Members of One Another (Part IX): Weep with Me, Forest and Desert (I)
Sin and salvation, however, are not merely human in scope, but they also involve the entire created order. When Adam fell, the whole creation fell with him; and by the same token our human salvation will inaugurate the salvation of the total cosmos. As Fr Sophrony puts it, ‘Every saint is a phenomenon of cosmic character’. We are not saved from but with the world.
This cosmic understanding of sin and salvation has a firm basis in Scripture. St John the Baptist, for example, greets Jesus with the words, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The Forerunner does not say ‘the sins’, but he says ‘the sin’ (in the singular) ‘of the world’.
Beyond the personal sins of individual humans, there is a deeper sinfulness that involves the world as a whole. St Paul in his turn states that the entire created universe is at present ‘in bondage to decay’ and ‘groans as if in pangs of childbirth’, waiting ‘with eager expectation for the revealing of the children of God’.
When we humans enter into our ‘glorious liberty’ in Christ, then the whole creation will also be set free (Romans 8:19-22). Our fall, that is to say, entails the fall of all creation, and our redemption will likewise bring liberation to creation as a whole. The New Testament concludes with a comprehensive vision not only of a ‘new heaven’ but of a ‘new earth’ as well (Revelation 23:1).
The same understanding of the cosmic dimensions of Christ’s saving work finds expression in the service books of the Church. Let us take as an example a text with which St Silouan was certainly familiar: the ‘Praises’ or ‘Encomia’ recited at Matins on Great Saturday in front of the Epitaphion depicting the dead Christ laid out for burial. In the first place the ‘Praises’ emphasize that Christ’s death and resurrection bring forgiveness and new life to all the human race:
Uplifted on the Cross, Thou hast uplifted with Thyself all living people; and then, descending beneath the earth, Thou raisest all that lie buried there.
Stretched out upon the Wood, Thou hast drawn us mortals to unity; pierced in Thy life-giving side, O Jesus, Thou art become a fountain of forgiveness unto all.
We notice how the atonement is not selective but universal in its scope. But the ‘Praises’ go further than this, proclaiming that Christ’s death upon the Cross has transformed the entire created order:
The whole creation was altered by thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Word, that Thou holdest all in unity.
~Adapted from Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, We Must Pray for All: The Salvation of the World According to St Silouan (http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2314168.html).