“1. And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and brought forth Cain and said I have gained a man through God. 2. And she again bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3. And it was so after some time that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice to the Lord. 4. And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his sheep and of his fatlings and God looked upon Abel and his gifts, 5. But Cain and his sacrifices he regarded not, and Cain was exceedingly sorrowful and his countenance fell. 6. And the Lord God said to Cain, Why art thou become very sorrowful and why is thy countenance fallen? 7. Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it? Be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him.” (From Gen 3:21 – 4:7, read in the Sixth Hour, the 2nd Monday of Great Lent).
What was the worst sin of Cain? Do not say “murder”! Cain became a murderer because of his previous sins, and the single greatest sin a man can commit, which eventually led him to murder his brother Abel. Cain’s terrible fall should make us tremble with fear, as he trembled till the end of his days, because the beginning of it was so ordinary, and such as common sin.
Cain and his brother Abel both offered sacrifices to God. This was before the institution of sacrifice as the Jews would later know it; the brothers made their sacrifices purely because, as St John Chrysostom tells us, because their consciences told them to do so. Inherent in man is a longing to be with God, to communicate, to beseech. Without any formal laws the conscience of the brothers led them to offer something of their labors to God.
In this, both brothers were correct; their idea was a righteous one. However, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice,
“But Cain and his sacrifices he regarded not”.
This is not because, as some wrongly believe, that Cain offered produce, and Abel a more “perfect” sacrifice of animal flesh. St John strongly disabuses us of this notion. There was nothing wrong with the type of sacrifice either brother offered.
If the type of sacrifice of Cain was good in God’s eyes, then why did He reject it? There can only be one reason. When Cain became angry, the Lord explained the matter to him carefully:
“Why art thou become very sorrowful and why is thy countenance fallen? 7. Hast thou not sinned if thou hast brought it rightly, but not rightly divided it?”
Cain offered a good thing to God, but he did not choose it carefully, as Abel did.
“3. … Cain brought of the fruits of the earth a sacrifice to the Lord. 4. And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his sheep and of his fatlings.”
Abel picked the best of his flock (the ”firstborn”) to offer to God, while Cain only haphazardly chose some produce to bring. In anything we do, we have two choices that must be made. Everything we do must be evaluated using these two criteria: It must be the right thing to do, and we must do it in the right way.
Cain’s first sin is all too common in our life. We may indeed sin in this way more than in anything else.
We sin this sin of Cain when we add to our good works, thoughts and sayings a mix of pride, self-interest and self-absorption.
It is good to offer our prayers, but do we pray with attention and care?
Are our prayers the “first fruits” of our day, of do they happen according to our convenience?
It is good to come to the church to worship, but do we come late, or rarely, or stand inattentively, finding pretexts to leave the service frequently?
It is good to make our confession during Lent, but if we do not confess other times because of laziness, then we sin this sin of Cain.
So many times, daily, hourly, we do things without care, without attention, with false or ambiguous motives.
Perhaps one would protest that these things are “small” sins. Small sins are like small lion cubs. They inevitable get larger and uncontrollable unless great effort is taken to control them when they are small.
When Cain’s countenance fell, after the Lord counseled him, and even assured him that he, being the older brother, still had preeminence:
“Be still, to thee shall be his submission, and thou shalt rule over him.”
Clearly, Cain was jealous. The Lord assured him that his place in the family was not being changed. His way of living, his attitude was being questioned. Cain had an opportunity to repent, and change, but, he soon thereafter took his brother out into a field on some pretext and murdered him. Murder was the child of inattention, followed by stubborn unrepentance.
Perhaps another would protest that “mere” inattention in spiritual things can not lead to murder. This is a perilous position to take, because the Holy Scripture here and in many places clearly contradicts such a view.
The inattentive man is capable of ANY fall. The attentive man will repent when his sin is found out, and his repentance will save him from more and worse sins.
“Search the Scriptures” is a podcast on "Ancient Faith Radio". It is a series of lectures by Presvytera and Dr. Jeannie Constantinou. She covers this text at: http://audio.ancientfaith.com/searchthescriptures/sts_2009-02-21.mp3
Priest Seraphim 2009. St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, McKinney, Texas
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 All scripture is from the Septuagint (the “Brenton” translation). This is the authoritative text for Orthodox Christians. In some cases, it differs markedly from the Hebrew Masoretic text. Most English bibles are based on this text, such as the King James, Revised Standard, etc. The KJV version contains: “And the LO.RD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? (7) If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him” Gen 4:6-7 KJV.