to me that they loved me. Can it be that when I enter into eternity that I will forget them? I’m not asking for an answer to that question really, but wondering how much of our earthly cares, including our love of family, must be set aside.

  20. Dean, I did not grow up in the fire and brimstone but “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was assigned reading in 7th grade. Plus the general cultural milieu of the United States prior to 1960 was shaped by Calvinist ideas concerning man. IMO we are still seeing a reaction to the idea that “God damns sinners”. The companion idea which was communicated to me was that repentance is a dark, horrible, nasty place to be. Not unlike doing an autopsy on a body that has been in water.
    It only took me 73 years, 35 of that in the Orthodox Church, to begin to see the truth of it and that is solely by grace. Fr. Stephen does have a role for sure. He had been quite patient with me.

    Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” had a lot to do with my view of repentance too. Again, the dramatic. Plus, let us face it, damnation makes for a lot more dramatic sermons than mercy. Such sermons get the old self-righteous gene vibrating too. They are just more “fun” to preach.

    The natural human reaction to what we instinctually know is not the truth is to leap to the opposite extreme,i e., there is no damnation. If God is love, there can’t be.

    The real truth is far more simple but does not engage our passions. True repentance is not outwardly dramatic or done for effect. It is of love and humility. Psalm 23 is from a repentant heart, I think.

    I have a tendency to make God and Jesus complicated. I am coming to believe He is not.
    The Cross is not complicated except when I try to rationalize not bearing it.

    God is exactly who Jesus reveals and I am not Him. No matter how much I tend to think I am.

    Blessed is the Lord always. His mercy endures forever. Psalm 104 Western numbering is also an antidote for me plus my wife’s smile never hurts either.
    God is good, blessed be the name of the Lord.

  21. Father Nicholas, you ask an interesting question. It got me thinking about the people in my life who have reposed that I am closest to: my late wife and my parents. It seems to me that my memory of them is enhanced not reduced by my devotion to our Lord. Sunce we become more human, not less the closer we get to Jesus, I would be gob-, smacked if the unique person each of is would fade a way. Do we not sing Memory Eternal?

  22. How interesting. My father passed away, after a fairly brief unexpected illness, in early 2016. I wrote his obituary, with my mom and brothers’ help, which was a very fulfilling undertaking. Since then, something I have noticed is how differently my brothers and I remember our dad. He shared his thinking and life stories generously, but different pieces seemed to imprint on us. My eldest brother has an excellent memory of the historical details and sequences of my dad’s stories (I only recall the most general outlines and some anecdotes.) My middle brother was influenced by my dad’s technical/creative side. (I remember him working in our family workshop a few months after the death, carrying on a sort of dialogue with the place and my dad, as he remembered, intuitively, where to find each tool.). What I took most from my dad was his love of music and the fine arts. He would describe how important it was for him to go to the symphony and opera even when he had little money, and that always said something fundamental to me about the role of the arts in a persons’s life.

    Always enjoy your thoughts.

  23. When my father was near to death I became acutely aware of his heartbeat…and he and my mother having passed their heartbeats to me. When did that heartbeat begin? It’s really a lovely question to ponder…a primordial gift connecting all generations and peoples. A torch we receive and pass forward. I think of that often. It’s a living connection with them. Of course I could simply say that I’m a living connection, but it’s as if my heartbeat is not really my own…it belongs to the ages.

  24. It’s interesting what we sense. I sensed a kind of ‘soul’ familiarity with my dad and grandfather (his father) and with my grandmother on my mother’s side. Perhaps this was due to a kind of introvertedness and preference for solitude that we held in common. It surprised me when I saw some of my traits and my father’s in my son and some of my mother’s traits in my daughter. In some ways, genetically, whatever personality traits we might have that are arranged by genes, these perceptions do not conflict with what we know from science. Nevertheless, there is still a kind of “flat earth” sense into which we are inculcated in the sciences. There is a tendency for omitting (and for forgetting) what we don’t really know, that which comes from places that we cannot observe, in the formalized ways of the culture of modernity.

  25. I believe that the healing of my parents now is affected by my own continued healing, and that I think mine is affected by what Christ is doing in them now. Our prayers for the departed are of great benefit – though it is wrapped in a mystery.

    I would love you to write more on this subject, Father. It is a good topic that gets raised here from time to time but never seems to go past “prayers for the dead are of great benefit”. Then again, there may be little else to say about it….

  26. Bryon, I know for a fact that all the prayers said as my late wife lay dying and through her funeral and beyond had a profound impact on me and her. The celebration of Pascha came at about day 25 of her repose and the joy we shared on that day is still palpable 18 years later. It was not something I expected. The conversation here has cleaned away some of my cob webs too I remarried a few years later and my new wife asks my late wife to watch over our son. Prayers for the dead help both the living and the reposed. We are much closer than we realize most of the time.

  27. Father Nicholas,
    I think that our “earthly cares” do not include our relationships with other people. Christ wept at the grave of His friend, Lazarus. Indeed, His descent among the dead we sing was to rescue His friend, Adam. I believe that these relationships are not “earthly cares” but eternal realities. It’s quite true that the way we love others often constitutes and earthly care – our love needs to be purified. But our being seems to include the being of others.

  28. Byron,
    I rarely say much beyond “prayers for the dead are of great benefit” – inasmuch as that is the official word of the Church, and we tend to be officially silent about much else.

    But, there are things that can be inferred. For example, our prayers particularly focus on the forgiveness of sins (“for no man liveth and sinneth not”). What I know about the forgiveness of sins here is that it is deeply changing and healing. It is a phrase that, I think, is not meant to describe some sort of legal burden that we’ve incurred. Sin is an ontological burden – it distorts us. Thus, since we pray for the forgiveness of their sins, I presume that we are praying for their healing from the ravges of sin as well. My favorite Scripture verse on the topic is from Wisdom, chapter 3:

    But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
    and no torment will ever touch them.
    2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
    and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
    3 and their going from us to be their destruction;
    but they are at peace.
    4 For though in the sight of men they were punished,
    their hope is full of immortality.
    5 Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
    because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
    6 like gold in the furnace he tried them,
    and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
    7 In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
    and will run like sparks through the stubble.

    Particularly the phrase, “in the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.”

    It reminds me of St. Paul’s passage on being tried by fire (hay, wood, stubble, etc.)

    To be frank, I have almost only ever seen books that say too much about life after death.

  29. My relationship with my Father, was not the best for most of my life. Thanks be to God this changed and we got on well, without either of us referring to the past and a mutual acceptance of each other became a realty. Much was resolved without words. I lived with him for a year before I came to Nigeria. Only grace could have done this. I was also blessed to be able to get back to the UK and to be with him in his last weeks of life.
    I had a better relationship with my Mother, although that was not problem free at times. I was not a very good son to be honest. However we were reconciled and had a much better relationship much sooner. My Mother died 27 years ago.
    May the good Lord have mercy on them.

  30. Thank you, Father. A part of me thought it may be better to not speak too much about this topic, for no other reason than there is not much to say. That does not mean, of course, that there is not much to recognize–at least as it is revealed to us (as Michael’s post noted).

  31. I would go further than the “whole Adam” (a term that horribly blots out the female line as if males were the normative humanity & female humans not) but the village includes all our ancestors the majority of whom were not human. An amazing network of living creatures over millions of years from the smallest single cell creature to complex multicellular forms including our own mammalian family.

  32. Jill,
    You are mistaken in suggesting that the term the “whole Adam” blots out the female line…etc. “Adam” is a Hebrew word that simply means “humanity,” and carries no particular gender necessity. Of the first “Adam” God said, “Let us make humanity (“Adam”) in our own likeness…so He created “Adam” in His own likeness, “male” (“zachar”) and female (“neqavah”) he created them. “Adam” is a collective noun and names the whole of humankind. Christ is the Second “Adam” in that sense (I do suppose you understand that women are united to Christ as well as men). The language squabbles of 21st century English are frequently petty and distracting – particularly when attempting to do theology. It privileges late consumer-capitalism’s understanding of male and female over more classical (and, frankly, more inclusive) understandings.

    St. Maximus includes the divisions of male and female as among the things there are reconciled in the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. He also includes created and uncreated in those divisions. St. Paul, in Romans 8, speaks of the whole creation groan as it longs to participate in the liberty of the children of God which is made manifest at the end of the age.

    Thus, I certainly agree that the “whole Adam” includes the whole of creation. St. Maximus describes humanity as the “microcosm” (the whole world in micro form). Interestingly, St. Maximus wrote in the 6th century and had this understanding without the need of modern evolutionary science. Theological insight often exceeds anything science ever dreams of – long before science began to dream.

  33. Jill, I have to be very careful here as the mind of the world that separates us from God and one another disrupts me easily. I have gotten great benefit from contemplating Genesis 1:27
    So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him. Male and female created He them.

    I have come back to this verse many times over the years particularly as the gender wars have escalated in the world.
    One of the things it has taught me increasingly is how women are necessary to my salvation. My wife Merry and I are learning the reality of what it is to be “one flesh” in marriage. But the unmarried life offers a similar opportunity to be, in a sense, one flesh with God through the repentant reception of Holy Communion. The most obvious example being St. Mary of Egypt.
    We men are often obtuse but we are all yoked to each other in Christ equally: male and female. We are together, the whole Adam. Unique in creation formed especially to be His image. Separation, confusion and misogyny come from sin.
    Forgive me, a sinner.

  34. My Dad died suddenly in February. He was grumpy and high maintenance. I shouldn’t be missing him nearly as much as I do. But…I do see a lot of him in myself, for better or worse. And I do miss him. The longer he’s dead, the more the bad about him melts away and I long to be reunited to the man God made him to be.

    Those and other reflections cause me to be an easy believer in Fr. Stephen’s idea that our salvation is linked to others and theirs to ours. It makes perfect sense. And we don’t have to know whether or not universalism is true in order to take this stance. Just live as a team or family with the idea that either we all make it or none of us does. The details of that is above our pay grade and not our concern.

  35. Drewster,
    There’s a lot to be said for keeping a simple heart that does what is at hand – to pray and trust without always having to know that “master plan.” The very few “master plan” statements that exist in the Scriptures are quite hopeful and positive.

  36. Drewster, I have a similar experience with my Dad. Our relationship was so bad at times when he was here that we got in physical fights which was a bad idea for me because he had been a frontier farmer, a college football lineman and an Olympic caliber wrestler. He died at 99 many years ago but the core of his vision of what it means to be human still informs me and led me to the Church. That stays with me.

    Father, the “master plan” I see in Scripture and the Church is expressed in Matthew 3:2. ” Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. “

  37. Fr. Stephen: I agree. St. Theophan tells us to simply figure out which foot to put where. But there are times when life causes us to pause and wonder. I’ve told God that I need my Dad, that we have a better chance of being friends now that he’s at peace. Or is he at peace yet? No clue how time relates to eternity and if there is some form of purgatory or tollhouses he’s working through first. But yes, I simply ask God to allow him to be my companion in this search for communion.

    Michael: I find that in this modern age we are extremely ignorant of just how much we have been formed genetically and environmentally by our ancestors & upbringing. The great irony is that we think we’re so advanced when in fact we are intentionally throwing away all that has been traditioned to us from the ages.

    My Dad was a wounded animal. Looking back I can see the many times he truly tried to express love, trust, hope, etc. only to be thwarted by his damage. But as St. Paul says, the pain is for a moment but the love of God is forever. More every day the remaining family sees and appreciates his many good qualities. Some things will only get fixed once you’re dead, since that is when the old man finally and completely dies, allowing the new man to be born and thrive.

  38. Drewster, we also have a hand in it. Both my brother and I are Orthodox in large part because of my Father traditioned to us. A vision that saw human beings at the focal point of a wonderful creation that was much as an organism–each part interconnected with all the other parts. As a community health physician he felt that the real health of a community was demonstrated in the least healthy person or situation–not measured by the most healthy. It was radical at the time and he spent his professional life fighting for it.

    Our mother traditioned to us the understanding that God is real, we can know Him and we should.

    The reality of the Incarnation as taught and practiced in the Orthodox Church brings both together. The living presence of our Incarnate and merciful Lord.

    What we fought about were trivial matters of the will that we made important. God forgive us.

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