Death was not inflicted upon us by God. We fell into it by our revolt. God is Life and Life is God. We revolted against God, we closed our gates to His life-giving grace. “For as much as he departed from life,” wrote Saint Basil, “by so much did he draw nearer to death. For God is Life, deprivation of life is death.” “God did not create death,” continues Saint Basil, “but we brought it upon ourselves.” “Not at all, however, did He hinder the dissolution… so that He would not make the infirmity immortal in us.” As Saint Irenaeus puts it: “Separation from God is death, separation from light is darkness… and it is not the light which brings upon them the punishment of blindness.”
“Death,” says Saint Maximus the Confessor, “is principally the separation from God, from which followed necessarily the death of the body. Life is principally He who said, ‘I am the Life’.”
And why did death come upon the whole of humanity? Why did those who did not sin with Adam die as did Adam? Here is the reply of Saint Anastasius the Sinaite: “We became the inheritors of the curse in Adam. We were not punished as if we had disobeyed that divine commandment along with Adam; but because Adam became mortal, he transmitted sin to his posterity. We became mortal since we were born from a mortal.”
And Saint Gregory Palamas makes this point: “[God] did not say to Adam: return to whence thou wast taken; but He said to him: Earth thou art and unto the earth thou shall return…. He did not say: ‘in whatsoever day ye shall eat of it, die!’ but, ‘in whatsoever day ye shall eat of it, ye shall surely die.’ Nor did He afterwards say: ‘return now unto the earth,’ but He said, ‘thou shalt return,’ in this manner forewarning, justly permitting and not obstructing what shall come to pass.” We see that death did not come at the behest of God but as a consequence of Adam’s severing his relations with the source of Life, by his disobedience; and God in His kindness did only warn him of it.
“The tree of knowledge itself,” says Theophilus of Antic, “was good, and its fruit was good. For it was not the tree, as some think, that had death in it, but the disobedience which had death in it; for there was nothing else in the fruit but knowledge alone, and knowledge is good when one uses it properly.” The Fathers teach us that the prohibition to taste the tree of knowledge was not absolute but temporary. Adam was a spiritual infant. Not all foods are good for infants. Some foods may even kill them although adults would find them wholesome. The tree of knowledge was planted by God for man. It was good and nourishing. But it was solid food, while Adam was able to digest only milk.
Alexandre Kalomiros (1985). The River of Fire (as presented at the 1980 Orthodox Conference, Seattle, Washington), kap. iv, s.107-108 (9-10) Seattle: St. Nectarios Press. 08.04.2007.