Today we see the how the corruption of human nature that came about as a result of the fall extends a step further. The fratricide – the killing of a brother or sister – that emerges in this reading is deeply symbolic of what has gone wrong with the human race. Not only is human life no longer sacred, but human beings have lost their sense of responsibility for one another. Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes,
Why did Cain become a fratricide? Was it not by his evil will? He preferred himself to his Creator and followed after evil thoughts and so became abandoned to envy and committed murder.
We also see the consequences of Cain’s sin, which are further exile and suffering. Sin doesn’t simply harm others, but it harms us too as we become caught up in a spiral of sin. In the words of Saint Ambrose,
Like a slave, Cain received a mark and he could not escape death. Thus is the sinner a slave to fear, a slave to desire, a slave to greed, a slave to lust, a slave to sin, a slave to anger. Though such a man appears to himself free, he is more a slave than if he were under tyrants.
Yet God does not entirely desert Cain. He does not destroy him. Instead, Saint John Chrysostom tells us that, ‘He designed the kind of punishment that was capable of setting Cain free from his sin.’ Likewise, God has not deserted humanity that has followed Cain into fratricide and has become enslaved by sin. Instead, He has gone in search of us, calling us back to Himself.
A Reading from the Book of Genesis 4:8-15:
Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me this day away from the ground; and from thy face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him.