Friday, May 15, 2020

An Essential Introductory Guide to the Book of Revelation for Orthodox Christians

By Demetri Mauropoulos

The Apocalypse [Book of Revelation] was written at the end of the first century. The author is the evangelist John, the apostle of Christ. When this book was written, this form of writing was familiar and intimate to people.

As early as the second century B.C. texts began to appear to try to describe events very strongly, especially events that are directly related to people's experience, but also situations of metaphysical content, with images that have an apocalyptic character, that is, a mystical character (in the sense of being initiated into something unspoken).

They use the form of exaggeration and create images. The images are readable by the people of that time, they understand them.

What is described is not something that will take place, but something that continuously takes place. The constant war of Christ's enemies against Him and against His Church is constantly going on.

This war begins even before the incarnation of the Lord. It is the war between what the Apostle Paul calls "this world" and "the world of God." The content of the Apocalypse describes the ongoing history of the Church.

By this I do not mean that there is no eschatological future, what we call the Second Coming and which we confess in the Creed.

I want to say that this time of the eschaton is not counted with the time determinations that we measure our corruption and our death. It is not the time of this world.

The place where we feel this reality of the Church is the Divine Liturgy.

The Divine Liturgy helps us, as our Fathers have unfolded for us, to understand what this "here and now and not yet" means. This Second Coming of the Lord is happening now, but it also has not yet happened. This condition occurs in every Divine Liturgy, and this condition is described in the Apocalypse.

The content of the Apocalypse could be divided into three parts, clearly distinct from each other:

• The first part records the state of the Church, that is, the relationship that God's people have with internal and external enemies.

• The second part, the most misunderstood, perhaps the most difficult, describes a constant war against the Church, not a war that will be waged, but a war that is being waged. After all, the Apocalypse in its inner testimonies does not speak of distant times, but of liturgical time, which is always contemporary: "I come quickly", "I am coming quickly", "now is the time".

The consequences of this war are grief, martyrdom, death. All of this ends with the "crown of glory" bestowed by the Lord. This crown of glory is union with Christ.

• The third part of the Apocalypse is precisely this union of Christ and the Church described as a sacred marriage. The human nature of Christ is united with the human nature of man. On the one hand is the Bride, the Church, and on the other is the Bridegroom, Christ.

The Apocalypse in the last two centuries has become a misunderstood book and very few refer to it. We study almost all the other books in the New Testament, but we seldom study the Apocalypse.

And yet, it is one of the most important books, and in fact one of the most tender books. It is a book that encompasses great joy. Despite the exaggerated images it contains, it is a poem that announces the presence of the Word of God.

An important element that characterizes the Apocalypse is the Eucharistic character of its content.

The Apocalypse describes the experience of the divine Eucharist, which is the union, the communion with the Body and Blood of Christ. Every time the mystery of the divine Eucharist is performed, we have the Lord's Day, the Lord is present, which is why liturgical time leaves the autonomy of the present and is connected with the future as a day of the Lord.

Why was this book written? The phrase from the Apocalypse itself would suffice: it was written for all of us to learn "what must soon take place", that is, what is going to happen very soon. What is going to happen soon? The persecutions? The victory against the Antichrist?

Sadness, suffering? Perhaps these are too few to write this book. Something more powerful must happen soon, that is, in the life of every believer. And this is a marriage. He invites us to have a wedding.

The persecution has already begun. From the time Christ was alive, the persecution began, with Stephen as the first martyr.

The Christian must now be interested in something else: whether there is a way to bring about life without decay and death. And this can take place quickly.

About six centuries before the birth of Jesus, the writing of a book contained in the Bible was written: it is the well-known Song of Songs.

What is this book? It is a love/erotic song. A woman sings of her love, her eros, for a man, and a young man sings of his love for this girl.

Christians saw the prototype of the Christ-Church relationship there. The two young people do not reach their final union in the Song of Songs. They sing about it, they long for it, they want to be in each other's arms, but the guards, the parents, the situations, do not let them.

A longing that does not reach an end or fulfillment is described. The Apocalypse is the answer to the Song of Songs. In the Apocalypse again we have a love/erotic song.

A woman longs for her union with a man. The dragon tries to take the fruit of this union from her, does not let her unite with her Bridegroom, forces her to take refuge in the desert.

Eventually, however, the Bridegroom offers her his embrace and the sacred wedding takes place. This is how the Apocalypse ends: with the sacramental marriage between the Bride-Church and the Bridegroom-Christ, who is characterized as a "slaughtered Lamb", that is, the man who was martyred for his beloved.

That is why the Apocalypse was written, to tell us that we can all quickly realize this union of Christ and the Church, each as a member of the body of Christ, as a member of His Church, which is not an abstract state but a totality of persons united by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was written to proclaim the everlasting truth, which is Christ.

There is no other book in the New Testament that has such a strong Christological character, such a single reference only to Christ.

It was written to put us in the big dilemma: will we be with the world or with Christ?

Eventually the Apocalypse could lead us to a rediscovery of the Eucharistic dimension of our ecclesiastical life.

From the yet unpublished book Σχόλια στην Αποκάλυψη του Ιωάννη ("Comments on the Apocalypse of John") which is due to be released in Greece at the end of May 2020. The above Introduction to the book was translated from the original Greek by John Sanidopoulos.