THE BOOK OF THE END
An Interpretation of the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian
© Vladimir Moss, 2005
So, be warned, my friend. I have given you the signs of the antichrist.
Do not merely store them in your memory. Pass them on to everyone without
stint. If you have a child after the flesh, teach them to him forthwith.
And if you have become a godparent, forewarn your godchild, lest he should
take the false christ for the True. For “the mystery of lawlessness doth
St. Cyril of Jerusalem
The Study of the Book – The Signs of the End – The Time of the End – Attitudes to the End - The Nature of Prophetic Visions – The Interpretation of the Book – The Sources of the Interpretation
I. The First Vision: The Seven Churches of Asia, or: The Church in Time………….……………………..……………………………….20
Introduction: The First and the Last……………………….………………….……..21
1. The Church of Ephesus……………….…………………………...…………..…...42
2. The Church of Smyrna………………………………...………………….…..…...48
3. The Church of Pergamum…………………..…………...……………………..….54
4. The Church of Thyateira………………………………...……..…………...….….58
5. The Church of Sardis……………………………………...…………….…………66
6. The Church of Philadelphia……………………………..………………...……….72
7. The Church of Laodicea…………………………………...………...……………..84
II. The Second Vision: The Seven Seals, or: The Church at the End of Time…………………………….……………………………..94
1. The Twenty-Four Elders and the Four Living Creatures…………………………95
2. The Lamb of God…………………...…………………………………………….102
3. The First Six Seals…………………..……………………………………………107
4. The Sealing of the Servants of God……..…………………………………..……123
5. The Seventh Seal: The First Six Trumpets….……………………………….…..129
6. The Seventh Seal: The Mighty Angel……………………………………..……..142
7. The Seventh Seal: The Two Witnesses…………..….……………………………160
III. The Third Vision: The Seven Days of Creation, or: The Church Sub Specie Aeternitatis……….……….………………….175
1. The Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Red Dragon…..…………………….176
2. The First Beast………………………………………….………………………..188
3. The False Prophet……………………………………….……………………..…202
4. The Seven Plagues…………………………………………………………....…..220
5. The Whore of Babylon…....…………………………………………………..…..233
6. The Beast and the Whore……………………………………………………...….243
7. The Triumph of Orthodoxy: (i) The Fall of the West………………………….....260
8. The Triumph of Orthodoxy: (ii) The Liberation of the East………………….…..277
9. The Triumph of Orthodoxy: (iii) The Millenium and the Last Judgement………283
Conclusion: The Eighth Day……………………………………….…………….…307
Appendix 1: Genetics, UFOs and the Birth of the Antichrist….321
Appendix 2: The Seal of the Antichrist in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia…………………………………………………………………332
Close the words, and seal the book to the time of the end;
until many are taught and knowledge is increased.
The Apocalypse has as many mysteries as words.
Blessed Jerome, Epistle 53.
The book of Revelation – the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian – has remained a sealed book until the beginning of our most apocalyptic of epochs. Its glorious and terrifying images have impressed themselves on the minds of generations of Christians, and its triumphant hope of the ultimate victory of good over evil has comforted the hearts of many fighters for the truth. Alone, however, among the books of the New Testament, it has no generally accepted interpretation, no exegetical “consensus of the Fathers”. In fact, it is the only part of the New Testament that is not read publicly at some time in the liturgical year of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is sealed in the sense that it is not read in church, and also in the sense that its meaning remains shrouded in mystery.
The Study of the Book
And yet the book itself beckons us, encouraging us to penetrate the mystery. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand (1.3). And again: Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book... Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand (22.7, 10).
Shortly before the Russian revolution, St. Barsonuphius of Optina wrote: “In the Apocalypse it is said: Blessed is he that readeth the words of this book. If this is written, it means that it is really so, for the words of the Sacred Scripture are the words of the Holy Spirit. But in what does this blessedness consist? The more so, in that people may object that we do not understand anything of what is written. Perhaps it consists in the consolation to be gained from reading the Divine words. One can also think as follows: that which is not understood by us now will become understandable when the time described comes to pass. Judge for yourselves. Who reads the Apocalypse now? Almost exclusively those who live in monasteries and in theological academies and seminaries – they have to. But in the world hardly anyone reads it. Hence it is clear that he who will read the Apocalypse before the end of the world will be truly blessed, for he will understand what is taking place. And in understanding he will prepare himself. In reading he will see in the events described in the Apocalypse one or other of the events contemporary with him.”
Again, at the beginning of the revolution the Church writer Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov wrote: “The general opinion of all interpreters of the Apocalypse is that the events revealed in it are becoming clearer the closer we come to the time of their realization. At the present time, when much of that which was announced then has already been realized and the world is coming nearer and nearer to the end of the promises, it is of course easier than before to catch the consequentiality of events. But this easiness is very relative. The history of the world is revealed in the Apocalypse in a very interwoven and complicated picture. The book presents a series of separate visions which encompass now one and now another aspect of the events, sometimes returning again to one and the same event, sometimes speaking earlier about an event that is chronologically later. For some visions there is no chronology at all, since they do not depict the earthly flow of affairs, but the condition of things. Many visions do not touch events here, but the struggle of heavenly and hellish forces. All this is so complicated and difficult for the mind that has not been enlightened by the same spiritual vision [as the seer himself] that one could completely renounce the hope of penetrating into the mysteries of this greatest of visions. But the Saviour Himself commanded that we should be attentive to the signs of the times so as not to be caught unawares by them. And in the Apocalypse it is said: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. It is impossible to keep without understanding what we are required to keep. Therefore, in spite of all difficulties, we must try to understand everything that now, according to the will of God, may turn out to be accessible to our understanding.”
The Signs of the End
Thus blessed is he that reads this book, not in isolation, but in conjunction with the signs of the times, which the Lord commanded us to discern with care: ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16.3). We must, with God’s help and in all humility, at least attempt to discern the signs of the times by comparing them with this, the most significant of books for our time. For, as Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow writes, “None of the mysteries of the most secret wisdom of God ought to appear alien or altogether transcendent to us, but in all humility we must apply our spirit to the contemplation of Divine things.” Moreover, as Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava writes, “everybody who loves the Truth must not only take note of the signs of the times, but also follow these observations to their logical conclusion.”
And these signs are indeed apocalyptic. Wars and rumours of wars, especially of a nuclear and biochemical Armageddon threatening the extinction of the whole of humanity; famines and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places, including the inexorably increasing pollution of the planet; the many false prophets; the persecution of the Faith, the falling away of many, the increase of iniquity and especially the cooling of love even among those who are called Christians – all this must convince the discerning Christian that he is at least at the beginning of sorrows, and that only he that shall endure to the end.. shall be saved (Matthew 24.6-13).
Other signs of the end are the extraordinary growth of science, the return of the Jews to Israel, the unprecedented apostasy from, and persecution of, the Christian faith, and the appearance of false Christs and antichristian religions in bewildering abundance. As Fr. Seraphim Rose writes in his translator’s introduction to Archbishop Averky’s commentary: “We do seem, indeed, to be living in the last times of this world’s existence, when the prophecies of the Apocalypse relating to the end of the world are beginning to be fulfilled. The time is surely ripe – especially in view of the numerous false interpretations of this book which fill the contemporary air.”
One of the passages from the Apocalypse that has found an almost exact fulfilment in our time is the description of the star called Wormwood – “Chernobyl” in Ukrainian – which falls from heaven and poisons the waters (8.10-11). Even the most hardened sceptics have been forced to admit that this is a quite remarkable foreshadowing of the nuclear catastrophe that took place at Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986, which has contaminated the water supply of the region. Again, the advances in modern computer and laser technology have thrown unexpected light on the possible meaning of the number 666 (Revelation 13) in terms of bar-codes and microchips implanted under the skin, and how it might form part of a world-wide food distribution system controlled by the Antichrist.
Thus the Christian must see that he refuses not Him that speaks both through the Divine Scriptures of the Apocalypse and through contemporary events. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall we not escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we, receiving a Kingdom that cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire... (Hebrews 12.25-29).
The Time of the End
But one may object: does not all this speculation about the end time contradict the words of the Saviour Himself, Who said that of that day or hour knoweth no man, no, not the Angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed and pray: for you know not when the time is (Mark 13.32-33)? After all, even such a holy man as the Romanian St. Callinicus of Cernica erred in expecting the end of the world to come in 1848. St. Nicholas and St. George appeared to him and told him that he still had time to build the monastery of Cernica…
However, Saints Nicholas and George did not rebuke St. Callinicus for speculating about the time of the end. And the Lord even helped him in his speculations by unfurling a radiant scroll in the heavens on which ws written: “7500 years from Adam”. In other words, the end would come not before the year 1992 or 2000 (depending on whether we follow the Constantinopolitan Church in dating Christ’s birth to 5508 B.C., or the Antiochian in dating it to 5500 B.C.).
In any case, we are not speculating about the exact time of the end, which, as the Lord says, is known to no man, and not even to the Son as man, but only to God. As Lev Tikhomirov writes: “Without doubt, the precise time is hidden from men, in accordance with the task of Providence. The Christian period has as its mission to choose out of humanity everything that it can give birth to for the Kingdom of God. In the task of salvation Providence helps men, while the opponent of God, the devil, hinders. But men must also act with their own independent efforts. Mankind decides with its own free will whether to go towards God or reject Him. While there are among men those who wish to be with God – and this is always known to God – the end of the world will not come. The stronger the pressure of evil, the more possible, by contrast, is the proximity of the end. In history there have been times when the pressure of evil has been so strong that it seemed that there was no further reason for the world to exist, and if the anti-God mood had become finally entrenched then the end of the world would have come. The multitude of small ‘potential’ antichrists, of whom the Apostle John already spoke, would immediately have promoted from their midst someone capable of growing into the real Antichrist. Such epochs, of which ours is one, in their character truly constitute the last times. But are they chronologically the last? We cannot know that, because if the free will of men, amazed by the disgusting sight of the abomination of desolation in the holy place, strives again towards God, the Antichrist, already ready to enter the world, will again be cast into the abyss until conditions more favourable for him arise, while the Lord will again lengthen the term of life of the world so that new members should be prepared for the Kingdom of God. The Lord knows the term of the life of the world, but He does not reveal it to men in order that our free will should not be bound by the thoughts: ‘if it’s not soon’ or ‘it’s all the same – it’s already late’, for our work for the Kingdom of God must not be conditioned by such applied considerations, but by the free search for good or evil, by the free desire to work for the Lord or reject Him. In accordance with this, man does not need the numerical calculation of terms, but only the discernment of the spiritual-moral maturity of good or the pressure of evil, so that he can in a purposeful and directed manner struggle against evil and do the work of God.
“However, if the exact terms of the life of the world and its final dénouement are hidden from men, this is nevertheless not so in an absolute sense. Eschatalogical Revelations give us the possibility of see the consequentiality of future events, that is, not the existence of a series of epochs in which we gradually approach the completion of the cycle of evolution. In giving us the possibility of noticing them, Revelation undoubtedly was aiming to support the faith of people in the reality of the promises. When we observe the condition of the world and see that that which was foretold by Daniel or John the Theologian many centuries before has really taken place in it, then, of course, we are more strongly established in faith and and with this support we work more energetically for the creation of good, for the struggle against evil.
“Such a support of faith becomes the more necessary the further we go from the times of the Saviour, without seeing His Second Coming. The Apostle Peter says that in the last times there will appear people who will say: Where is the promise of His Coming? For since the time our fathers began to die, from the beginning of creation, everything remains the same (II Peter 3.4). At the present time such doubts are already extremely widespread, and one can say that nothing more powerfully undermines Christianity than its teaching on the end of the world, because this end has begun to appear improbable. The same doubt in the coming of the Messiah, Who has been awaited fruitlessly for so long, has given birth among the Jews to the thought that this idea must be understood in the sense of the coming of the dominion of Israel itself. Among the Moslems (in Ismailitism) the vain expectation of the Mahdi has also led them to the idea of the metaphorical understanding of this coming, to the thought that in reality it means only the spreading of the spirit of Mahdi among people. All this is, of course, very natural, for there is no fiercer temptation for faith than the non-fulfilment of the promises. But the whole essence of Christianity lies in the Gospel of the Kingdom and the Second Coming of Christ. If we have hope on Christ only in this life, says the Apostle Paul, then we are of all men the most miserable… When I fought with wild beasts in Ephesus, what use was it to me if the dead do not rise? Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die! (I Corinthians 15.19; 19.32). Prince S. Trubetskoy is absolutely right in pointing to the fact that ‘Christianity cannot renounce its faith in Godmanhood and the Kingdom of God without renouncing itself… Is the world process beginningless, endless, aimless, a purely elemental process, or does it have a rational final end? Does such an im or absolute good (that is, God) exist, and is this good realizable in everything (the Kingdom of heaven – God in all), or does nature present an eternal limit for its realization and is it in itself only a subjective, chimerical ideal? For Christianity there can be only one reply to this, a reply that requires the fulfilment of the eschatological promises.’
“But for that reason it is important if, in answer to the question: where is the promise of His Coming?, we can indicate in the prophecies of Revelation concerning the future destinies of the world much that has already been fulfilled… Especially important, of course, are all the indications that the course of world events foretold thousands of years before followed precisely that path which was sketched in the visions of Revelation.
“Thus both the ignorance of the exact time of the end of the world process and a certain knowledge of the course of separate phases in it have one and the same aim, that is: to support faith in people, to strengthen their work in the building up of God’s work and in the constant preservation of their readiness to appear at the last judgement.”
It should also be pointed out that the Lord Himself has reserved to Himself the right to change the times of the fulfilment of the prophecies in accordance with the way in which men respond to His words. Thus He changed the time of the destruction of Nineveh, as conveyed through the Prophet Jonah. And through the Prophet Jeremiah He says: The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, If that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, If it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. (Jeremiah 18.7-10).
Attitudes to the End
Now catastrophic events, the fall of empires and the destruction of the old order, fill the worldly man who has pinned his hopes on this order with gloom and despondency. He has no abiding city which cannot be moved, no treasure which cannot be broken into and stolen. And so the Day of the Lord must come upon him as a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5.2), as darkness and not as light (Amos 5.18).
It is not so with the Christian. His conversation is in heaven, so his thoughts will not perish with the earth (cf. Psalm 145.3-4). He rejoices in the spoiling of his goods, for he knows that he has in heaven a better and an enduring substance (Hebrews 10.34). He rejoices even in the death of his body, for he knows that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (II Corinthians 5.1-2).
And in general we may say that that which is a cause of sorrow for the carnal mind is a cause of rejoicing for the Christian, and vice-versa. For, as the Lord said: When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh (Luke 21.28). And again: Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy (John 17.20).
This is not to say, of course, that the Christian in no way participates in the suffering of the world. But he evaluates both his and the world’s suffering from a different, other-worldly point of view, discerning its significance in the context of Divine Providence and Judgement, as opening up or cutting off the path of salvation for men. For he sees that if men accept their suffering as just, and as a cross sent from God for the purification of their sins, then by faith and repentance they can use their cross to enter, with the good thief, into the Kingdom of heaven. But if, on the other hand, they see no sense in their suffering and add to their other sins the sins of murmuring and blasphemy, then, with the bad thief, they will go down to hell. In this way the Cross is, as the kontakion of the Cross says, “a balance-beam of righteousness”. And the Christian, in contemplating it, humbles himself with a godly sorrow for his own and other men’s sins, and escapes through this purifying sorrow into the joy of the age to come.
“Thanks to the crushing of earthly hopes,” wrote Prince Eugene Troubetskoy at the beginning of the Russian revolution, “the greatest shift takes place in the spiritual life: human thoughts, wishes and hopes are transferred from one plane of existence to another. And in this shift there appear the greatest creative forces. It is precisely in catastrophic epochs that the human heart gives its best to the world... For those chosen souls who become tempered in trials, not only trials, but also offences can be useful. But woe to those through whom offences come...”
Some epochs have a particular significance for the life of the Church. Thus the triumph of St. Constantine brought the Church out of the catacombs and opened a vast new field to her missionary endeavours. And, in the opposite direction, the Russian revolution sent the Church back into the catacombs and threatened her complete annihilation. For just as Constantine’s victory ushered in a kind of resurrection before the General Resurrection, so Russia’s defeat has been a judgement before the Last Judgement – for judgement must begin at the House of God (I Peter 4.17).
The Nature of Prophetic Visions
St. Theophylactus of Nicomedia writes: “The prophets receive prophecies from God, but not as they want, but as the Spirit of God works; they would be fully conscious of, and understood, the prophetic word sent down to them, but they did not give explanations.” Consequently, prophecies in general, and the prophecies in the book of the Apocalypse in particular are exceptionally difficult to understand.
Lev Tikhomirov explains the main reason for this difficulty as follows: “The basic aim of contemplation and revelation consists, not in the communication to us of information about the future, but about that which is hidden in general. This hidden content consists in everything that is supernatural, in everything in which our link with the spiritual and divine world is discovered. Of course, when the contemplative sees himself or humanity before his spiritual gaze in this material and tangible link with spheres of another order, this can give him insight also into the future, but in the same degree as into the past and the present. Before him there opens up not this or that particular time, but the very link between man and the spiritual and divine world, on which his destiny depends to a much greater degree than on the material world, and which in his usual condition he can in no wise feel and which he therefore does not take into account in his guesses and calculations. Such is the essence of revelation and contemplation, which are sometimes even given to a man not for communication to other people, but for him personally, as a consequence of his lofty spiritual life and as a help for it and strengthening of it in the future. But we, it goes without saying, come to know only those revelations which are given not for the contemplative personally but for communication to others. Here, too, however, the contemplation and revelation that is given to people is aimed, for the greater part, at giving a representation of the mysteriously close link between our life here and all its events with the actions and aims of the powers of a different world – a spiritual or divine world. This needs to be known only by him who desires to maintain this link consciously, to conform himself with it, to struggle with some of the powers revealed to him, and enter into union with others. In this case the question of the future, whatever it may be, is hardly relevant. This union or this struggle is not necessary for the future, but constantly, as a means towards a healthy spiritual life. Sometimes, perhaps, it may even seem more important to the contemplative to know about the past, about which he through ignorance or evil will has taken an incorrect position in regard to the power of the spiritual or divine world that needs correction.
“These are the main reasons why prophetic contemplations and revelations are not clear. They are supplemented by secondary reasons which depend on the character of the condition in which the contemplation is received, and on the difficulty of expressing it in usual human language, if it does not have as its main aim the giving of a positive message to people.
“A prophecy is completely clear if it has as its aim the communication to people of a demand of the definitive Will of God or a warning to them to keep away from mistaken acts in this or that particular case. Thus the Prophet Jeremiah in the name of God insistently advised the Jewish people and King Zedekiah not to wage war with Nebuchadnezzar and submit to him without a fight. Thus the Saviour foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, giving the direct advice to flee and hide when the signs of the time of the destruction appeared. Thanks to this the Christians were saved in the year of the desolation of Judaea. But when the prophecy touches the general destinies of the world or its general condition, the prophetic contemplation is only in exceptional cases completely clear, as it was, for example, with Daniel in relation to the times of the coming of the Messiah. But generally speaking the link between humanity and the supernatural world makes it inevitable that prophetic revelations should be obscure.
“That which takes place in the supernatural spheres cannot be expressed clearly in human language. When the Apostle Paul was speaking about his ascension to the third heaven he directly declared that what he had heard there could not be expressed in our language. When we read the Apostle John’s description of what takes place in the heavens, we see images which it is evidently impossible to understand literally: he speaks about lampstands, about altars, about the exterior appearance of angels, their wings, etc. But it is understood that nothing of the sort exists in the heavens, but that which does exist there, that which the seer really did see, is such as can be conveyed only symbolically, in a certain likeness to material objects.
“Thus symbolism is an inevitable form of such contemplation and revelation. The seer as it were translates into material language that which exists in reality not in material, but in some completely different forms.
“It goes without saying that this symbolism which requires interpretation makes the seer’s communications unclear, especially for people who have not personally experienced the condition of the contemplative…
“Therefore if Revelation is given to enlighten the destinies of the world, it is of necessity symbolic. Moreover, the symbol sometimes remains incomprehensible even for the contemplative himself: I was amazed at my vision, says Daniel, and did not understand it (Daniel 8. 27). And so its significance is sometimes explained to the prophet in the course of the vision itself, but not always.
“Therefore in the reading of apocalyptic prophecies a multitude of perplexities and contradictions arise in the attempt to understand them, although, generally speaking, the understanding of the symbolism of contemplative images is made easier by the fact that the prophets had very many symbolic visions, and so by putting them together we can receive some idea of the significance of the symbols.”
The Interpretation of the Book
The book of the Apocalypse presents a synoptic view of this most basic, fundamental and supreme struggle in the form of the interaction of several symbolic figures. The main protagonists are, on the one hand, the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the woman clothed with the sun, His Holy Church; and on the other hand, the devil and his evil minions – the first beast, the false prophet and the whore of Babylon. The focus switches from earth to heaven, from deepest antiquity to the age to come.
However, the chief emphasis, according to our interpretation, is on Europe, the Middle East and Russia in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, when, as Elder Nectarius of Optina put it, “the world will be girded with iron and paper” – the iron curtain of Soviet communism and the paper deals of Western capitalism and ecumenism. It is the age in which the true Church flees into the wilderness of obscurity and suffering, and in which evil of the most radical kind sprawls triumphantly on the former capitals of Christian piety. But this is also the age, according to the prophecies of the saints, in which the most complete reversal will take place, not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord (Zechariah 4.6), when the beast of communism (severely wounded now, but still alive), the false prophet of scientific materialism and evolutionism and the whore of Judaeo-Masonic ecumenism will all be destroyed in the mighty conflagration of the Third World War. Then the Church will arise, and the Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world. And then shall the end come (Matthew 24.14): during the apostasy of the final, Laodicean period of Church history, the personal Antichrist, the false messiah and king of the Jews, will take power and initiate the most universal and cruellest persecution of the Church, which will be cut short only by the Second Coming of Christ, the General Resurrection from the dead and the Last and Most Terrible Judgement.
This last period in the history of the world is divided, according to our interpretation, into three parts: (i) the reign of the collective Antichrist of Soviet power, which has not yet come to an end, (ii) the triumph of Orthodoxy and the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world, which will come after a Third World War, and (iii) the reign of the personal Antichrist, followed by the Second Coming of Christ, the Last Judgement and the General Resurrection from the dead. This general schema is most succinctly revealed in the words of the holy Russian New Martyr Jacob Fyodorovich Arkatov (+1991), who said: “All the prophecies speak not about only one time for the reign of the Antichrist, but about three sections of the last time: the first period is called the beginning of sorrows, according to the prophetic words of the Saviour, or the apostasy, according to the Apostle Paul, while in the Apocalypse of the Apostle John it is marked as the coming out and reigning of the beast from the sea with his head-followers. The second section of the last time is the beast was and is not or the time of the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world. And finally, the third period is really the time of the reign of the Antichrist. The Saviour calls it the end, the beginning of which is the placing of the abomination of desolation. The Apostle John calls it the coming out of the beast from the abyss, which is the eighth in the dynasty of the beasts and is of the number of the seven, while the Apostle Paul calls it the appearance of the man of sin.”
Concerning the question of literal versus symbolical meanings, Fr. Seraphim Rose notes that “many would-be interpreters of Scripture go astray precisely on this point, whether by a too-literal understanding (as in the case of the Protestant Fundamentalists who come close to believing that everything in the Bible is ‘literally’ true) or a too-free interpretation (as in the case of the liberals who dismiss everything difficult to believe as ‘symbolic’ or ‘allegorical’). In the Orthodox interpretation of Scripture these two levels of meaning, the literal and symbolical, are often intertwined...
“The visions of the Apocalypse… sometimes… present heavenly realities in forms adapted to the understanding of the seer (the vision of Christ in chapter 1; of heaven in chs. 4-7; of the future age in chs. 21-22); sometimes they present allegorical pictures of the Church and her life (the woman clothed with the sun in ch. 12, the thousand years of the Church’s existence in ch. 20), or of specific beings that war against the Church (the dragon in ch. 12, the two beasts of ch. 13), or of future events, whether general (the four horsemen of ch. 6) or specific (the seven last plagues of ch. 15).”
At this point we should consider the objection that the Apocalypse is not a truly prophetic book, but simply non-historical allegory; that in this book, in the words of Fr. Alexander Kolesnikov, “there is no foretelling of events and processes in Church and world history, but there is represented in symbols the inner struggle of the soul of the individual Christian between good and evil, God and Satan”. This appears to have been the view of, for example, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, first president of the Russian Church Abroad, who said “that the Apocalypse contains in itself, not a foretelling of definite events, as is usually thought, but instruction for the Christians, exhorting them to martyrdom. It depicts the struggle between good and evil, which takes places in all generations of human history and usually leads to the triumph of evil on earth.”
Now this is certainly part of the meaning of the book. But that definite prophecies of future events are also contained in it is made clear at the very beginning, where the seer is told: Write the things which thou has seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter (1.19). And again: Come up hither, and I will thee things which must be hereafter (4.1). And: The Lord God sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must be shortly hereafter (22.6).
This is no “realized eschatology”, but a clear reference to future events. And if it be objected that the end of the world and the last judgement did not come shortly thereafter, the fulfilment of the prophecy did, nevertheless, begin in St. John’s time – and in any case, in the eyes of God one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Peter 3.8). Therefore the whole period between the First and Second Comings of Christ may indeed be called a short period in eschatological terms.
Like other prophecies of the Old and New Testaments, the Apocalypse refers to events in both the near and the distant future, both what was shortly to happen in the Church towards the end of the first century A.D., and what is to come to pass at the end of the world and even after the last and most terrible judgement.
Sometimes a single prophecy refers simultaneously to near and far events. For example, the Lord’s prophecies in Matthew 24 refer, according to St. Ephraim the Syrian, “to the punishment of Jerusalem and at the same time to the end of the world.” Again, just as Daniel’s famous prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9.27) refers simultaneously to the Romans’ desecration of the Jewish Temple in 70 A.D., and to the enthronement of the Antichrist at the end of the world, and perhaps also to other acts of apostasy in world history.
Similarly, it is the profound conviction of the True Orthodox Christians of Russia that since 1917 we are living in the times of the Apocalypse and that the prophecies concerning the woman fleeing into the wilderness, the two beasts, the whore of Babylon, etc. can be interpreted as referring to different aspects of life under the Soviet (collective) Antichrist. At the same time these prophecies may be fulfilled again, and still more precisely, under the Jewish (personal) Antichrist, who will be enthroned in Jerusalem seven years before the end of the world. One purpose of the present work is to acquaint the general reader with the remarkable prophecies and interpretations of the holy Fathers and Martyrs of the Russian Church during the last two centuries. For it is the Russian Church which has both borne the chief brunt of antichristian persecution in this period and given birth to the greatest number of prophets capable of interpreting the signs of the times. These include Saints Seraphim of Sarov, Ambrose of Optina, John of Kronstadt and many of the holy new martyrs and confessors.
Thus, as Tikhomirov writes, “besides the usual symbolism, we must bear in mind that various events in the world are so-called types of other events which follow them. In the type, which has an exceptionally great significance in Christian exegesis, we come across one of the most mysterious of the world’s phenomena.”
Having said that, there is no doubt that the dogmatic content of the Apocalypse is hardly less important that its prophetic, eschatological content. Thus in it we find very valuable witnesses to the dogmas of the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Christ and especially the dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. For in our present age, when all the Christian dogmas are under ferocious attack, the witness of the Apocalypse to the nature of the relationship between Christ and His Church is especially valuable. Thus here we see Christ exhorting, praising, warning and comforting local Churches, promising eternal life to some and threatening others with excommunication. And here, too, we find many references to the liturgical life of the early Church, to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, to candles and vestments and incense, to the prayers of the Saints and the intimate interpenetration of the Heavenly and Earthly Churches. In all this we find confirmation of the Faith and practice of the Orthodox Church and refutation of the heresies of Catholicism and Protestantism.
Moreover, we see in the Apocalypse that the Church is One, united through the One Faith under a single Head, Christ; and that those who fall away into various sects and heresies are not part of the One Church but cut off from both her and her Head. This is a valuable witness against the chief heresy of our time, ecumenism, which denies the dogma of the One Church. Finally, we are given a vision of the Church in glory beyond space and time, which, in our age, when the vision of the Church has become so trivialised, is not the least of the book’s many treasures.
Again, the prophetic and dogmatic content of the Apocalypse is intimately connected with its pastoral content. Since we live in the last times, in constant peril of being at any moment cut off from Christ and His Holy Church, the Chief Shepherd addresses us with words charged with pastoral love and concern. He exhorts us to flee the moral laxity and indifference to the truth of the false religions and culture of our time, symbolized by the figure of the whore of Babylon, and to stand firm against the attempts of the false political and scientific structures of our time, symbolized by the two beasts, to accept the seal of the Antichrist.
He fills us with a godly fear by depicting the torments that await the impious, but strengthens us with hope in the eventual complete triumph of truth over falsehood and the indescribable joy of the life of the age to come. The choice is set before us in the starkest possible terms. But lest we grow faint-hearted at the enormity of the challenge, He shows us that He and the whole might of the Heavenly Church are ready to help us at any moment.
Some words on the structure of the work. With this question are bound up many basic problems of interpretation. For it is precisely “with the understanding of the plan of the Apocalypse that the difficulties begin. The basic question comes down to: are the events foretold in the Apocalypse ordered in one consequential series, or are we dealing with several repeated series of events in which the same events are enlightened from various sides (the theory of ‘recapitulation’)”.
I believe that the Apocalypse most naturally divides into three major prophecies, each of which ends with the end of the world or, in the case of the third prophecy, the life of the age to come. The first prophecy, “The Seven Churches of Asia”, relates in the first place to the spiritual life of the Seven Local Churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century A.D. According to an interpretation of Archbishop Averky which I shall develop in detail, the prophecy also refers to seven phases in the life of the Church as a whole from the first century to the Antichrist. The second prophecy, “The Seven Seals”, describes, according to the present interpretation, the history of the Church in the last times, from 1914 to the Second Coming of Christ. The third prophecy, “The Seven Vials”, is the least historical, or, to put it another way, the most meta-historical; for the main figures symbolize the True Church, the False Church, False Politics and False Science in all ages and places. At the same time, they clearly relate to historical events of the last times described in the two earlier prophecies, but in a more generalized way. Thus the woman fleeing into the wilderness, while referring to the True Church in all ages fleeing from the world, also recalls more specifically the Philadelphian Church of chapter three and her sufferings. Again, the beast who destroys the whore and is in turn destroyed by Christ is clearly the same Antichrist against which the two witnesses prophesy in chapter ten.
I agree with Tikhomirov that “a chronological succession of events seems to be noticeable in three parts of the Apocalypse: 1) in the instruction to the seven churches of Asia, 2) in the breaking of the seals, 3) in the seven trumpet voices and the seven vials of the wrath of God”. Accordingly, I have given an historical interpretation to each of these three parts. The extremely complex symbols of this prophecy may be seen as describing the struggle between the mystery of godliness (I Timothy 3.16) and the mystery of iniquity (II Thessalonians 2.7) from before the beginning of the visible creation to beyond its end as we know it. For the Apocalypse ultimately goes beyond time and into eternity, “the Eighth Day”. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1.1), the Word Who was in the beginning (John 1.1) and of Whose knowledge there will be no end (John 21.25). That is why, although the passing of time and the emergence of new signs of the times has to some degree increased our knowledge, the Apocalypse remains, for all those still clothed in flesh and blood, a sealed book.
The Sources of the Interpretation
The Apocalypse “constitutes as it were a great river formed out of rivers and streams of Old Testament prophecy united into one and falling into the sea of eternity itself”. In the following interpretation, therefore, my main source has been Old and New Testament prophecy. In addition, on the principle that the Spirit that speaks through the prophets is one, I have made extensive use of many prophecies of Orthodox saints, and especially of recent saints of the Russian Catacomb Church, which seem to me to illumine passages from the Apocalypse when set next to them. Several of these prophecies refer to a Third World War and a period of peace and plenty immediately after the war but before the reign of the personal Antichrist. I admit that the conjunction of these prophecies with the Apocalypse is speculative; only time, and the fulfilment of the prophecies themselves, will tell whether it has been successful; and I ask the reader’s forgiveness if it turns out to be mistaken in any given case.
As regards commentaries on the Scripture, I have made extensive use of the writings of the holy Fathers and Teachers of the Orthodox Church, including the well-known commentaries of St. Hippolytus, Pope of Rome (about 230) and St. Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea (fifth century). However, the meaning of the Apocalypse is only partly explained by the interpretations of holy Fathers who lived many centuries before our time. If they had lived in our time, when many of the prophecies are being fulfilled before our eyes, they would undoubtedly have wanted to modify and add to their interpretations to accord with their understanding of contemporary events. For, as Fr. Seraphim Rose notes, “as history proceeds to its end, the meaning of some of the images will become clearer. Archbishop Averky himself notes that some of the image simply cannot be understood yet, while of others (for example, the locusts and horses of ch. 9) he hazards interpretations based on the 20th-century experience of warfare.”
In addition, therefore, to the writings of the early Fathers, I have made use of many articles and observations by contemporary or near-contemporary Church writers who have illumined, as it seems to me, certain passages. Among these I have made extensive use of the commentaries of Bishop Peter of Tomsk, St. John of Kronstadt (+1908), Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava (+1940) and Archbishop Averky of Jordanville (+1976).
East House, Beech Hill, Mayford, Woking, Surrey. United Kingdom.
February 24 / March 9, 2005.
Finding of the Head of the Holy Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist John.
I. THE FIRST VISION: THE SEVEN CHURCHES
OR: THE CHURCH IN TIME
Introduction. The First and the Last
1.1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.
St. John of Kronstadt writes: "The name Apocalypse, i.e. the Revelation of Jesus Christ, signifies the declaration of the mysteries of the future judgement and recompense [and] renovation of the world, which must shortly come to pass. Shortly, however, in this sense, as St. Andrew of Caesarea says, that something of what is predicted in the Revelation is, so to speak, at hand. But even that which relates to the end of time is not very distant, for a thousand years before God are as yesterday."
One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Peter 3.8).
As Nicholas Vasileiades writes, "just as the first book of Holy Scripture, Genesis, is concerned with the creation of the world, so the last, the Apocalypse, is concerned with the consummation of all things.
The authority for this prophecy is Jesus Christ, Who received it from God the Father; for I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things (John 8.28).
All prophecy comes from the Father, in the Son, and through the Holy Spirit. It is not given to human nature, unenlightened by the Grace of God, to know the future. That is why the Lord in His manhood said of His Second Coming: Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father (Mark 13.32), while in His Divinity He certainly knew both the day and the hour.
For, as St. Athanasius the Great points out, "after saying neither the Son He relates to the disciples the things which will precede that day, and says that this and that will happen, and then the end. Now He that speaks of what will precede that day also has full knowledge of that day which will come after the events foretold. And if He had not known the hour, He would not have pointed to the events preceding it, not knowing when that hour would be... Certainly, then, it is evident that as the Word He knows the hour and the end of all things, although as man He is ignorant of it; for ignorance is proper to man, and especially in these matters."
1.1-2. And He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John: who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that He saw.
The Revelation was transmitted through an angel to God's servant John the Apostle and Evangelist, who then recorded it for posterity. Such is the mark of all true knowledge. It comes to us from God, through the mediation of His holy servants - angels, apostles and prophets.
Thus St. Ambrose of Optina writes: "All that relates to the creation of the world, the destinies of peoples and the salvation of men has been revealed by the Almighty Lord to chosen holy men, prophets and apostles, who were enlightened by the light of His Divine knowledge, and by whom all this was handed down and written in the Bible, that is, in the books of the Old and New Testaments."
However, in the Holy Scriptures there are some things hard to understand, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest... unto their own destruction (II Peter 3.16). Especially is this true of prophecy, which is why no prophecy is of any private interpretation (II Peter 1.20). Thus "everything in the Bible which is hidden and unclear has been explained to other holy men chosen by God, pastors and teachers of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church" (St. Ambrose).
And yet even the saints trembled on approaching the interpretation of the Apocalypse. For, as St. Hippolytus of Rome writes, "if the blessed prophets who preceded us did not choose to proclaim these things, though they knew them, openly and boldly, lest they should disquiet the souls of men, but recounted them mystically in parables and dark sayings, speaking thus, Here is the mind that hath wisdom (17.9), how much greater risk shall we run in venturing to declare openly things spoken by them in obscure terms!" But out of love for their fellow men they did approach the interpretation of this mysterious work, lest Christians should be deprived of the enormous spiritual riches contained within it.
Thus every individual Christian on approaching the Scriptures, and a fortiori the Apocalypse, is in the position of the Ethiopian eunuch, who, on being asked whether he understood what he was reading, replied: How can I, unless some man should guide me? (Acts 8.31). So he has recourse to the pastors and teachers of the Church, from whom he receives the true understanding of Scripture, the interpretation that has been handed down in the Church from the earliest Christian generations. Every succeeding generation of Christian teachers builds on this sacred deposit of inspired scriptural interpretation, making clear "what is hidden and unclear in the Bible, not according to their own understanding, but as it is explained in the books of men inspired by God and enlightened with the light of Divine knowledge,... the books of the holy and God-inspired Fathers of the Orthodox Church" (St. Ambrose).
It is on the basis of this "consensus of the Fathers" that we know that the writer of the Apocalypse was the Apostle John. Thus Archbishop Averky writes: "The writer of the Apocalypse calls himself John (1.1, 4.9). In the common belief of the Church, this was the holy Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Christ, who for the height of his teaching concerning God the Word received the distinctive title of 'Theologian'. To his inspired pen belongs also the fourth canonical Gospel and the three Catholic Epistles. This belief of the Church is justified both by facts indicated in the Apocalypse itself, and by many internal and external signs.
"1) The writer of the Apocalypse calls himself John at the very beginning, saying that to him was given the Revelation of Jesus Christ (1.1). Further, greeting the seven churches of Asia Minor, he again calls himself John (1.4). Later he again calls himself John, saying that he was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ (1.9). From the history of the apostles it is known that it is precisely St. John the Theologian who was subjected to exile on the island of Patmos. And finally, at the end of the Apocalypse, the writer again calls himself John (22.8). In the second verse of the first chapter, he calls himself an eyewitness of Jesus Christ (cf. I John 1.3).
"The opinion that the Apocalypse was written by a certain 'Presbyter John' is totally without foundation. The very existence of this 'Presbyter John' as a person separate from the Apostle John is rather dubious. The only testimony which gives reason to speak about 'Presbyter John' is a passage from a work of Papias which has been preserved by the historian Eusebius. It is extremely indefinite and give opportunity only for guesses and suppositions which contradict each other. Likewise the opinion is totally without foundation that ascribes the writing of the Apocalypse to John Mark, that is, the Evangelist Mark. Even more absurd is the opinion of the Roman presbyter Gaius (3rd century) that the Apocalypse was written by the heretic Cerinthus.
"2) The second proof that the Apocalypse belongs to the Apostle John the Theologian is its similarity to the Gospel and Epistles of John, not only in spirit but also in style, and especially in several characteristic expressions. Thus, for example, the apostolic preaching is called here testimony or witness (1.2, 9; 20.4; cf. John 1.7; 3.11; 21.24; I John 5.9-10). The Lord Jesus Christ is called the Word (19.13; cf. John 1.1-14; I John 1.1) as well as the Lamb (5.6; 17.14; cf. John 1.36). The prophetic words of Zechariah, And they shall look on Him Whom they pierced (12.10), are cited identically both in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse in accordance with the translation of the Seventy (1.7 and John 19.37).
"Some have found that the language of the Apocalypse is supposedly to be distinguished from the language of the other writings of the Apostle John. This difference is easily explained, both by the difference of content and by the conditions in which the writings of the holy Apostle had their origin. Although the holy apostle knew Greek well, still, finding himself in exile far from the living conversational language, he naturally placed in the Apocalypse the seal of the powerful influence of the Hebrew language, being himself a Jew by birth. For the objective reader of the Apocalypse there is no doubt that on its whole content there lies the seal of the great spirit of the apostle of love and contemplation.
"3) All the ancient as well as the later patristic testimonies acknowledge St. John the Theologian to be the author of the Apocalypse. His disciple, Papias of Hierapolis, calls the writer of the Apocalypse 'Presbyter John', a name which the holy apostle gives to himself in his own Epistles (II John 1, III John 1).
"The testimony of St. Justin the Martyr is also important. Before his conversion to Christianity he lived for a long time in Ephesus, the city where the great apostle himself lived for a long time and reposed.
"Furthermore, many holy Fathers cite passages from the Apocalypse as from a Divinely inspired book belonging to St. John the Theologian. Such quotations are to be found in the works of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was a disciple of St. John the Theologian; St. Hippolytus, Pope of Rome and disciple of Irenaeus, who even wrote an apology on the Apocalypse; Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen likewise acknowledge the holy Apostle John as the writer of the Apocalypse. In the same way Ephraim the Syrian, Epiphanius, Basil the Great, Hilary, Athanasius the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Didymus, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome were convinced of this. The thirty-third canon of the Council of Carthage, ascribing the Apocalypse to St. John the Theologian, places it in the rank of the other canonical books."(Archbishop Averky)
1.3. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand.
"The book of the Apocalypse has, consequently, not only a prophetic, but also a moral significance. The meaning of these words is as follows: Blessed is he who, on reading this book, will prepare himself by his life and deeds of piety for eternity; for the translation to eternity is near for each one of us." (Archbishop Averky)
St. Barsanuphius of Optina wrote: "In the Apocalypse it is said: Blessed is he that readeth the words of this book. If this is written, it means that it is really so, for the words of the Sacred Scripture are the words of the Holy Spirit. But in what does this blessedness consist? The more so, in that people may object that we do not understand anything of what is written. Perhaps it consists in the consolation to be gained from reading the Divine words. One can also think as follows: that which is not understood by us now will become understandable when the time described comes to pass. Judge for yourselves. Who reads the Apocalypse now? Almost exclusively those who live in monasteries and in theological academies and seminaries - they have to. But in the world hardly anyone reads it. Clearly, then, he who reads the Apocalypse before the end of the world will be truly blessed, for he will understand what is taking place. And in understanding he will prepare himself. In reading he will see in the events described in the Apocalypse one or other of the events contemporary with him."
New Hieromartyr Bishop Mark (Novoselov) writes: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy concerning the future destinies of the Church and keep those things that are written therein, cries the holy seer of her great and wondrous destinies! Blessed is he who, attending to the Lord's revelation concerning the destiny of the Church of God, does not doubt in the truth of her triumph over her enemies or in the final, complete victory of her Founder and supreme Master over the ancient serpent, the age-old slayer of man, who rose up against the Kingdom of God and never ceases to arm himself against Him with all the powers and resources of hell! Blessed is he who hopes on the almighty power of the meek Lamb, slain for the salvation of the world, and who does not fall away from Him amidst the terrible temptations that have befallen the Church, but rather takes inspiration from his participation in her universal triumph, which will be revealed at the end of the age!"
1.4. John to the seven churches which are in Asia.
"The number seven is usually taken as an expression of fulness. St. John addresses here only the seven churches with which he, as one who lived in Ephesus, was in especially close and frequent contact. But in these seven he addresses at the same time the Christian Church as a whole." (Archbishop Averky)
St. Cyprian of Carthage writes: "In the New Testament seven sons signify seven churches. For. Paul also wrote to seven Churches (Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica), and in the Apocalypse (1.4) seven churches are mentioned… The days of Genesis are seven, and the angels who are before the face of God are seven, according to the words of the Angel Raphael in the book of Tobit (12.15). And the lampstand in the tabernacle has seven lamps (Exodus 25.31), and God's eyes watching over the world are seven. And Zechariah's stone has seven facets (Zechariah 3.9), and the spirits are seven, and the pillars on which, according to Solomon, Wisdom has built her house, are seven!"
Samson, according to St. Ephraim the Syrian, "carried seven cedars as an image of seven-rayed grace." And Delilah cut off seven locks of his hair, in which consisted his extraordinary strength (Judges 16.14-19).
“By these seven churches,” says the Venerable Bede, “he writes to every church, for universality is usually denoted by the number seven, in that the whole time of this age is evolved from seven days.” For “those numbers which the divine Scripture more eminently commends, as the seventh, or tenth, or twelfth [signify], for the most part, either the whole course of time, or the perfection of anything..., as seven times in a day I sing praise unto Thee (Psalm 98.164), is nothing else than, His praise was ever in my mouth (Psalm 32.2). And they are of the same value also when they are multiplied either by ten, as seventy and seven hundred, in which case, the seventy years of Jerusalem may be taken spiritually for the whole time during which the Church is among aliens; or by themselves, as ten by ten is a hundred, and twelve by twelve is a hundred and forty-four, by which number the whole body of the saints is denoted in the Apocalypse.”
Lev Tikhomirov writes: “In the person [of the Asian churches] the Saviour addresses the whole Universal Church in seven manfestations and moments of her existence”.
If the number seven is an expression of fullness, then the seven Churches express the fullness of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is, as it were, the Eighth, Universal Church dwelling in each of the seven local ones.
Again, St. Gregory Palamas points out there are seven resurrections from the dead recorded in Holy Scripture before the Lord's own (III Kings 17.22; IV Kings 4; IV Kings 13; Luke 7; Mark 5 and Luke 8; John 11 and Matthew 27.52-52). The number seven is to be honoured, he says, because it leads to the number eight, which signifies eternity. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, rose on the eighth day and His resurrection was the eighth in Holy Scripture.
1.4. Grace unto you, from Him Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come.
St. Andrew of Caesarea writes: "Grace to you and peace from the Tri-Personal Divinity. The phrase Who is signifies the Father, Who said to Moses: I AM HE WHO IS (Exodus 3.14). The expression Who was signifies the Word, Who was in the beginning with God (John 1.2). The phrase Who is to come indicates the Comforter, Who always descends upon the Church's children in Holy Baptism and is to descend in all fullness in the future age (Acts 2)."
The Venerable Bede writes: “Grace he desires from us, and peace from God, the eternal Father, and from the sevenfold Spirit, and from Jesus Christ, Who gave testimony to the Father in His Incarnation. He names the Son in the third place, as he was to speak further of Him. He names Him also the last in order, as He is the first and the last.”
Grace descended upon the assembled Church at Pentecost, revealing to them for the first time with full clarity the dogma of the One God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is therefore fitting that the first mention of the Holy Trinity in the Apocalypse should be linked with the first mention of the Church. For the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth (I Timothy 3.15), and the many-personed reflection of the Trihypostatic Divinity.
1.4. And from the seven spirits which are before His throne.
"By these seven spirits it is most natural to understand the seven main angels, who are mentioned in Tobit 12.15. St. Andrew of Caesarea, however, understands by these the angels ruling the seven churches. But many interpreters understand by this expression the Holy Spirit Himself, Who reveals Himself in seven main gifts (cf. Isaiah 11.1-3)." (Archbishop Averky)
The angels are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth (Zechariah 4.10). They both intercede on our behalf (Matthew 18.10) and convey our prayers to God. It is not that God needs intermediaries, nor that there is not only one Mediator between God and man, as being both God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ (I Timothy 2.5). The mediation of angels is simply the natural consequence of the living bond of faith and love existing between the Church in heaven and the Church on earth (Hebrews 12.22-24).
St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Saint Basil says the energies of the Spirit are many. But on this account there are not many Gods or many Spirits, for these realities are processions, manifestations and natural energies of the one Spirit, and in each case the Agent is one. When the heterodox call these creatures, they degrade the Spirit of God to a creature sevenfold. But let their shame be sevenfold, for a prophet again says of the energies, These are the seven eyes that look upon all the earth [Zechariah 4.10]. And it is so written in Revelation, and clearly demonstrates to the faithful that these are the Holy Spirit.”
1.5. And from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten from the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth.
"For, having witnessed before Pontius Pilate, He was faithful in all His words (Psalm 144.13)." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
The Lord came into the world to witness to the truth - the truth, namely, that He is the Christ, the Son of God (John 18.37, 20.31). And he proved the truth of His words by His Resurrection from the dead, becoming the first-fruits of them that slept (I Corinthians 15.20). Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth (Philippians 2.9-11; cf. I Timothy 6.16).
"In the greeting of St. John the Theologian to the Churches the Trihypostatic Divinity, from Whom grace and peace are bestowed, is represented symbolically. Thus when John speaks of the Hypostasis of the Father, He mentions Him Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, that is, contains the beginning, the middle and the end of all that exists. When He speaks of the Holy Spirit, he mentions the seven spirits which are before the throne of the Father, and this signifies the gifts of the life-giving Spirit. But when he speaks of the second Person of the Trihypostatic Divinity, he calls Him Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness (for He witnessed before the sanhedrin and Pilate to the fact that He was the true King and Son of God, sitting at the right hand of the Father and being about to come on the clouds of heaven), the first-begotten from the dead (for He is the resurrection of life) and the prince of the kings of the earth (as King of kings and Lord of lords)." (St. John of Kronstadt)
St. Athanasius writes: "He is said to be the First-begotten from the dead, not that He died before us, for we had died first; but because having undergone death for us and abolished it, He was the first to rise as a man, for our sake raising His own Body. Henceforth, He having risen, we, too, from Him and because of Him rise in due course from the dead."
Prince of the kings of the earth. A. Zhdanov writes: “This second (closely connected with the first) consequence of the witness of the cross of Christ in relation to Him is the vesting in the highest royal power over all the lords of the earth. In the Old Testament through the lips of the prophets God announced the Messiah: I shall make Him My first-born, higher than the kings of the earth (Psalm 88.28); I shall give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession (Psalm2.8); cf. Daniel 7.14; Isaiah 9.6-7). In the New Testament the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled: Jesus Christ, having brilliantly overthrown the kingdoms of the world and their glory, offered to Him by the prince of darkness (Matthew 4.8-10), by the all-powerful right hand of God the Father is seated at His right hand after the resurrection and ascension, far above every dominion and authority and power and lordship (Ephesians 1.21), as the head of every authority and power (Colossians 2.10; cf. Philippians 2.8-10), and, according to the book of Revelation, as the Lord of lords and King of kings he will war against the rulers that are hostile to Him and opposed to the power of God and His Christ (Revelation 17.14; 19.16).”
1.5-6. Unto Him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us a kingdom and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages. Amen.
In the Old Testament, God ordained the Hebrews to be a peculiar people above all nations,... a royal priesthood and a holy nation (Exodus 19.5-6), some from among them being specially set aside and anointed for a kingly or priestly service. In the same way, in the New Testament, God has ordained the Church, the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), composed of both Jews and Gentiles, to be a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people (I Peter 2.9), some from among us being in a similar manner specially set aside and ordained for a kingly or priestly service. And this is accomplished through our life in the Holy One of Israel, the King and Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. For as Christ the King showed Himself Victor over death and over him that has the power of death, the devil (Hebrews 2.14), so we through Him have the power to conquer the death-dealing passions, and to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10.19). And as Christ the Great High Priest offered Himself as a Sacrifice on the Cross for the sins of the world, so we through Him offer both our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God (Romans 12.1) and the sacrifice of praise to God continually (Hebrews 13.15).
“Because the King of kings and heavenly Priest united us to His own body by offering Himself for us, there is not one of the saints who has not spiritually the office of priesthood, in that he is a member of the eternal Priest.” (The Venerable Bede).
Archimandrites Seraphim and Sergius write: "Independently of this universal priesthood of the people of God, which is received by each Orthodox Christian in the sacrament of holy chrismation, there exist special ministries in the Church that are linked with official gifts received in the sacrament of the priesthood by means of ordination in accordance with apostolic succession...
"And in the Old Testament God calls the Israelite people a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6), but only in a general, metaphorical sense, for the special priesthood serving the temple in Jerusalem was given by God not to the whole people, but to one of the twelve tribes of Israel - the tribe of Levi (Numbers 3.6-12; cf. Hebrews 7.11). Consequently, the universal priesthood of the Israelite people did not at all exclude the necessity of a special priesthood, whose ministry was inaccessible even to royal personages, as appears from the incident with King Uzziah, who was punished by God with leprosy for having dared to cense in the temple of the Lord (II Chronicles 26.19).
"In conformity with this, there exists also in the New Testament, besides the universal royal priesthood (I Peter 2.9), which consists of the Orthodox Christians as being the holy people (in the sense of dedicated to God), a grace-filled, ministerial priesthood selected from its midst, which does not extend to laymen, who have not received the special consecration in accordance with the line of apostolic succession."
Unto the ages of ages. St. John of Damascus writes: "He created the ages Who Himself was before the ages, Whom the divine David thus addresses, From age to age Thou art (Psalm 89.2). The divine apostles also says, Through Whom He created the ages (Hebrews 1.2).
"It must then be understood that the word 'age' has various meanings, for it denotes many things. The life of each man is called an age. Again, a period of a thousand years is called an age. Again, the whole course of the present life is called an age. Also, the future life, the immortal life after the resurrection, is spoken of as an age. Again, the word 'age' is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. For age is to things eternal what time is to things temporal.
"Seven ages of this world are spoken of, from the creation of the heaven and earth till the general consummation and resurrection of men. For there is a partial consummation, viz., the death of each man; but there is also a general and complete consummation, when the general resurrection of men will come to pass. And the eighth age is the age to come.
"Before the world was formed, when there was as yet no sun dividing day from night, there was not an age such as could be measured, but there was the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with eternity. And in this sense there is but one age, and God is spoken of as aiwnioV and proaiwnioV, for the age or aeon itself is His creation. For God, Who alone is without beginning is Himself the Creator of all things, whether age or any other existing thing. And when I say God, it is evident that I mean the Father and His Only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and His all-holy Spirit, our one God.
"But we speak also of ages of ages, inasmuch as the seven ages of the present world include many ages in the sense of lives of men, and the one age embraces all ages, and the present and the future are spoken of as ages of ages. Further, everlasting life and everlasting punishment prove that the age or aeon to come is unending. For time will not be counted by days and nights even after the resurrection, but there will rather be one day with no evening, wherein the Sun of Righteousness will shine brightly on the righteous, but for the sinful there will be night profound and limitless... Of all the ages, therefore, the sole creator is God, Who hath also created the universe and Who was before the ages."
1.7. Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.
“He Who was concealed when at first He came to be judged, will be manifested when He shall come to judge” (The Venerable Bede).
Patriarch Anthimus of Jerusalem writes: "The clouds signify the heavenly powers of angels and saints."
"Here is depicted the second glorious Coming of Christ, in complete agreement with the depiction of this Coming in the Gospels (Matthew 24.30, 25.31; Mark 13.26; Luke 21.27; John 19.37). After the greeting (in the first verses of the book), in this verse the holy apostle immediately speaks of the Second Coming of Christ and of the Last Judgement in order to signify the chief theme of this book. This is done in order to prepare readers to accept the great and fearful revelations which he has received about this." (Archbishop Averky)
1.7-8. Even so, Amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, Who is, and Who was, and Who is to come, the Almighty.
St. Gregory the Theologian writes: “This is clearly spoken of the Son”.
“By interposing an Amen, He confirms that that which, by the revelation of God, he knows will most certainly to come to pass, will undoubtedly take place” (The Venerable Bede).
I am the First and the Last; besides Me there is no God (Isaiah 44.6; cf. 48.12).
Thou rulest over all things, O Lord, Thou art the Beginning of every beginning (I Chronicles 29.12).
Blessed Jerome writes: “The apostle writing to the Ephesians [1.10] teaches that God has purposed in the fullness of time to sum up and renew in Christ Jesus all things which are in heaven and in earth. Whence also the Saviour Himself in the Revelation of John says, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”
“He is the beginning Whom no one precedes, the end Whom no one succeeds in His Kingdom” (The Venerable Bede).
"The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Almighty signifies that in Jesus Christ is the beginning, the middle and the end of everything that exists." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"To confirm the unchangeableness and inevitability of the Second Coming and the Last Judgement of God, the holy apostle adds, on his own part: Even so, Amen, and then testifies to the truth of this by indicating Him Who is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of everything that exists: the Lord Jesus Christ is the One Who alone is without beginning and without end, the cause of everything that exists; He is eternal; He is the end and the aim towards which everything strives." (Archbishop Averky)
"The Greeks have twenty-four letters, of which the first is 'alpha' and the last is 'omega', signifying that even before the creation of the world and after its end God is without beginning and infinite." (Patriarch Anthimus)
"In verse 4 above the words Which is, and which was, and which is to come refer to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, as explained by St. Andrew; this is clear because the same sentence continues (in verse 5), and from Jesus Christ. Here, however, with the addition of the words the Almighty, the same words refer to One Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, and are used by St. Gregory the Theologian in his treatise 'On the Son' as a proof that Jesus Christ is truly God (Third Theological Oration, ch. 17; Eerdmans tr., p. 307). St. Athanasius the Great, in his First Discourse against the Arians, uses the same quote from the Apocalypse to prove the same thing (ch. 4, Eerdmans translation, p. 312). Concerning this St. Andrew says in his commentary (ch. 1), 'The divinely splendid words are fitting equally for each of the Persons separately and for All together.'"
In these two verses the vast scope and supreme authority of the Apocalypse is indicated. As in the beginning of St. John's Gospel, Jesus Christ is unambiguously proclaimed to be no one less than the Pre-eternal God. So His Revelation is no merely human speculation about the future, but the product of the Divine omniscience which surveys the whole of human history from the viewpoint of eternity.
1.9. I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
"As for the means by which he was given revelations, St. John indicates first of all the place where he was vouchsafed to receive them. This is the island of Patmos, one of the Sporades islands in the Aegean Sea, a desert and precipitous place 40 miles in circumference, located between the island of Icaria and the Cape of Miletus, little inhabited because of the lack of water, the unhealthy climate and the barrenness of the earth. In a cave in a certain mountain, even there is indicated the place where St. John received the revelations. Here there is a small Greek monastery, called 'the Monastery of the Apocalypse'.
"In the same verse mention is also made of the time when St. John received the Apocalypse. This was when St. John was in exile on the island of Patmos, in his own expression, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ, that is, for his fervent apostolic preaching of Jesus Christ. The fiercest persecution against Christians in the first century was under the Emperor Nero. Tradition says that St. John first of all was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, out of which he emerged unharmed and with renewed strength. The expression in tribulation, according to the meaning of the original Greek expression, signifies here the 'suffering' which occurred as a result of persecution and torment - the same thing as 'martyrdom'.
"However, ancient tradition indicates for this [the time of writing of the Apocalypse] the end of the first century. Thus St. Irenaeus writes, 'The Apocalypse appeared not long before this and almost in our time, at the end of the reign of Domitian' (Against Heresies 5.30). The church historian Eusebius states that the pagan writers contemporary to him also mention the exile of the holy Apostle John on the island of Patmos for his testimony of the Divine Word, and they refer this event to the 15th year of the reign of Domitian, 95 or 96 A.D. Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Blessed Jerome affirm the same thing...
"Each of the seven Asia Minor churches which St. John addresses already has its own history and a direction of religious life which in one way or another has already been defined. Christianity in them is already not in its first stage of purity and truth; false Christianity strives to occupy a place in them side by side with true Christianity. All this presupposes that the activity of the holy Apostle Paul, who preached for a long time in Ephesus, was something that had occurred in the distant past. This point of view, founded upon the testimony of St. Irenaeus and Eusebius, refers the time of writing of the Apocalypse to the years 95-96 A.D." (Archbishop Averky)
Another fact in favour of this date is the reference, in chapter 2 verse 13, to the Martyr Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum, who is known to have died in 92 A.D.
1.10. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.
"This condition of seeing with incorporeal eyes and hearing without bodily ears but with one's spiritual nature, is different from dreaming, for it takes place also when one is awake, in the struggle of prayer. This is a condition of spiritual contemplation in which the visible and the invisible supplement each other in one and the same place, at one and the same time." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"In this verse St. John gives the very day on which he was vouchsafed the revelations. This was the Lord's day (in Greek, Kuriakh hmera), which is Sunday. This was the first day of the week, which the Jews called mia Sabbatwn, that is, the first day after the Sabbath; but the Christians called it 'the Lord's day' in honour of the Resurrected Lord. The very existence of such a name already indicates that the Christians celebrated this day in place of the Old Testament Sabbath." (Archbishop Averky)
St. Jerome writes: "The Lord's day, the day of the Resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day. It is called the Lord's day because on this day the Lord ascended to the Father as Victor; but when the heathens call it the day of the sun, we are most happy to acknowledge their title, for today has risen the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings (Malachi 4.2)."
The Lord's day is also known in Church Tradition as the eighth day. It signifies the beginning of eternity, as opposed to the seventh day, which signifies the fullness of time. "The sixth psalm has the superscription: A Psalm of David at the end of the hymns, concerning the eighth, which by interpretation means concerning the eighth day, that is, the general day of the resurrection and of the coming terrible judgement of God..." (St. Ambrose)
"Having mentioned the place and time, St. John indicates likewise his own condition, in which he was vouchsafed the apocalyptic visions. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, he says. In the language of the Prophets, to be in the Spirit is to be in the spiritual condition of a man who sees, hears and feels not only with his bodily organs, but with all his inward being. This is not a dream, for such a condition occurs also when one is awake.
"In such an extraordinary condition of his spirit," continues Archbishop Averky, "St. John heard a loud voice as of a trumpet:
“He is first admonished by a voice, that he may direct his attention to the vision” (The Venerable Bede).
1.11. Saying, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last; and what thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia: unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyateira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
"He called Himself, not in Hebrew, but in Greek: the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. To the Jews in the Old Testament He revealed Himself under the name 'Jehovah', which signifies 'He that exists from the beginning' or 'He Who Is'; but here He calls Himself by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, indicating by this that He contains within Himself, like the Father, everything that exists in all the manifestations of being from the beginning to the end. It is characteristic that He declares Himself here as it were under a new name, and it is a Greek name, the Alpha and the Omega, as if desiring to show that He is the Messiah for all peoples, who at that time everywhere spoke the Greek language and used the Greek written language.
"The revelation is given to the seven churches comprising the metropolia of Ephesus, which St. John the Theologian then governed, having his permanent dwelling in Ephesus. But of course, in the person of these seven churches the revelation is also given to the whole Church. The number seven, moreover, has a mystical meaning, signifying completeness. Therefore it may be placed here as a symbol of the Ecumenical Church, to which as a whole the Apocalypse is addressed." (Archbishop Averky)
“The Church of Christ was not at that time only in these places, but all fulness is comprised in the number seven. Asia, which is interpreted to mena ‘elevation’, denotes the proud exaltation of the world in which the Church is sojourning, and, as is the method of the divine mystery, the genus is contained in the species. For the Apostle Paul also writes to seven churches, but not to the same as St. John. And although these seven churches are a sevenfold figure of the whole Church, still the things which he blames, or praises, came to pass in them one by one” (The Venerable Bede).
Pilgrims to the Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos are shown a three-pronged crevice in the ceiling of the cave which is said to have been created when the Lord spoke to St. John.
1.12-16. And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And, being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire. And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace. And His voice as the sound of many waters. And He had in His right hand seven stars. And out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. And His countenance was as the sun shining in his strength.
The seven candlesticks here, which represent the grace-bearing capacity of the New Testament Church, should be compared with the single candlestick in Zechariah 4, which refers to that of the Old Testament Church. As David Baron explains: "Often did God in effect threaten Israel through the prophets to remove His candlestick; but in His long-suffering for a long time, even after the sceptre, the emblem of governmental power, had been removed, the candlestick - which is the emblem of Israel's religious or ecclesiastical position as witness for God… - was not taken away till the cup of his national iniquity was filled up in the rejection of Him Who is the Light of light, for the diffusion of which this very candlestick was formed, and in their final resistance of the Holy Spirit. Then the Kingdom of God was taken away from them and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof.
"On the disappearance of the candlestick from Israel, the seven golden candlesticks come into view as representing the new people of God, the Church of this dispensation planted on the earth, that during the period of Israel's blindness and darkness it might fulfil Israel's mission of shining before the Lord in His sanctuary, and letting its light stream out into the night of the world's darkness: the seven as representing the Church, instead of the one as representing Israel is not without significance.
"The seven Christian ekklhsiai selected by the Lord out of the many Christian assemblies which already then existed even in that one pro-consular province of Asia, to be symbolised by the seven golden lucniai (lampstands), are meant to represent the one Church of Christ through all time, and in all places, during the present dispensation."
This description of Christ is closely reminiscent of the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; cf. 10.5-6). The following elements may be discerned in it according to Archbishop Averky's interpretation: (i) the Great High Priest clothed in the ephod, a garment of the Jewish chief priests (Exodus 28.31); (ii) the King girded about the breast with a golden belt; (iii) the Pre-eternal God of one essence with the Father, Whose white hair signifies His eternity (Daniel 7.13; cf. Matthew 17.2); (iv) the fearful Judge of the living and the dead, Whose eyes see all and Whose word is all-penetrating (cf. Hebrews 4.12); (v) the Lord of the Church, in Whose hand are all Her shepherds ("these seven stars signify the seven representatives of the churches, or bishops, called here the angels of the churches"). Once again, the emphasis is on the Divine nature of Christ, which is characteristic of all of St. John's writings.
"That which was a foreshadowing in the vision of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah ch. 6) was contemplated by John in its fullness, for instead of the Seraphim the Son of Man was surrounded by seven candlesticks, that is, by the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and in His right hand were seven stars, that is, the leaders of the Universal Church, through whom He steered the helm of the great church ark. His being clothed in a podir has the same significance as the long garment filling the temple to the edges in the vision of the holy Prophet Isaiah, that is, the fullness of grace given by the Church. His being girded round the breast with a golden belt signifies the grace of the two Testaments: the Old and the New, by which the righteous wrath of God is as it were bound by the promises of clemency for sinners." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The Orthodox Church service for the Meeting of the Lord (Feb. 2) identifies the Ancient of Days with God the Son ('The Ancient of Days appears this day as a babe'). Thus, in this interpretation, when Daniel beheld the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man together, it was a vision of the Divine and human natures of Christ. Some Fathers, however, understand the Ancient of Days to be God the Father; in this case, the vision if of Two Persons of the Holy Trinity, and as St. John Chrysostom says in his commentary on Daniel, this prophet 'was the first and only one (in the Old Testament) to see the Father and the Son, as if in a vision.' For the devout student of Scripture, of course, there is no 'contradiction' between these two interpretations; in such mystical visions we do not see a 'literal picture' of the Godhead (such as to believe that God really is an 'old man', but only a hint of Divine mysteries.) Thus, in his commentary on the same passage of Daniel, St. John Chrysostom adds: 'Do not seek clarity in prophecies, where there are shadows and riddles, just as in lightning you do not seek a constant light, but are satisfied that it only flashes momentarily.'"
“By paps he here means the two Testaments, with which He feeds the body of the saints in communion with Himself. For the golden girdle is the choir of the saints, which cleaves to the Lord in harmonious love, and embraces the Testaments, keeping, as the Apostle says, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3). The antiquity and eternity of majesty are represented by whiteness on the head… The eyes of the Lord are the preachers, who, with spiritual fire, bring light to the faithful and to the unbelieving a consuming flame. By the fiery feet he means the Church of the last times, which is to be searched and proved by severe afflictions. In the right hand of Christ is the spiritual Church. On Thy right hand, he says, stood the queen in a vesture of gold (Psalm 44.10). And as it stands on His right hand, He saith, Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the Kingdom (Matthew 25.34).” (The Venerable Bede)
1.17. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.
"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26.41). It is dust, and for that reason strong tension of the spirit weakens the links of the flesh which are called nerves, and loss of consciousness may result, as in a faint or when one is dying. The Prophet Daniel mentions this exhaustion when he was counted worthy of may mystic visions about the coming events of world history which had to do with the God's kingdom of glory on earth." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"From this one may conclude that the beloved disciple, who had once lain on the breast of Jesus, did not recognize in the One Who had appeared a single familiar feature. And this is not surprising; for if the disciples did not easily recognize their Lord after His Resurrection in His glorified body on earth, all the more difficult would it be to recognize Him in this resplendent heavenly glory." (Archbishop Averky)
Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more (II Corinthians 5.16).
1.17-18. And He laid His right and upon Me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive unto the ages of ages, Amen; and I have the keys of hades and death.
"It is as if He said: Fear not, John, for I am Life and the source of Life according to My Divinity, but I have taken on death according to My Humanity, so as to give eternal life to those who believe in Me, but I have risen by My Divine power, and I am alive, as you see, and My Life will not be cut off by death, like those who were resurrected from the dead and again died, but I am alive to the ages of ages. And I have the power to take out of hell and deliver from death, in accordance with the prophet: The Lord killeth and giveth life, He bringeth down into hades and raiseth up again (I Kings 2.6)." (Patriarch Anthimus)
"By this word and touch Christ strengthened John and made him capable, in spite of his carnal weakness, of entering the spiritual world and receiving the Revelations, of which the first was that Christ gives nobody the power to distribute death, but retains the keys of death and hell for Himself. In this is revealed His special love for man, for the Judge of the earth gives the right of granting clemency (i.e. the keys of the Heavenly Kingdom) to His servants, the Apostles, but prudently retains the keys to the eternal torments for Himself. He, as the uniquely kind and perfectly merciful Lord and Lover of mankind, is ready to spare those who turn to Him at the very last moment, when none of His authorised servants is there to provide clemency." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"From these words St. John was to understand that the One Who appeared was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and that His appearance could not be fatal for the apostle, but on the contrary would be lifegiving. To have the keys to something signified among the Jews to receive authority over something. Thus the keys of hades and death signify authority over the death of the body and the soul." (Archbishop Averky)
“He is the first, because by Him were all things made (Colossians 1.16; the last, because in Him are all things restored (Ephesians 1.10). Not only, He says, have I conquered death by resurrection, but I have dominion also over death itself. And this He also bestowed upon the Church by breathing upon it the Holy Spirit, saying, Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and the rest (John 20.23).” (The Venerable Bede).
1.19. Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.
Thus, like all true prophecy, the Apocalypse is a revelation of the true meaning of events, both present and future.
1.20. The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in My right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches; and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
“Stars. That is, the rulers of the Church. For the priest, as Malachi says, is the angel of the Lord of hosts (Malachi 2.7).” (Venerable Bede)
"The seven stars are the Angels, the guards and defenders of the churches." (Patriarch Anthimus)
Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava writes: "With regard to ecclesiastical life, in the speeches of the Saviour we are directed to the fact, as to one of the most striking phenomena of the last times, that at that time stars will fall from heaven (Matthew 24.29). According to the explanation of the Saviour Himself, the stars are the Angels of the Churches, that is, bishops."
"Remember the star which led the wise men to worship the Sun of Righteousness, and the Angel which showed the shepherds not only the way to Him, but also the signs by which they would easily find the truth amidst the darkness of the cave (which signifies the darkness of this world).
"And so the seven stars can be accepted as the sum-total of the highest leaders of the Church, who are led to the knowledge of the truth directly by the Holy Spirit or through the mediation of Angel Guardians who are entrusted with care for the good of the churches. Similarly, earthly kingdoms have their invisible leaders before the throne of God, who is providentially concerned for the good of kingdoms and peoples. They petition God for the spiritual enlightenment especially of those in whom receptivity for the understanding concerning God and eternal salvation has not yet been erased. We see an example of such cares of the Angels to whom God has entrusted even whole kingdoms as it were in guardianship, in the holy Prophet Daniel. He was counted worthy of a revelation that the Guardian Angel of the Hebrew people was the holy Archangel Michael, who together with the Archangel Gabriel petitioned at the throne of God for the return of the Jews from their Persian captivity. But the Angel Guardian of the Persian kingdom petitioned that the Jews should be left for longer in captivity, considering, of course, that the stay of believers in the true God in the midst of the fire-worshippers was useful for the peoples of this vast, almost universal kingdom, which consisted of 127 regions according to the number of distinct peoples.
"Also worthy of note is the fact that the petitioner for the return from captivity of the Jewish people was also the very ruler of the Persian kingdom, who had ruled the country under Darius and Cyrus. This ruler was the holy Prophet Daniel, for his superior wisdom had won for him a place at the very throne of the Persian kings. However, earthly glory did not dim in Daniel his love for the glory of God, which is why it is just to call him the Angel of his people, or, better, the Angel of the Old Testament Church that was contemporary with him, being scattered across the whole of the world at that time." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The seven churches are named instead of the One Universal Church and instead of all Christians, for the revelation of God is meant for all of them (1.1). The bishops of each church are something more than simple lampstands, being her representatives and the bearers of her ideals. It is precisely of them that it is said that the stars are the angels of the churches. The ancient interpreters (Andrew of Caesarea, Arethas, Oecumenius) understood by these angels the bodiless spirits - the angel guardians; the more recent interpreters want to see in them symbolic angels. But it is best to remain with the present interpretation, according to which by the angels are understood the bishops, as leaders of the churches (Justin the Philosopher, Blessed Augustine). Thus, according to the image of the Apocalypse, the Christian archpastors are always in the hand of God, and God is for them a constant protector, guide and judge."
“Nevertheless,” writes A. Zhdanov, “it is possible and necessary to see here at the same time a reference to the invisible protectors of the churches who were originally, and in the strict sense, called the angels of the seven churches by the Lord, and who are types of the bishops. This is how this passage was understood by the great teachers of the Church Gregory the Theologian and St. Epiphanius. The first says: ‘I believe that a special angel protects each church: for this is what John teaches me in the Revelation.’ Why, in parting from the Constantinopolitan Church, did he cry: “Forgive, On angels, the overseer of this church and also my period her and departure from here.’ The latter, basing himself on the same words of the Apocalypse, calls the angels the guardians of the churches and the guardians of the altars. No less clear and definite are the words of St. Ambrose, who says that for the defence of every flock of God the Lord places not only bishop, but also angels. St. Basil the Great, in consoling the presbyters of Nicopolis, who were being cast by the Arians out of the church, writes to them: ‘You are saddened by the fact that you have been expelled from the defence of the walls, but you dwell under the defence of the God of heaven, and with you remains the angel that is the guardian of the church (of Nicopolis)’.”
The bishops are held in the hand of Christ, for He is the Bishop of bishops, the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls, in St. Peter's words (I Peter 2.25). Thus on his way to martyrdom in Rome, St. Ignatius the Godbearer, Bishop of Antioch and disciple of St. John, wrote: "Remember in your prayers the church in Syria, which now, instead of me, has God as her Pastor. Jesus Christ, with your love, will be her only Bishop."
1. The Church of Ephesus
2.1-7. Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write: These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear those who are evil; and thou hast tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place, unless thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
St. Gregory the Theologian writes: “Every Church has its guardian.” The guardian, or angel of the Church of Ephesus addressed here is probably the Apostle Timothy, who died in the year 93 A.D.
"In the second, as in the third chapter, are set forth the revelations received by St. John concerning each of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, as well as corresponding instructions to them. These revelations contain praises of their Christian life and faith, a reproof of their insufficiencies, exhortations and consolations, threats and promises. The content of these revelations and instructions has the closest relationship to the condition of church life in the churches of Asia Minor at the end of the first century. But at the same time it also refers to the whole Church in general for the whole course of Her existence on earth. Some even see here an indication of seven periods in the life of the whole Christian Church from the time of the apostles to the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ.
"Thus there exists the opinion that the seven Churches represent seven periods in the life of the whole Christian Church from her foundations to the end of the world: 1) the Church of Ephesus represents the first period in the history of the Ecumenical Church - the Apostolic Church, which laboured and did not faint while fighting against the first heretics, the Nicolaitans, but soon abandoned the good custom of doing good to others - the 'communion of goods' (thy first love); 2) the Church of Smyrna represents the second period - the period of persecutions against the Church, of which there were ten; 3) the Church of Pergamos represents the third period - the epoch of the Ecumenical Councils and the struggle with the heresies with the sword of the word of God; 4) the Church of Thyateira - the fourth period, or the period of the flourishing of Christianity amidst the new peoples of Europe; 5) the Church of Sardis - the epoch of humanism and materialism of the 16th to 18th centuries; 6) the Church of Philadelphia - the last but one period of the life of the Church of Christ - the epoch contemporary to our own, when the Church truly has little strength in contemporary humanity and persecutions begin again, when patience is necessary; 7) the Church of Laodicea - the last, most terrible epoch before the end of the world, characterized by indifference to the faith and external prosperity." (Archbishop Averky).
However, writes Lev Tikhomirov, “if we can consider Christian history as divided into seven epochs, not for any of these parts can we establish precise boundaries which would separate it from the preceding or succeeding epoch. It could not be otherwise. Each epoch expresses a certain spirit or type that is predominant at the given time. It does not arise immediately, does not change immediately and is not in all places at the same time. While the spirit of an earlier epoch may continue in one country, in others the beginnings of something else are already appearing.”
It follows that the prophecy concerning the Ephesian Church may be interpreted to refer both to church life at the end of the first century and to the first epoch in the history of the whole Church throughout history until the Second Coming of Christ. The one interpretation is not incompatible with the other; for Holy Scripture often has more than one correct interpretation or aspect of its meaning. For, as Archbishop Averky writes, "in the prophetic vision of events, near and far are sometimes represented as if in one perspective, merged together, especially if the one, nearer event serves as a figure of the other, further one."
“One cannot help presupposing that the named Asiatic churches had the typical particularities of those ecclesiastical conditions which the Church would experience while the Saviour would be walking in the midst of her manifestations, that is, until the end of the ages. Therefore the instructions and descriptions given by Him on the one hand corresponded to what had to be said to them, and on the other hand correspond to what must be revealed and said to the Universal Church in the future, in her various manifestations and conditions. But if it is so, then there were precisely seven future manifestations that the Church was destined to experience, in seven ages.” (Tikhomirov).
And so, according to this interpretation, "the Church of Ephesus represents the first period in the history of the Ecumenical Church: the Apostolic Church which laboured and did not faint while fighting against the first heretics, the Nicolaitans, but soon abandoned the good custom of doing good to others - the 'communion of goods' (thy first love)...
"The Church of Ephesus is praised for her first works - her labours, patience and resistance to false teachers. But at the same time she is condemned for abandoning her first love and hears the terrible threat that her lampstand will be removed from its place if she does not repent. However, what is good about the Ephesians is their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans. The Lord promises to count the victors over temptations and passions worthy of tasting of the fruits of the tree of life. Ephesus was a very ancient trading city on the shore of the Aegean sea which was famed for its wealth and huge population. The holy Apostle Paul preached there for more than two years, and finally consecrated his beloved disciple Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus. The holy Apostle John lived a long time there and died there. Later the Third Ecumenical Council took place in Ephesus; it confessed that the Most Holy Virgin Mary is the Birth-Giver of God [Theotokos]. The threat of the removal of her lampstand from the Ephesian Church was realised. From being a great world centre Ephesus was soon turned into nothing; from the previous majestic city there remained only a pile of ruins and a small Muslim village. The great lampstand of primitive Christianity went out completely. The Nicolaitans who are mentioned here were heretics who represented a branch of the Gnostics and were distinguished by their debauchery. They were reproached also by the holy Apostles Peter and Jude in their epistles (II Peter 2.1 and Jude 4). The beginning of this heresy was laid by the Antiochian proselyte Nicholas, one of the seven first deacons of Jerusalem (Acts 6.5), who fell away from the faith. The reward of the victors from amongst the Ephesian Christians was the partaking of the paradisal tree of life. By this we are to understand the good things of the future blessed life of the righteous in general, whose foreshadowing was the tree of life in the original paradise, where our forefathers lived." (Archbishop Averky)
St. Hippolytus writes: “He, as one of the seven (that were chosen) for the diaconate, was appointed by the apostles. But Nicholas departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food. And when the disciples (of Nicholas) continued to offer insult to the Holy Spirit, John reproved them in the Apocalypse as fornicators and eaters of things offered unto idols.”
The Venerable Bede writes: “The Nicolaitans are named from Nicolas the deacon, of whom Clement writes that, when he was reproved for his jealousy of a most beautiful wife, he answered that whoever wanted might take her to wife, and says that, on account of this, unbelievers taught that the Apostles allowed to all a promiscuous and common intercourse with women. And the Nicolaitans are reported to have put forth some fabulous and almost heathen statements concerning the beginning of the world, and not to have kept their food separate from things offered to idols.”
The intolerance of evil which characterises True Christianity, and which was displayed above all by the holy apostles (Acts 5.1-11; I Corinthians 5.1-5; Galatians 1.6-9; II John 10; Jude 3-21), helped preserve the red-hot ardour of the Christians through most of the first century. However, towards the end of the early apostolic period a cooling of ardour was discernible, allowing the infiltration of false teachings and heresies. Thus St. Paul said to the Ephesian presbyters: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20.28-30).
In general, the Ephesian Church overcame this temptation, and not long after St. John's repose, the bishop of Antioch, St. Ignatius, commended the Ephesians for their refusal to allow false teachers to sow evil doctrine among them. However, that most characteristic sign of the early Church, the having all things in common, did not survive the apostolic period. It was not until the appearance of coenobitic monasticism in the fourth century that this form of Christian love again received an institutional expression.
"The removal of the candlestick of the Church is the deprivation of Divine Grace, to which she will be subjected in agitation and shaking from the spirits of malice and the evil men who help them.” (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
Tikhomirov writes: “This threat was realised in the next, Smyrnaean period, when the believers had to disperse from the persecutions... All in all, the Ephesian age, the time of the apostolic preaching, was the age when the forces of both warring sides, that of the Kingdom of God and that which was against it, were organised. The Church appeared and began to give birth to children that were courageous in spirit (that is the explanation of the expression a man child [in 12.5]), who was to shepherd all nations with a rod of iron [12.5]. To the help of the preachers of the truth there appeared the power of Christ Himself. But the devil, having suffered a defeat, does not humble himself, but enters into the battle with the Church, stirring up persecutions and thinking up the mystery of iniquity [II Thessalonians 2.7], which in the end had to raise against God the idea of the man-god and transfer the worship of people to the devil himself.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear: Every man has a physical ear, but only the spiritual man acquires a spiritual ear… To such a man, who has overcome the temptations of the demons, He promises to give to taste of the tree of life, that is, to make him a participant in the good things of the future age." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
St. John of Damascus writes: “God planted the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The tree of knowledge was for trial, and proof, and exercise of man’s obedience and disobedience. It was named thus or else it was because to those who partook of it was given power to know their own nature. Now this is a good thing for those who are mature, but an evil thing for the immature and those whose appetites are too strong… The tree of life, on the other hand, was a tree having the energy that is the cause of life, or to be eaten only by those who deserve to live and are not subject to death… The tree of life may be understood as that more divine thought that has its origin in the world of sense, and the ascent through that to the originating and constructive cause of all. And this was the name He gave to every tree, implying fullness and indivisibility, and conveying only participation in what is good. But by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we are to understand that sensible and pleasurable food which, sweet though it seems, in reality brings him who partakes of it into communion with evil.”
2. The Church of Smyrna
2.8-11. And unto the angel of the Church in Smyrna write: These things saith the First and the Last, Who was dead and is alive: I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation for ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; he that overcometh shall not be hurt by the second death.
The angel of the Church of Smyrna addressed here may be St. Bucolus or, less likely, his successor, St. Polycarp, who was martyred in 155. "The Church of Smyrna,” according to Archbishop Averky, “signifies the second period, the period of persecutions against the Church”. And the tribulation for ten days refers, according to Tikhomirov, the persecutions of: 1) Nero (in 64), 2) Domitian (91), 3) Trajan (98), 4) Marcus Aurelius (177), 5) Septimius Severus (202), 6) Decius (250) and Gallus (252), 7) Valerian (257), 8) Aurelianus (275), 9) Diocletian (303) and 10) Maximian (311). 
"Smyrna was also one of the oldest cities of Asia Minor, being considered enlightened and glorious in pagan antiquity. Smyrna was no less remarkable in the history of the first age of Christianity, as being a city that was enlightened very early by the light of Christianity and as having preserved the deposit of the faith amidst persecutions. The Church of Smyrna, according to tradition, was founded by the holy Apostle John the Theologian, and the latter's disciple, St. Polycarp, who was bishop in the city, glorified it by his martyric exploit. According to information provided by the ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, almost immediately after the apocalyptic prediction, there arose a fierce persecution against the Christians in Asia Minor, during which St. Polycarp of Smyrna suffered. According to some interpreters, ten days signifies the shortness of the period of persecutions; according to others, it is the reverse - a certain considerable period, for the Lord commands the Smyrnaeans to lay up faithfulness unto death, i.e. for some considerable period. Some understand by this the persecution that took place under Domitian and lasted for ten years. Others see in it a forecast of all ten of the persecutions which the Christians suffered from the pagan emperors during the course of the first three centuries." (Archbishop Averky)
"Christ is the First as God, and the Last as having become man in the latter times and opened to us eternal life by His death of three days." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
The blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan signifies Talmudic Judaism. For by contrast with the Church of Christ, the Israel of God, the apostate Jews constitute the synagogue of Satan. For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2.28-29).
The synagogue of Satan denotes the Jews, whose slanders against the Christians were the first cause of the persecutions against them, as we read in The Acts of the Apostles. Moreover, these slanders continued in succeeding generations until the present day. St. Justin the Martyr refuted these slanders in his Dialogue with the Jewish Rabbi Tryphon; but they are repeated to this day in the Babylonian Talmud.
The Jewish persecutions of the Church were hardly less fierce than the pagan persecutions which they incited. Thus when the Jews in Palestine rose in revolt against the Roman authorities under Bar Kochba (died 135), they also attacked the Christians who refused to join them. Again, in 150, the secret Jewish government-in-exile in Babylon stirred up a major revolt in Libya, Egypt and Cyprus, in which they killed 350,000 Greeks.
Jewish hatred of Christians and the Roman empire was expressed in their daily prayer life. Thus Sergius and Tamara Fomin write: “To the prayer ‘birkam za-minim’ which was read everyday against heretics and apostates there was added the ‘curse’ against ‘the proud state’ (of Rome) and against all the enemies of Israel, in particular the Christians… [The Christians were also identified with] the scapegoat, on which the sins of the Jews were laid and which was then driven into the wilderness as a gift to the devil. According to rabbinic teaching, the goat signified Esau and his descendants, who at the present time were the Christians”.
Another name that the Jews had for the Christians was Edom, and the Roman Empire was called “the kingdom of the Edomites”. Rabbi David Kimchi writes as follows in Obadiam: “What the Prophets foretold about the destruction of Edom in the last days was intended for Rome, as Isaiah explains (34.1)… For when Rome is destroyed, Israel shall be redeemed.” And Rabbi Abraham in his book Tseror Hammor writes: “Immediately after Rome is destroyed, we shall be redeemed.”
The teaching of the Talmud incited the Jews to terrible crimes against Gentiles, especially Christians. “Under Theodosius II,” writes L.A. Tikhomirov, “it was discovered that the Jews, on the day of the feast of the execution of Haman [Purim], had introduced the practice of burning the Cross. The government had to undertake repressions against the blasphemy, but the Jews were not pacified. Under the same Theodosius II, in the city of Imma, the Jews during one of their feasts took hold of a Christian child, crucified him on a cross and with scourges cut him into pieces. The disturbed Christians took to arms, and a bloody battle took place. This incident, as they said, was not unique. The Christian historian Socrates relates that the Jews more than once crucified Christian children. At that time it was not a matter of ‘ritual killings’, and in such acts only the hatred of the Jews for Christans and mockery of them was seen. In the given case Theodosius II executed those guilty of the murder, but at the same time the government began to take measures to weaken Jewry. Theodosius destroyed the Jewish patriarchate in Palestine and confiscated the sums collected throughout Jewry for the patriarchate. But all these repressions did not quickly pacify the Jews. Under the same Theodosius II there took place in 415 the well-known brawl in Alexandria elicited by the killing of Christians by the Jews. All this boldness of the Jews in the face of a power that was evidently incomparably greater than theirs seems improbable. But we must bear in mind that this was an age of terrible Messianic fanaticism on the part of the Jews. It often drove them to acts that were senseless, in which pure psychosis was operating. Here, for example, is a purely internal incident having no relation to the Christians. At about the same time, in 432, on the island of Cyprus there took place an event which shows to what an inflamed condition the Jews of that time could come. On the island there appeared a man who was evidently mad, called Moses, the same who had led the people out of Egypt through the Red Sea. He declared that he now had an order from the Lord to lead the Jews out of Cyprus into Palestine through the Mediterranean Sea. His preached attracted crowds of Jews who did not hesitate to follow the prophet. These hordes went to the sea and, at a sign from Moses, began to hurl themselves from a lofty cliff into the water. Many crashed against the rocks, others drowned, and only the forcible intervention of the Christians saved the rest: fishermen dragged them from the water, while other inhabitants forcibly drove the Jews from the shore. This mass psychosis shows to what lengths the Jews could go in the name of the idea of the re-establishment of the Kingdom of Israel…
“The [Western] Church had already quite early, in the sixth century, begun to take measures to protect Christians from the influence of the Jews. Councils in Orleans in 538 and 545 decreed the suppression of relations between Christians and Jews and, moreover, forbade the Jews from publicly showing themselves during the Christian Pascha, doubtless to cut off the possibility of any blasphemous outrages. But we can understand why these measures could not be maintained, nor were they systematic, and relations inevitably continued, having two kinds of consequences: some they spiritually cut off from Christianity and drew them into heresy, and others they filled with hatred for the Jews.”
In about 520, 4000 Christians were martyred by the Jewish ruler of the South Arabian land of Omir (or Himyar), Dû-Nuwâs, for their refusal to renounce Christ. Again, in 555, the Jews took part in the Samaritan rebellion against Byzantium on the Samaritan side in spite of their traditional disdain for the Samaritans.
During the Time of Troubles that began for Byzantium with the murder of the Emperor Maurice in 602, the Jewish anti-Roman consciousness reached a new peak of frenzy. David Keys writes: “The so-called Book of Zerubabel, written by a rabbi of that name in Persian-ruled Babylon in the first quarter of the seventh century AD, prophesied the coming of the Jewish Messiah (and his mother!) and the defeat of the Christian Roman monster – an emperor/pope called Armilus – the son of Satan. Furthermore, a Palestinian Jew called Jacob who had been forcibly baptised by the Romans in Carthage described the Empire in typically apocalyptic terms as ‘the fourth beast’ which was being ‘torn in pieces by the nations, [so] that the ten horns may prevail and Hermolaus Satan… the Little Horn may come.’
“The Jews viewed the apparently imminent collapse of the Roman Empire in the first quarter of the seventh century as evidence that the ‘beast’ (the formerly pagan but now Christian empire) was doomed, that the Devil in the guise of the last Roman emperor or Christian pope would be killed by the (imminently expected) Messiah. They saw the Persians (and a few years later, the Arabs) as the agents who would help destroy the ‘Roman beast’. Violent and often Messianic Jewish revolutionary attitudes had been increasing throughout the second half of the sixth century and went into overdrive as the Empire began to totter in the first quarter of the seventh. In Antioch in AD 608, Christian attempts [by the mad tyrant Phocas] at forced conversion, as the Persians threatened the city, triggered a major revolt in the Jewish quarter. At first the Jewish rebels were successful, and their community’s arch-enemy, the city’s powerful Christian patriarch, [St.] Anastasius, was captured, killed and mutilated. But the revolt was soon put down – and the 800-year-old Antiochan Jewish community was almost totally extinguished.”
The situation was no better in the Holy Land. The Jewish sent an appeal to all the Jews of Palestine, inviting them to come and join the Persians. Enraged crowds destroyed the churches of Tiberias, killed the local bishop and 90,000 Christians in one day. When the Persians conquered Jerusalem, most of the Christians were sent into captivity to Persia. However, “the Jews distinguished themselves at this point with a beastly cruelty unique in the history of the world. They spared no money to buy many Christians from the Persians with one purpose only – to gain enjoyment in killing them. They say that in this way they bought and destroyed 80,000 people. The Jewish historian G. Graetz glides silently over this terrible fact, saying only: ‘Filled with rage, the Jews of course did not spare the Christians’ and ‘did not spare the holy things of the Christians’. Graetz reduces the number of Christians killed to 19,000.”.
The Persians were defeated by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who banished the Jews of Jerusalem to a distance of three miles from the city, and decreed that all the Jews of the empire should be baptised.
But the pendulum swung again when the Byzantines were defeated by the new power of the Arab Muslims. The Jews were delighted. Many of them thought that Muhammed was a prophet who had come to prepare the way for the Messiah…
The persecution of the Christians by the Jews has continued right up to the present day, as was most clearly demonstrated in the Russian revolution, when nine-tenths of the leading commissars at the beginning of the revolution were Jewish…
"From the promises given to the Churches of Ephesus and Smyrna it is clear that only those who conquer temptations will inherit the eternal good things. There can be no doubt that this relates both to external and internal temptations, for both the former and the latter come, with the permission of God, from the world, the flesh and the devil, to test faith and hope in God. As a rule, they are permitted for a short time, as long as one can bear them. For one person is given greater strength to combat temptation, and another less; but everyone must be a victor. The good things of the future age are not attained easily, since from everyone is demanded victory in temptations. But temptations will become stronger at the end of the world until even the elect will be in great danger of losing the ability to conquer the subtle craftiness of the evil one. In the last times Satan skilfully began to cast out of the saving ark of the Church all those who were not able to resist the false teaching of his hellish servants, the false prophets of this world." (St. John of Kronstadt)
St. Hippolytus writes: “The second death is the lake of fire that burns.”
St. Aphrahat writes: “It is right for us to be afraid of the second death, that which is full of weeping and gnashing of teeth, and of groanings and miseries, that which is situated in outer darkness.”
"The second death is… the cutting off from God of a sinful soul which lives in carnal desires, of which the Lord says: Let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8.22)." (Patriarch Anthimus)
"By the second death which is to come for unbelievers after the death of the body is to be understood their condemnation to eternal torments (cf. 21.8; Matthew 10.28). To him that overcomes, that is, to him that endures all persecutions, is promised a crown of life, or the inheritance of eternal good things." (Archbishop Averky)
3. The Church of Pergamum
2.12-16. And to the angel of the Church in Pergamum write: These things saith He Who hath the sharp sword with two edges: I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is; and thou holdest fast My name, and hast not denied My faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sanctified unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
"The Church of Pergamum signifies the third period, the epoch of the Ecumenical Councils and the battle with heresies by the sword of the word of God...
"The Church of Pergamum is praised by the Lord for keeping His name and not rejecting faith in Him, although it was situated amidst the extremely corrupt pagan population of the city, which is signified by the very vivid expression: thou dwellest even where Satan's seat is, and was subjected to a heavy persecution, during which the Lord's faithful witness Antipas was killed. Although many have tried to interpret the name Antipas in a symbolical sense, it is known from the martyrologies that have come down to us that Antipas was the Bishop of Pergamum and was burned inside a heated-up brass bull for his zealous confession of the faith of Christ [in 92]. However, the Lord also points to negative phenomena in the life of the Church of Pergamum, in particular the fact that the Nicolaitans had appeared there, making the eating of sacrifices to the idols and every kind of lustful indecencies lawful. In their time the Israelites had been drawn to such excesses by Barlaam. Pergamum is situated to the north of Smyrna and in antiquity it rivalled Smyrna and Ephesus. It had a temple to the pagan divinity Aesculapius, the protector of doctors. Its priests practised medicine and put up a strong resistance to the preachers of Christianity." (Archbishop Averky)
"The sharp sword is the evangelical teaching, which comes out of the mouth of our Lord. For He cuts off the excesses of this world and pierces the curtain hindering contemplation of the heavens." (Patriarch Anthimus)
Pergamum was the administrative centre of Asia, which meant that it was also the centre of the worship of Caesar, to whom an altar was dedicated. This is the explanation of the phrase Satan's seat. Lenin's mausoleum in Moscow was constructed on the model of this altar.
Tikhomirov writes: “We consider the age of Pergamum to be the beginning of Christian statehood. Does that mean that the Church, in entering into union with the state, committed a sin? Of course not. The state is not in itself satan’s institution. Obedience to the authorities is commanded by Christ Himself and the apostles. But the union with earthly power does create many difficulties and temptations for the Church.”
The epoch of the Seven Ecumenical Councils spanned over four and a half centuries, from the First Council at Nicaea in 325, at which Arianism was condemned, to the Seventh Council, again at Nicaea, in 787. This epoch was characterised by, on the one hand, external peace for the Church through that "symphony" between Church and State first established by Constantine and later strengthened by his successors Theodosius and Justinian, and, on the other hand, by great internal upheavals produced by a series of Trinitarian and Christological heresies. Towards the end of the period, the internal upheavals threatened to destroy the Church-State "symphony" completely, the imperial Balaks siding with the heretical Balaams to persecute the Church, which descended into a semi-underground existence. In 842, however, with the enthronement of the Orthodox emperors Michael and Theodora, lasting peace was restored. The Church celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and the empire entered into one of the most prosperous periods of its existence.
However, it was also during this period that the scourge of Islam overtook most of the East, which had succumbed to the heresies of Monophysitism and Monothelitism. Evidently the Eastern Christians failed to heed the warning: Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. Eventually Islam conquered even the Byzantine Empire after it had entered into union with the Roman Catholics at the council of Florence in 1439.
2.17. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches: To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth except he that receiveth it.
"This manna is… the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the bread which came down from heaven and gave Himself for the life of the world." (Patriarch Anthimus)
“We all know that the body is subject to hunger and thirst and needs food and drink, by which the unpleasant feelings of hunger and thirst are quenched, the sense of taste is sweetened, strength is restored and the loss of matter in the make-up of the body is made up. But is not the spirit also subject to hunger and thirst? Does it not have need of food? What can nourish it in a manner fitting to it? Do we know as clearly about the spirit as we do about the body?
“The only self-sufficient essence is God, He is always full and abundant in every good in Himself, never does He experience want from outside, and consequently He has no need of food. The spirit of man, as being created and unceasingly dependent on God, is not self-sufficient, because it is not God; and, not being self-sufficient, it needs to acquire the sufficiency that is necessary for it, or take food in a manner that is fitting to it. His will hunger for the good like food; his mind thirsts for the truth like drink. But he does not have the root of good in himself, nor the source of truth in himself; it is necessary that these be given him. In God is the root of good, in God is the source of truth; consequently, the feeding of the spirit requires, not that which rises from the earth, but that which descends from heaven – manna. Bread that is purely heavenly not only by its origin but by its nature must not be placed on the earth before the eyes of the body; the water of life must not be poured into a vessel made of dead matter; which is why the true food of the spirit is hidden for the flesh.
“The Word of God often speaks of this food, allowing us to know and feel our essential hunger and acquire saving food. And the incarnate Wisdom declares: I am the living Bread that came down from heaven: if anyone eats from this bread, he will live to the ages (John 6.51). And to the Samaritan woman He declares: Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4.14). And again: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4.4). The apostle describes the true Christians as having tasted the heavenly gift, and become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6.4-5).”
"The metaphorical expression, a white stone, has its foundation in a custom of antiquity, according to which the victors at the public games and contests were given white stone tablets, which they later presented in order to receive the rewards conferred on them. Among Roman judges it was the custom to collect votes by means of white and black stones. White signified freedom; black signified condemnation. In the mouth of the seer of mysteries, John, the white stone symbolically signified the purity and innocence of Christians for which they receive a reward in the future age." (Archbishop Averky)
In the Celtic Church, as has been revealed recently in archaeological excavations on the Isle of Man, white stones were placed in the graves of believers, probably signifying their hope of justification in the future life.
According to St. Hippolytus of Rome, the white stone is the teaching which a bishop imparts to the faithful immediately after their baptism and which must not be revealed before.
St. Jerome writes: "You shall be called by a new name (Isaiah 62.2). A new name is deserving of a new son. So in the Apocalypse, To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written (2.17). The new name is that of Christians."
"To give names to new members of a kingdom is characteristic of kings and masters. The Heavenly King also will give to all the chosen sons of His Kingdom new names which will signify their inward qualities, their designation and service in the Kingdom of glory. But since no one knoweth the things of a man, except the spirit of a man which is in him (I Corinthians 2.11), so also the new name given to a man by the All-knowing Master will be known only to the one who receives this name (cf. Isaiah 62.2)." (Archbishop Averky)
4. The Church of Thyateira
2.18-20. And unto the angel of the Church in Thyateira write: These things saith the Son of God, Who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezabel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
"The Church of Thyateira is the fourth period, the period of the blossoming of Christianity among the new peoples of Europe...
"Thyateira was a small city in Lydia, which was not noted for anything in history, but is known in the history of Christianity for the fact that from it came Lydia, who was enlightened with the light of the faith of Christ by the holy Apostle Paul during his second preaching journey in the city of Philippi." (Archbishop Averky)
The "new peoples" mentioned by Archbishop Averky are the Slavic peoples of Northern and Eastern Europe, who began to enter the Orthodox Church from the ninth century onwards. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Slavs constituted by far the largest and most powerful part of the Orthodox commonwealth, although the whole of Russia still formed only one metropolia of the Great Church of Constantinople. Indeed, while the Great Church herself began to decline from about the eleventh century, her daughter Churches in Serbia, Russia and Georgia reached perhaps their greatest peaks in this period, fully justifying the Lord's praise of their works and charity and service and faith and patience.
Who is Jezabel? "It is known that Jezabel, the daughter of the king of Sidon, on entering into marriage with King Ahab of Israel, drew him to the worship of all the abominations of Tyre and Sidon, and was the cause of the Israelites' fall into idol-worship." (Archbishop Averky) Figuratively speaking, if the Church of Thyateira is the Orthodox Church from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, then it is clear that the prophetess Jezabel can be none other than the heretical Roman papacy. Female figures in Holy Scripture usually symbolise false churches or religions; and the papacy became false when she was anathematised by the Orthodox Church in 1054. She calls herself a prophetess because she presumes to speak infallibly, as the mouth of God; whereas in fact, through her heresies of the Filioque (the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) and the universal, infallible jurisdiction of the Church of Rome, she has alienated herself from God. For she teaches and seduces the Lord's servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols - that is, to participate in her heresy (heresy is always called fornication and idol-worship in Holy Scripture).
It may be that the Lord is here described as having eyes like unto a flame of fire, and feet like unto brass in order to emphasise that He alone is Almighty and Infallible. The Lord complains that the Church suffers Jezabel - that is, refrains from subjecting her to the penalty of excommunication and anathema that she deserves. For even after the Church of Constantinople broke communion with the papacy in 1009, and anathematised it in 1054, some Eastern Churches continued to have communion with her.
Jezabel, who was not an Israelite by birth, dominated her husband, the king of Israel, and in the same way the papacy, having come under the rule of non-Roman popes who were strangers to the Romanist tradition of unity with the East Roman State, first brought an end to that unity and then swallowed up the State in itself.
As Dostoyevsky wrote: "The Western Church herself distorted the image of Christ, changing herself from a Church into a Roman State, and again incarnating the State in the form of the papacy... The Church was destroyed and finally transformed into a State. The papacy appeared - the continuation of the ancient Roman empire in a new incarnation."
Tikhomirov writes: “One must, of course, understand this rebuke in a symbolical and spiritual sense, as an adulterous departure from God towards secular pursuits and, as is evident from history, towards human autonomy, and also as a transition to the worship of ‘other gods’ - like the Chernobog of the Bogomils, the Baphomet of the Templars, the Lucifer of the satanists, etc. Such actions should be called adultery because people calling themselves Christians fell into them. All these movements were reduced, metaphorically speaking, to Jezabel, who called herself a prophetess, and in actual fact went under the banner of supposedly prophetic inspirations, which are linked by the Apocalypse with the depths of Satan. It is not difficult to recognise these satanic depths in the antichristian magical teachings.. The word of God threatens them with punishment, which, of course, overtook them frequently.”
2.21-23. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. And will kill her children with death; and all the Churches shall know that I am He Who searches the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
"I will cast her into a bed could mean separation from the society of believers by the judgement of the Church; and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation - those who secretly sympathize with and protect this heresy I will shame before all if they do not correct themselves. And all those who partake in and follow this abomination I will kill with death - which means complete cutting off from the life and good things of the Church to the ages...
"Continuing to speak in a figurative manner, He compares the cunning and deception of the heretics to a harlot, threatening to strike her with death and afflictions, as well as all who have defiled themselves with her and committed fornication before God, unless they return to Him through repentance. This is addressed to the heretics who have been deceived and who seduce others." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
For nearly two hundred years after the death of Pope Nicholas I, who first introduced the papist heresies in the ninth century, the Lord gave the West time for repentance, time to root out papism from her midst. During this period successive waves of pagan invaders - Vikings, Magyars and Saracens - poured into Western Europe, stretching the people as if on a rack of suffering, and putting the papacy herself in dire peril. Finally came the schism of 1054: the children of the papacy were killed with spiritual death.
When all the Churches saw the aggressive and far from Christian actions of the papacy after her fall from grace in 1054, they understood that the condemnation of the Roman Church had been just and the expression of the will of God.
There is much evidence of this. First, the Pope blessed the Norman invasion of England, which destroyed the traditions of English Christianity. Secondly, in the Lenten council of 1075 the Pope declared that he was above all human, and even ecclesiastical judgement, and that all authorities, both secular and ecclesiastical, were subject to him. Thirdly, he blessed the crusades against the Orthodox East, in the last of which the crusaders seized and looted Constantinople, placing a prostitute on the altar of Hagia Sophia and Latin "bishops" in all the major sees of the East. Fourthly, he blessed the invasion of Russia by the Teutonic knights - it was only through the heroic efforts of the Prince of Novgorod, St. Alexander Nevsky, that the last outpost of Orthodoxy in the North was preserved. Fifthly, he convened the false councils of Lyons in 1274 and of Florence in 1438-39, in which he tried, by dint of violence and bribery, to persuade the Orthodox emperor and patriarchs to accept his heresies and his dominion over them. Sixthly, he proclaimed the false dogmas of the immaculate conception of the Virgin in 1854 and of his own infallibility in 1870. And seventhly, in 1841 his followers, the Croatian Ustasi, murdered 750,000 Orthodox Serbs in Croatia.
Archbishop Averky considers the falling away of the papacy to have been the first stage in that mystery of iniquity and apostasy which, according to St. Paul, will precede the coming of the Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2.3,7). "The first important stage on the path of this apostasy was the falling away from Orthodoxy of the Latin West, with the papal throne at its head. Was not there an antichristian principle at the base of the papist pretensions to be the infallible 'vicar of the Son of God' on earth? Cannot the spirit of Antichrist be felt in this striving to 'be the vicar' as if 'substituting' itself for Christ in all those who believe in Him? And is not the spirit of antichristian pride, so evidently leading people into spiritual deception in the spiritual life, is not the boundless love of power which thirsts to subject the whole world to itself - is not all this characteristic of the Antichrist?
"Such a perversion of the spirit of Christ in western Christianity which had fallen away from Orthodoxy brought in its train a whole series of false teachings and a terrible moral corruption. Only the appearance of Christianity was left, its exterior, deprived of the true spirit of life in Christ..."
"Behold, I will cast her into a bed. This could refer to the forced inactivity of the Jesuits in the revolutionary period. The Jesuit adapted themselves no less skilfully to Socialism, as is evident from the fact that in their sermons they explain that Christ was a true socialist and that for that reason the dissatisfied masses of the people should cleave to Him in the person of His representatives. But at the same time the Freemasons offer to these masses of the people people's spectacles, mysteries from the life of Christ, about whose content it is shameful even to speak. You see from what depths of Satan Russia has been delivered, when she did not allow the leaven of the Jesuits to settle in the midst of the blinded people." (St. John of Kronstadt)
When the Russian revolution came in 1917, the Pope welcomed it, trying to use to impose Catholicism on the Russian people, a design which he has renewed since the apparent demise of Communism in 1989-91. Nor is it possible to say that the heresies of the papacy have somehow been rectified in modern times. For an official Vatican publication recently described the Pope as "the ultimate guarantor of the Teaching and Will of the Divine Founder".
2.24-25. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyateira, as many as have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say: I will not put upon you any other burden. But that which you have already, hold fast until I come.
"To the simple people He says: 'Since you, in your simplicity, are not able to stand against the cunning and clever, for, as you affirm, you do not fully know the depths of Satan - therefore I do not ask you to wage hostile battle in words, but only to preserve the teaching which you have received, until the time when I shall take you from her.'" (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
"Such is the mercy of Christ towards those who are blinded but who have not been torn away from the holy Church of Christ, which takes upon herself the task of petitioning for the ignorance of the people before God." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The depths of Satan is the name given here to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, as the forerunners of the Gnostics, who called their false teaching 'the depths of God'" (Archbishop Averky). But, according to the eschatological interpretation, the depths of Satan is the satanic pride of the papacy and the false teaching on papal infallibility. The Lord calls the Orthodox Christians of the Thyateira period of Church history to preserve their faith unharmed until His appearance, which means "either His Second Coming at the end of the ages, or the death of each one of us" (Patriarch Anthimus).
Tikhomirov writes: “The following of the commandment: that which you have already, hold fast until I come was particularly evident. Confessional conservatism, a rejection of religious innovations became a characteristic trait of Orthodoxy.”
“I send to you no new doctrine; but keep that which you have received to the end.” (The Venerable Bede)
2.26-27. And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall shepherd them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of My Father.
"To him who does My works will I give power, as promised in the Gospel, over five or ten cities (Luke 19.17-19). Or else this indicates the judgement of unbelievers, through which those who have been deceived, being judged by the believers in Christ, will be crushed as a pot is by the rod: the men of Nineveh shall rise in judgement with this generation, and shall condemn it (Matthew 12.41). The words, even as I received of My Father, are spoken in His human nature, because of His acceptance of flesh." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
Another possible interpretation of these words is that that nation which overcomes the temptation of union with the heretical papacy will be given power over other nations; for it is precisely the true faith, Orthodoxy, which overcometh the world (I John 5.4) - spiritually in the first place, but also, if God wills it, politically in the form of the Christian Empire.
"This is a consoling promise for all the Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church, witnessing that she will remain until the end rightly dividing the word of Divine truth and a faithful preserver of the apostolic tradition. As a reward for this unshakeable faithfulness she is promised power over the pagans" (St. John of Kronstadt).
Now after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which followed as a punishment for the betrayal of Orthodoxy at the council of Florence, the Greeks' power over the nations, their Empire, came to an end. In the place of the New Rome, however, came the Third Rome - Moscow, which, having rejected the council of Florence, began to grow into a world empire from that time, ruling the nations with a rod of iron.
Thus in 1589 Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople travelled to Moscow to enthrone the Muscovite Metropolitan Job as his fellow-patriarch and to confirm the ecumenical authority of Tsar Theodore, writing: "Since the First Rome fell through the Apollinarian heresy, and the second Rome, which is Constantinople, is held by the infidel Turks, so thy great Russian kingdom, most pious Tsar… is the Third Rome… and thou alone under heaven art Christian emperor for all Christians in the world."
Tikhomirov writes: “In the Thyateiran age there also appeared as a Christian country - Russia, which took a very active participation in shepherding the pagans with a rod of iron… In the Constantinopolitan Church, subdued by the infidels, there was not, of course, any power over the pagans. But the Russian half of the Greco-Russian Church shepherded the pagans with a rod of iron like few countries, and by her missionary activity penetrated to the furthest boundaries of Northern Asia.”
A Greek prophecy of the ninth century predicted this rise of Russia: "After the chosen people of the Jews gave up their Messiah and Redeemer to torment and a shameful death, they were no longer counted a chosen people and this honour passed to the Greeks, a second chosen people.
"The searching and inquisitive mind of the Ancient Greeks was enlightened by Christianity and penetrated to the very depths of knowledge. The great Eastern Church Fathers defined the Christian dogmas and created the harmonious system of Christian teaching. This is the great merit of the Greek people. However, the Roman [Byzantine] State is not creative or strong enough to build up a harmonious political and social life on a solid Christian foundation. The sceptre of the Orthodox Empire will fall from the weak hands of the Emperors of Constantinople who are unable to achieve symphony and concord between Church and State.
"For this reason the Lord through His Providence shall send a third chosen people to succeed the spiritually weakened Greeks. This people will appear in the North within 100-200 years [these prophecies were set down in Palestine 150-200 years before the Baptism of the Russian people], and will become Christian wholeheartedly. They will strive to live according to the commandments of Christ and will seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, as Christ our Saviour showed us. The Lord God will love this people for their zeal and will add unto them all things - huge territories, riches, a mighty and glorious State."
2.28-29. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
“Christ is the morning star, Who promises and reveals to the saints the eternal light of life, when the night of the world is past.” (The Venerable Bede)
"These words have a dual interpretation. The Prophet Isaiah gives the name morning star to Satan, who fell from heaven (14.12). In this sense these words refer to the dominion of the believing Christians over Satan (cf. Luke 10.18-19). On the other hand, the holy Apostle Peter in his second catholic epistle calls the Lord Jesus Christ the morning star, which shines in the hearts of men (1.19). In this sense the true Christian is promised the enlightenment of his soul with the light of Christ and participation in the future heavenly glory." (Archbishop Averky)
"St. Andrew says of the morning star, that there is nothing astonishing in the fact that it could have two opposite interpretations, a thing which often happens in Holy Scripture. What is important to understand is the meaning of the image. Here it means the same thing that victorious Christians have Christ the morning star shining in their hearts, and to say that they have dominion over satan the morning star through the grace of Christ."
"And I will give him the morning star. This probably means that the Russian Church will be given the Light of Christ which enlightens everybody, so as to introduce it into the countries held in the power of the dragon; not the light of Jesuitical papism or Protestant apostasy from the holy Church, but the true Light of Christ, the Light of Eastern Catholic Orthodoxy." (St. John of Kronstadt)
And indeed, from the sixteenth century onwards, the Russian Orthodox Empire began to acquire power over vast pagan territories in East European Russia, Siberia and Central Asia; and the Russian Church sent missions to convert the pagans of these territories to the True Faith. This missionary activity produced great fruit in Siberia, Central Asia, China, Japan and Alaska. It was cut short only by the revolution of 1917.
5. The Church of Sardis
3.1-4. And unto the angel of the Church in Sardis write: These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Yet thou hast a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white; for they are worthy.
“He reproves this angel, that is, the bishop, for not being sufficiently diligent in correcting the bad. He commends him, however, in that he has some who walk in white, and the name ‘Sardis’ agrees with these, as being the name of a precious stone. To you yourself, indeed, you seem to be alive. But if you art not watchful in the correction of the wicked, you will from now on be numbered among the dead. He said not a ‘few’, but a few names. For He calleth His own sheep by name, Who knew Moses by name, and Who writes the names of the saints in heaven.” (The Venerable Bede)
"The Lord orders the Angel of the Church of Sardis to write more in reproach than in consolation: this Church contains only the name of living faith, but in actual fact she is spiritually dead. The Lord threatens the Sardian Christians with sudden catastrophe if they do not repent. There are, however, a very few who have not defiled their garments. Those who overcome (the passions) the Lord promises to clothe in white garments, and their names will not be erased from the book of life, but they will be confessed by the Lord before His Heavenly Father..." (Archbishop Averky)
For whosoever shall confess in Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father Who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father Who is in heaven (Matthew 10.32-33; cf. Mark 8.38).
"In antiquity Sardis was a large and rich city, the capital of the province of Lydia, but now it is the poor little Turkish village of Sard... Under Julian the Apostate the spiritual deadness of this city was clearly revealed: it quickly returned to idol-worship, for which it was struck by the wrath of God - it was destroyed to its foundations.
"The Church of Sardis is the epoch of humanism and materialism of the 16th to 18th centuries." (Archbishop Averky)
This definition might be modified to read: "of the 16th to early 20th centuries"; for the humanist and materialist influences upon the Orthodox Church continued and became stronger right up to the First World War.
After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, which took place only five and a half months after the name of the Pope was commemorated for the first time in Hagia Sophia, many Greek scholars and artists fled to the West, where their knowledge of pagan classical culture served as an important impetus to the development of humanism, and then - of Protestantism. Later, the pagan ideals of Humanism spread to the Orthodox East, especially Russia (the Greek and Balkan lands were to a certain degree protected from western influence by the Turkish yoke). This influence constantly undermined the foundations of Orthodox piety and led, in the end, to the logical conclusion of the Western "Renaissance" and the most terrible expression of the wrath of God - the Russian revolution of 1917.
"[Protestantism] is a deadening of the spirit that denies the visible expression of piety in anything, whether it be a bow or the sign of the cross, or the rest of that which has been preserved from the apostolic institutions concerning the performance of the holy sacraments and the sacred rites. This heresy probably developed also in Sardis, which is why this church turns out to be dead for good works." (St. John of Kronstadt)
The humanism, materialism and Protestantism of the Sardis epoch in the history of the Church were a reaction to the perverted Christianity of the medieval papacy. It therefore constituted, according to Archbishop Averky, the second stage of the apostasy - "the epoch of the 'Renaissance', which appeared as a reaction to the perverted Christianity of the West, but which was in essence a denial of Christianity and a return to the ideals of paganism. It proclaimed the cult of a strong, healthy, beautiful human flesh, and to the spirit of Christian humility it opposed the spirit of self-opinion, self-reliance, and the deification of human 'reason'.
"As a protest against perverted Christianity, on the soil of the same humanistic ideal that recognised 'reason' as the highest criterion of life, there appeared in the West a religious movement which received the name of 'Protestantism'. Protestantism with its countless branches of all kinds of sects not only radically distorted the whole teaching of true Christianity, but also rejected the very dogma of the Church, placing man himself as his own highest authority, and even going so far as to deny faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Founder of the Church.
"Puffed-up human pride finally falls completely away from God, and begins boldly to deny even the very existence of God, and man proclaims himself to be as it were a god. Seized with pride, self-opinion and reliance on his own limitless powers, possibilities and capacities, man brought up on the ideals of the 'Renaissance' no longer sees any obligation for himself to strive for the spiritual perfection enjoined by the Gospel, and by a natural progression descends deeper and deeper into the abyss of spiritual fall and moral corruption. Into the foreground there steps the service of the flesh, as a consequence of which spiritual demands are more and more stifled, suppressed and, finally, so as once and for all to finish with the unpleasant voice of conscience which lives in the spirit of man, the spirit itself is declared to be non-existent.
"In this way, there appears 'materialism' - a natural child of 'humanism', a natural and logical development of its idea. The ideal of the full stomach, covered by the raucous 'doctrine' going by the name of 'the ideal of social justice', 'social righteousness', became the highest ideal of humanity which had denied Christ. And this is understandable! The so-called 'social question' could not have taken hold if people had remained faithful to true Christianity incarnate in life.
"On the soil of materialism, in its turn, there naturally grew, as a strictly logical consequence, the doctrines of 'Socialism' and 'Marxism-Communism'. Humanism and materialism, having denied the spiritual principle in man, proclaimed man himself to be a 'god' and legitimised human pride and animal egoism as self-sacrificing, and came to the conclusion that savage struggle should be made the law of human life, on the soil of the constant conflict of interests of egoistical human beings. As a result of this so-called 'struggle for existence', stronger, cleverer, craftier people would naturally begin to constrain and oppress the less strong, less clever and less crafty. The law of Christ, which commands us to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6.2), and not to please ourselves (Acts 15.29), but to love one's neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22.39), was expelled from life. And so so-called 'social evil' and 'social injustices' began to increase and multiply, together with the 'social ulcers' of society. And since life was made more and more intolerable, as a consequence of the ever-increasing egoism and violence of people towards each other, there was naturally some reason to think about establishing for all a single tolerable and acceptable order of life. Hence 'Socialism', and then its extreme expression, 'Communism', became fashionable doctrines, which promised people deliverance from all 'social injustices' and the establishment on earth of a peaceful and serenely paradisal life, in which everyone would be happy and content. But these teachings determined to cure the ulcers of human society by unsuitable means. They did not see that the evil of contemporary life is rooted in the depths of the human soul which has fallen away from the uniquely salvific Gospel teaching, and naively thought that it would be enough to change the imperfect, in their opinion, structure of political and social life for there to be immediately born on earth prosperity for all, and life would become paradise. For this inevitable, as they affirmed, and beneficial change, the more extreme Socialists, as, for example, the Communists, even proposed violent measures, going so far as the shedding of blood and the physical annihilation of people who did not agree with them. In other words: they thought to conquer evil by evil, this evil being still more bitter and unjust because of their cruelty and mercilessness.
"'The Great French Revolution', which shed whole rivers of human blood, was the first of their attempts. It clearly demonstrated that men are powerless to build their life on earth without God, and to what terrible consequences man is drawn by his apostasy from Christ and His saving teaching.
"But there was no looking back: the process of apostasy (II Thessalonians 2.3) had already gone too far..."
A characteristic feature of the Sardis period in the history of the Church, which reflected the decline of Orthodox Christianity and its increasing conformity to the world, was the subservient position of the Orthodox Churches to the secular powers.
Thus the Patriarch of Constantinople, having been appointed the secular as well as the religious head of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman empire, was forced to bribe the Sultan with ever-increasing sums of money in order to obtain his office - a system that led to numerous abuses. Nor did the successful Greek War of Independence, which was inspired more by the ideals of the French Revolution than those of the Gospel of Christ, bring an immediate amelioration of the situation. Thus Maurer's 1833 Protestant Constitution for the Church of Greece entailed no less a subordination of the Church to the State than had existed under the Sultans, which soon led to a drastic reduction in the number of functioning monasteries.
In Russia, too, a Protestant, synodal type of Church government was imposed upon the Church by Peter the Great, while he and his successors introduced general westernization and oppressed the monasteries.
"Sardis stood on [an] impregnable lookout 457.5 metres - 1500 feet - above the plain. Cyrus's men climbed the cliff face at night when the guards where asleep. They came like a thief in the night." Therefore be watchful. In the same way, the seemingly impregnable position of the Orthodox Church in the Sardis period of Church history came to a sudden end with the Russian revolution, which caught many Christians spiritually asleep.
3.4-6. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment. And I will not blot out his name from out of the book of life. And I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.
"The words defiled garments metaphorically depict pollutions of the soul. So those who have not defiled their garments are those whose minds remained untainted by heretical false teachings, whose life was not stained by passions and vices. By the words white garments are to be understood the wedding garments in which will be clothed the guests at the wedding feast of the son of the king, under which image the Lord parabolically represented the future blessedness of the righteous in His Heavenly Kingdom. These garments, which will be like the garments of the Saviour during the Transfiguration, have been made white as light (Matthew 17.2). God's decrees concerning the destinies of people are symbolically represented under the image of a book in which the Lord as the all-knowing and all-righteous Judge writes down all their deeds. This symbolic image is often used in the Sacred Scriptures (Psalm 68.29; Psalm 138.16; Isaiah 4.3; Daniel 7.10; Malachi 3.16; Exodus 32.32-33; Luke 10.20; Philippians 4.3). In accordance with this representation, he who lives worthy of the higher calling is as it were inscribed in the book of life, while he who lives unworthily is as it were erased from this book, thereby depriving himself of the right to eternal life. Therefore the promise to him who conquers sin not to erase his name from the book of life is equivalent to the promised not to deprive him of the heavenly good things prepared in the future life for the righteous. And I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels - this is the same as that which the Lord promised to His true followers during His life on earth (Matthew 10.32), that is, I will recognise and pronounce him to be My faithful disciple." (Archbishop Averky)
Amidst the general corruption of Church life in the Sardis period some saints shone like stars. These included the holy new martyrs of the Turkish yoke in Greece and the Balkans, and such saints as Tikhon of Zadonsk and Seraphim of Sarov in Russia. This shows that even in conditions of spiritual decline God preserves His faithful witnesses, and that the gates of hell will never prevail over His Church (Matthew 16.18). "They not only acquired the grace of Holy Baptism and the gifts of the Holy Spirit themselves, but also, in preaching the word of truth, they kept the apostolic tradition, and not human wisdom, which does not give knowledge of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and I will reject the understanding of the prudent (Isaiah 29.14). From this we can conclude that several people in Sardis were praised because they did not defile their preaching with the unruliness of an unrestrained mind, as has happened everywhere that the religion of knowledge, like a hellish flame, has begun to break out of the bowels of the earth and singe the faith both of the people who are going blind in their hearts and, no less, of the young who are going blind in the theological and secular nurseries of knowledge. One must not be surprised that in all only a few people were found who rightly divided the word of truth, for the apostle says: though you have thousands of instructors in Christ, you have few fathers (I Corinthians 4.15)." (St. John of Kronstadt)
Tikhomirov writes: “The Sardian epoch is already essentially dead, and of course creates material for the Laodicean church… But beside this, all those whom Christ in the Sardian epoch calls to repentance and who wear white garments by their spiritual enthusiasm give a beginning to the Philadelphian Church.”
6. The Church of Philadelphia
3.7. And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write:
The angel of the Church of Philadelphia addressed here was Demetrius, whom St. John contrasted with the unrighteous Diotrephes (III John 12).
“Philadelphia is interpreted ‘brotherly love’, and to it is the door of the Kingdom opened, and the promise made of being beloved by the Lord.” (The Venerable Bede)
"Philadelphia is the second large city in Lydia, being named thus after its founder, Attalus Philadelphus, the king of Pergamum. This city was the only one of all the cities of Asia Minor which did not give in for a long time to the Turks... The Turks call Philadelphia 'Allah-Sher', that is, 'the city of God', and this name involuntarily recalls the promise of the Lord: I shall write on him who conquers the name of My God and the name of the city of My God (v. 12)...
"The Church of Philadelphia is the next-to-last period in the life of the Church of Christ, the epoch contemporary to us, when the Church will in fact have little strength in contemporary humanity and new persecutions will begin, when patience will be required." (Archbishop Averky)
There is a striking contrast between the Churches of Sardis and Philadelphia. The former is prosperous externally but poor internally. The latter is few in numbers and under great pressure from enemies, but receives the most unqualified praise of all the Churches.
Such is the difference in the condition of the Orthodox Church before and after the watershed years 1914-24.
In 1914 the Church stood at the highest peak of Her power from an external point of view. Although the Middle East was still under the Moslem yoke, the Orthodox Balkan States had been liberated after centuries of Turkish domination; and the mighty Russian empire spread from the Baltic to the Pacific with important Church missions in Persia, Central Asia, China, Japan and America. Fifteen years later, the situation had completely changed. The Russian empire was gone, her peoples crushed by war, famine and the fanatical persecution of a small band of militant atheists; and the missions abroad, though swelled by many emigrés, were rent by schisms and difficulties of various kinds. In 1924, moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with the State Church of Greece and the Church of Romania, had fallen into the schism of the new calendar, which heralded a devastating new heresy - "the heresy of heresies" - ecumenism.
However, in the midst of all this turmoil, the faith of many hitherto lukewarm Christians was renewed; a new age of martyrdom fully comparable to that of the first three centuries began. For although, writes Tikhomirov, “the Philadelphian Church will be numerically small and will not have an external position like that of the Sardian or Laodicean Churches, it will be morally so powerful that she will attract the Jews to herself”.
And so a promise was given to the faithful:
3.7. These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth:
According to Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, the key of David is the Cross of Christ, whereby He was given power to open heaven and hell. According to the Venerable Bede, it is “royal power”.
In some ancient manuscripts, it is written the key of hell instead of the key of David.
"By the key of David is understood that power which His humanity received from the Divinity, as He said after His resurrection: All power has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28.18). This power He also gave to His disciples, and it is called a key, as He said to Peter: I give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16.19), that is, to loose and to bind sins. To open and to shut means to justify a man from his sins and to condemn the impenitent." (Patriarch Anthimus)
"The key of David is the key to the prophetic book of David, which is called the Psalter, and to all the prophecies which holy men of God uttered under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Who opens the treasuries of knowledge. The particular quality of these treasuries lies in the fact that they cannot be withstood by the wise men of this world, for that which is opened by Divine truth cannot be eclipsed by human wisdom, and that which the key of David (the Holy Spirit) closes to the curiosity of the human mind no mind can open." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The Son of God calls Himself the key of David in the sense of having the supreme authority in the house of David, for a key is the symbol of power. The house of David, or the Kingdom of David, is the same as the Kingdom of God, whose foreshadowing it was in the Old Testament." (Archbishop Averky)
The phrase the key of David recalls a prophecy from Isaiah: I will give him the glory of David; and he shall rule, and there shall be none to shut; and he shall shut, and there shall be none to open (22.22). These words were spoken, in the first place, of Eliakim, the chief minister of King Hezekiah of Judah, who was to succeed to the office of the high priest and temple treasurer Somnas. Jewish tradition relates that Somnas wished to betray the people of God and flee to the Assyrian King Sennacherib; and St. Cyril of Alexandria says of him: "On receiving the dignity of the high-priesthood, he abused it, going to the extent of imprisoning everybody who contradicted him."
The picture, then, is one of betrayal at the highest level in the Church at a time of maximum pressure from outside. The Lord, however, as First Hierarch of the Church, promises His faithful remnant that the power of the keys - the charisma of the priesthood, the power to bind and to loose - will remain among them (cf. I Peter 2.25; Matthew 16.19). However much the false priests will strive to exclude the faithful from the Church by means of bans and excommunications, their efforts will come to nothing because the Lord will not recognise their repressive measures - the door into the sacred enclosure of the Church will remain open to the sheep who know His voice (John 10.9).
For there is no infallible authority but God - this is the teaching of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And while the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Timothy 3.15), we cannot be certain that any individual Church or hierarch will remain in the Truth. For the Spirit of truth blows where it wills (John 3.8). As St. Columbanus of Luxeuil wrote to a heretical Pope: "[If you err], then those who have always kept the Orthodox Faith, whoever they may have been, even if they seem to be your subordinates,… shall be your judges.. And thus, even as your honour is great in proportion to the dignity of your see, so great care is needful for you, lest you lose your dignity through some mistake. For power will be in your hands just so long as your principles remain sound; for he is the appointed keybearer of the Kingdom of heaven, who opens by true knowledge to the worthy and shuts to the unworthy; otherwise if he does the opposite, he shall be able neither to open nor to shut..."
Now betrayal at the highest level was a tragic feature of Orthodox Church life in the 1920s. Thus Greek and Romanian hierarchs sought to betray their flocks into union with western heretics, the first step to which was the introduction of the papal calendar in 1924. However, they were foiled, at least in part, by the determined opposition of a handful of priests and several hundred thousand laymen. Again, in Russia, certain bishops and clergy created the so-called "Living Church" with the blessing of the Soviets in opposition to the true Church led by Patriarch Tikhon. This heretical schism was eventually crushed, but only after wreaking great damage on the Church with the loss of millions of souls. Then, in 1927, came the still more destructive schism of Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod, who published a declaration placing the official Russian Church into submission to the militantly atheist State.
St. Seraphim of Sarov had prophesied a hundred years before: "The Lord has revealed to me, wretched Seraphim, that there will be great woes on the Russian land, the Orthodox faith will be trampled on, and the hierarchs of the Church of God and other clergy will depart from the purity of Orthodoxy. And for this the Lord will severely punish them. I, wretched Seraphim, besought the Lord for three days and three nights that He would rather deprive me of the Kingdom of Heaven, but have mercy on them. But the Lord replied: ‘I will not have mercy on them; for they teach the teachings of men, and with their tongue honour Me, but their heart is far from Me.'"
And at another time he said that the hierarchs of that time would become so impious that they would exceed in impiety the Greek hierarchs of the time of Theodosius the Younger (fifth century), so that they would not believe in the chief dogma of the faith of Christ.
As Archbishop Averky writes: "Terrible upheavals, unheard of in history since the first ages of Christianity, have been lived through and are still being lived through by our Russian Orthodox Church. But it is not so much these bloody persecutions, likening her to the early Church, that are terrible in themselves, as the inner corruption which began in her and in the whole of the Orthodox Church after the Bolshevik coup. What we have in mind is that corrupting spirit which began to reveal itself openly, and which at first merged into the so-called 'living church' and 'renovationist' movement, and then - into the destructive compromise with the God-fighting communist power. This was the spirit of Apostasy in the bowels of the Orthodox Church herself, which engendered all kinds of divisions and schisms, both there in the Homeland enslaved by the atheists, and here, abroad. This spirit of Apostasy is, of course, far more dangerous and destructive for souls than open bloody persecutions. It is the inner betrayal of Christ the Saviour with the preservation of merely external, visible faithfulness to Him.
"Was it not about this that Bishop Theophanes the Recluse prophesied more than eighty years ago in his interpretation of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, when he said: 'Although the name of Christianity will be heard everywhere, and churches and church rites will be seen everywhere, all this will be only appearance, while within will be true apostasy (pp. 491-492). Christ Himself in His Sermon on the Mount clearly said that nobody can serve two masters (Matthew 6.24); it is impossible simultaneously to serve God and Mammon, that is, this world lying in evil; it is impossible at one and the same time to please Christ and Beliar, that is, the servants of the coming Antichrist, in the person of the clear or secret God-fighting authorities (II Corinthians 6.15)."
"Soon after the publication of Metropolitan Sergius' declaration," writes E. Lopeshanskaya, "Bishop Damascene [one of the faithful martyr-bishops of the Catacomb Church] had thought about the fate of the Russian Orthodox Church in the image of two of the churches of the Apocalypse: those of Philadelphia and Laodicea. The Church of Patriarch Tikhon was the Church of Philadelphia.. And next to the Church of Philadelphia was the Church of Laodicea - that of Metropolitan Sergius."
Now this identification of the Philadelphian Church with the Russian Tikhonite or Catacomb Church was disputed by a fellow-martyr of Bishop Damascene's, Metropolitan Cyril of Kazan, who is reported to have said in 1934: "Not we, but those who will come after us are the Philadelphian Church." However, we may suppose him to have been thinking of the latter part of the prophecy concerning the Philadelphian Church, which had not been fulfilled in his time and has not been fulfilled even now. This is the promise of an open door being extended to her hierarchs:
3.8. I know thy works; behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength.
The meaning of this phrase is explained by St. Paul's words: Praying for us also, that God may open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the Mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak (Colossians 4.3-4; cf. I Corinthians 16.9).
The Catacomb Church was in bonds for most of the twentieth century, as Paul was in Rome in the first century. Nevertheless, although the Church suffers trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds,… the word of God is not bound (II Timothy 2.9). The Lord can open the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14.27) now as He did then; and here He promises the Philadelphian Church, i.e. the True Orthodox Church of Russia and perhaps throughout the world, that since she has kept His word and not denied His name in the midst of the most terrible persecutions, He will release her from bondage and give her the opportunity to proclaim the word of God freely.
"These words in all probability refer to that spreading of the Gospel throughout the world which has penetrated from the Eastern Church into China, Japan, India, Persia, Africa and other pagan countries." (St. John of Kronstadt)
Looking at the world from a worldly point of view, it is difficult to see how this prophecy could be fulfilled. In Russia today, it is still the Laodicean Church of Sergianist Ecumenism that is dominant rather than the Philadelphian Church of True Orthodoxy; and faith and morals are in sharp decline throughout the world. The faithful people of the Church are preparing for the coming of the Antichrist rather than a dramatic expansion of the Church of Christ.
And yet, as Tertullian said, "the blood of the Christians is the seed of the Church" - and where, if ever, has more blood been shed for Christ than in the past century in Russia? This alone should give us reason to hope for a rich harvest of souls entering the Church before the end. Moreover, there are many prophecies foretelling the resurrection of Holy Russia and a spectacular expansion of the Church throughout the world, as, for example, the following remarkable Greek prophecy dating probably from the ninth century and found in the monastery of St. Sabbas, near Jerusalem:-
"At various times this great people [the Russians] will fall into sin and for this will be chastised through considerable trials. In about a thousand years [i.e. in the 1900s] this people, chosen by God, will falter in its Faith and its standing for the Truth of Christ. It will become proud of its earthly might and glory, will cease to seek the Kingdom and will want paradise not in Heaven but on this sinful earth.
"However not all this people will tread this broad and pernicious path, though a substantial majority will, especially its governing class. On account of this great fall, a terrible fiery trial will be sent from on high to this people which will despise the ways of God. Rivers of blood shall flow across their land, brother shall slay brother, more than once famine shall visit the land and gather its dread harvest, nearly all the churches and other holy places shall be destroyed or suffer sacrilege, many shall perish.
"A part of this people, rejecting iniquity and untruth, will pass over the borders of their homeland and will be dispersed like unto the people of the Jews all over the world. Nevertheless the Lord will not show His wrath on them to the uttermost. The blood of thousands of martyrs will cry to the heavens for mercy. A spirit of sobriety will grow among this chosen people and they will return to God. At last this period of cleansing trial, appointed by the Righteous Judge, will come to an end, and once more Holy Orthodoxy will shine forth and those northern lands will be resplendent with the brightness of a faith reborn.
"This wonderful light of Christ will shine forth from there and enlighten all the peoples of the earth. This will be helped by that part of the people providentially sent ahead into the diaspora, who will create centres of Orthodoxy - churches of God all over the world.
"Christianity will then be revealed in all its heavenly beauty and fullness. Most of the peoples of the world will become Christian. And for a time a period of peace, prosperity and Christian living will come to the whole world...
"And then? Then, when the fullness of time has come, a great decline in faith will begin and everything foretold in the Holy Scriptures will occur. Antichrist will appear and the world will end."
3.8. For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.
“He shows the reason why the Church obtains these gifts, namely, that she does not trust in her own powers, but in the grace of Christ the King.” (The Venerable Bede)
These words are reminiscent of the following passage from Daniel: They shall profane the sanctuary of strength, and they shall remove the perpetual sacrifice, and make the abomination desolate. And the transgressors shall bring about a covenant by deceitful ways: but a people knowing their God shall prevail, and do valiantly. And the intelligent of the people shall understand much: yet shall they fall by the sword, and by flame, and by captivity, and by spoil of many days. And they shall be helped with a little help; but many shall attach themselves to them with treachery. And some of them that understand shall fall, to try them as fire, and to test them, and that they may be manifested at the time of the end, for the matter is yet for a set time (11.31-35).
The parallel between this people and the Christians of the True Orthodox Church is striking. The profanation of the sanctuary of strength and the removal of the perpetual sacrifice refers to the Bolsheviks' destruction of churches and removal into prison of the priests who celebrate the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, replacing them by false priests and churches which do not have the Grace of the sacraments. The deceitfully arranged covenant refers to Metropolitan Sergius' pact with the atheists, which introduced the abomination of desolation - militant atheism and anti-theism - into the heart of the Church's administration. It was of just such a covenant that the Prophet Isaiah wrote: Thus says the Lord God:... hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter. Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with hell will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through you will be beaten down by it... (Isaiah 28.15, 17-19)
As for the abomination of desolation, this refers to the renovationist "Living Church" according to St. John of Kronstadt's vision of 1908: "We went further, and entered a big cathedral. I wanted to cross myself, but the elder said to me: 'Here is the abomination of desolation'... The cathedral, the priest, the people - these are the heretics, the apostates, the godless, who departed from the Faith of Christ and the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and recognised the renovationist living church, which does not have the Grace of Christ."
The people knowing their God are the believers of the True Orthodox Church, who reject this evil covenant and abomination. They have fallen by the sword, and by flame, and by captivity, and by spoil of many days - over seventy years of struggle against the Soviet Antichrist. Just as the Philadelphian Church is said to have little strength, so these Christians are said to be helped with a little help; and in material and political terms they are indeed weak. Many shall attach themselves to them with treachery - and many traitors, KGB agents, have attached themselves to the True Orthodox Christians, causing some of them to fall temporarily, being tried as with fire. And all this takes place in the last days, at the time of the end, and yet before the final destruction of the tormentor, the king of the north, on the mountains of Israel (Daniel 11.36-45; cf. Ezekiel 38 and 39).
3.9. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and make obeisance before they feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
The phrase the synagogue of Satan was used before, in the message to the Church of Smyrna (2.9), which in Archbishop Averky's interpretation represents the second period in the history of the Church. It can be interpreted in two ways. Either it refers to the Jews, who have been at the forefront of the persecutions against the Christians in the twentieth, as in the first three centuries, or to the false brethren who have betrayed the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and thereby ceased to be true Jews, i.e. real Christians. For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God (Romans 2.28-29).
Of such true, Christian Jews it is written: In those days ... ten men of all the languages of the nations shall take hold of the hem of a Jew, saying, We shall go with thee; for we have learned that God is with you (Zechariah 8.23).
"Here is foretold the mass conversion of the Jews to Christ which must take place in the last, that is, the sixth period in the construction of the Holy Church... This triumphant promise relates, in all probability, to the last times, after the breaking of the sixth seal from the book of the destinies of the world, when great signs in the sun, the moon and the stars will begin to appear, and terrible upheavals in the elements - upheavals which will be restrained from appearing until the conversion to Christianity and return to Palestine of one hundred and forty four thousand Jews is accomplished, as we clearly see in Revelation (7.2-8). They will be regenerated, as some fathers of the Church, in particular St. Ephraim the Syrian and St. Hippolytus of Rome, have surmised, by the Prophet Elijah's preaching of the Gospel of Christ." (St. John of Kronstadt)
In the early 1920s the Church writer and hieromartyr Bishop Mark Novoselov identified the Jews in this passage with the persecutors of the Church in Bolshevik Russia. "[St. John] with complete clarity speaks about the conversion of the God-fighting people to the Church of Christ, when she, few in numbers and powerless from an external point of view, but powerful with an inner strength and faithfulness to her Lord (Revelation 3.8) will draw to herself the remnant of the God-fighting tribe. Behold, says the Lord to the Angel of the Church of Philadelphia, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and make obeisance before they feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
"Gazing with the eye of faith at that which the Lord has done before our eyes, and applying the ear of our heart and mind to the events of our days, comparing that which is seen and heard with the declarations of the Word of God, I cannot but feel that a great, wonderful and joyous mystery of God's economy is coming towards us: the Judaising haters and persecutors of the Church of God, who are striving to subdue and annihilate her, by the wise permission of Providence will draw her to purification and strengthening, so as to present her [to Christ] as a glorious Church, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she should be holy and blameless (Ephesians 6.27).
"And in His time, known only to the One Lord of time, this, according to the son of thunder's strict expression synagogue of Satan will bow before the pure Bride of Christ, conquered by her holiness and blamelessness and, perhaps, frightened by the image of the Antichrist. And if the rejection of the Apostle Paul's fellow-countrymen was, in his words, the reconciliation of the world [with God], what will be their acceptance if not life from the dead? (Romans 11.15)."
Lev Tikhomirov agrees with this interpretation: “Is this conversion of the Jews that salvation of all Israel which the Apostle Paul foretold? In the Apocalypse it is said that the saved will come of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie. But not the whole of the synagogue will come, but only of the synagogue, that is, a part of it. But even here where the Apostle Paul says that the whole of Israel will be saved, he means only a part: for they are not all Israel, which are of Israel… They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Romans 9.6,8).
“The opinion is widespread among us that the conversion of the Jews will take place at the very appearance of the Saviour, when they shall cry out: ‘Blessed is He That cometh in the name of the Lord’. But this is not evident from the Apocalypse. But if the Philadelphian conversion will bring all Israel that is to be saved to Christ, then this will, of course, be a great event, fully explaining the rejoicing of the Heavens. Israel is a chosen people with whom it will not be possible to find a comparison when he begins to do the work of God. The Jews will, of course, multiply the forces of Christianity for the resistance against the Antichrist. If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, says the Apostle Paul, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? (Romans 11.15).”
3.10-11. Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon the whole world, to try those that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
“Because you have kept My example in suffering adversity, I also will keep you from the impending afflictions, not, indeed, that you may not be tempted, but that you may not be overcome by adversity… Do not grow weary in endurance, for I will help you quickly, in case another, through your failure, receive the reward which was decreed for you. So it is impossible that the number of the saints which is fixed with God should be diminished by the faithlessness of the increasing tares. For if the lost crown is delivered to another, the place of him who has lost it is not vacant.” (The Venerable Bede)
Take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth (Luke 21.34-35).
Thus "at that time there will be an increased danger of losing faith because of the multitude of temptations. On the other hand, the reward for faithfulness will be, so to speak, right at hand. Therefore it is necessary to be especially watchful so as not to lose the possibility of salvation through lightmindedness, as, for example, the wife of Lot lost it." (Archbishop Averky)
For the righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in whatever day he shall transgress (Ezekiel 33.12).
"In this second interpretation, the hour of temptation is virtually synonymous with the great tribulation which will come just before the end of the world, when the days will be shortened for the sake of the elect and immediately after the tribulation of those days the end of everything will come (Matthew 24.21,22,29)."
3.12-13. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from My God; and I will write upon him My new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches.
According to the ancient author Strabo, Philadelphia was frequently subject to earthquakes, and during the earthquakes the citizens had to flee out of the city. Russia in the twentieth century is an earthquake zone in the spiritual sense, and many millions have fled abroad and into the catacombs. But the faithful Christian will escape unharmed from all the traumas that the Russian people has had to undergo. Just as the Philadelphian Christian of the first century was promised that he would not have to go out any more, i.e. flee from his house in case it fell on top of him, so the True Russian Christian of the twentieth century is promised that he will not have to flee abroad or into the catacombs any more, but will remain as a pillar in the temple of My God.
St. Clement of Rome writes: "The Church is not of the present age, but is from above. For She is spiritual, like our Jesus, and was revealed in the last times in order to save us. And the Church, though spiritual, was revealed in the Flesh of Christ... If we do the will of our Father, God, we shall belong to the first Church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and moon. But if we do not the will of the Lord, we shall fall under the scripture which says: My house is become a den of thieves (Jeremiah 7.11; Matthew 21.23)."
"The placing of a pillar in the Church of Christ which has not been vanquished by the gates of hell (figuratively represented here in the form of a house) indicates that the one who overcomes in temptations belongs to the Church of Christ inviolably; that is, he has a most solid position in the Kingdom of Heaven. The high reward for such a one will also be the writing upon him of a triple name: the name of a child of God, as belonging inseparably to God; the name of a citizen of the new or heavenly Jerusalem; and the name of Christian, as an authentic member of the Body of Christ. The New Jerusalem, beyond any doubt, is the heavenly triumphant Church (21.2; Galatians 4.26), which cometh down out of heaven because the very origin of the Church from the Son of God, Who came down from heaven (John 3.13), is heavenly; it give to people heavenly gifts and raises them to heaven." (Archbishop Averky)
"We must have written in our hearts the new name of God, which is His incarnation, which took place in the new, or last times, and is newer than anything else under the sun." (Patriarch Anthimus)
7. The Church of Laodicea
3.14. And unto the angel of the Church of Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.
“Laodicea means ‘the lovely tribe of the Lord’, or, ‘they were in vomiting’. For there were there both those to whom He said, I will spew thee out of My mouth, and those also to whom He said this, Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (The Venerable Bede)
"The last word of the Revelation of the Lord is addressed to the Laodicean Church, and reflects in itself the prophecy about the final condition of faith upon earth after great numbers of confessors of the Church have been taken up to the throne of God, and when, according to the expression of the Gospel, faith will hardly be found on the earth (Luke 18.8)... The message to the angel of the Church of Laodicea refers, in all probability, to the very last times." (St. John of Kronstadt)
Lev Tikhomirov writes: "In the Philadelphian Church, we must think, the pure Bride of Christ is preserved to the end of the world. But the majority of those called 'Christians' will probably fall ever lower, since the world will move into the seventh epoch, the Laodicean."
"The Church of Laodicea is the last, most frightful epoch before the end of the world, characterised by indifference to the Faith and outward prosperity...
"Laodicea, which is now called 'Exi-Hissar' by the Turks, that is, old fortress, is in Phrygia, by the river Lyka and near the city of Colossae. In antiquity it was famous for it trade, the fertility of its soil and its cattle-breeding. Its population was very large and wealthy, as is witnessed by the excavations, which revealed many precious pieces of sculpture, fragments of luxurious marble decorations, cornices, pedestals, etc. We may suppose that it was its wealth that made Laodicea so lukewarm to the Christian faith, for which the city was subjected to the wrath of God - its complete destruction and devastation by the Turks (in 1009)." (Archbishop Averky)
Thus saith the Amen. "The use of this epithet contains in itself a threat, or, at least, a warning, that the Laodiceans should not err with regard to the justice of what will be said later: all this is said by Him Who is the purest truth, unfailing faithfulness."
St. Justin the Martyr writes: “I shall give you another testimony from the Scriptures, that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,… Who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos… For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father’s will… The Word of Wisdom, Who is Himself this God begotten of the Father of all things, and Word, and Wisdom, and Power, and the Glory of the Begetter, will bear evidence to me, when He speaks by Solomon: The Lord made Me the Beginning of His ways for His works. He established Me before the age, in the beginning before He made the earth [Proverbs 8.22,23].”
St. Ambrose of Milan writes: “The Son of God has no beginning, seeing that He already was at the beginning, nor shall He come to an end, Who is the Beginning and the End of the Universe; for begin the Beginning, how could He take and receive that which He already had, or how shall He come to an end, being Himself the End of all things, so that in that End we have an abiding-place without end? The divine Generation is not an event occurring in the course of time, and within its limits, and therefore before it time is not, and in it time has no place.”
"The Lord is called the beginning of the creation of God not, of course, in the sense that He is the first creation of God, but in the sense that all things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1.3), and likewise in the sense that He is the recreation of fallen man (Galatians 6.15; Colossians 3.10,1.15,1.18)." (Archbishop Averky)
3.15-16. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wast cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.
“You are neither fervent in faith, nor entirely unbelieving. But, if you were still unbelieving, you would still have the hope of conversion, whereas now, in that you do not do the will of the Lord which you know, you shall be cast forth from the bosom of My Church.” (The Venerable Bede)
Laodicea's water supplies contained large calcium impurities, which can be seen to this day. If someone drank the lukewarm water it would make him vomit.
The Lord does not say a single good word about the Laodicean Church, but reproaches her particularly for her lack of zeal for the faith and tolerance of evil. As we have seen, Hieromartyr Bishop Damascene of Glukhov identifies her with the apostate Soviet church, the Moscow Patriarchate. Without basically disagreeing with this interpretation, we may nevertheless give the Laodicean church a wider denotation, encompassing all the so-called Orthodox churches of the last times, whose distinguishing feature is their indifference to all questions of faith, as witnessed by their participation in "the heresy of heresies", Ecumenism.
Ecumenism is the heresy that there is no such thing as heresy as the apostles and fathers of the Church understand that term - that is, a false teaching on a matter of faith that estranges those who adhere to it from the unity of the Church. Ecumenism is the heresy that there is no single faith, whether Orthodox, Papist or Protestant, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or pagan, which expresses the fullness of the truth, and that all existing faiths (except Ecumenism itself) are more or less in error. It implies that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has foundered on the reef of sectarian strife, and that She has to be re-founded on the sands of doctrinal compromise and indifference to the truth. It is the tower of Babel rebuilt, a babble of conflicting tongues united only in their insistence that they all speak the same language.
The dominant characteristic of Ecumenism is lukewarmness. Rejecting any sharp distinction between truth and falsehood, Ecumenism accepts all churches and faiths, however incompatible with each other, as being simultaneously true. Hence the search for truth is replaced by the search for unity - only not unity truth, but unity in indifference to truth.
However, "in relation to the faith the middle course has no value. For we may hope that he who is cold, and has no hot water, will one day receive it. But he who burned in spirit through Holy Baptism, but then grew cold, removes from himself the hope of salvation." (St. John of Kronstadt). For "the cold man, who has not known faith, can more easily believe and become a fervent believer than a cooled-off Christian who has become indifferent to the Faith. Even an open sinner is better than a lukewarm Pharisee who is satisfied with his moral condition. That is why the Lord Jesus Christ reproached the Pharisees, preferring to them the repentant publican and harlots. Open and evident sinners can more easily come to an awareness of their own sinfulness and to true repentance than people with a lukewarm conscience who do not acknowledge their moral infirmities." (Archbishop Averky)
Ecumenism is spiritually akin to Communism. Both movements aim at the construction of a materialist paradise on earth through the destruction of traditional forms of ecclesiastical and political life; and both achieved institutional status at about the same time - the years 1917-19. Together, they constitute the third stage in the process of apostasy referred to by St. Paul after the first stage - Papism and the second stage - Protestantism.
"The ideologue of Ecumenism," writes Archbishop Averky, "which is the natural consequence of the nostalgia of the Protestant world for the Church that they have lost, was the German pastor Christoph Blumhardt, whom the Protestants call for that reason 'the great prophet of the contemporary world'. He called all the Protestants to unity for 'the construction of the Kingdom of God on earth', but he died before the organisation of the Ecumenical movement, in 1919. His fundamental idea consisted of the proposition that 'the old world has been destroyed, and a new one is rising on its ruins'. He placed three problems before Christianity: 1) the realisation of the best social structure, 2) the overcoming of confessional disagreements and 3) the working together for the education of the whole world community of nations with the complete liquidation of war.
"It was in these three points that the aims of Ecumenism were formulated by the present general secretary of the Council of the Ecumenical movement, Visser-t-Hooft, who saw the means for their realisation in the Church's pursuit of social aims. For this it is first of all necessary to overcome confessional differences and create one church. The renewed one church will have the possibility of preparing the way for the triumph of Socialism, which will lead to the creation of one world State as the Kingdom of God on earth...."
"Since the fall of Orthodox Russia," continues Averky, "he who restrains (II Thessalonians 2.7) has been no more, as was frequently prophesied by the luminary Theophanes [the Recluse] and by our great all-Russian righteous one, Fr. John of Kronstadt, and by many other Spirit-bearing prophets of our time, - and everything in the world has tottered, as if shaken to its very foundations. The spirit of apostasy has begun to proclaim itself with unusual cynicism and shamelessness everywhere in the world in all spheres of personal, family, social and state life, as never before. Whole millions of people, formerly Christian by birth, are not ashamed now openly and in the hearing of all to declare their unbelief and godlessness, and state power officially registers them as not belonging to any confession of faith; immorality has reached frightening proportions, in most cases dissoluteness and pornography are not only not prosecuted, but are even cultivated by the powers that be, right to the systematic corruption of the younger generation in schools; the former concepts of duty, honour, nobility and conscience have almost disappeared - and in their place have appeared coarse greed, purely egoistical calculation, material benefits and fleshly pleasures. Particularly bitter is this for contemporary youth, which is almost completely deprived of spiritual zeal and that lofty enthusiasm for sacrificial service to neighbours and attraction to high moral ideas that characterised youth in former times. For many the aim of life has become only career ambitions and work with material guarantees, external comfort and base carnal delights. And there is an unbelievable increase in child crime, which the newspapers constantly talk about, inspiring us with the most serious anxieties concerning the near future.
"In one word, the world, terrible to say, the Christian world now presents a dismal, joyless picture of the deepest religious-moral fall.
"And at the same time, in such sharp contrast with all this dismal reality, more and more often and more and more insistently there sound the repeated calls to peace and union.
"Can one believe, in these circumstances and seeing all that is happening, in the sincerity and, most importantly, in the good intentions of these appeals?
"These appeals go out: in the East - from the God-fighting Soviet power, which has drowned our Homeland in blood, and from its obedient tool, the Moscow Patriarchate, which has thoroughly deserved its name of the 'Soviet church' (what a terrible combination of words!); in the West - from papal Rome, which has compromised itself in history by its evil and antichristian politics of enslavement of those who think otherwise, and from the Protestant world, which is guilty of the religious chaos which distinguishes the present seemingly Christian world that has descended into complete godlessness.
"With the aim of propagandising this 'peace' and 'unity', the representatives of the God-fighting power and its obedient servants in cassock go round the whole world sowing the seeds of lies and trying to deceive and lead into error naive and trusting people. It was with this aim that the papal throne created the so-called 'Eastern Rite' so as to lead into error the Orthodox who do not know their faith well, and now it has even called an 'Ecumenical Council', in which all the so-called 'separated brethren' will be able to take part, although at the same time the encyclical published by the pope leaves no doubt as to the real aim of this 'council' - the unconditional submission of all to papal power. Nor is the Protestant world uninvolved in this striving for 'peace' and 'unity' - that world which has itself unceasingly created so many divisions, in the form of a great quantity of sects, and which is now propagandising its own 'ecumenical' movement, into the nets of which it is trying, not without success, to draw the Orthodox, mainly those who have been infected by the corrupting spirit of 'living-churchmanship' and 'renovationism'.
"How should the Orthodox relate to all this?
“Must he strive towards every kind of peace and unity?
“Is every kind of peace and unity bound to be valuable in his eyes, dear and near to his True Christian soul?
"Not at all - was the decisive reply to this question - a question of Christian conscience - of the great ecumenical teacher and hierarch, the pillar of our Orthodox faith, St. Gregory the Theologian. 'It is not fitting,' he said, 'to treasure every kind of peace, for there is a good disagreement, and the most destructive unanimity, and one must love only a good peace, which has a good aim and unites with God' (Word 6, vol. 1, p. 192).
"Dearest of all for a Christian is the Truth, to witness to which the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, as He Himself said to Pilate (John 18.37). And for the true Christian only one union can be desirable - union in Christian truth - the undistorted, unperverted, pure truth, without any admixture of demonic lies, unpoisoned by any kind of compromise with it. From this point of view, all these appeals to 'peace' and 'unity' are unacceptable for the Christian, for they proceed from people who have encroached on our main treasure - the pure and undefiled truth of the teaching of Christ which has been preserved by us in holiness, and who want to substitute for it a lie, which is of the devil. The unity which has been thought up now by the enemies of Christ's pure truth is not a unity in Christ. It is that unity which the Antichrist is striving to create for himself in his desire to subdue all people to himself and found his own kingdom on earth.
"All that is taking place now on the summits of the religious, state and social life of men since our Orthodox Russia was cast into the dust is nothing other than intense work on the preparation of the future kingdom of the Antichrist by his servants."
"The religious-moral fall of bishops," writes Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava, "is... one of the most characteristic signs of the last times. Especially terrible is the fall of bishops when they fall away from the dogmas of the faith, or, as the apostle puts it, want to pervert the Gospel of Christ (Galatians 1.7). To such the apostle orders that we say anathema: Whoever will preach to you a Gospel other than that which we preached to you, he writes, let him be anathema (Galatians 1.9). And one must not linger here, he says: A heretic after the first and second admonition reject, knowing that such a one is perverted, condemning himself (Titus 3.10-11). Otherwise, that is, for indifference to apostasy from the truth, you may be struck by the wrath of God: because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth."
3.17-18. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness not appear; and anointing thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.
"Gold tried in the fire signifies the word of teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church, and white raiment - the intercession of the Mother of God and the holy God-pleasers." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"If you wish to become rich, I counsel you, with flaming desire and a fervent heart, to acquire from Me, the Enricher, gold cleansed by the fire of temptation. From it you will have in your heart a treasure that cannot be stolen, and you will be clothed in a most bright raiment of virtues, with which you will cover the nakedness of sin." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
St. Cyprian of Carthage writes: "You, then, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself from Christ gold tried by fire; that you may be pure gold, with your filth burnt out as if by fire, if you are purged by almsgiving and righteous works. Buy for yourselves white raiment, that you who had been naked according to Adam, and were before frightful and unseemly, may be clothed with the white garment of Christ. And you are a wealthy and rich matron in Christ's Church, anoint your eyes, not with the devil's eye-shadow, but with Christ's eye-salve, that you may be able to attain to see God, by deserving well of God, both by good works and character."
The lukewarm water in the village adjacent to Laodicea is very beneficial to the eyes. Laodicea exported this eyesalve to many parts of the world, but the irony was that the Laodicean Christians were spiritually blind. In the same way, the contemporary ecumenists go round the world spreading their lukewarm Gospel, with which they propose to heal the blindness of men, while not seeing their own utter blindness.
“To anoint the eyes with eyesalve is to gain an understanding of holy Scripture by the performance of a good work.” (The Venerable Bede)
Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow says: "Remove the blindness of crude sensuality. Anoint the eyes of your mind with the subtle ointment of faith in the spiritual and the Divine. Then you will see in truth."
"Eyesalve is the virtue of non-acquisitiveness, which opens men's eyes to the vanity and emptiness of all the wealth of the corruptible world." (Archbishop Averky)
The main impulse towards ecumenism has come from the materially rich but spiritually starved countries of the West. The Lord here counsels Western Christians, and those Orthodox who have become westerners in faith and life, to acquire the spiritual wealth of the Orthodox East - that gold which has been tried in the fire of great suffering. For He is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3.2-3).
"From these reproaches of the Laodicean Church leaders it is clear that the indifference of pastors will be the final phenomenon of Church life combined with an extraordinary development of their material security. Such a phenomenon will appear: a church without the grace of the Holy Spirit, and pastors feeding themselves, and sermons as mere sounds." (St. John of Kronstadt)
3.19. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent.
My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction; for whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Proverbs 3.11-12).
Zeal is precisely the virtue that ecumenism works to destroy: zeal to struggle for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), zeal to rebuke all false teachings and extinguish sin. Zeal is that fiery quality akin to love which the Lord so longed to send upon the earth (Luke 12.49). According to St. Gregory the Theologian, zeal is the gift that was given to the disciples in tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost.
Archbishop Averky writes: "The most important thing in Christianity, according to the clear teaching of the Word of God, is the fire of Divine zeal, zeal for God and His glory, that Holy Zeal which alone is able to inspire a man to labours and exploits pleasing to God, without which there is no authentic spiritual life - nor can there be any true Christianity. Without this holy zeal Christians are only Christians by name."
3.20. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.
"Not by compulsion, He says, is My presence; for I knock at the door of the heart and rejoice with those who open to their salvation. This salvation I consider food and supper, and I eat what they eat, and thus they banish the famine of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos 8.11) and the darkness of errors." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
I have meat to eat that ye know not of... My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work (John 4.32,34). The meat which the Lord ate on this occasion was the salvation of the Samaritan woman, to whom He said, in very unecumenical fashion: Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews (John 4.22). Ecumenism destroys the very concept of missionary conversion; for if all faiths are true and salvific, what is the point of converting from one to another? But in reality, as St. Cyprian says, "God is one, and Christ is one; His Church is one, and the Faith is one; and the cement of fellowship binds all the people into the body's solid unity. That unity cannot be broken..."
3.21-22. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father on His throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.
"To him that overcometh is given the promise that he will sit on the throne of God, by which is to be understood the highest dignity of an heir of the Kingdom of heaven, and who reigns together with Christ Himself, the Conqueror of the devil (cf. Matthew 19.28; Luke 22.30)." (Archbishop Averky)
“By sitting with Him He means, being a partner in power and judgement. Who has made us sit together, he says, in heavenly places in Christ. The Lord, as a Conqueror, sat down with the Father on the throne, in that, after the conflict of the passion, after the victory of His resurrection, He manifested Himself more clearly to all, as coequal with the Father in power.” (The Venerable Bede)
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. This exhortation is repeated at the end of the message to each of the Churches. For, as Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava writes, "the people of this age live by faith in progress and soothe themselves with unrealisable dreams. Stubbornly and with a certain ferocity they drive away from themselves the very thought of the end of the world and the coming of the Antichrist. Their eyes are spiritually blinded. Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear. But the meaning of contemporary events is not hidden from the true children of God. Nay more: to him on whom the good will of God rests will be revealed exactly both the time of the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. When the Lord will pronounce His threatening judgement on the sinful world: My Spirit will not remain among men, seeing they are flesh, then He will say to His faithful servants: Come out from among them and separate yourselves and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you (II Corinthians 6.17; cf. Isaiah 52.11). And He will hide them from the gaze of the world as they sigh in fear at the woes that are to come. Therefore great is the merit of those who remind the people of this age of the great times and events that are to come."
II. THE SECOND VISION: THE SEVEN SEALS
OR: THE CHURCH AT THE END OF TIME
1. The Twenty-Four Elders and the Four Living Creatures
“After describing the works of the Church and its future condition, he recapitulates from the birth of Christ, with the intention of repeating the same things in a different manner, for in this book he repeats under various figures the whole period of the Church’s history.” (The Venerable Bede)
In a second vision, the seer's spiritual eye is turned from earth to heaven, from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant:-
4.1. After this I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said: Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.
"The fourth chapter contains the beginning of a new, a second vision. The depiction of a new and magnificent spectacle which opens before the gaze of St. John begins with a commandment to him to ascend through an open door in heaven so as to see things which must be hereafter. The opening of the door signifies the revelation of the hidden mysteries of the Spirit. By the words Come hither, the hearer is commanded to put off entirely earthly thinking and be converted to heavenly thinking." (Archbishop Averky)
4.2-3. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He that sat was to look upon like a jaspar and a sardine stone; and there was a rainbow about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
"The throne is the rest of God in the saints." (Patriarch Anthimus)
"And immediately I was in the Spirit: that is, again in a state of ecstasy. This time St. John saw God the Father Himself sitting upon a throne. His appearance was like the precious stone jaspar (a stone of the colour green like emerald) and a sardine stone (sard, of a fiery colour). The first of these colours, green, according to the commentary of St. Andrew of Caesarea, signifies that the Divine nature is ever flourishing, life-bearing, and nourishing. The second, the fiery yellow red, indicates purity and sanctity, which ever remain in God, and His threatening anger towards those who transgress His will. The union of these two colours indicates that God chastises sinners, but at the same time is always ready to forgive one who sincerely repents. The apparition of the One sitting on the throne was surrounded by a rainbow like an emerald, a stone of green colour which signifies, as does also the rainbow which appeared after the flood, the eternal mercy of God towards mankind.
"The sitting on the throne itself signifies the opening of the judgement of God which is to be revealed in the last times. This is not yet the terrible Last Judgement, but a preparatory judgement like those judgements of God which have occurred many times in the history of mankind to people who have sinned. (For example, the universal flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, the destruction of Jerusalem, and many others.)
"The precious stones jaspar and sardine, and likewise the rainbow around the throne, being a symbol of the ceasing of the wrath of God and the renewal of the world, signify that the judgement of god upon the world, that is, its fiery destruction, is to end with its renewal. This is especially indicated also by the quality of jaspar to heal wounds received by the sword." (Archbishop Averky)
“That sea was an image of the mystery of Holy Baptism. Because between the Throne of God and the man who desires to approach God’s Throne, there interposes the water of Baptism, and no one can in any way approach God seated on His Throne in the highest unless he first traverse the sea of Baptism, as say the Scriptures: Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3.5). For what reason is it that the sea, which images forth the mystery of Baptism, is of glass and crystal? We should know that the commentators on the Divine Scriptures say that it is like glass in a purity that cleanses the souls of those being baptized, and like crystal on account of its strength which makes steadfast the heart; furthermore it is for this reason that it is of glass and crystal because just as the sun’s rays pass through glass and crystal, the Grace of God, as it were, penetrates the mystery of Baptism, and thereby comes to the person and illumines the temple of his soul. We can also say, that it is not in vain that the sea before the Throne of God, which represents the mystery of Baptism, is of glass and crystal, for the Most Holy Trinity seated upon His Throne, as it were upon a mirror of glass and crystal, will be revealed and seen therein, for in Holy Baptism the image of the Trinity is revealed… Let us say, that the sea before the Throne of God is an image of the mystery of Holy Baptism, wherein our nature is baptized, and like glass our soul is cleansed from all filthiness of flesh and spirit (II Corinthians 7.1) and like crystal it is strengthened and illumined. And it is when God in Trinity looks upon this mystical glass and crystal during our Baptism, then in truth the trinitarian image is reflected therein.”
"The opening of a door in heaven and the appearance of the throne signify the beginning of God's judgement, which must take place in the last ages in successive periods, some long, some short, in accordance with their proximity to the limit, beyond which there are no more limits, no more ages, but one uninterrupted, endless present. The end of that which is temporal and the transfer to that which is eternal will take place on earth during the exceptional circumstances of a rebellion of the earthborn against their Creator. Such a rebellion, led and inspired by Satan, has been prepared by him from long ago. The mystery of the planned iniquity is always ready to be accomplished, but it has been held back, and up to now continues to be held back, by the piety of the zealots of the glory of God. Such in antiquity were the holy prophets and apostles of the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world for the salvation of many. These pious zealots for the glory of God have struggled to arouse, through fear of God's judgement, the people who have been enticed by Satan into starting a rebellion against the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. They were and are successful, with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit, in putting off the explosion of the rebellion for whole centuries, until the preordained number of those saved from the foundation of the world have entered the Kingdom of God. The end can only come when everything that could have been drawn out for the heavenly granary will have been drawn out. When only chaff remain, then will the time of recompense come near. Long before that the judgement will begin in heaven - but not that final judgement which will be revealed on earth at the resurrection from the dead. That last judgement will be the end or conclusion of the present judgement, that is, it will be the declaration of the final and irrevocable lot of all those under judgement. And those under judgement will not be only the evil, but also the good, for all have sinned. And the righteous, for their striving to follow the path of the Gospel, will be justified, while the evil, who did not follow the instructions of Gospel charity, will be condemned to eternal deprivation of light and blessedness, which will be the fiery torment that has no end. But here, in Revelation, reference is made to the preliminary judgement of God on the world which began long before the last day; for the rebellion has been prepared from long ago by various satanic intrigues aimed at the destruction of the saving ark of the Holy Church, in which all those seeking deliverance from the flood of sin find reliable salvation...
"There are innumerable revelations of the judgement of God both in the public and in the private spheres, only we do not always - or rather, we almost never - understand these judgements of God; or we understand so later that it remains only to be eternally sorry for one's own and people's ignorance of how one should act so as not to be subjected to the righteous judgement of God.
"As regards the preliminary judgement of the world, that is revealed at the end of time, and lo!, the seer is counted worthy of a revelations concerning this and announces: a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Who is this? Since here, in contrast to the previous vision of the Son of God, there is no indication of any human sign, it is undoubtedly the Father, from Whom is everything." (St. John of Kronstadt)
4.4. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
The twenty-four elders are reminiscent of the twenty-four divisions of the sons of Aaron for the priestly services in the Temple (I Chronicles 24.1-18).
Archbishop Averky writes: "There are the most varied opinions and suppositions as to whom one must understand by these elders. One thing is certain: that these are representatives of humanity who have pleased the Lord. Many suppose, basing themselves on the promise given to the holy apostles: Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19.28), that by these twenty-four elders one must understand twelve representatives of Old Testament humanity - the holy patriarchs and prophets - and twelve representatives of New Testament humanity - namely, the twelve apostles of Christ. The white garments are a symbol of purity and eternal feasting, and the golden crowns are a sign of victory over demons."
4.5. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices.
"This indicates how frightful and terrible God is for impenitent sinners who are unworthy of His mercy and forgiveness. (Compare the manifestation of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 9.16).)" (Archbishop Averky)
"But for those worthy of salvation, the lightnings and thunderings do not cause fear, but sweetness and enlightenment: the one enlightens their spiritual eyes, while the other gives pleasure to the hearing." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
4.5. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven spirits of God.
"By these seven spirits one must understand either the seven chief angels, as St. Irenaeus interprets it, or the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which are enumerated by the holy Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 11.2)." (Archbishop Averky)
"Just as earlier, in 1.4, John gave a blessing to the Churches from the Holy Spirit under the name of seven spirits under the altar of the Father, so it is evident that the reference here is to the Person of the Holy Spirit under the form of seven lamps of fire." (St. John of Kronstadt)
4.6. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.
"The crystal sea, being immobile and still, as opposed to the stormy sea seen later by St. John (13.1), must signify, in the opinion of many interpreters, 'the multitude of the holy heavenly powers', pure and immortal as they are (St. Andrew of Caesarea). These are the souls of men who have not been disturbed by the storms of the sea of life, but like crystal reflect the seven colours of the rainbow, being penetrated by the seven gifts of the Grace of the Holy Spirit." (Archbishop Averky)
"We may suppose that these are the souls of human beings from the other world. They are not disturbed by worldly storms, but like crystal, which reflects the seven colours of the rainbow, they are penetrated by the seven gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus the assembly of these blessed spirits could be represented by a glass sea, like crystal, before the throne of the Judge, Whom they are called to attend." (St. John of Kronstadt)
4.6-8. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. And the first living creature was like a lion, and the second living creature like a calf, and the third living creature had a face as a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures each had six wings about him; and these were full of eyes within: and they rest neither day nor night, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come.
"These are the powers by which the world is sustained and whom Isaiah also saw around the throne. Their being full of eyes before and behind signifies their cherubic knowledge of the past and future, and their six wings - their seraphic readiness to carry out the Divine commands of the Holy Trinity. These are the angelic beings that are the highest and closest to the throne of God.
"But these powers serve as a footstool for the throne of God, and for that reason it is said: in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four living creatures. This means that their faces are turned towards the four corners of the world: the north, the south, the east and the west, while their backs as it were support the throne of the Almighty, Who contains everything and everyone.
"As regards the difference in the external appearance of the four living creatures, this corresponds to the service of Christ God Himself in the economy of our salvation: His royal service - as commander of the forces of nature and the demons; His high-priestly service - as offering a sacrifice for the whole world and being Himself offered in sacrifice; His prophetic service - as God's teacher and evangelist; and human service - as assuming the nature of our race, for our salvation. To the first corresponds the emblematic representation of a lion; to the second - of a calf; to the third - of an eagle; and to the fourth - of a man." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"Some think that these living creatures should be understood to be the four elements and God's governance and preservation of them, or God's dominion over the regions of heaven, earth, sea and the underworld. However, as is clear from the further description of the appearance of these living creatures, without doubt they are the very angelic powers who in the mystical vision of the holy Prophet Ezekiel on the river Chobar (1.5-25) supported the mystical chariot on which the Lord God sits as King.
"These four living creatures are as it were emblems of the four evangelists. The multitude of their eyes indicates the Divine omniscience, the knowledge of everything past, present and future. These are the highest angelic beings, the closest to God, who ceaselessly glorify Him (cf. Isaiah 6.2-3)." (Archbishop Averky)
According to St. Andrew of Caesarea, the four living creatures signify "the four chief virtues and the four Gospels. The lion, as the symbol of courage, signifies the Gospel of John, for he, says Irenaeus, in describing His pre-eternal Kingdom, announced that in the beginning was the Word (John 1.1); the calf, as the symbol of righteousness, signifies the Gospel of Luke, who announced the lawful and priestly genealogy of Christ; the eagle, as the symbol of moderation, signifies the Gospel of Mark, as being the shortest and beginning in a prophetic spirit; the man, as the symbol of wisdom, signifies the Gospel of Matthew, which began its account of the birth of Christ according to nature, but not according to the law. These symbols probably also signify the economy of Christ: the lion as King, the calf as Chief Priest - or rather, Sacrifice, the man as incarnate for our sake, and the eagle as giver of the Life-giving Spirit Who descends on us from above."
"St. Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century) was the first to identify the four living creatures with the four Evangelists. According to early Orthodox icons (for example, the mosaics in the basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna) the lion is identified with St. Mark, the calf with St. Luke, the man with St. Matthew, and the eagle with St. John."
St. Athanasius the Great writes: "The Triad, praised, reverenced and adored, is one and indivisible and without degrees. It is united without confusion, just as the Monad also is distinguished without separation. For the fact of these venerable living creatures offering their praises three times, saying Holy, Holy, Holy, proves that the Three Persons are perfect; just as by saying Lord they declare the One Essence."
St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “The mystery of the Trinity was luminously proclaimed when they uttered that marvellous cry, Holy, being awestruck with the beauty in each Hypostasis of the Trinity.”
St. Ambrose writes: “They repeat thrice and say the same word, that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of Persons in the Trinity, and the oneness of the Godhead, and while they say this they proclaim God.”
"They rest neither day nor night, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, as if to say: they ceased not from singing all the time. For the greatest and only rest of the saints is with unwearied voice to sing in heaven the praises of the Most High Trinity, which is God. But in a deeper sense God can be understood to have rested from His works… in that for the sake of His goodness alone He made works capable of resting in Himself… God, Who before the creation had perfect rest in Himself eternally, Himself also rested after the creation of the world… inasmuch as He supplies rest for the rational creatures." (The Venerable Bede).
4.9-11. And when these living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sits on the throne, Who liveth unto the ages of ages, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sits on the throne, and worship Him that lives unto the ages of ages, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they exist and were created.
"The four and twenty elders: These words signify that the elders are participants in the hymns of the heavenly powers and confess that they received from God the power to win the victory over spiritual enemies." (Archbishop Averky)
This chapter places the emphasis on God as Creator and Preserver of the whole of creation: the next chapter places the emphasis on Him as Redeemer and Saviour of the world.
2. The Lamb of God
5.1-4. And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back side, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice: who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no one in heaven, nor in earth, nor under the earth was able to open the book, nor to look thereon. And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the book, nor to look thereon.
"Here the right hand signifies Him Who sits at the right hand of the Father and Who will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. This book is Wisdom incarnate. The seven seals are the same as the seven lamps of fire. They signify the Divine memory, the source of wisdom, sealed with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In accordance with this book the righteous judgement of God must be accomplished in the definite sequence of the seven periods of time. But who understands the mind of God, and to whom is opened that which is sealed in the memory of the Pre-Eternal One?" (St. John of Kronstadt)
In Thy book shall all men be written (Psalm 138.15).
The Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven (Hebrews 12.23).
"The Lord Almighty Whom St. John has seen sitting on the throne holds in His hand a book written on the outside and inside and sealed with seven seals. Books in antiquity consisted of pieces of parchment rolled up in a roll or placed on a round stick, and the whole thing was bound on the outside and sealed by a seal. Sometimes the book consisted of a piece of parchment which was folded in the form of a fan and tied from above with a string, being sealed with seals on each bend or fold of the book. In that case the opening of one seal gave one the opportunity of opening and reading only one part of the book. The writing was usually made only on the inner side of the parchment, but in rare cases both sides were written on. According to the explanation of St. Andrew of Caesarea and other commentators, by the book which St. John one must understand 'the most wise memory of God', in which are registered all things, and likewise 'the depths of the decrees of God'. In this book, therefore, were registered all the mystical decrees of the most wise providence of god concerning the salvation of men.
"The seven seals signify either the complete confirmation which is known to no one, or the economy of Him Who searches the depth of the Divine Spirit, something which can be unsealed by no created being. The book is also to be understood as the prophecies concerning which Christ Himself said that in part they were fulfilled in the Gospel (Luke 24.44), but that the others would be fulfilled in the last days.
"One of the mighty angels with a loud voice cries out that someone should open this book, taking off its seven seals. But no one was found worthy, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth, who would dare to do this. This signifies that the knowledge of the mysteries of God is accessible to no created being. This inaccessibility is made still greater by the expression nor to look thereon, that is, even to look at it." (Archbishop Averky)
And all these things shall be to you as the words of this sealed book (Isaiah 29.11-12).
St. Jerome writes: "How many there are today who fancy themselves as being learned, yet the Scriptures are a sealed book to them, and one which they cannot open save through Him Who has the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth (3.7)."
5.5-6. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as if it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
St. Hippolytus writes: “Now, as our Lord Jesus Christ Who is also God was prophesied under the figure of a lion [Genesis 49.9], on account of His royalty and glory, in the same way have the Scriptures also aforetime spoken of antichrist as a lion, on account of his tyranny and violence. For the deceiver seeks to liken himself in all things to the Son of God. Christ is a lion, so antichrist is also a lion; Christ is a king, so antichrist is also a king. The Saviour was manifested as a lamb, so he too, in like manner, will appear as a lamb, though within he is a wolf. The Saviour came into the world in the circumcision, and he will come in the same manner. The Lord sent apostles among all nations, and he in like manner will send false apostles. The Saviour gathered together the sheep that were scattered abroad, and he in like manner will bring together a people that is scattered abroad. The Lord gave a seal to those who believed on Him, and he will give one in like manner. The Saviour appeared in the form of man, and he too will come in the form of a man. The Saviour raised up and showed His holy flesh like a temple, and he will raise a temple of stone in Jerusalem.”
"The lion signifies here a powerful being, a hero. It refers to the prophecy of the Patriarch Jacob concerning the lion of the tribe of Judah, by which is to be understood the Messiah, Christ (Genesis 49.9-10).
"Having looked, the seer of mysteries John beheld a Lamb as if it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes. This Lamb, carrying on Himself traces of the fact that He had been offered in sacrifice is, of course, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1.29), that is, our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is shown to be worthy to open the book of God's decrees; for He, having offered Himself as sacrifice for the sins of men, is Himself revealed as the fulfiller of God's decrees for the salvation of the human race. Further, the later opening by Him of the seven seals of the book signifies the very fulfilment of the Divine decrees by the Only-Begotten Son of God as the Saviour of mankind. The seven horns are symbols of His power (Psalm 74.11), and the seven eyes signify, as is immediately explained, the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth, that is, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which repose in Christ as the Anointed of God. The Prophet Isaiah already spoke of this (11.2), as did also the holy Prophet Zechariah (chapter 4). The seven eyes symbolise at the same time God's omnipotence. The Lamb stood in the midst of the throne, that is, there where the Son of God should be, at the right hand of God the Father." (Archbishop Averky)
5.7-8. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne. And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.
"The Lamb... took the book out of the hand of Him that sat on the throne (that is, He received the power to judge the living and the dead), for the Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son (John 5.22)." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The Lamb took the book out of the hand of Him that sat on the throne and immediately the four creatures (the seraphim) and the twenty-four elders falling down gave Him Divine worship. The harps which they had in their hands signify the harmonious chanting of their souls. The golden cups filled with incense as is immediately explained, are the prayers of the saints." (Archbishop Averky)
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ in those that are saved and in those that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life (II Corinthians 2.15-16).
Protopriest Michael Pomazansky writes: "Life in Christ is a world of prayer. It penetrates the whole body of the Church, unites every member of the Church with the Heavenly Father, the members of the earthly Church with themselves, and the members of the earthly Church with the Heavenly Church. Prayers are the threads of the living fabric of the Church body, for the prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5.16). The twenty-four elders in heaven at the throne of God fell down before the Lamb, each having harps and vials filled with incense, which are the prayers of saints (5.8); that is, they offered up prayer on earth to the heavenly throne."
5.9-14. And they chanted a new song, saying: Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God in Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto out God kings and priests; and we shall reign on earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying: Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb unto the ages of ages. And the four living creatures said: Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth unto the ages of ages.
"And they chanted a hymn to the Son of God, the Redeemer of mankind, an authentically new song not heard from the creation of the world, concerning which the Psalmist David already prophesied (Psalm 97.1). The new song is that which the Holy Spirit teaches those who have been delivered from the oldness of the letter and who are enlightened among all tribes and peoples. Of them he (John) says that they will reign on that earth which the Lord has promised to the meek (Matthew 5.5). In this song the new Kingdom of the Son of God is glorified, that Kingdom in which He reigns as the God-man Who bought it with the high price of His own blood. The redemption of mankind, although it refers only to man, was nevertheless so astonishing, so touching and sacred, that it aroused the most lively participation of the whole choir of heaven, so that all together, angels and men, glorify God for this work and worshipped Him that liveth unto the ages of ages." (Archbishop Averky)
Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in the heavens, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12.22-24).
"And lo! when in the world above the glorification of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world was accomplished, in the world below, on earth, began His dethronement by the vain wise men of this age, who see supposed faults of the Divinity in His works, and also faults of righteousness in His most holy Bride - the holy Church, founded by Him on the tradition of the holy apostles and prophets for the establishment and confirmation of truth and salvation on the sinful earth.
"Fear and tremble, O heaven, and be ye shaken, ye foundations of the earth! Earthly wisdom will shake the pillar and foundation of the truth and will conquer those who are blind, who until now peacefully entrusted themselves to the leadership of the most holy Bride of the Lamb.
"The victory of apostasy hastens the end of the world. Corresponding measures are undertaken from above, the great judgement is prepared. The Lamb will receive from the Father the power to judge, and in fulfilment of His promise to the holy apostles (Matthew 19.28) makes them and the holy prophets (who announced His Coming) participants in His judgement on the world." (St. John of Kronstadt)
"The four living creatures and the elders together signify the fact that through Christ God, Who has joined together that which was separate and destroyed the middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2.14), a single flesh and a single Church has been formed from angels and men. And, together with the four living creatures who surpass the other orders of angels, the elders also, who signify the fullness of those being saved, are worthy of the song and the worship of God. May we also be vouchsafed this in Christ Himself, the Giver of peace and our God, to Whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit may there be glory, dominion and honour, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
3. The First Six Seals
6.1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures saying, Come and see.
The noise of thunder signifies judgement; and just as in chapters 4 and 5 we see God as Creator and Redeemer, so now, from chapters 6 to 11, we see Him as Judge.
What judgements do the opening of the seals signify? The answer to this question is contained, at least in part, in a vision that the Procurator of the Russian Holy Synod, Count Alexander Petrovich Tolstoy, had in 1871, and in the interpretation given it by St. Ambrose of Optina. The count wrote to Elder Ambrose: "It was as if I were in my own house standing in the entrance-hall. Beyond was a room in which on the ledge between the windows there was a large icon of the God of Sabaoth that gave out such blinding light that from the other room (the entrance-hall) it was impossible to look at it. Still further in was a room in which there were Protopriest Matthew Alexandrovich Konstantinovsky and the reposed Metropolitan Philaret. And this room was full of books; along the walls from ceiling to floor there were books; on the long tables there were piles of books; and while I certainly had to go into this room, I was held back by fear, and in terror, covering my face with my hand, I passed through the first room and, on entering the next room, I saw Protopriest Matthew Alexandrovich dressed in a simple black cassock; on his head was a skull-cap; in his hands was an unbent book, and he motioned me with his head to find a similar book and open it. At the same time the metropolitan, turning the pages of this books said: 'Rome, Troy, Egypt, Russia, the Bible.' I saw that in my book 'Bible' was written in very heavy lettering. Suddenly there was a noise and I woke up in great fear. I thought a lot about what it could all mean. My dream seemed terrible to me - it would have been better to have seen nothing. Could I not ask those experienced in the spiritual life concerning the meaning of this vision in sleep? But an inner voice explained the dream even to me myself. However, the explanation was so terrible that I did not want to agree with it."
St. Ambrose gave the following interpretation of this vision: "He who was shown this remarkable vision in sleep, and who then heard the very significant words, very probably received the explanation of what he had seen and heard through his guardian angel, since he himself recognized that an inner voice explained the meaning of the dream to him. However, since we have been asked, we also shall give our opinion...
"...The words 'Rome, Troy, Egypt' may have the following signification. Rome at the time of the Nativity of Christ was the capital of the world, and, from the beginning of the patriarchate, had the primacy of honour; but because of love of power and deviation from the truth she was later rejected and humiliated. Ancient Troy and Egypt were notable for the fact that they were punished for their pride and impiety - the first by destruction, and the second by various punishments and the drowning of Pharaoh with his army in the Red Sea. But in Christian times, in the countries where Troy was located there were founded the Christian patriarchates of Antioch and Constantinople, which flourished for a long time, embellishing the Orthodox Church with their piety and right dogmas; but later, according to the inscrutable destinies of God, they were conquered by barbarians - the Muslims, and up to now have borne this heavy slavery, which restricts the freedom of Christian piety and right belief. And in Egypt, together with the ancient impiety, there was from the first times of Christianity such a flowering of piety that the deserts were populated by tens of thousands of monastics, not to speak of the great numbers of pious laity from whom they came. But then, by reason of moral licentiousness, there followed such an impoverishment of Christian piety in that country that at a certain time in Alexandria the patriarch remained with only one priest.
"... After the three portentous names 'Rome, Troy, Egypt', the name of 'Russia' was also mentioned - Russia, which at the present time is counted as an independent Orthodox state, but where the elements of foreign heterodoxy and impiety have already penetrated and taken root among us and threaten us with the same sufferings as the above-mentioned countries have undergone.
"Then there comes the word 'Bible'. No other state is mentioned. This may signify that if in Russia, too, because of the disdain of God's commandments and the weakening of the canons and decrees of the Orthodox Church and for other reasons, piety is impoverished, then there must immediately follow the final fulfilment of that which is written at the end of the Bible, in the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian.
"He who saw this vision correctly observed that the explanation which was given him by an inner voice was terrible. Terrible will be the Second Coming of Christ and terrible the last judgement of the world. But not without terrors will also be the period before that when the Antichrist will reign, as it is said in the Apocalypse: And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and death shall flee from them (9.6). The Antichrist will come during a period of anarchy, as the apostle says: until he that restraineth be taken away from the midst (II Thessalonians 2.7), that is, when the powers that be no longer exist."
St. Ambrose's identification of him that restraineth the coming of the Antichrist with the political authorities has long roots in the patristic interpretation of this passage. St. John Chrysostom, Blessed Theophylact and others identified him with the Roman emperor, whose successor, as being the emperor of "the Third Rome", Russia, was the Russian Tsar. Thus Bishop Theophanes the Recluse wrote: "The Tsar's authority, having in its hands the means of restraining the movements of the people and relying on Christian principles itself, does not allow the people to fall away from them, but will restrain it. And since the main work of the Antichrist will be to turn everyone away from Christ, he will not appear as long as the Tsar is in power. The latter's authority will not let him show himself, but will prevent him from acting in his own spirit. That is what he that restraineth is. When the Tsar's authority falls, and the peoples everywhere acquire self-government (republics, democracies), then the Antichrist will have room to manoeuvre. It will not be difficult for Satan to train voices urging apostasy from Christ, as experience showed in the time of the French revolution. Nobody will give a powerful 'veto' to this. A humble declaration of faith will not be tolerated. And so, when these arrangements have been made everywhere, arrangements which are favourable to the exposure of antichristian aims, then the Antichrist will also appear. Until that time he waits, and is restrained." (Archbishop Averky)
We may conclude, then, that the period of God's final judgements on the human race, as symbolised by the breaking of the seven seals of judgement, began with the fall of Russia and the removal of him that restraineth (II Thessalonians 2.7), the Russian Tsar. The following interpretation, therefore, is based on the tentative hypothesis that the first six seals refer to God's judgements on mankind in the period from 1914, when the Russian Empire began to fall, to 1949, when Communism reached its zenith; while the seventh seal refers to the period of God's judgement on mankind during the period up to and including the Third World War and culminating in the seven-year reign of the Antichrist up to the Second Coming of Christ Himself.
The Lord Jesus Christ pointed to three signs as marking the beginning of the apocalyptic period, the beginning of sorrows, as He called it (Matthew 24.8):
1. The Appearance of False Christs. For many will come in My name and will say: I am Christ, and will deceive many (Matthew 24.5; 23-27).
2. Wars. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matthew 24.6-7).
3. Natural Catastrophes. And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places (Matthew 24.7).
One contemporary epoch corresponds to these three criteria: the epoch of the First World War and the decades on either side of it.
The appearance of false Christs began in 1893 with the arrival in America of Swami Vivekandra in order to present the religion of Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions. In Russia, too, this was the period in which eastern religions and their westernised offspring, such as Madame Blavatsky's theosophical movement, made their first appearance in society. It is a characteristic belief of these religions that every man is by nature God and Christ, or can become so by his own efforts. Under the influence of this belief almost all forms of Christianity began to suffer inner disintegration, until, by the end of the twentieth century, it is common to find "Christians" who believe in reincarnation and the natural divinity of man. Increasingly common, too, has been the phenomenon of people claiming in a literal sense to be Christ.
This period was followed by a period of unprecedentedly bloody wars: the First World War, the Russian Civil War, the War between Turkey and Greece, the War waged against the Russian people under Lenin and Stalin.
And this was followed by a period of equally unprecedented natural disasters and famines, especially in Russia. Prince Eugene Troubetskoy, writing in 1918 when the worst of these disasters was yet to come, said: "In mankind inner division is reflected first of all in wars. But wars are not the end, but the beginning of general divisiveness, which must penetrate into all social relations. As the Gospel says: When ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye be not troubled: for such things must needs be, but the end shall not be yet (Mark 13.7; Matthew 24.6; Luke 21.9). The Gospel points to other signs of the general collapse of humanity - famines and troubles (Mark 13.8), pestilences (Matthew 24.7). We know that all these phenomena are closely linked with war and constitute its natural consequence. Troubles are born from war, because war shakes the whole state mechanism, famine - because war and troubles harm the whole economy of the people, and, finally, pestilences - because war always serves as the cause of the fiercest epidemics. In the Gospel mention is made of one more phenomenon which serves as a herald of the speedy end of the universe - earthquakes in places (Matthew 24.7; Mark 13.8; Luke 21.11). The link between these manifestations of the volcanic forces and the events in the history of humanity in the given case are not obvious and cannot be revealed by scientific analysis: but the mystical link between the phenomena of human collapse and the phenomena of cosmic devastation is quite comprehensible. Since the meaning of universal history is at the same time the meaning of the existence of the planet earth, the end of humanity is at the same time its own end; which is why the coincidence of the catastrophic events of history with fearful sights (Luke 21.11) is completely natural."
6.2. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him; and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
The Venerable Bede writes: “Surely the white horse is the Church; the Rider who was commanding it is the Lord; He had a bow because He was coming to make war against the powers of the air; and a crown of victory was given to Him because by dying He overthrew the reign of death.”
I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; and in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me: What are these, my lord? And the angel answered and said unto me: These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth (Zechariah 6.1-5).
The riders on the horses are angels sent by God to deliver His judgements on an apostate world (II Chronicles 6.17). Now angels on white horses intervened in perhaps the most critical battle in the First World War, the Battle of Mons, in August, 1914. If the Germans had won that battle, it is likely that they would have captured Paris, defeated the British and the French and then been in a position to turn the full strength of their armies on the ill-equipped Russians. But according to eye-witnesses on both sides, a heavenly band of warriors on white horses intervened on the side of the British and routed the Germans, who were terrified by their invulnerability to bullets. Some said that the leader of this band was the Archangel Michael, others - St. George. In any case, the British line held, which indirectly gave the Orthodox Russian empire another two or three years of life.
6.3-4. And when He had opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say: Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another; and there was given unto him a great sword.
"The red horse is the sign either of the shedding of blood or of the heartfelt zeal of those who suffer for Christ." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
The victories of the Orthodox leaders, who went forth conquering, and to conquer, were short-lived and inconclusive. In 1917 came the Bolshevik revolution, symbolized here by the colour red. This was followed by the Russian Civil War of 1918-20 and the peasant revolts of 1921, which involved more bloodshed than any previous war in human history.
Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Matthew 24.9-13).
All this took place after the Russian revolution of 1917. Many thousands died for the Faith of Christ, and first of all Tsar Nicholas II and his family. And many were offended - that is, fell away from the Faith of Christ, and betrayed their fellow Christians to tortures and death.
St. Seraphim of Sarov prophesied: "More than half a century will pass. Then evildoers will raise their heads high. This will happen without fail: the Lord, seeing the impenitent evil of their hearts, will allow their enterprises for a short time. But their sickness will rebound upon their own heads, and the unrighteousness of their destructive plots will fall upon them. The Russian land will become red with rivers of blood... Before the birth of the Antichrist there will be a great, protracted war and a terrible revolution in Russia passing all bounds of human imagination, for the bloodletting will be most terrible: the rebellions of Ryazan, Pugachev and the French revolution will be nothing in comparison with what will take place in Russia. Many people who are faithful to the fatherland will perish, church property and the monasteries will be robbed; the Lord's churches will be desecrated; good rich people will be robbed and killed, rivers of Russian blood will flow..."
In 1917 Elder Nectarius of Optina recounted the following vision: "His Majesty the Tsar is not his own master now, so many humiliations does he suffer for his mistakes. 1918 will be a still harder year. The Lord Tsar with all his family will be killed, tortured. A pious girl had a vision. She saw Jesus Christ on a throne, and the twelve apostles round Him, and the sounds of terrible groans and torments were audible from the earth. And the Apostle Peter asked Christ: 'When, O Lord, will these torments cease?' And Jesus Christ answered him: 'I am placing a limit to it in 1922, but if people do not repent and come to their senses, then they will all perish in this way.' In front of the throne of the Lord stood his Majesty the Tsar with a great-martyr's crown on his head. Yes, this Lord Tsar will be a great-martyr. In his last days he has redeemed his life. And if the people do not return to the Lord, not only Russia, but the whole of Europe will be swallowed up..."
The people did not repent, so the opening of the seals continued:-
6.5-6. And when He had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say: Come up and see. And I beheld, and lo! a black horse. And he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say: A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
The black colour of the horse symbolises "lamentation over those who have fallen away from the faith in Christ by reason of the difficulty of the torments" (St. Andrew of Caesarea).
According to St. Victorinus of Petau, however, the black horse signifies famine; for the weighing out of foodstuffs indicates their scarcity, as it is written: When I afflict you with famine of bread, then ten women shall bake your loaves in one oven, and they shall render your loaves by weight; and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied (Leviticus 26.26).
The Russian Civil War was followed by a terrible famine in the Volga region and, a few years later, in the Ukraine. The dates of these famines, 1922 and 1933, figure in St. John of Kronstadt's vision of 1908, in which he saw "a mass of people scattered and dying of hunger. They were eating the grass, the earth, each other. Birds picked at their corpses."
“The small measure which John called the Greek word coinix, which contained only enough wheat to feed one man for one day, was worth a denarius.”
The words See thou hurt not the oil and the wine may indicate that the ministrations of the Church (the oil of consolation and the vinegar of reproof, or the oil of compassion and the wine of compunction, or the oil of Holy Chrismation and the wine of Divine Communion) were not to cease during this period. And indeed they did not. However, in the early 1920s there was a serious shortage of pure wheat bread and wine in Russia, which led to certain uncanonical innovations in the materials used in the Eucharist. Moreover, from 1922 a series of schisms rocked the Russian Church; and these, combined with the exile and execution of thousands of clergy meant that for large parts of the country the word of the prophet was fulfilled: Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will send forth a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8.11).
6.7-8. And when He had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say: Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and the name of his rider was death, and hades followed after him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Schema-Monk Epiphanius (Chernov) writes: "All believing Russia at the time of the 1917 revolution and up to the 1940s shuddered from the feeling that the event of which we have just spoken in the words of Revelation had undoubtedly and with great clarity been fulfilled now before the eyes of the whole of Russia - the even foreseen in eternity and written down about two thousand years ago...
"Yes, this pale horse has truly entered our land - the original Greek text indicates that the horse and his rider have the name death! For he bears in himself the fullness of death - not only physical death, but also spiritual [hades]... In may large towns there were so many deaths that the air itself was suffused with the stench of corpses!"
By October, 1949, Communism had conquered China and established itself over approximately a quarter of the earth's surface. And over the whole of this area a fitting epitaph would be: We have made a covenant with hades, and agreements with death (Isaiah 28.15). For, as Elder Aristocles of Moscow prophesied: "Wherever this evil goes, rivers of blood will flow."
The greatest sufferers were the Russian people. A Soviet demographer calculated that between 43 and 52 million people died of unnatural deaths in the Soviet Union in the Stalinist period. Fittingly is the rider said to be pale in colour - clwroV in Greek, the colour of human flesh...
But the greatest evil of the time was not the physical death and suffering, but the destruction of faith, spiritual death and its consequence - hell. Later, in the decades after Stalin's death, the persecution became less overt and the numbers of those killed became smaller. But the spiritual devastation, if it were possible, increased. As a member of the Catacomb Church writes: "We are all living through a terrible time, the time of the life of man without God, when people… have fallen under the power of Satan. The atheist and fallen Christian world, blinded by the diabolical glitter of 'modernity' - the spirit of this age - and by the demonic deception of science, progress, culture and freedom (from each person's bearing of his personal saving cross), has quickly become disillusioned in everything, seeing that 'indescribable sorrow haunts them day and night' ('Word on the Coming of the Lord', The Works of St. Ephraim the Syrian); that is, having been deprived of the grace of the Holy Spirit, people have lost joy in life. Besides, Satan has increased their despair by the consciousness that they will die - and that's it, while others are enjoying life; they dream of acquiring something unusually happy, but have actually received so little. For that reason everyone has passionately hurled themselves at pleasures, as if to get as much as possible. From this iniquity has multiplied (drunkenness, debauchery, violence) and love has completely cooled off in people. Moreover, people who would seem to be spiritual and believing, who bear the lofty calling of Christians.. not only cannot explain what is going on or console others with the hope of eternal salvation, but themselves go they know not whither. Why is this? Because the grace of the Holy Spirit has fled. And that is because they have renounced living faith, because (and this is the main thing) they have bound themselves with unbreakable bonds, satanic powers, in the person of the God-fighting Soviet power: they have bound themselves before them in word and in deed, they have also bound the Church of God, having forgotten the word of the Apostle Paul that for the Word of God there is no bond (II Timothy 2.9). They have bound themselves in that, while preaching about God with the voice of the Church, they have not truly and fully preached His Holy Will, they have not preached about the contemporary enemies of the Church of Christ. They have bound themselves before the atheist authorities so as not to preach about such terrible things as the coming into the world of the Antichrist, the persecution of the true Church of Christ; they have bound themselves not to preach about such numbers of victims of persecution as have not existed in the history of the Church (60 million believers killed, 1200 bishops, tens of thousands of priests, the destruction of 50,000 churches and about 800 monasteries). These new servants of the Church do not mention that faith has been quite quenched by the all-destructive atheist propaganda. Serving God with their lips, in their works they serve, and bless others to serve, the beast, the God-fighting society, whose main aim and final end is the complete extirpation of the faith. And they bless the service of this society not through bringing the perishing the Light of Christ and the Word of God, but by strengthening it materially. Besides, they do not present it as against God, but.. as something the like of which there has not been in history... But to have faith and do the works of the devil means, according to the Apostle James (2.19) to be like the demons. Very true was the supposition of the Holy Fathers that the son of perdition, the Antichrist will sit in the church of God.. And so, all around there is an absence of living faith, nobody wants to understand that we are living through an apocalyptic time, that the Second Coming of Christ and His terrible judgement are near..."
6.9-11. And when He had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy and true, does Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto them, that they should rest for a little season, until their numbers should be completed and their fellow-servants also and their brethren should be killed as they were.
Not all those who suffered under the Soviet yoke suffered for Christ's sake. But there were enough of them - millions, probably - to call for a special judgement of God. For just as on the apostate Jews of the first century came all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zechariah son of Baruch (Matthew 23.35), so on apostate mankind of the twentieth century will come all the blood of the holy new martyrs of Russia.
"The souls of the righteous who have suffered for Christ, as is clear from this, are under the altar of the heavenly Church, in the same way that on earth since the times of the martyrs the custom has been to lay the relics of the holy martyrs in the foundation of Christian churches and altars. The prayer of the righteous is explained, of course, not by their desire for personal revenge, but by the speeding up of the triumph of God's justice on earth and of that rewarding of each according to his works which must be accomplished by the Terrible Judgement, making them partakers of eternal blessedness as having given their lives for Christ and His Divine teaching. They were given white robes - a symbol of their virtues - and were told to be patient yet for a little season, until their co-workers and brothers, who would be killed like them, would fill up their number, so that all together they might receive their worthy recompense from God." (Archbishop Averky)
Who are these other martyrs who are to be killed later? The answer is given in St. John of Kronstadt's vision, which closely follows the sequence of the seven seals: "I hurried and could scarcely keep up with the elder. Then he stopped, pointed to the east and said: 'Look!' I saw a multitude of people with joyful faces, and in their hands were crosses, gonfalons and candles, and in the middle of the crowd stood a great altar in the open air, with a golden crown on it, on which was written in golden letters: for a little season. Around the altar stood patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests, monks, nuns, desert-dwellers and laypeople. All were chanting: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace!' I crossed myself, and gave thanks to God. Suddenly the elder made the sign of the Cross in the air three times. And I saw a mass of bodies and rivers of blood. Angels flew over the slain and scarcely succeeded in bearing up the Christian souls to the throne of God. They were chanting: 'Alleluia'. It was terrible to look on all this. I wept bitterly and prayed. The elder took me by the hand and said: 'Don't weep. The Lord God has deemed this necessary for our weak faith and accursedness, it must be so. Our Saviour Jesus Christ also suffered and shed His Most Pure Blood on the Cross. And so there will be yet many martyrs for Christ, and they will be those who refuse to receive the seal of the Antichrist, who shed their blood and receive a martyr's crown.'"
Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava wrote in 1929: "The comparison of past and present woes with the corresponding utterances in the Gospels and the Apocalypse gives us reason to think that now four seals have already been removed by the Lamb from the book which He Who sits on the Throne and Who was seen by the seer of mysteries holds in His right hand. Not hundreds, not tens of thousands, but myriads of thousands of our brothers have laid down their lives for the Word of God and the testimony concerning the Lamb in the Great War and the horrors of civil war and anarchy that followed it. These innumerable numbers of those killed for the Word of God and the testimony concerning the Lamb now cry out to the Throne of God and call on the righteousness of God to take revenge for the crimes committed by the sons of this age. And look what reply the Wisdom of God gives to their fervent petition. He asks them to be calm for a short time until their co-workers and brothers who will be killed, as they have been, fill up the number of those crowned with a martyr's crown (Revelation 6.9-11). It follows from this that after all the horrors of war and anarchy in the world calm will nevertheless be given to the world, albeit for a short time. But the world cannot be calmed without a calmed and restored Russia. But Russia cannot be restored until the power of darkness in her is cast down and a lawful power, both according to human law and according to the law of Divine anointing, is confirmed in her. Consequently, Russia will undoubtedly be restored, and a lawful power will also be restored in her. But this calm will be given both to the Russian people and to the other sons of this age in order that they should prepare themselves for the great struggle with antichristianity, during which the number of martyrs predetermined from eternity, who must suffer for the Word of God and for the testimony concerning the Lamb, will be filled up."
"Many now ask," wrote Metropolitan Anastasius of New York, "why the Russian people and the Church of Russia are suffering, and why God does not cut short the evil which nearly everywhere is so visibly triumphing over good. This last question, taken on a universal scale, has been vexing mankind from time immemorial.
"'They relate,' we read in the Apophthegmata Patrum, 'that one day, when Anthony the Great wondered at the profundity of the dispensation and judgements of God, he prayed and said: "O Lord, why are there some men who attain a ripe old age and a feeble physical condition, while others die in childhood? Why are some poor and others rich? Why do tyrants and malefactors prosper and gain earthly blessings, while the righteous are oppressed by poverty?" He had long pondered these questions when he heard a voice say: "O Anthony, look to thyself and do not subject the judgements of God to thine analysis, for such is harmful to the soul."'
"When the innocent sufferer Job wished to defend his case before God, he received a similar answer amid the thunderstorm and tempest: Who is this that hideth counsel from Me, and confineth words in his heart, and thinketh to conceal them from Me? Gird thy loins like a man; and I will ask thee, and do thou answer Me... Do not set aside My judgement. Dost thou think that I have dealt with thee in any other way than that thou mightest appear to be righteous? Hast thou an arm like the Lord's, or dost thou thunder with a voice like His? (Job 38.1-3; 40.3-4).
"The very friends of God are unable to attain unto the judgements of providence in the course of world history. King David the prophet said, But as for me, my feet were all but shaken; my steps well nigh had slipped (Psalm 72.2), when he pondered this mystery. It likewise troubled the Patriarch Abraham as he called for the loving-kindness of God when he beheld the condemned cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Prophets Jonah and Elijah, who demanded that God punish the ungodly; and the writer of Ecclesiastes, who saw that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor yet wealth to men of understanding (Ecclesiastes 9.11). Righteous men knew that [God's] eye is too pure to behold evil doings (Habbakuk 1.13). The Prophet Jeremiah even made so bold as to try to contend with the Master of all creation Himself, lodging a complaint against His personal judgements upon the earth: Righteous art Thou, O Lord, that I may make my defence to Thee. Yea, I will speak to Thee of judgements. Why is it that the way of the ungodly men doth prosper, that all that deal very treacherously are flourishing? Thou has planted them, and they have taken root; they have begotten children, and become fruitful (Jeremiah 12.1-2).
"The Lord never revealed to any man the plans of His dispensation in their entirety, not because He did not wish to, but because men are unable to comprehend them due to the very limited nature of their horizons, which cannot fathom the full depth of the richness of the wisdom and understanding of God which are revealed in His divine rule over the world. To understand the ways of the providence of God in history one must know both the present condition of the world in all its fullness and the past and future judgements of the universe, for all of this is indissolubly bound up in the single plan of divine economy, and such a breadth of knowledge, of course, is inaccessible to man, Thus, an infant cannot penetrate the thoughts and intentions of his father, who tries to foresee for him everything that is better, not only in the present, but also in the future, as well as to join his good with the good of the other members of the family.
"Only when the fullness of time is reached, the end of the world takes place, and the kingdom of Christ is opened, will all the incomprehensible judgements of God be justified for us; before them mankind, redeemed by Christ, will bow down in reverence, saying Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving... be unto our God forever and ever. Until that time, only occasionally, to a small degree and with particular, deliberate aims, does God reveal His all-wise will, which leads individual nations and the whole world along one or another path in history. He reveals it either directly to His chosen ones, with whom He may converse face to face, or in the very course of world events, which are directed by His right hand. Jealous for the glory of God when it is subjected to mockery by the children of disobedience, the righteous often ask why the Almighty does not immediately wreak vengeance upon the proud and impious who rise up against His eternal and omnipotent dominion. It is for this reason that He is God and not man, that He is the Holy One, as He Himself replies through the prophet (Hosea 11.9). God is too powerful, reasons Saint John Chrysostom, to wreak vengeance upon anyone immediately. At that same time, He so far transcends the world that no boastful tongue can offend or even touch Him. Every blasphemer is truly like a dog baying at the moon.
"Human zeal is often intolerant because it is not balanced with love, which comprises the essence of the divine Nature. The loving-kindness of God often, as it were, restrains for a time the hand of His chastisement. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3.9).
"Thou hast mercy on all, says another sage of the Old Testament, for Thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend.... Thou sparest all: for they are Thine, O Lord, Thou lover of souls (Wisdom 11.23,26). His mercy and justice do not want to destroy the tares together with the wheat, with which they put down roots, as it were, in the same soil. He was ready to have mercy on condemned Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten righteous men, so that such would not perish with the ungodly, and He did not wish to destroy Nineveh for the sake of 120,000 innocent babes and even because of the irrational beasts which would have been destroyed with the people (Jonah 4.11). The very measurement of time in man's conception differs entirely from that in God's eyes. One day is with the Lord as thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (II Peter 3.9; Psalm 89.5). Divine providence has ordered all things in measure and number and weight (Wisdom 11.20). With Him everything is appointed its own time and season.
"How long, O Lord holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?, the souls beneath the altar, who had been slain for the Word of God and for the testimony they gave, cried out with a loud voice, as John the Theologian, the seer of mysteries, bears witness. And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, who should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
The Venerable Bede writes: "The souls of the righteous cry these things, not from hatred of enemies, but from love of justice."
6.12-17. And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal. And lo! there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks: Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?
These terrible images, which are reminiscent of many other passages in Holy Scripture (cf. Matthew 24.29; Mark 13.24-25; Luke 21.25; Isaiah 34.2-4; Joel 2.32), can be interpreted in a more literal or a more symbolical sense. Thus the Venerable Bede interprets the sun to be the teaching of Christ, which is temporarily hidden during the persecution, and the stars to be “those who sine as heavenly ones in the Church, and that in appearance alone, when they are driven by the wind of the last persecution, will be proved to have been of earth. And their works are fitly compared to green figs, that is, to the untimely, and useless, and falling fruit of the fig-tree.”
“It seems to us that this is the transition from the time of persecution to the time before the Antichrist, when, according to the prophecy, there will be such plagues in order, perhaps, that people, in thinking about them, should not refuse to bear the punishments sent by the Antichrist – punishments which, as we know, have never taken place before.
"The earthquake, of which we often read in Scripture, is a change of things; wherefore also, the expression yet once more I shake the earth (Haggai 2.7) signifies as the Apostle says, the removal of these things that are shaking (Hebrews 12.26-27).
"The blackness of the sun and the darkness and blood appearance of the moon indicate, as the Blessed Cyril has often expressed it, the darkness of soul of those upon whom the wrath of God will come. And that the stars fell, as has been written also of those deceived by Antiochus, indicate that those who think themselves to be the lights of the world will fall, being crushed and defeated by what will happen at that time, when as the Lord has said, If it were possible they shall deceive the very elect by reason of the great tribulation (Matthew 24.24). This is perhaps why there is given here the indication of the fig tree, which, at the blowing of the wind of the devil, casts down its fruit while still unripe, since they have not ripened in the heat of temptations and are not sweetened by grace...
"Whether all this will turn out in a physical form at the glorious Coming of Christ the King is known by Him Who possesses the mystical treasury of knowledge and wisdom.
"The heaven is not to be subject to corruption and destruction but, as it were, to a certain rolling up and change for the better. Irenaeus, in his fifth accusatory Homily against Reason (falsely so-called), says: 'Neither the essence nor the being of the creation will perish or will be destroyed, for true and strong is He Who created it, but the fashion of this world passeth away (I Corinthians 7.31), the world in which the transgression was performed.
"At the coming of Antichrist, those (called here symbolically mountains) who are leaders either over the good order of the Church or over the worldly dominions, and the churches of the faithful which are presented here under the image of islands... will fall from their places." (St. Andrew of Caesarea).
Again, the great earthquake could signify the enormous impact of world war; the changes in the heavens - the terrible sights accompanying thermo-nuclear warfare; the men fleeing into the dens and caves of the earth - the soldiers and civilians fleeing into bomb shelters, etc.
But it is also possible to see all these phenomena as symbols of the moral-spiritual destruction of the times. Following this line of interpretation, the words the sun became black mean that the light of Christian truth was obscured by the darkness of heresy (ecumenism); the moon became as blood - the official "Church" became an associate of men of blood and guilty of the blood of the martyrs (sergianism); and the heaven departed as a scroll, every mountain and island being moved out of their places - traditional norms of behaviour were overturned, and every church and community of true Christians suffered great upheavals - all of which has in fact happened in our time.
"The Lord said that His Coming would be at night (Luke 17.34) because of the blindness of the world."
4. The Sealing of the Servants of God
7.1-3. And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.
"In the seventh chapter," writes Fr. Alexander Kolesnikov, "the Apostle John turns to reassuring the faithful at the approach of the last times of the world. At the beginning he sees four angels, who stand at the four corners of the earth and to whom it is given to harm the earth and the sea. With this symbol of the four angels the apostle wishes to represent how the earth and mankind is condemned by the Providence of God to the miseries of the last times: the punitive heavenly powers surrounded the sphere of the earth from all corners, as if saying to the people that there is nowhere they can escape from the coming miseries.
"But it appears that there is a way of salvation for the faithful living on the earth in the last time. So as to separate the faithful from the apostate, seals are placed on the foreheads of the former. By the symbol of the placing of the seals the servants of God in the last times are warned by the apostle that, although the faithful cannot completely escape the woes sent by God upon sinners, nevertheless they can be saved, not only spiritually, but also bodily... That the faithful in times of woes also suffer, but many of them save their lives - of this there are many examples in history. For example, many thousands of Christians, being directed by Christ's foretelling of the destruction of Jerusalem and the necessity of fleeing from it in good time (Matthew 24.16-20), actually fled and thereby were saved, when the Roman armies entered Palestine in 68. The same point is confirmed by the destiny of many thousands of church people in the Soviet Union."
"This is something like what was revealed to the holy Prophet Ezekiel about the man clothed in a podir, that is, a long linen garment, who places a seal upon those who groan (Ezekiel 9.4), so as not to destroy the righteous together with the unrighteous (for the hidden virtues of the saints are unknown even to the angels)." (St. Andrew of Caesarea).
Jean Danielou writes: “The tau, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, also in its archaic form an x, was, according to Ezekiel (9.4), the mark of Yahweh placed upon the forehead of the elect; and as such is referred to in Revelation 7.2. That this mark was thought of as representing the name of God is clear from Revelation 14.1 and 22.4. But once the move had been made to Greek territory, the X, the sign of the Divine name, was… thought of as standing for… Christ, and regarded as the first letter of CristoV. It may be recalled that with regard to the symbolism of the letter tau, Origen reports the opinion of a Jew who said that tau took its power from the fact that it was the last letter of the alphabet, and so was equivalent to the Greek W, the sacred letter par excellence. This seems to touch the very oldest stratum of the rite of the signatio in Jewish Christian circles, where the Jewish X comes to represent Christ as God.”
St. Cyprian of Carthage writes: "As when Egypt was smitten, the Jewish people could not escape except by the blood and the sign of the lamb; so when the world shall begin to be desolated and smitten, only he who is found in the blood and the sign of the Cross shall escape."
Th. Yakovlev writes: “The seal of which the prophecy speaks is inexpressibly important for the Christian soul. Its first seal takes place when the seal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is laid upon it at baptism. This is the renewal, justification and sanctification of its nature, harmed by the sins of the first parents. The apostle says of this sealing: God Who has anointed us has also sealed us, and given us the betrothal of the Holy Spirit in our hearts (II Corinthians 1.21,22).He who preserves this most valuable seal will be counted worthy to receive the new seal of the living God. The first is a sign that distinguishes the Christian from the unbeliever; the second distinguishes the righteous man, who has entered into the dwelling-place of eternal rest and blessedness, from the iniquitous who are condemned to eternal torment.
“In what does this seal consist? We do not know, and it is useless to seek out this knowledge…”
"We do not know what this seal consists of, and there is no need to seek this out. Perhaps it will be the sign of the precious Cross of the Lord, by which it will be possible to distinguish believers from unbelievers and apostates; or perhaps it will be the seal of martyrdom for Christ." (Archbishop Averky)
"This will primarily be fulfilled during the time of the coming of Antichrist, when the seal of the Life-giving Cross will distinguish the unfaithful from the faithful, who will bear the sign of the Cross before them unashamed and with boldness... The virtuous will need the angelic help before the coming of disasters, and this will be by the power of the seal of the Spirit which will be given us. But this seal will reveal its power only to the extent that we show our activity." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
That God will separate the good from the evil before the disasters strike is indicated by the vision of a white hand which appeared above the Russian town of Tambov in the 1970s and wrote the following in broad daylight: "1. The bad leads to the good. 2. It is now winter for My people. 3. Days of repentance. 4. Not one righteous soul will remain among the depraved, and not one debauched soul will remain among righteous souls. 5. Be attentive to My salvation. 6. Bring forth fruits of repentance. 7. Salvation awaits those who fear the Lord. 8. Let there be an awareness of responsibility in all your actions. The time is near! 9. Truly, I will come... I will not delay. Amen."
7.4-8. And I heard the number of those who were sealed; and there were sealed a hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Of the tribe of Judah were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
"The number 144,000, like other numbers in the Apocalypse, does not have a numerical, but a symbolical significance." (Protopriest Alexander Mileant).
"The precise equality of the numbers of those saved from each tribe, it seems to me, indicates the fruitfulness of apostolic seed, because the number twelve taken twelve times and multiplied by a thousand gives the number indicated here, for they were the disciples of the seed which fell on the ground and brought forth the multiple fruits of universal salvation" (St. Andrew of Caesarea).
"This sealing will begin with the Israelites, who before the end of the world will be converted to Christ, as St. Paul predicts (Romans 9.27, 11.26). In each of the twelve tribes there will be twelve thousand sealed, and 144,000 in all. Of these tribes only the tribe of Dan is not mentioned, because from it, according to tradition, will come the Antichrist. In place of the tribe of Dan is mentioned the priestly tribe of Levi which previously had not entered into the twelve tribes. Such a limited number is mentioned, perhaps, in order to show how small is the number of the sons of Israel who are saved in comparison with the uncountable multitude of those who have loved the Lord Jesus Christ from among all the other formerly pagan people of the earth." (Archbishop Averky)
St. Hippolytus writes: "Moses says: Dan is a lion's whelp, and shall leap out of Basan (Deuteronomy 32.33)... In naming the tribe of Dan, he clearly pointed out the tribe from which the Antichrist is destined to spring. For just as Christ springs from the tribe of Judah, so the Antichrist is to spring from the tribe of Dan... That it is indeed from the tribe of Dan that the tyrannical king, the son of the devil, is destined to arise, the prophet witnesses when he says: Dan shall judge his people, as one tribe too in Israel (Genesis 49.16)... Jeremiah, too speaks to this effect: We shall hear the neighing of his swift horses out of Dan: the whole land quaked at the sound of the riding of his horses (Jeremiah 8.16)."
7.9-14. After this I beheld, and lo! a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God Who sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying: Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God unto the ages of ages. Amen. And one of the elders answered, saying unto me: Who are these who are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him: Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me: These are they who came out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
"These in white robes are those of whom David speaks: If I should count them they are more in number than the sand (Psalm 138.18) - those who earlier suffered as martyrs for Christ and those who, from every tribe and people, are to receive sufferings with courage in the last times. By the pouring out of their blood for Christ some of them have white, and others will make white, the garment of their deeds." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
"In their hands they have palm branches - signs of victory over the devil. Their lot is one of eternal rejoicing before the throne of God." (Archbishop Averky)
The waving of palm branches was an element in the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23.40), the feast of ingathering, the last feast in the Jewish calendar and the only one that has not yet received a Christian fulfilment. Perhaps, therefore, there is a looking forward here to the time when this feast will be fulfilled, marking the gathering in of the fullness of the Gentiles of which St. Paul speaks (Romans 11.25). The fulfilment of this feast may be referred to in another prophecy: Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14.16).
Therefore this great multitude consists of the Gentile martyrs who come through the great tribulation of the last times - the persecution of the Antichrist. Together with the martyrs of previous persecutions, they, together with the Jews who will be saved, constitute all Israel (Romans 11.26); for the believing Jews and Gentiles together make up the whole Church of Christ, which is the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16). Or, according to Oecumenius’ interpretation, “all Israel is written instead of ‘the greater part’ of the Jews, who turn away from their sins and towards the Lord”.
For, as the apostle says: I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits: that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins (Romans 11.25-27).
7.15. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.
"As the highest reward that they will receive, it is indicated that they shall remain before the throne of God, serving Him day and night - indicating figuratively the uninterruptedness of this service; for, as St. Andrew says, 'There will be no night there, but a single day, illuminated not by a material sun, but by the spiritual Sun of righteousness. And perhaps by night is to be understood hidden and profound mysteries, and by day what is clear and easy to receive. The temple of God is the creation which has been renewed by the Spirit, or, more precisely, those who have preserved the pledge of the Spirit whole and unquenched; in whom God has promised to dwell and walk (II Corinthians)'." (Archbishop Averky)
7.16-17. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb Who is in the midst of throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
The Lord is my Shepherd, and I shall not want. In a place of green pasture, there hath He made me to dwell; beside the water of rest hath He nurtured me (Psalm 22.1-2).
"They shall have the bread of heaven and the water of life, and they will have no pain and will endure no misfortunes such as are depicted in the form of the sun and heat, for the time of sufferings has passed." (St. Andrew of Caesarea)
"The Lamb Himself shall feed them, that is, guide them, and they shall be vouchsafed an abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit (living fountains of waters). The Lord said also of the believer that out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water (John 7.38). The saints, being then abundantly nourished by it, and having acquired perfect knowledge after the cessation of private knowledge, and being delivered from corruption and change, will remain in endless rejoicing and joy." (Archbishop Averky)
5. The Seventh Seal: The First Six Trumpets
8.1. And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
The opening of the first six seals occupies the space of one chapter (6). After a pause (chapter 7) comes the seventh seal, whose first six trumpets occupy the space of two chapters (8 and 9), and whose seventh trumpet, after another pause (chapter 10), occupies the space of a further chapter (11) - the last in this vision. Taking as a chronological anchor chapter 8, verses 10 and 11, which clearly refer to the disaster which took place at Chernobyl in 1986, we may tentatively hypothesize that the opening of the seven seals symbolise the following periods: the period of war, revolution and martyrdom from 1914 to 1949 (chapter 6); the period of peace between the Second and Third World Wars (chapter 7); the period leading up to (chapter 8) and including the Third World War (chapter 9); the period of peace after the Third World War (chapter 10); and the period of the seven-year reign of the Antichrist (chapter 11).
According to this schema, the silence in heaven about the space of half an hour refers to a kind of "holding of breath" before the terrible catastrophes of the Third World War. For "it is like that in the physical world, too; the approach of a storm is often preceded by a deep quietness. This silence in the heavens signified the concentration of the reverent attention of the angels and men standing before the throne of God in expectation of the terrible signs of the wrath of God before the end of this age and the appearance of the Kingdom of Christ." (Archbishop Averky)
8.2-3. And I saw the seven angels who stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
"Before the first seven angels, as chastisers of the erring human race, the saints, with an angel at their head, stand before God in prayer for men. St. Andrew of Caesarea says that the saints will entreat God that 'after the disasters which strike at the end of the world, the torments of impious and lawless men might be lessened in the future age and that by His Coming He might reward those who have laboured.'
"At the same time, the saints will again and again entreat God, just as they entreated Him at the removing of the fifth seal (6.9-11), that He might manifest His righteous judgement against the lawless and the persecutors of the Faith of Christ and might cause the fierceness of the tormentors to cease." (Archbishop Averky)
For the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5.16).
8.4-5. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth; and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
"The casting of the fire of the censer on the earth indicates the Divine judgement manifested on earth. See Ezekiel 10.2) where the coals of fire scattered over the city indicate the chastisement of Jerusalem."
And He said to the man clothed with the long robe: Go in between the wheels that are under the cherubs, and fill thine hands with coals of fire from between the cherubs, and scatter them over the city (Ezekiel 10.2).
"The punishments described immediately after this are without doubt the consequences of this prayer. The Lord shows here that He does not ignore the prayers of His faithful servants. The voices and the thunderings and the rest 'indicate,' according to St. Andrew of Caesarea, 'the horrors which are to occur before the end (of the world), just as on Mount Sinai they served as symbols of the Divine Presence which frightened everyone and brought the most sensible of them to conversion'." (Archbishop Averky)
"The man who is immersed in the vanity of this life forgets about heaven and the fact that the saints care about us and help us. Our Orthodox temple and our Divine services remind us of the spiritual unity of the heavenly-earthly Church. If we look more closely into the visions of the Apocalypse which are presented here, we shall see a striking similarity with our temple and order of liturgy. In heaven there is an altar and the slain Lamb, elders in golden crowns surrounding the throne, seven lampstands, censers with incense, and the assemblies of those standing in front. How close this description is to all that takes places with us in the altar during the Divine Liturgy! With us, as in heaven, there is an altar, and the Lamb in the sacred Communion Gifts, clergy-elders surrounding the altar, a seven-branched candlestick, a censer with fragrant smoke ascending. Here the clergy and the chanters and the worshippers unite with the angels and saints into one choir for the glorification of God worshipped in Trinity: 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory...' Truly, in our temple everything reminds us of this and supports our link with the heavenly Church." (Protopriest Alexander Mileant)
8.6. And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
"Here there follows the sounding of the trumpets one after the other, of all seven angels, which are accompanied each time by great disasters and punishments for the earth and its inhabitants." (Archbishop Averky)
8.7. The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth; and the third part of trees was burned up, and all green grass was burned up.