Light and Dark Images of Apocalypse
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Apocalypse (Revelation) of apostle John the Divine
Apostle John the Divine on Pathmos by reception of Apocalypse (Revelation). John at Patmos. The Nizhny Novgorod, Art Museum, XVII c.
Whenever a man of nowadays hears a word "Apocalypse", he imagines scenes of horror and death. Gloomy predictions and prophecies describe the future as the "end of world". However, if we read the Apocalypse (Revelation) of St. Apostle John the Divine or Theologian with an open mind, we will realize that what is really implied in this book is a triumphant paean heralding the Coming of Jesus Christ. The world of evil and misery is transforming into a world of light and joy. The forces of Darkness are desperately striving to seize the initiative and capture the earth, but they will sustain a crushing defeat.
It is the radiant images that primarily attract our attention when we read the revelation, though we have to take into account the forces of Darkness. The interpretive approach we have adopted blends artistic imagery with theological intuition emphasizing the traditions of the early Christian, Holy Fathers, Byzantine and Russian Churches. Yet this essay is neither a theological treatise or scholarly study.
Though we have no intention of eschewing the value of contemporary biblical appraisal, which has so signally enriched our understanding of the human factor in the writing of the Holy Scriptures, despite the multiplicity of such writers, it must necessarily be stressed that their principal, constant co-author is God Himself. The writings of the Holy Bible may reveal a new meaning to each successive epoch and generation, as the said meaning is truly infinite.
Each chapter and verse of the Scriptures, the time of whose writing may be centuries apart, interact as the moments of one grand symphony. The uncertain, reachable meaning of the biblical prophecies furnishes one more indication of their divine origin; thus is the freedom of man safeguarded against attempts at a logically coerced interpretation. In no position to encompass the entire range of imagery covered in the Apocalypse (Revelation), we must of necessity confess that much still defies comprehension. Indeed within the stupendous panorama that Apostle John the Divine reveals we discern merely the contours of the leading personages and some crucial events.
One Who sits on the throne
He is the principal personage in the Apocalypse, to wit:
"Îur God which sitteth upon the throne" (7:10).
Jesus Christ – Ancient of Days. Russian fresco, Church of Pokrov on Nerl, 1199.
As God He is mentioned in the Revelation fifty odd times, as «The One who sits on the throne» fourteen times.
At once, a howling contradiction arose with the entire context of the Holy Write, which says:
Our God is an invisible God!
«No man hath seen God at any time» –
the Gospel of John declaims (1:18).
Which is most forceful, provided one agrees with the ecclesiastical tradition averring that St.John the Evangelist wrote both Revelation and Gospel, and, moreover that the Apostle wrote Gospel later. St. Justin the Philosopher, who lived in Ephesus at the start of the second century and who was personally acquainted with many of the disciples of St. John the Theologian («the Divine»), clarifies:
"The Holy Write asserts that God appeared to Abraham, Moses and other Blessed of the Old Testament. Yet he was not God the Father, insofar as God the Father was
ever higher than the heavens, never appeared to anyone and did not converse with anyone face to face."
Yet St. John tells us that he saw God! In that selfsame image God appeared before to the Prophet Daniel who named Him "The Ancient of Days" (Dan. 7: 9, 13, 22).
The Ancient of Days or the One who sits on the throne is the Lord God the Pantocrator: yet He is not God the Father. Provided we adhere to biblical reality and do not reduce the grandeur of the Epiphany to allegorical scenes, we shall be constrained to conclude that He who revealed Himself to St. John the Theologian and to the Prophet Daniel was Jesus Christ in His divine nature
Having told this, we already entirely have appeared in the realm of holy fathers theology, with its three dogmas: about the Holy Trinity, about the two natures of Christ and about the icon-worship.
The issue mooted is how it is possible to see by the human eyes Jesus Christ as God. The Holy Trinity is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; not three Gods but One God; not one Person but three. Three Persons of the Holy Trinity are of one nature: if the Father is not to be seen, hence the Son is not to be seen and the Holy Spirit is not to be seen.
Now Jesus Christ is God's Son, in Whom
“dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col.2:9).
So how can we affirm that He was seen by both St. John and Daniel?
After the dogma of icon-worship won a victory in the eighth century, it was stated that only what could be seen by the human eye could be depicted. Since Daniel had seen the Ancient of Days, hence He could be depicted on icons. And He was indeed often and profusely thus portrayed. Besides the captions of «The Ancient of Days» and «Jesus Christ» encountered as synonyms on one and the same icon. Moreover Byzantine theologians identified the Ancient of Days and, consequently, Jesus Christ as God, with Whom Israel know as Yahweh:
I AM THAT I AM Ex. 3:14
What then of the invisibility of God?
The matter remained not fully clear until there emerged the teaching of the Divine Energies, associated with the name of St. Gregory Palamas, the great fourteenth-century Byzantine theologian.
For centuries Eastern Christian monks practiced the transfiguration of their nature similar to the Transfiguration which Jesus Christ manifested on Mount Tabor. Prayers bodies began to emanate a radiation from within, and there was no question but this light was of a divine nature that did not exist in the created world.
The need to evolve a theological explanation for this practice had led St. Gregory Palamas to evolve in detail that inherently biblical creed of the Divine Energies. Rather was he constrained there to due to the emergence of the false allegation as if the light on Mount Tabor was of natural origin similar to the luminous aura of the Hindu yogi.
According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, which the local councils of Constantinople had confirmed, God by His very nature is invisible, undepictable, incomprehensible. Which St. John the Evangelist implies when he says:
«No one has ever seen God» (1:18),
and which is why Moses forbade the representation of God.
However God is alive and operating. Actions, for which the Greek is «energies», of the Holy Trinity is that selfsame divine nature emanating from itself, pouring out. In its quality of energy Divine nature is visible, depictable, comprehensible and, moreover may penetrate from inside and fill human nature.
Hence, we may now understand how God could become visible. Set of the energies of the Holy Trinity forms the eternally uncreated Divine «body» which can be visible to the human eye. In this eternal embodiment of His, the One God is Jesus Christ, He is also Yahweh, He is the Ancient of Days and the One who sits on the throne. In Paradise, Adam saw Him and conversed with Him. And hence, we, employing our erroneous terms, could say that God had revealed Himself to Adam in His «human image». It would be correct though to say that man is created «in the image and likeness» of God, of Jesus Christ in His Divine body.
The name of "The Lamb", that is repeated some thirty times in the Revelation, designates Jesus Christ as the man who sacrificed Himself to redeem us:
Jesus Christ the Lamb. Agnus Dei, Emory University, Pitts Theology Library.
“Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation…” (5:9).
For which reason St. John announces in his Revelation:
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (5:12).
Therein is all essence of Revelation: “One slained” is receiving power. The Apocalypse demonstrates the conflict between two worlds, two types of relations between personalities, two types of power and authority.
In the world of the Beast, the authority belongs to the butcher, in the world of God – to the victim. The Apocalypse thereby reveals to us the sense of the Gospel.
People with vestiges of pagan consciousness now and again consider the character of the gospel Jesus as too soft and weak, well-nigh feminine. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is the possessor of the utmost courage of which man is capable, yet at the same time is the bearer of genuine power. That is simply such courage and such power. Pagans will never comprehend that until directly affected by this force:
“These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings” (17:14).
That authority was manifested on the Cross when Jesus Christ said of his butchers:
«Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do» (Luke 23:34).
And this word does not remain in vain, because He speaks as one that had authority: to denounce or forgive.
The forgiveness or curse that the victim utters upon his butchers, is of absolute power, for thus it is ordained by God. Only once in the New Testament, and precisely in the Revelation, there comes from the lips of the martyrs the verdict of condemnation. This occurs after the breaking of the Fifth Seal, when the souls of those «slaughtered for God's words» cry out to God:
“How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (6:10).
Indeed, something very strange and extraordinary must happen in the world for the usual entreaty victims make to forgive their butchers to yield to a cry for vengeance… It is told to them, that their requirement will be executed:
“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 fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled” (6:11).
By now we wonder what relationship may exist between the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb.
These two Persons often appear side by side. Thus the Lamb came to the One who sits on the throne (5:7) in absolutely the same manner as the Prophet Daniel saw in his vision when «one like the Son of man» (Dan. 7:13) comes to the Ancient of Days. Now if the One who sits on the throne is Jesus in His Divine nature, while the Lamb is Jesus in His human nature, we must perforce come to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is approaching… to Himself. How can that be possible?
At this point we cannot dispense with a brief excursus into the holy fathers theology.
The Church creed as to the relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ was formed and evolved in the strenuous and long struggle against the so-called «christological heresies» that shook and rocked the Christian world in the 5th-7th centuries. The first such heresy was Monophysitism, asserted that Jesus Christ nature is only one: divine or “divine-human”, and that everything human in Him was absorbed by that of Divine. The ecumenical council of Chalcedon defined Jesus Christ to be one Person or Hypostasis (now would tell – Personality) in the two natures, one wholly divine and the other wholly human.
He is the perfect God and the perfect Man. The two natures are not merged one with another and each of natures by joining remain without alternation, keeps the fullness of it's properties.
However a large proportion of the believers embraced Monophysitism, most of them would have later accepted Islam. But the Churches of Armenia and Ethiopia profess that creed to this day. It was too hard to imagine how the God, while remaining God, also had become the man. That is not only hard, but indeed impossible to comprehend! Here we confronted the one and only, yet absolute, boundary to human intelligence: to wit, the unattainability of the Divine nature. All else is within the bounds of human intelligence, except that, because to comprehend the Divine essence – would mean to become equal with God. Only given to God is the knowledge of how He could become man. Only given to God is the knowledge of how to create the world from nothingness. Only given to God is the knowledge of foreseeing the action of freely human will. Only given to God is the knowledge in fullness of what fate holds in store for every human being. All these things are the manifestations of the Divine nature, the absolute prerogative of the Creator. Hence every attempt to penetrate the unfathomable always resulted for the human being in false fantasy of loss of faith.
After the ecumenical council of Chalcedon was emerged a new heresy, Monothelitism, which claimed:
«Let Christ have two natures but only one, divine or divine-human, will».
Again the Church retorted:
”There are not one, but two distinct wills in Christ, divine and human, in such a way that the human will freely and docile follows His divine will”.
However the deal had not ended upon that. Yet another heresy had born: Monoenergism, which asserted:
«Let in Christ are two natures and two wills but is only one action (energy), divine-human.»
And again the Church replied in the spirit of the Chalcedon: There is not one, but there are two distinct actions in Christ – divine and human.
Does the great controversy already completed?
Apparently, it does not.
As before the significance of this controversy is immensely great.
Many of the believers have today a confused, incoherent pagan notion of the gospel's Jesus as some kind of half man – half god. Thus one may hear it alleged, even written, that
"as man He was thirsting and hungering, but as God working wonders”.
Nothing could be more alien to the spirit of the Chalcedon dogma than such allegation. It is the belittling of Christ as the man and, at the same time, mixing up of the Divine and the human.
As the God, Jesus Christ is eternally resided în the throne of Divine Glory, while in the events described in the Gospel “the man Christ Jesus”(1 Tim. 2:5) operates, i.e. Jesus Christ in His human nature.
Jesus Christ the man not only performed miracles, but resurrected and ascended to heaven. He, of course, is not merely a man, but God who has become also a man and, hence, may speak of Himself as of God:
«Before Abraham was born, I am» (John. 8:58),
however these words coming from human lips.
In the Revelation of St. John, Jesus Christ the man is presented not only in the meek appearance of Lamb. We see Him there also in regal glory and all conquering might. Thus He appeared to St. John who saw:
"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 shineth in his strength” (1:13-16).
Daniel saw "The Son of Man” in a prophetic vision, but the One now manifested to St. John was Jesus Christ as a very real man, who had become indeed such by the moment of this vision.
The Revelation of St. John moves us to admit that Jesus Christ, in full accordance with His two natures, likewise possesses two, divine and human, bodies. To say that One Person (Personality) has two bodies is no more and no less wondrous than to say that One Person has two natures, two wills, two actions.
If we shall accept, that the One Who sits on the throne and the Lamb – is accordingly Jesus Christ as God and as man, we shall hence be cognizant of the religious meaning of the apocalyptic epoch.
Biblical history from Adam to Jesus, was the time when Jesus Christ revealed himself as God, as Creator, as One Who Is Being (Yahweh).
Over the period from the Nativity to the beginning of the apocalyptic events Jesus is revealed as a man Who preaches, is crucified, resurrects, ascends of heavens and is always increasing in the rays of Divine glory.
As the man, or Lamb, He is leading His Church, feeding Her on His Body and Blood, revealing Her the Divine mysteries, which He gradually is comprehending Himself.
Meanwhile the gist of the coming apocalyptic epoch – is the revelation of Jesus Christ simultaneously as God and as man, in the joint action of His two natures. What it will mean, we just should get to know.
Archangel Michael and his angels
In events of the Apocalypse it is mentioned of about hundred angels, who are carrying out concrete functions. Others places in the New Testament notes “many thousands” (Jud.14), “myriads” of angels (Heb. 12:22). Who are angels? They are beings whose
main feature is that unlike man, they are not endowed with any earthly flesh.
The icon: Archangel Michael and his angels. Russia, 19th century
They were created long before man and were designated to assist God at the different phases of natural evolution and human history. Possessed of an individual self-awareness and free volition, some angels have got into dispute with God and even have come to counteraction Him in diverse ways and extent. The Archangel Michael is the head of the angels who did not swerve from their devoted fidelity to their Creator.
Who ranks first on his nature, angel or man? In other words, is possession of an earthly body an advantage or drawback?
On the one hand the human body bears within its incredibly complex and rich structures the seal of Divine Wisdom, along with the fullness of natural life and an inexhaustible potential for development. Even after death the human soul differs in principle from an angel's namely in that it retains the full memory of the life of that body which it temporarily, prior to resurrection, has part with. Though some angels possess of ability to settle themselves in the bodies of animals or human beings and feed on their energies, no one of angels will ever have such full knowledge in respect of the human body, not one can have so intimate and profound a bond and unity with every single cell and molecule, which by the nature are peculiar to the human soul.
Yet, on the other hand, how great the misfortunes and limitations are that the body imposes upon man! Hunger, disease, the possibility of being subjected to every conceivable violence, rooting to the spot, ageing and the inevitably of death, all these woes and frailties to which human flesh is subject are unknown to the angel.
Still biblical tradition unreservedly places man above angel. The Holy Scriptures qualify only man as created in God's «image» and «likeness» (Gen. 1:26-27).
Hence it is stated that “we are to judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3), «for it is not to angels that He has subjected the world to come» (Hebr. 2:5).
Archangel Michael. Mon. of St. Catherin, XIII
Man's distinguishing feature from angel, to wit, his natural body, comprises part and parcel of God's image within man and symbolizes the supreme human worth.
As for the body's sorrowful, morbid condition, that is due to the violation of being's Divine order, wherein the highest serves the lowest and the strongest the weakest. For in our mundane order of living, the sinful soul exploits the body for sake of pleasure or vanity instead of painstakingly fostering it as God's invaluable creation, preparing it to the future resurrection.
What is the designation of angels?
It is to serve humbly in the effort to redeeming and creatively cultivating of nature and mankind, yet withal take up spiritual arms in warring against their mutinous brothers who work violence against nature and the human race.
That is what the Archangel Michael and his angels do.
The Archangel Michael is mentioned thrice in the Revelation of Daniel. Thus the «man» whom Daniel beholds, and who, to judge from the description is very Jesus Christ as God, tells the prophet of His struggle against the «king of Persia»:
«But, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help Me» (Dan. 10:13);
«There is none that holdeth with Me in these things but Michael your prince» (Dan. 10:21).
Distinctly implied is the unnamed patron angel of Persia and Michael as the patron angel of Israel.
Yet Daniel's third mention of Michael constrains us to regard him as a man of this earth. In connection with the description of the campaigns of the «vile» king (in John's Revelation there corresponds to it an image «a beast from an abyss», 11:7) – Daniel says:
«And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people» Dan. 12:1.
What is this people?
Daniel obviously means Israel; however, in John's revelation it is spoken about prompt occurrence as though a new people comprised of the number believing in Jesus Christ. This «new Israel» also has its patron angel: it is the
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