Adam’s Lament, #3, Wisdom from Mount Athos, Staretz Silouan

St. Vladimir Seminary Press, pp. 47-55

This lyrical chapter is mostly put in the form of a poem. It is, in fact, a poem that borrows from the formulaic conventions of the ritual laments of Greece and their manifestation in the hymnography of lamentation in the Byzantine tradition.

One of the most prominent lament formulas is the dialogue between the living and the dead. The mourner addresses the deceased loved one with anger (why did you leave me? Why did you have to die this young? Why don’t you answer? Why has your beauty faded?)  The deceased responds, sometimes with comforting words but often with expressions of his own sorrow, through detailed descriptions of his state of death (the body being eaten by worms, his youth destroyed, Hades waiting, etc.)

In the living tradition of lamentation where a group of mourners sing laments together, theren is a process of gradual immersion in ever deepening levels of sorrow but also in deepening bonds with the community of mourners. As the hours, and even days, pass, mourners begin to contribute songs about their own grievances and losses to the communal sorrow, bringing grief to a head and forging through song a new order of connection between the living and the dead and among the living.

In “Adam’s lament,” Silouan enters a similar relationship with Adam, except that his destination is heaven rather than earth. Instead of theological explanations, St. Silouan helps us experience the depth of his sorrow and share in the eventual joy of the hope his dialogue with Adam reveals.

Silouan calls on Adam because he, among all the dead, had known God on earth, lost Him and regained Him in after life:

Thy soul didst know God on earth, Knew Paradise too, and the sweetness and gladness thereof…

St. Silouan engages in an imaginary dialogue with Adam in which their relationship progresses, the truths revealed are increasingly profound and there is a gradual shift from darkness to light.

As in ritual lamentation, Adam’s lament echoes and joins his own in the first part of the poem:

He [Adam] was heartsick for God and this was his cry:

“My heart wearies for the Lord and I seek him in tears

How should I not seek Him?…”

The merging of lamentation between Adam and St. Silouan makes the mourning for the loss of God deeper as well as more universal. The remembrance of Adam’s sorrow intensifies the grief experienced by Silouan until we become, ourselves, immersed in his darkness.

Halfway through the chapter, in part II, Silouan shifts from shared grief to requests for help. Adam regained Paradise after a bitter life of remorse, suffering and remembrance of his sin. How can we, bereft of God’s presence, can regain it, St. Silouan wants to know. He begs Adam for advice and a ray of hope.

Oh, Adam our souls are we are heavy-laden with sorrow

Speak a word of comfort to us.

Sing to us from the songs you hearest in heaven…

Just as the dead addressed in lamentations cannot truly comfort the living because they are no longer part of the material world, Adam is removed from earthly concerns and reluctant to leave the joy and peace he experiences in Paradise to help the living:

Leave me in peace my children, for from sweetness of the love of God I cannot think about the earth

Little by little, in the third part of the poem, Adam reveals his state in Paradise and the ultimate destination of an eternal state in God:

  • He sees the Mother of God and the prophets. How could he possibly tear himself away to speak to mortals?
  • He is no longer trying to recapture God’s presence in him. He is united and one with God. “For the Lord is in me and hath made me like unto Himself.”
  • His times of tribulation are past.
  • He does not have to fight passions because

From the beauty of Paradise, the sweetness of the Holy Spirit I can no longer be mindful of the earth

  • He understands and experiences the love of God

The more these glimpses into paradise increase, the brighter the hope that Adam holds out becomes. Paradise is attainable through humility and repentance, he instructs. Endurance and hope will open its gates:

I was plagued by sickness and all the afflictions of the earth, But I endured all things, trusting steadfastly in God

The dialogue that started in darkness and despair veers to a place of light and hope as it nears the end.

Yet the progress from light to darkness and back to light that Adam reveals is not a simple return to the origins. Adam did not simply regain the garden but entered into a higher level of Paradise– in heaven rather than on earth, an eternal rather than conditional state, in a community of saints rather than the company of only Eve.

In the end, Silouan has a glimpse of the ultimate destination that surpasses even the object of his longing. We are not simply trapped in a ping-pong like motion, from God’s presence to God’s absence and back. Instead, our path to God is one of continuous transformation and ascendance. Our union with Him at the end of our journey is higher and more complete that we ever experienced or imagined.

Adam lost the earthly Paradise and sought it weeping. But the Lord, through his love on the Cross gave Adam another paradise, fairer than the old—a paradise in heaven where shines the Light of the Holy Trinity


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