Required Reading: Revelation, chapter 21 &22
Recommended Reading: St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise.
SHADOW, IMAGE, AND REALITY
Meditating upon the Mysterium Lucis through the vision of the Garden of Eden requires one final exegetical principle in order to confirm that the path taken through the Garden to see Christ, the new Adam, is indeed the primary interpretive paradigm for these Mysteries. In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger explains that “the Church Fathers described . . . various stages of fulfillment, not just as a contrast between Old and New Testament, but as the three steps of shadow, image, and reality.” This vision of a three fold fulfillment is confirmed in the Patristic era by Methodius who explains, “The Law is the figure and the shadow of the image, that is to say, of the Gospel; the Gospel is this of the reality.”[i] As Cardinal Danielou teaches, “The Pasch, eaten by Christ with His disciples before the Passion, is a figure of the Messianic banquet to which Christ will invite His own in the Kingdom of the Father. . . . Between the Jewish Paschal meal and the messianic banquet, the eucharistic meal is an intermediate link.”[ii] Thus, it is clear that the re-establishment of the Garden of Paradise, accomplished by the works of Jesus Christ, the new Adam, is yet to be revealed in full; the faithful still await the final reality of the Messianic age, when God will dwell with man in Paradise restored. This is the vision that Saint John, in ecstasy on the island of Patmos, relates at the end of his Apocalypse. Standing at the Holy Table, celebrating the Divine Liturgy on the Lord’s Day of covenant, the Eagle of Patmos suddenly beholds the Sacred Mysteries transfigured before him; what had been only the image he beholds as the reality.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”. . .To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. . . . Then came one of the seven angels, . . . and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day–and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. . . . Then
he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. . . . the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever. . . . Amen. (Rev. 21:1-7, 9-11, 22-26, 22:1-5, 21)
In the Apocalypse of Saint John, the hope of the ancient Jewish people is confirmed, and man finally beholds “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). It is in the vision of Saint John that the work of Jesus performed in the Luminous Mysteries is fully revealed, no longer as an image, but now as the reality. The Holy city Jerusalem, the “pattern” which Moses beheld on Sinai (Ex. 25:9), is a bride adorned for her husband on the Covenant day. The curse of death incurred by Adam is “wiped away”; God once again calls His people, “my son.” Upon this “great, high mountain,” down which the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God, the holy city sits, built upon jewels and shining with the robe of the glory of God. The light in the city is God Himself, the Word, who shines forth from the mouth of God from all eternity, and within the city grows the Tree of Life for “the healing of the nations” (Rev. 22:2). At its gate, the Cherub with the flaming sword has sheathed his weapon, for the gates are open. All are invited to the feast, and here at the banquet table of God, man shall dwell with his God forever and ever. Where all human speech fails, let us hear Saint Ephrem the Syrian describe his mystical vision of Paradise:
Should you wish to climb up a tree with its lower branches it will provide steps before your feet, eager to make you recline in its bosom above, on the couch of its upper branches. So arranged is the surface of these branches, bent low and cupped—while yet dense with flowers—that they serve as a protective womb for whoever rests there.
Who has ever beheld such a banquet in the bosom of a tree, with fruit of every savor ranged for the hand to pluck? Each type of fruit in due sequence approaches, each awaiting its turn: fruit to eat, and fruit to quench the thirst; to rinse the hands there is dew, and leaves to dry them with after—a treasure store which lacks nothing, whose Lord is rich in all things.
Around the trees the air is limpid as the saints recline; below them are blossoms, above them fruit; fruits serve as their sky, flowers as their earth. Who has ever heard of or seen a cloud of fruit providing shade for the head, or a garment of flowers spread out beneath the feet?[iii]
In meditating upon the Mysterium Lucis, we have applied the “valid method” proposed by the Holy Father, John Paul II, and followed his instruction to “put out into the deep” into the greatest mysteries of the life of the Savior. Applying the advice of Saint Athanasius, we have begun in the beginning, with the creation of the world, and we have seen for ourselves that “the renewal of creation has been accomplished by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning.”
Standing with Moses on Sinai, let us see the Creator form Adam from the dust of the ground, filling his nostrils with the breath of the Holy Spirit. Let us see the serpent whisper the seed of deceit into the ear of Eve, and let us see Mary become Eve’s advocate at the wedding at Cana. Let us be baptized with Jesus in the Jordan, and see the Holy Spirit descend upon Adam once again. Let us experience the saving words of the King’s proclamation of release from sin, and let us ascend Tabor to behold the Transfigured One, like Adam in Paradise. Let us lean upon the breast of Christ at the banquet table of God, and let us reach forth our hands to the Cross and pluck the saving fruit of the Tree of Life. Let us hear Jesus whisper into our ears “Behold, your mother,” and to our mother, “Behold your son” (Jn. 19:27), restoring the woman as the “mother of all the living,” and granting to her children the right to be called “sons of God” once more. And singing the laudations of the Virgin with the words of the Ave Maria, let us enter into Christ and be resurrected from the sin of death, walking once again in the Paradise of God.
“You banished us from Paradise, and you recalled us; you stripped off the fig leaves, an unseemly covering, and put upon us a costly garment. . . . No longer shall Adam be confounded when you call, nor hide himself, convicted by his conscience, cowering in a thicket of Paradise. Nor shall the flaming sword encircle Paradise around and make the entrance inaccessible to those who draw near; but all is turned to joy for us who were heirs of sin. Paradise, yes heaven itself may be trodden by man.”[iv]
[i] Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 341.
[ii] Ibid., 168.
[iii] Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, 137-138.
[iv] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily on the Baptism of Christ, 46:600, as quoted in Danielou, The Bible and the Liturgy, 40. (note to self – this is a different translation than Danielou).