Forgiveness and the Whole Adam


I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  (John17:20-21)

The Elder Sophrony, together with St. Silouan, wrote about the “whole Adam.” By this, they meant all the human beings who have ever existed and those yet to come. For Silouan and Sophrony, this was something known in the present tense, a “hypostatic” knowledge of the fundamental unity of the human race. Sophrony described it as a necessary component in the Christian life of prayer. We have not been taught to pray, “My Father,” but “Our.”

This primal unity is completely present in Christ. His death on the Cross is not His alone – He dies the death of every single human being – bearing the sins of all. The insight of the saints tells us that this same reality must be ours as well. Christ has not done something for us in our absence. The Cross He endured is the same Cross He invites us to take up. And that Cross is also a universal Cross (the Cross of the whole Adam). We do not go there only for our own death, but for the death of everyone (and thus the resurrection of all).

The privatization of our religious faith has obscured this fundamental reality. We hear the command of Christ as directed solely to ourselves as a private matter. But the nature of that Cross includes its universal aspect. The Cross cannot bear my sins if it does not bear the sins of all. It is one of the primary meanings of Christ’s title, the “Second Adam.” For He is not a mere repeat of the First, but the recapitulation of all, just as the First Adam was the head of all. (Romans 5:18-19)

I am often aware of the burden of sin that we inherit (ancestral sin). Most of the problems that infect the world are not of this generations’ making (as is always true). We do not enter the world as a blank slate. Our DNA, our cultural inheritance, the vast sum of what will be our existence is given to us in a deck that has already been stacked. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann once said, the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” And it is even more complex than that. We are sitting at a table in which every hand in play has this same givenness. We are all playing in a game that we might not have chosen for ourselves.

I am also growing ever more aware of those who will come after me. As a grandfather, I observe the inevitable inheritance within my own family, to say nothing of the world they will inherit. When I think of the generations to come my mind is also drawn to the vast multitude of those whose lives have been destroyed in the silent violence of our modern world. This is a bitter planet and one that gives too little thought to such things.

But when we pray as the whole Adam, then we must give thought to all of these things. Is it any wonder that the Church teaches us to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” over and over again? I think of the advice given to Raskolnikov, the axe-murderer in Crime and Punishment. After confessing his crime to Sonya the prostitute we read:

“Well, what to do now, tell me!” he said, suddenly raising his head and looking at her, his face hideously distorted by despair.

“What to do!” she exclaimed, suddenly jumping up from her place, and her eyes, still full of tears, suddenly flashed. “Stand up!” (She seized him by the shoulder; he rose, looking at her almost in amazement.) “Go now, this minute, stand in the crossroads, bow down, and first kiss the earth you’ve defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud to everyone: ‘I have killed!’ Then God will send you life again. Will you go? Will you go?” she kept asking him, all trembling as if in a fit, seizing both his hands, squeezing them tightly in her own, and looking at him with fiery eyes.

He was amazed and even struck by her sudden ecstasy. “So it’s hard labor, is it, Sonya? I must go and denounce myself?” he asked gloomily.

“Accept suffering and redeem yourself by it, that’s what you must do.”

We take a burden far greater than Raskolnikov’s into Great Lent. Bow down, kiss the earth you have defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud: “Forgive me!”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.






25 responses to “Forgiveness and the Whole Adam”

  1. D.Owl Avatar

    Who did the beautiful art at the top? You need to cite the artist when you use their work for your blog. It is a matter of integrity. Too many artists have their work used in the service of other people’s blogs and articles without so much as a mention of their name. I’m sure you wouldn’t be ok with people taking the text you’ve written and posting it as their own. You wouldn’t do that with the written word and you shouldn’t with the visual one either; it is akin to plagiarism not to at least give the name of the person who’s work (visual or written) you are borrowing to make your point.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for your concern for artists, writers, etc. Unfortunately, many, even most images available out there on google images are simply not labeled with an artist. This particular piece is a case in point. Do a google image search and see if you can find the artist. I could not. Such is the world of the internet…would that it were different.

  3. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Before I was Orthodox I had a very facile understanding of sin and the need for repentance. That all changed especially with my first Lent. Also, most U.S. Christianity is very individualustic. “Just Jesus and me on the Jericho road.” I have 4 sisters. Only one attends church regularly. Yet the other 3 would call themselves “Christian” because, at some point way back, they “accepted” Christ. Yet it is all very privatistic, individualistic. I also think much about our grandchildren and pray much for them and the world they will inherit. The Theotokos gives me hope when she exclaims, “His hand is upon those who fear Him from generation to generation.” I have shared with my grandchildren that on my father’s side, as far as I can trace, all were church goers (believers?) since 1825. So, we pray in hope.

  4. Christina Chase Avatar

    Beautiful and particularly vital in our particular time. (Though that’s probably true for every time.) When we pray for the Church we pray for the Church Universal — the Body of Christ that is every human being, those on earth, those in purgatory, those in Heaven, and yes, those yet to be conceived in the flesh. I need to remember that and grow more myself in the practicing of that. Thank you.

    I have two questions. Every day, my thoughts turn to my ancestors, mostly because I am one of those people who is caught up in the current enthusiasm for genealogy. And I want to pray for their souls or offer my suffering in union with Christ for their redemption (which is the same thing as praying for them). Is there a special prayer for that Fr. Stephen, that countless others have prayed and are praying now? My heart is especially drawn to the unknown children of my ancestors who inherited the same gene that I did and lived short lives with disabling disease. The first probably lived thousands of years ago and will never be remembered by name. I was once told that no prayer for another is too late. Is that because Christ Himself has already prayed for them, is always praying for them, and any of my prayers are only effective because they are in union with Him?

  5. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Bless,
    How right you are when you speak of the hand we are dealt. You are also very right in in that we are saved, not individually but in communion with all so that the Cross is indeed universal. It is a sad error in the West that faith has become almost totally individualistic and it takes much to shake that idea off and embrace the universality of the cross.

  6. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father Stephen.

    This subversion to individualism so inherent in our culture reminds me of the conundrum of the One and the Many, which I believe was first introduced by the ancient philosophers. and which the Fathers, versed in the philosophy of their time, established the answer in God as Trinity.

    The One God…in the ‘many’ Trinity
    The One Christ…in the ‘many’ children of God, the Church
    The One Second Adam…in the ‘many’ in humanity…mankind
    The one individual/person ‘in Christ’…part of ‘many’ individuals/persons

    The common denominator, from the top, is the ‘unfallen suffering’ (one of your primo posts, Father) of Trinitarian love…to voluntary ‘suffer’ the self for the sake of the other. God reveals to us, by His love, by His actions, what Unity in Diversity looks like.

    But ours is a ‘fallen suffering’. So what does God do, but the ultimate…He forgives. He sends His Son (the One) to assume all of humanity’s fallen suffering (the many) and shows us the Way to Unity…with God as all in all. Without forgiveness, we can not truly co-exist and will remain fractured, disintegrated, and autonomous. Such a very lonely existence. But God forgives, so we forgive. It is the means to heal and the means to unity.

    It is a long journey, the “Way”. This is why we are taught to remember not so much the worldly things which invoke autonomy and isolation, but rather the cycle of the fasts and the feasts of the Church, celebrated together with the living and those departed. This Great Fast…and Feast…brings us back to the very purpose of our life as Christians. It is to unite, through the Church, under Christ, the whole universe, seen and unseen, spirit and matter, flesh and soul. Repentance, forgiveness, charity, fasting…it is a way of life…not smooth going, which is the very reason we need the discipline (as disciples, yes?) of the faith and encouragement from our brothers and sisters, and above all the grace of God.

    So 40 times we say, Lord have Mercy.
    Forgive me…a sinner.

  7. Maria Avatar

    Good afternoon! Yes, this article reminds me or us of how easily we can forget about those who were here before us and will come after us and yet we are all in Christ. I will begin today and this Lent to pray more fervently for those who are part of us as One with Christ, whether alive here, before or after us. Thankyou!

    God bless…..

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Perhaps this prayer might be of interest. It is a poem written by St. Silouan himself, entitled, “Adam’s Lament.”

  9. Jeff Avatar

    Thank you. And thank you again.

    Paula AZ,
    Thank you. And thank you again.

    Without we, I am nothing.

    With we, I am.

    Our Father, have mercy. Thank you for your loving kindness and for making us, me, and the way to yourself.

  10. Bob Avatar

    As always Father you are right on point. We in the West (especially) have lost the cosmic,communal and inter-relational vision of what it means to call oneself Christian.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think what we have lost is something of a balance, or of a wholeness. It is true that there is an individual aspect to our lives. We are not to blame, necessarily when someone else sins, not in the legal sense. And, if someone wanted to argue that point, they would be correct. However, think of St. Paul’s description of himself as the “worst of sinners.” Of course, in the Orthodox liturgy, we invoke that phrase to describe each of us. What that represents is not a legal judgment on our legal responsibility, but an act of extreme humility and self-emptying, in which, like Christ, we take on ourselves a debt and a burden that does not belong to us – voluntarily and out of love.

    There was no requirement that Christ die for our sins. But He did, voluntarily. It must be acknowledged then, that it is possible for one man to bear the sins of all (as was unintentionally prophesied by the High Priest that year). We are created and constituted in such a way (ontologically) that Christ could bear our sins – truly, really, ontologically and not as a mere legal notion.

    If Christ’s bearing of our sins was simply legal – the Father merely “considered” our sins to have been placed on Christ – then Christ would not have needed to die. If the burden of our sins is simply legal, then God could have waved them away without a death. But sin is not forensic or a legal fiction. It is true, real, ontological. It is death and non-being.

    We can indeed bear this burden – or, at least, bear some small part of this burden. The mystery of forgiveness, all forgiveness – and the connection between sin and sickness, are all bound up in this mystery of our common life and existence.

    Just some extra thoughts of the evening…

  12. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Bob – I powerfully experienced the “communal and inter-relational vision of what it means to call oneself Christian“ at Forgiveness Vespers today. I left church wondering why anyone would not want to be Orthodox.

  13. Dean Avatar

    The biggest reason is because so few know of Orthodoxy here in the States. Honestly, until my late forties I knew zilch, nada, zero of the Orthodox Church…wasn’t even a small blip on my radar. The Church here will grow but, because it goes counter to so much in our culture, growth may be slow, unless all goes south here in a hurry. Then there could be a great in-gathering. Only God knows.

  14. Maria Avatar

    Good afternoon! Dean, just to say that apparently there are many in USA especially, converting to Orthodoxy at this time. With all that is going on in the world and in particular the RC Church, many are searching into the history and making their move. I personally believe one has to be “called” to Orthodoxy and I myself have gone through this a couple of times but now will be Orthodox this Easter. I know what you mean that it seems like a very well kept secret almost, but perhaps that is better than knocking on doors so to speak, and just pray that others who are lost and searching, find their way to the Orthodox Church. God bless…..

  15. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Dean – From personal experience, I would say another reason is fear. Strange vestments, strange prayers, strange music, strange “painting” (icons), bells, incense. From the modern American bourgeois perspective, it is scary and weird. Not “user friendly,” like other churches that work so hard to make the churchgoer comfortable and satisfied, like a customer at Disney World. And then, if you stay for the service, it is long. Very long. And hard to understand. That means that continuing to attend will require effort and a willingness to go beyond one’s comfort level. So I do not expect a lot of growth. Which is, of course, the tragedy of Christianity. The Church has what all mankind needs, in abundance, but, you can only lead a horse to water. . .

  16. Maria Avatar

    For David Waite: Yes, I agree with your comment and also the language causes a problem with calendars. Having said that, there are Orthodox Churches having their Div Liturgies part Greek for example and part English and others are all English. It also takes one more than one time to visit and start taking in what is really happening and allow the Holy Spirit to work. If one just peeks in the door kind of, then they are not really giving it a chance. Funny you mentioned the vestments, icons and bells and incense – because for me, I was drawn right into that – the depth of prayers and Liturgy that have been sooooooo very washed down in other denominations. Then there is also the fact of being an Ancient Liturgy dating wayyyy back and soooo close to Jesus’time – all of these things I would not give up now ever!! God bless…..

  17. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I was trying to remember what Father Stephen said about the growth, or lack of it. of Orthodoxy in America. Father, do you remember?….your answer expressed something to the effect that Orthodoxy in America presents itself precisely as God intends it to be. In other words, you are not overly concerned about it because we are “doing” according to those who have come before us. The numbers are not as important as being here as a presence. You expressed the concern about “growth” being too close to the American bigger and better mindset.
    I even did a search at the blog’s search box. The closest thing I could find is this:
    and Father’s words here:
    “At the same time this phenomenon [American evangelicalism and their use of music to draw people to church] is occurring, Orthodoxy in America (despite its jurisdictions), bumbles forward and continues to grow, using everything from Byzantine music (quite foreign to the modern ear) to Russian Obikhod (a rich harmony but somewhat repetitive)…And yet it grows.
    Someone asked me once (actually more than once) what St. Anne (my parish) does to grow. I answered simply: “We answer the phone.” I cannot explain where the converts come from, though there is a slow but steady stream.”

    I wish I could find what Father said…I think it was probably in a comment section. Anyway, it was realistic.

    Oh well…just something that came across my mind….

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ,
    I don’t recall quite what I said. But, generally, I think we worry about growth and stuff (or get excited, etc.), because we are Americans and modernists. God dragged me into Orthodoxy…and I really can’t be terribly noble about it and speak of any great courage on my part. All of the other choices would have so deeply compromised my soul (which was already greatly compromised) that I think I would lost myself completely.

    If we’re Orthodox, and believe the teaching of the Church, then we need to make up our mind that God’s providence is real, and that He knows precisely what He is doing. I rejoice to be part of what he’s doing – but I would surely have done it in some other way (as would we all). Anxiety about the Church (and there is ever so much to worry about) is, ultimately, idolatry. It is for us to love God, love our neighbor, and work at loving our enemies, forgiving everyone for everything. That is pretty much everything.

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Father Stephen. What you say here was the gist of what I was trying to remember.
    And a big Amen to your last two sentences!

  20. Rand Taylor Avatar
    Rand Taylor

    I am not yet Orthodox, so take anything I write with more salt than you might otherwise.

    Regarding the small number of Orthodox Christians in America, I am reminded of two statements whose sources I cannot recall.

    “God does not hide things from us, He hides things for us.”
    “Orthodoxy is the ultimate end for all seekers.” (Meaning that the truth of Orthodoxy is inescapable if one digs long and hard and honest)

    Maybe it is the case that Orthodoxy in America needs the types of Christians that are drawn to it through a long, hard journey. I have come to the door through, and because of, hardship. I do not believe that hardship will make me a “better” Christian when, God help me, I become Orthodox. But I must be honest and say that I find hope and comfort in precisely the fact that Orthodoxy is not popular, comfortable, or simple.

    Put another way, I can think of nothing popular in American culture that is good, true, or beautiful. Of course, there exists the possibility that I’ve just become a curmudgeon.

  21. Joan Avatar

    I belong to a small Russian Orthodox Church in Maine that is growing- albeit slowly. It has become the center of our lives- my husbands and mine. Today’s Forgiveness Vespers brought tears on several occasions. It happens a lot to me-My husband and I swap a few angry words on the morning commute/ forgetting our humility in a moment of passion- and soon enough my heart melts as we arrive and the candles are lit, the Liturgy is sung and prayers and praises are made to the profound and Invisible mystery that calls us to our faith. Thus we share with our small, closely nit church family and I wouldn’t give it up for the world . If only more people knew how deeply comfort-making is this humble but remarkable faith – we’d surely have more members. But you simply cannot put into words the experience- to the average lay person. All we can do is pray that the Holy Spirit guide us all. Thank you for your wonderful posts Father.

  22. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Rand and Joan – I powerfully related to each of your comments. Our experiences are so similar! Thank you for sharing. The more I hear others in the American Orthodox community share, the more at home I feel.

  23. Byron Avatar

    Maybe it is the case that Orthodoxy in America needs the types of Christians that are drawn to it through a long, hard journey. I have come to the door through, and because of, hardship. I do not believe that hardship will make me a “better” Christian when, God help me, I become Orthodox.

    I am the same. It was a long, long journey before God brought me to Orthodoxy. Then again, one of the first things a friend at the parish told me was “Orthodoxy is hard” and I’ve found it very true. As far as making me a “better Christian”? Meh; the phrase itself tends to make me wince a bit, I guess. Orthodoxy draws me to God. That is the best I can say.

  24. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Well said, Byron.

  25. Basem Avatar

    Father bless! Beautiful reflection.

    That concept of a “universal cross” was most beautifully illustrated by John of Dalyatha’s words: “What mourning! The man’s heart would ignite with love, would explode with living water! W hen his knees could no longer support him in his prayer he fell on his face. Trying to stand up, he would fall down again. His eyes streamed with flaming tears, burning his cheeks with their fire and flowing down on the earth to purge it from its curse”

    Those unique individuals who come to grasp, by Grace, what is meant to be “partakers of divine nature” get to understand as well how to joyfully mourn being partakers of Christ passion; at least in prayer!

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