The Orthodox Church believes that man's fall was preceded by the fall of the spiritual world. The angels, being God's creatures, were good. They were not "immutable" towards evil however; i.e. their virtue was not the result of necessity but of free choice. After their free choice of the good, being sanctified by the Spirit, they would remain immovable towards evil, becoming divinized through their ascent towards the first Good. This is stressed by one of the hymns of our Church:
"Being sanctified by the Spirit, The multitude of the Angels Remain immovable towards evil, Being divinized through their Ascent to the prime Good."
This however was not the case with Lucifer and his angels, who moved towards evil, towards apostasy. According to the Christian faith, Lucifer is not a condition or a negative element in God's creation, but a distinct person. That is to say, we believe in the existence of Lucifer, who after his fall was transformed into the Devil or Satan.
According to the Orthodox faith which is supported by divine Revelation, two eternal principles do not exist. Everything, all that came into existence, was created by God "very good" (Gen. 1,31). Lucifer's fall and that of his angels therefore was not due to their nature. The source of their fall is to be found in their evil disposition. Lucifer's choice aimed at his personal exaltation autonomously, i.e. cut off from God's love. The result was the exact opposite of the aim: " I shall ascend to heaven; above the stars of heaven shall I set my throne...I shall become similar to the Most High; Now, behold, you shall descend to Hades and to the foundations of the earth" (Is. 14,13-15).
The Devil, out of enmity for man, lured him to apostasy. He put into his mind the evil thought that he could achieve the purpose of his life, the likeness of God, autonomy. The Devil's aim was to detach man from his communion with God and in this way to set at nought God's plan for man. He certainly knew that man had been created according to God's image, i.e. free, and that God, out of love, would not violate man's freedom.
In order to help man make his conscientious choice, God instituted a prohibition: that of eating from the "tree of knowledge of good and evil", and forewarned man that if he transgressed this commandment, he would cut himself off from union with Him, i.e., he would die (Gen. 2,17).
The Devil appeared to man in disguise, and reversed God's word, maintaining that the transgressing of God's commandment would lead to theosis (Gen.3,5). Yet still man's fall would not have come about if he with his free will had not responded to the Devil's call. Man's act of eating of the forbidden fruit was an act of communion with the Devil, and not with God, Hence, it was an act that was aimed against man's very nature, since man was by nature a communion of love with God and with His works.
The consequences of the fall were fearful. The centre of man's life was moved from God to himself. He did not take into consideration the difference between created and uncreated, between creation and the Creator. He thought that he could, by himself, overcome the ontological chasm. The result was that he distanced himself from the only road that led to the fulfilment of his life's purpose, as it had been determined by the Creator Himself. This independence of man signified his being stripped of God's grace and being led to spiritual death. These fearful ramifications of the fall are outlined in the verses of the "Great Canon":
"I have lost the beauty with which I was created, and my propriety, And now I am naked and ashamed".
God, however, did not cease to love His creature. He allowed natural death as a consequence of the fall: not as a punishment but as a protection, so that man might not sin eternally and evil become immortal. Death then is a pedagogical measure from God with a purpose to restore the apostate to the communion of love and life with the eternal and immortal God.
This truth is especially underlined in the prayer of the Burial Service:
"O Lord our God, who in thine ineffable wisdom hast created man, fashioning him out of the dust, and adorning him with comeliness and goodness, as an honourable and heavenly acquisition, to the exaltation and magnificence of thy glory and kingdom, that thou mightest bring him into this image and likeness; but forasmuch as he sinned against the command of thy statute, having accepted the image but preserved it not, and because, also, evil, should not be eternal: Thou hast ordained remission unto the same, through thy love toward mankind; and that this destructible bond, which as the God of our fathers thou hadst sanctified by thy divine will, should be dissolved, and that his body should be dissolved from the elements of which it was fashioned, but that his soul should be translated to that place where it shall take up its abode until the final Resurrection....."
Death, however, remains for the mind of the faithful a fearful and unapproachable mystery. This is expressed in a unique way in the sacred texts of the Burial Service:
"I weep and I wail when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb
disfigured, dishonoured, bereft of form. Ο marvel!
What is this mystery which doth befall us?.." "Indeed most fearful is the mystery of death: how the soul is violently separated from its harmony with the body, and how the most natural bond by which they grew together is severed by the divine will.."
For the believer, however, this is not a dead-end: "Brethren, we would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep...Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thessalonians 4, 13-18).
Another consequence of the breaking off of the love between God and man was the weakening of human nature itself. When Adam first saw his fellow—man, Eve, he said that she was not anything different from himself but bone from his bones and flesh from his flesh (Gen. 2,23). This attitude changed completely after the fall: Adam was not willing to share the blame for Eve's disobedience (Gen. 3,12). After the fall, man no longer saw himself in the face of his brother; he no longer understood the unity of human nature.
In the condition that came about after the fall, men lost the feeling that they constitute a communion of persons and acquired the self-awareness of particular individuals, which led to the severing of the one mankind that God had created. Even language, that instrument of communication between men, when apostasy reached its height on the tower of Babel, was transformed into an instrument hindering communication.
Man's autonomy had fearful consequences upon God's creation. Enmity and disharmony were also transferred to man's relations with the rest of creation. Man is no longer able to hold his sovereign position within creation, and be the centre of unity and harmony of all that God created. He began making egoistical use of the world and to drag with him everything into servitude to corruption. All of creation was thus subdued unto "futility", we are told by St. Paul, not willingly but because of "him who subjected it", because of man.(Rom. 8, 20-21).
Holy Scripture says: "And to Adam he [God] said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree...cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life...in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, out of which you were taken..." (Gen. 3, 17-19).
This was a means of teaching man and aimed at his return, from within the state of corruption, to incorruption and to immortality for which God had predestined him: a new challenge for man's will.
Man, however, was not moved to repentance or nostalgia for God's paradise where he had freely submitted his personal will to God's will. Hence, the march along the path of separation and fall continued. But God never ceased loving man; He never ceased challenging afresh his predisposition or preparing his final restoration.