Genesis 4:8-15
8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. 9And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? 10And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; 12When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. 13And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. 15And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Over the course of Great Lent in the Orthodox Church, we read the books of Genesis and Proverbs in their entirety, by reading short sections during Vespers each evening. This evening’s reading from Genesis, and the events that proceed it, make a fascinating, and very important, study for us on humanity, and especially how we function as fallen human beings, and how our fasting assists in our return to God. [This is especially relevant since we’re into the second week of Great Lent.]

As the reading began, Cain slew Abel in the field. Cain killed his brother because he was bitter and jealous and angry. In yesterday’s reading from Genesis, God had accepted the sacrifice of the first and the best of Abel’s flock. But Cain had offered less than his best crops, and for that reason, God had rejected the sacrifice of Cain. We see that, even such a short time after the Fall, man’s life is filled with sin. Cain (the third human being) had tried to cheat God by keeping his best crops for himself. And he is immediately filled with demonic passions and murders his own brother when God calls him on his attempt at deceit.

One sin in the Garden, and as the Psalmist says, from then on, man’s days are filled with evil. It’s important to see that one of the earliest sins mentioned in the Scriptures is murder. The Fathers of the Church teach that after the Fall, man was filled with a lust for blood, and begins to kill, to take the life of other living beings. This seems very strange. That somehow the Fall fills us with a blood lust, so to speak. But it’s what the Fathers teach, and the Scriptures and human experience bear it out.

When Cain kills Abel, if we follow the Biblical account literally, there are only 4 people on the face of the planet. Death isn’t a part of the known human life cycle—no one has died yet. For the life of a person to end is experientially unknown to Cain. But his “natural” (in a fallen sense) response to his anger and jealousy with Abel is to kill him. And not in a fit of rage at the place of offering, but later in the field. It was thought out; the first murder was planned, premeditated. Cain wanted blood. In fact, the Scripture says, “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him” (Genesis 4:8). And when God comes to Cain, He says that the blood of Abel, unjustly spilled, cries out from the ground. Cain’s punishment is that he’s sent away from his family, and the earth is again cursed for him (as it was already cursed for all of mankind through the sin of Adam)—Cain will live as a fugitive and a vagabond, because the natural order won’t work for him any more, since he killed his brother. And Cain’s immediate response is, Lord this is too much, if anyone else finds me, they’ll kill me. He has committed murder in rage, and now he’ll live in fear of being murdered himself.

We see this blood lust in our fallen humanity in another place as well—in the eating of meat, eating the flesh of animals. We know, from the Scriptural accounts, that very early on mankind begins killing the animals God had made, the animals he was told to care for, and he began eating them. We see this as very natural today. But in the beginning, this was done without a blessing. Again, man was taking from God without a blessing. When man is created, Genesis says, “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…and the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat’” (Genesis 2:9, 16). Then the beasts of the field and all the animals are made, and Adam names them, and they’re made so that man wouldn’t be alone in the world (Genesis 2: 18-20). It’s not until after the Flood that God gives Noah the blessing to eat meat. Genesis records, “and God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given to your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs’” (Genesis 9:1-3). God says, now you can have all things for food, as you were blessed to have the plants already. Here, our relationship to the animals has been changed—no longer are we the caretakers, but now we’re blessed to have these creatures for our food. The relationship is very different—the animals will fear us now, God says.

Man’s thirst for flesh and blood is born out in many ways in Genesis (and very clearly throughout the remainder of the Scriptures and human history)—from murder, to eating flesh, to sins of glorying in the flesh (Sodom and Gomorrah), to slavery, and other such sins. In many of our hymns during the Great Fast, our fasting is connected to the Fall in the Garden. We’ll chant things like, our first fall was through eating and so now we bridle our stomach with fasting. Obviously, phrases like this can have multiple shades of meaning, but one of them is exactly what we’ve been talking about. From the time of the Fall, we’ve been filled with thirst for blood, this hunger for flesh. And when the Fathers write about why we fast particularly from meat, we hear about the effects that animal products have on us. We’re psycho-somatic beings—our bodies and our souls are intertwined, and what affects one will affect the other. And the Fathers teach us that animal products activate the passions within us like no other thing that we eat. Why? Because the eating of animal flesh continues to strengthen and feed this lust for the blood of another living thing that we’ve carried within us since our expulsion from Eden.

And how does this happen? Why do we have this bizarre craving that often leads us sin? The key is the Fall. When we sin in the Garden, man’s relationship with God changes forever. Man is separated from God, and subject to death and decay. We live constantly in the fear of death. And this knowledge that we’ll die, and this fear of ceasing to exist, this fear of the unknown, is the source of many of our sins: gluttony, wonton-ness, the thirst for power. The only way for sinful man to feel somewhat in control of this life that will soon end, is power. And the ultimate power in a fallen human state is to cause the death of another. If we look to the pagans, to cause death and to consume what is killed, is the ultimate in power. Our thirst for blood is about power, and ultimately, about our search for life. We know, deep down, that we’ll die. We know that we don’t function properly—the Fall has messed up everything in us. And we search desperately for a way to sustain our lives on our own. Returning to God would do it; but even in the Fall, man’s searching for a way to be the master of his destiny.

We don’t sit down to our big steak dinner with these thoughts of murder and power and fear running through our minds. But the Fathers want us to understand how this is all connected, because then we can begin to deal with it. We have the blessing, since the time of Noah, to eat meat. But we take time away from eating all animal products during our times of fasting, in order to separate ourselves from this cycle of sin and death and the thirst for the flesh of another. We take time to re-center. In the Christian paradigm, we now struggle for perfection. Many of the things God tolerated in the Old Testament, He calls us now to put away. In the Old Testament times, man is struggling to learn about God, and to begin to do His will. Now, in Christ, we see and we understand, and our goal is no longer following a few laws, but our goal is perfection—attaining to the likeness of God. And in the creation as God intended it, mankind ate only plants, as we heard in that quote from Genesis earlier. So in our times of focused fasting and repentance, we touch this reality, if only imperfectly and for a few moments. But we show God that our search for life, our way of overcoming death is the Cross. Our fulfillment lies in God, and nothing on this earth can keep us from Him, if He is the desire of our whole hearts.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!