St. Silouan’s the Athonite poetry-prayer, Byzantine iconography, and Arvo Pärt’s lyrical musical/ choral setting of the text faithful to its every nuance.(*)
Lenten Reflections (III)
Adam, father of all mankind, in paradise knew the sweetness of the love of God; and so when for his sin he was driven forth from the garden of Eden, and was widowed of the love of God, he suffered grievously and lamented with a great moan. And the whole desert rang with his lamentations, for his soul was racked as he thought, ‘I have distressed my beloved God’. He sorrowed less after paradise and the beauty thereof; for he sorrowed that he was bereft of the love of God, which insatiably, at every instant, draws the soul to Him.
In the same way the soul which has known God through the Holy Spirit, but has afterwards lost grace experiences the torment that Adam suffered. There is an aching and a deep regret in the soul that has grieved the beloved Lord.
Adam pined on earth, and wept bitterly, and the earth was not pleasing to him. He was heartsick for God, and this was his cry:
My soul wearies for the Lord, and I seek Him in tears.
How should I not seek Him?
When I was with Him my soul was glad and at rest, and the enemy could not come nigh me;
But now the spirit of evil has gained power over me, harassing and oppressing my soul,
So that I weary for the Lord even unto death, And my spirit strains to God,
and there is naught on earth can make me glad, Nor can my soul take comfort in any thing,
but longs once more to see the Lord, that her hunger may be appeased.
I cannot forget Him for a single moment, and my soul languishes after Him,
and from the multitude of my afflictions I lift up my voice and cry: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God. Have mercy on Thy fallen creature.’
Thus did Adam lament, and the tears steamed down his face on to his beard, on to the ground beneath his feet, and the whole desert heard the sound of his moaning. The beasts and the birds were hushed in grief; while Adam wept because peace and love were lost to all men on account of his sin.
Adam knew great grief when he was banished from paradise, but when he saw his son Abel slain by Cain his brother, Adam’s grief was even heavier. His soul was heavy, and he lamented and thought:
Peoples and nations will descend from me, and multiply, and suffering will be their lot, and they will live in enmity and seek to slay one another.
And his sorrow stretched wide as the sea, and only the soul that has come to know the Lord and the magnitude of His love for us can understand.
I, too, have lost grace and call with Adam:
Be merciful unto me, O Lord! Bestow on me the spirit of humility and love.
O love of the Lord! He who has known Thee seeks Thee, tireless, day and night, crying with a loud voice: “I pine for Thee, O Lord, and seek Thee in tears.
How should I not seek Thee?
Thou didst give me to know Thee by the Holy Spirit,
And in her knowing of God my soul is drawn to seek Thee in tears.” Adam wept:
The desert cannot pleasure me; nor the high mountains, nor meadow nor forest, nor the singing of birds. I have no pleasure in any thing.
My soul sorrows with a great sorrow: I have grieved God.
And were the Lord to set me down in paradise again,
There, too, would I sorrow and weep – ‘O why did I grieve my beloved God?’
The soul of Adam fell sick when he was exiled from paradise, and many were the tears he shed in his distress. Likewise every soul that has known the Lord yearns for Him, and cries:
Where art Thou, O Lord? Where art Thou, my Light? Why hast Thou hidden Thy face from me?
Long is it since my soul beheld Thee,
And she wearies after Thee and seeks Thee in tears. Where is my Lord?
Why is it that my soul sees Him not? What hinders Him from dwelling in me?
This hinders Him: Christ-like humility and love for my enemies art not in me. God is love insaturable, love impossible to describe.
Adam walked the earth, weeping from his heart’s manifold ills, while the thoughts of his mind were on God; and when his body grew faint, and he could no longer shed tears, still his spirit burned with longing for God, for he could not forget paradise and the beauty thereof; but even more was it the power of His love which caused the soul of Adam to reach out towards God.
I write of thee, O Adam: But thou art witness,
my feeble understanding cannot fathom thy longing after God,
Nor how thou didst carry the burden of repentance.
O Adam, thou dost see how I, thy child, suffer here on earth. Small is the fire within me, and the flame of my love flickers low. O Adam, sing unto us the song of the Lord,
That my soul may rejoice in the Lord And be moved to praise and glorify Him
as the Cherubim and Seraphim praise Him in the heavens And all the hosts of heavenly angels
sing to Him the thrice-holy hymn.
O Adam, our father, sing unto us the Lord’s song, That the whole earth may hear
And all thy sons may lift their minds to God
and delight in the strains of the heavenly anthem, And forget their sorrows on earth.
The Holy Spirit is love and sweetness for the soul, mind and body. And those who have come to know God by the Holy Spirit stretch upward day and night, insatiable, to the living God, for the love of God is very sweet. But when the soul loses grace her tears flow as she seeks the Holy Spirit anew.
But the man who has not known God through the Holy Spirit cannot seek Him with tears, and his soul is ever harrowed by the passions; his mind is on earthly things. Contemplation is not for him, and he cannot come to know Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is made known through the Holy Spirit.
Adam knew God in paradise, and after his fall sought Him in tears.
O Adam, our father, tell us, thy sons, of the Lord. Thy soul didst know God on earth,
Knew paradise too, and the sweetness and gladness thereof,
And now thou livest in heaven and dost behold the glory of the Lord. Tell of how our Lord is glorified for His sufferings.
Speak to us of the songs that are sung in heaven, how sweet they are, For they are sung in the Holy Spirit.
Tell us of the glory of the Lord,
of His great mercy and how He loveth His creature. Tell us of the Most Holy Mother of God,
how she is magnified in the heavens, And the hymns that call her blessed.
Tell us how the Saints rejoice there, radiant with grace. Tell us how they love the Lord,
and in what humility they stand before God.
O Adam, comfort and cheer our troubled souls. Speak to us of the things thou dost behold in heaven. Why art thou silent?
Lo, the whole earth is in travail.
Art thou so filled with the love of God that thou canst not think of us? Or thou beholdest the Mother of God in glory,
and canst not tear thyself from the sight,
And wouldst not bestow a word of tenderness on us who sorrow, That we might forget the affliction there on earth?
O Adam, our father,
thou dost see the wretchedness of thy sons on earth.
Why then art thou silent?
And Adam speaks:
My children, leave me in peace.
I cannot wrench myself from the love of God to speak with you.
My soul is wounded with love of the Lord and rejoices in His beauty. How should I remember the earth?
Those who live before the Face of the Most High cannot think on earthly things.
O Adam, our father, thou hast forsaken us, thine orphans, though misery is our portion here on earth.
Tell us what we may do to be pleasing to God?
Look upon thy children scattered over the face of the earth, our minds scattered too.
Many have forgotten God.
They live in darkness and journey to the abysses of hell.
Trouble me not. I see the Mother of God in glory – How can I tear myself away to speak with you?
I see the holy Prophets and Apostles,
and all they are in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God. I walk in the gardens of paradise,
and everywhere behold the glory of the Lord.
For the Lord is in me and hath made me like unto Himself.
O Adam, yet we are they children!
Tell us in our tribulation how we may inherit paradise, That we too, like thee, may behold the glory of the Lord. Our souls long for the Lord,
while thou dost live in heaven and rejoice in the glory of the Lord. We beseech thee – comfort us.
‘Adam’s Lament’ (2009) by Arvo Pärt
Why cry ye out to me, my children?
The Lord loveth you and hath given you commandments.
Be faithful to them, love one another, and ye shall find rest in God. Let not an hour pass without ye repent of your transgressions, That ye may be ready to meet the Lord.
The Lord said: ‘I love them that love me, and glorify them that glorify me.’
O Adam, pray for us, thy children.
Our souls are sad from many sorrows.
O Adam, our father, thou dwellest in heaven and dost behold the Lord seated in glory On the right hand of God the Father.
Thou dost see the Cherubim and Seraphim and all the Saints And thou dost hear celestial songs
whose sweetness maketh thy soul forgetful of the earth.
But we here on earth are sad, and e weary greatly after God. There is little fire within us with which to love the Lord ardently. Inspire us, what must we do to gain paradise?
Adam makes answer:
Leave me in peace, my children, for from sweetness of the love of God I cannot think about the earth.
O Adam, our souls are weary, and we are heavy-laden with sorrow. Speak a word of comfort to us.
Sing to us from the songs thou hearest in heaven,
That the whole earth may hear and men forget their afflictions. O Adam, we are very sad.
Leave me in peace.
The time of my tribulation is past.
From the beauty of paradise and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit I can no longer be mindful of the earth.
But this I tell you:
The Lord loveth you, and do you live in love and be obedient to those in authority over you.
Humble your hearts, and the Spirit of God will live in you. He cometh softly into the soul and giveth her peace,
And bearth wordless witness to salvation. Sing to God in love and lowliness of Spirit, for the Lord rejoiceth therein.
O Adam, our father, what are we to do? We sing but love and humility are not in us.
Repent before the Lord, and entreat of Him. He loveth man and will give all things.
I too repented deeply and sorrowed much that I had grieved God,
And that peace and love were lost on earth because of my sin. My tears ran down my face.
My breast was wet with my tears, and the earth under my feet; And the desert heard the sound of my moaning.
You cannot apprehend my sorrow,
nor how I lamented for God and for paradise. In paradise was I joyful and glad:
the Spirit of God rejoiced me, and suffering was a strange to me.
But when I was driven forth from paradise cold and hunger began to torment me;
The beasts and the birds that were gentle and had loved me turned into wild things
And were afraid and ran from me. Evil thoughts goaded me.
The sun and the wind scorched me. The rain fell on me.
I was plagued by sickness and all the afflictions of the earth. But I endured all things, trusting steadfastly in God.
Do ye, then, bear the travail of repentance.
Greet tribulation. Wear down your bodies. Humble yourselves And love your enemies,
That the Holy Spirit may take up His abode in you,
And then shall ye know and attain the kingdom of heaven. But come not night me:
Now from love of God
have I forgotten the earth and all that therein is. Forgotten even is the paradise I lost,
for I behold the glory of the Lord And the glory of the Saints
whom the light of God’s countenance maketh radiant as the Lord Himself.
O Adam, sing unto us a heavenly song,
That the whole earth may hearken
and delight in the peace of love towards God. We would hear those songs:
Sweet are they for they are sung in the Holy Spirit.
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 heave where shines the Light of the Holy Trinity.
What shall we render unto the Lord for His love to us?
Source: St. Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony.
(*) In an interview in Toronto in the 1980’s, Pärt shared his personal definition of minimalism as the process by which his music is reduced to the number One. In his view, that One is the Divine Creator. In Adam’s Lament (2009) he sees the Biblical Adam as a unifying symbol. Pärt said, “Our ancestor Adam foresaw the human tragedy that was to come and experienced it as his own guilty responsibility, the result of his sinful act. He suffered all the cataclysms of humanity into the depths of depression, inconsolable in his agony.” Adam’s Lament is based on a Russian text by the ascetic monk and poet, St. Silouan of Athos (1866–1938). Pärt’s fascination with Silouan is such that his setting of this text is faithful to its every nuance. The music reflects a range of devotional writing that’s by turns dramatic, passionate, humble and submissive.