Revista Studii Teologice


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"Paradisul în viziunea Părinţilor din pustia Egiptului"

The Paradise according to the Egyptian Fathers

Autor(i): Dumitru-Mitruţ POPOIU

Summary: The Paradise according to the Egyptian Fathers
The Paradise is a key concept for religious people everywhere, and has been mainly imagined as a garden of delights, where the original man was placed by God to tend to it and master it. Adamic Paradise and its regaining have been, especially in the Judaic-Christian world, analyzed not only in theological writings, but also in lay ones. Theologians have stressed the spiritual meaning of the first chapters of the Genesis and sought to retrace the steps of the ancestors exiled because of the sin, in other words they have undertaken mystical journeys, closely connected to the purity of life, prayer and fasting. Throughout the times, the search for the paradise lost has entailed scholarly research, beside detailed study of Biblical texts. Thus, in late Antiquity and early Middle Ages, the Eden was marked on the maps, located somewhere in the Far East, usually on an island, or in the South, that is in a place hard or impossible to reach by man on his own.
Reviwing the entire range of Christian imagery related to Paradise, one easily finds the lack of a unitary view on this theological aspect. Differences are not accounted for by Eastern versus Western notions, not even by the evolution of thought throughout history, but simply by theological affinities. Several Holy Fathers mentioned in their writings references to a real, physical Paradise, located in a hardly accessible place, while others, generally applying the allegorical method of interpretation imposed by Origen, believed that the Paradise was an image of the Church or of God-seeking man. Whereas the former stressed the physical existence of Paradise, in order not to question the credibility of the Genesis account, the latter stressed the spiritual aspect, in order not to give too much importance to material things. In-between is St. Ephraim the Syrian, who in his Hymns on the Paradise speaks of the physical reality of the garden of Eden, which however cannot be accessed by man as long as he is bodily alive. This shows that material and spiritual realities were, in Christian Antiquity, different from today, and the divide between the two dimensions was less clear in Oriental semitic world than in the Greek and Latin one.
Morever, it is interesting to investigate into the vision of Paradise of monks, especially the ascetics in the Eastern deserts. Like Ephraim, they considered there was no clear-cut distinction between “this world” and “the otherworld”. Consequently, many fathers in the Egyptian desert refused to locate the Biblical Paradise in the visible world, or equate it with man’s state after death. Setting the Paradise in the desert or on a hardly acessible island is considered, in most ascetical writings of the 4th-5th centuries, as a temptation that brings no profit except the conclusion on how not to look for the Paradise. The claims for Edenic visions or the exemplary journeys to earthly “Edens” have been considered by most monks as attempts doomed to fail, and leading to failure. An example is the journey of Abba Makarios to the paradise of Jannes and Jambres. We note that the Egyptian father hardly finds his way to this garden, which however is not the Eden, but merely its imitation.
Classic biographies of Egyptian monasticism, such as the Patericon, The History of Egyptian Ascetics, The Lausiac History or The Life of St. Anthony the Great, clearly demonstrate that monks did not seek Paradise in a particular place, because it is already experienced here, through ascesis and prayer; their way of life is tellingly called “angelic life”. Spending their time in extreme sobriety, Egyptian anachorites sought to imitate the innocent life of the the forefathers in the Garden of Eden, however refusing to taste from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and preferring obedience. A number of paradisiacal elements can be easily found in their biographies: dialogue with God and the angels, fasting as a state of the superior man, watchfulness, visions and mystical travelling, mastering the created world, longevity, successful fight against devils, resurrections from the dead: all these “signs” point to Adamic life. Although we have enumerated here several elements implying the supernatural, this does not mean that ascetics pursued miracles, visions and conversations with the persons from the afterlife. On the contrary, many of them preferred to reject miracles, as shows the instance of the monk to whom devil appeared in the image of the Lord, in order to push him to the sin of pride. The monk closed his eyes and strongly stated that he only wished to see Christ in His Kingdom. This example clearly shows that, although it is already experienced in the earthly life, the Paradise is in itself an eschatological expectation, whose fulfilment occurs only after the end of this life, with the limitations of this imperfect world. Rejection of the world and daily cares, in order to establish an incessant connection with God, is to Egyptian monks the way back to the garden of Eden, which after Adam’s fall is guarded by an angel with a “flaming sword” (Gen. 3, 24).

Pagini: 29-58