The biblical story of the Fall prefigures the entire tragic history of the human race. It shows us who we were and what we have become. It reveals that evil entered the world not by the will of God but by fault of humans who preferred diabolical deceit to divine commandment. From generation to generation the human race repeats Adam’s mistake in being beguiled by false values and forgetting the true ones — faith in God and verity to Him.
Sin was not ingrained in human nature. Yet the possibility to sin was rooted in the free will given to humans. It was indeed freedom that rendered the human being as an image of the Maker; but it was also freedom that from the very beginning contained within itself the possibility to fall away from God. Out of His love for humans God did not want to interfere in their freedom and forcibly avert sin. But neither could the devil force them to do evil. The sole responsibility for the Fall is borne by humans themselves, for they misused the freedom given to them.
What constituted the sin of the first people? St. Augustine believes it to be disobedience. On the other hand, the majority of early church writers say that Adam fell as a result of pride. Pride is the wall that separates humans from God. The root of pride is egocentricity, the state of being turned in on oneself, self-love, lust for oneself. Before the Fall, God was the only object of the humans’ love; but then there appeared a value outside of God: the tree was suddenly seen to be ‘good for food’, ‘a delight to the eyes’, and something ‘to be desired’ (Gen 3:6). Thus the entire hierarchy of values collapsed: my own ‘I’ occupied the first place while the second was taken by the object of ‘my’ lust. No place has remained for God: He has been forgotten, driven from my life.
The forbidden fruit failed to bring happiness to the first people. On the contrary, they began to sense their own nakedness: they were ashamed and tried to hide from God. This awareness of one’s nakedness denotes the privation of the divine light-bearing garment that cloaked humans and defended them from the ‘knowledge of evil’. Adam’s first reaction after committing sin was burning sensation of shame. The second reaction was his desire to hide from the Creator. This shows that he had lost all notion of God’s omnipresence and would search for any place where God was ‘absent’.
However, this was not a total rupture with God. The Fall was not a complete abandonment: humans could repent and regain their former dignity. God goes out to find the fallen Adam; between the trees of Paradise He seeks him out asking ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9). This humble wandering of God through Paradise prefigures Christ’s humility as revealed to us in the New Testament, the humility with which the Shepherd seeks the lost sheep. God has no need to go forth and look for Adam: He can call down from the heavens with a voice of thunder or shake the foundations of the earth. Yet He does not wish to be Adam’s judge, or his prosecutor. He still wants to count him as an equal and puts His hope in Adam’s repentance. But instead of repenting, Adam utters words of self-justification, laying the blame for everything on his wife: ‘The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’ (Gen 3:12). In other words, ‘It was You who gave me a wife; it is You who is to blame’. In turn, Eve lays the blame for everything on the serpent.
The consequences of the Fall for the first humans were catastrophic. They were not only deprived of the bliss and sweetness of Paradise, but their whole nature was changed and disfigured. In sinning they fell away from their natural condition and entered an unnatural state of being. All elements of their spiritual and corporeal make-up were damaged: their spirit, instead of striving for God, became engrossed in the passions; their soul entered the sphere of bodily instincts; while their body lost its original lightness and was transformed into heavy sinful flesh. After the Fall the human person ‘became deaf, blind, naked, insensitive to the good things from which he had fallen away, and above all became mortal, corruptible and without sense of purpose’ (St. Symeon the New Theologian). Disease, suffering and pain entered human life. Humans became mortal for they had lost the opportunity of tasting from the tree of life.
Not only humanity but also the entire world changed as a result of the Fall. The original harmony between people and nature had been broken; the elements had become hostile; storms, earthquakes and floods could destroy life. The earth would no longer provide everything of its own accord; it would have to be tilled ‘in the sweat of your face’, and would produce ‘thorns and thistles’. Even the animals would become the human being’s enemy: the serpent would ‘bruise his heel’ and other predators would attack him (Gen 3:14-19). All of creation would be subject to the ‘bondage of decay’. Together with humans it would now ‘wait for freedom’ from this bondage, since it did not submit to vanity voluntarily but through the fault of humanity (Rom 8:19-21).