My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
REVELATION: THE SEVEN SEALS (Orthodox Christian Lessons)
by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios
"One should not think that these lessons have as a goal to delight and please the ears. The goal is to teach, reveal the truth, the Lord's will; to wake up our consciences, to censure, console, strengthen, revise mistaken positions and point out the way of repentance and salvation. This is the goal of the topics and the lessons before us."
Revelation 4:1-4 "After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, 'Come up hither, and I will show you what must take place after this.' At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was rainbow that looked like an emerald. Round the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clad in white garments, with golden crowns upon their heads."
In the previous twenty-three lessons, we analyzed the content of the first three chapters of Revelation and surveyed the condition of the Church, as it existed during the time of Saint John the Evangelist, who sent the seven epistles (letters) to the seven churches in Asia Minor. These three chapters represented the revelation of the present condition, "the things that are," the things that exist as the Lord warned the Christians of the seven churches. "The things that are," however, do not refer exclusively to the years of Saint John but may also reveal different facets of the internal life of the Church during the different stages of Her journey through history.
Indeed, the more the journey of the Church continues through the centuries toward the end (which coincides with the end of history), the more the temptations and difficulties will increase culminating in the appearance of the Antichrist. Thus, the Church engaged in the struggles that are described within the span of these chapters (4-19:10). Remember that we find "the things which will take place after this" in Revelation 1:19. Let us not forget that we are distanced from "the things that are," those things that existed two thousand years ago, in Saint John's era. Quite possibly then, we may find ourselves not only in "the things which will take place after this" but we may very well be part of the threshold that marks the very end of this future journey of the Church.
Thus, the purpose of presenting the future struggles of the Church is to prepare the faithful for their own personal struggle, to console them, to strengthen them, and to protect them from being scandalized and secularized. In our times, it is evident that people in general are scandalized very easily when they see that things do not live up to their expectations in parish life.
When I was quite young, I was greatly puzzled by comments about the appearance of the Antichrist, the end of the world and the Second Coming; that the Antichrist would mark his people, that all those who are marked would not enter the Kingdom of God, and so on. These comments used to bring a question to my mind. I will say it simply, I understood it then: What Christians would be so dumb as to surrender to the Antichrist? Needless to say, as I grew up, I understood that this was not such a simple matter. In reality we surrender from the moment that our life loses its true Christian foundation and our lifestyle becomes anything but Christian. When we do not love and believe in Jesus Christ to the point of death, when we succumb to lukewarm, marginal, rosy-hued Christianity, we will certainly trip and fall when something adverse comes our way. In the language of Scripture, to trip or to lose our footing is to be scandalized. When I am scandalized, it means that I come to a halt. I come across an obstruction, I trip and fall, and I refuse to get up. I remain lying on the spiritual ground.
In retrospect, I have come to understand the answer to the perplexing question of my childhood. I observe and repeatedly ask Christians today: Mr. A and Mr. B my brothers, do you know that your walk (path) is leading you to a preliminary acceptance of the Antichrist? Do you know that your overall conduct prepares you to become a citizen of the regime that paves the way for the Antichrist? They do not believe me. They cannot understand. People do not want to believe. I have finally come to understand this.
The Church offers us the God-inspired book of the Revelation (Apocalypse) to protect us from the danger of secularization because the secular lifestyle provides fertile ground for scandals. As we witness others fall away from the Church, we must keep reminding ourselves that we may also turn cold, impoverished of love and faith. We may desert the Church. We can cease having our hope in Her. We need to realize that the initial cause of this is our own secularization. We need to be extremely careful. Let's not forget that in our days, whether we realize it or not, secularization infects us all to varying degrees. We carry a great deal of worldly thinking within us. The world influences our life and our existence.
"After this, I looked and behold a door was open in heaven, and the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet saying, 'Come up here and I will show you things which must take place after these (4:1), that is, after the first vision in which Saint John saw the glorified Jesus dictating to him the Seven Epistles to the Seven corresponding Churches in Asia Minor. We must understand, however, that with this "after these" we do not have an intermission followed by something entirely new. Instead, we have an organic continuity between the first events and those that take place thereafter, even though the setting changes and moves from earth to heaven. The change of setting, or scenery, is a very common element found throughout Revelation. The setting in Revelation changes constantly: one scene is presented, a few aspects are explained, the scene closes, and another one opens.
From a philological point of view the very method by which these scenes open and close is extraordinary, simply masterful. For example, we read that the Angel opens a certain seal, and this or that happens; immediately after that, a second seal opens, and so on. We have a number of changes in these settings, all of which help us to understand exactly how these events will take place throughout history. The sudden changes of these panoramic settings do not imply a recess or an interruption between these events. What we have instead is an organic unity just like the staging changes at the theater. One scene ends, the curtain closes, and then it opens with a new scene, but this new scene is still a part of the same play.
When one studies the sacred text from the fourth chapter on, one has the feeling of an open space. Saint John hears the dictation of the epistles in the previous three chapters. This is beautifully depicted by our Orthodox iconography. In the icon, written to show Saint John's reception of the Revelation (Apocalypse), Saint John is lying on his back, or reclining, in a cave on the Island of Patmos, Greece. At some point, he hears the voice of the Lord, and he turns around to see who is speaking. The space there is rather limited. The setting is closed. However, from this point on, we have the feeling that we are in an open space in which whatever unfolds is found at times on earth, at times in heaven, and at times between heaven and earth. All these scenes take place interchangeably, in a phantasmagoric and panoramic magnificence. With the word "behold," the spectator Saint John, encounters a new scenic view. "And behold a door was open in heaven." What is spectacular image, an opening in heaven, a truly great image.
What is the meaning of this opening? Saint Andrew of Caesarea interprets, "This open door means the disclosure of the hidden mysteries of the Holy Spirit." Saint John will be able to see the things that he could not see before because they were not revealed. Therefore, this open door is the revelation of God's hidden mysteries since heaven is the traditional place of the throne of God. God is everywhere, but we typically say that God is in heaven in the same way we say that Hades is below the earth. This was a common belief in the Old Testament and for this reason we have the expression that Christ descended into the heart of the earth. This is traditional or figurative language because God is everywhere.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"-St. John Chrysostomos
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God