“Write these things which you saw, and the things which are, and the things which are about to take place after these things” (Rev. 1:19).
In the opening pages of the most cryptic book of the New Testament, the book of the Apocalypse, or Revelation, Our Lord Jesus, the First and the Last, addresses seven churches in Asia Minor.
Clearly, these churches were real historical churches and the message to the churches was pertinent to their situations, conditions, and struggles almost two thousand years ago.
At the same time, the message of Christ the Lord to the seven churches is timeless, it is one to the whole church throughout all time. Archbp. Averky notes in his wonderful commentary on the Apocalypse, “It (the message) refers also to the whole Church in general for the whole course of its 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.”
It greatly behooves us as Christians to study the message (or messages) to the seven churches: what does Christ our Lord praise and confirm, what does He rebuke, what does He say He even hates (because He does say that), what is the promised reward, and so forth?
As Archbp. Averky points out, “These revelations contain praises of their Christian life and faith, a reproof of their insufficiencies, exhortations, and consolations, and threats and promises.”
Archimandrite Athanasios (Mitilinaios), a very respected Elder from Greece who departed to the Lord in 2006, has one of the most extensive commentaries on the book of Revelation available in English. It is a voluminous set. He observes, “The seven epistles to the seven historical churches serve as seven folds of the one, holy, catholic Church. Accordingly, these issues were of great concern, not only to the seven historical churches back then, but also continue to concern the Church today and for every age until the end. This is so because in the Church we will always have issues such as zeal, faith, sloth, scandals, persecutions, distortion of faith and ethics, and those who are lukewarm. Generally, the people and events of light and darkness will always make their presence felt in the Church. Since these realities are exposed here in the seven churches, they also comprise realities in the entire Church” (pg. 128-129, Vol. 1).
The reality that evil always seeks to subvert and destroy truth and goodness in the Church, from both within and without, does not mean that we take a c’est la vie attitude. No. As will be evident in the Lord’s words to the churches, we are expected to do something; that something in Christianity is repent and align our lives according to the image, the commandments, of our Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Paul teaches, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).
The essential reality of the Church is founded upon Christ the Lord and therefore shares in the perfection of the Divinity (Cf. Eph. 1:22-23, 2:20; 1 Tim. 3:15). In this sense the Church is perfect and will never suffer defeat by the enemies which attack her. Yet, we, her members, may suffer defeat and be removed from the life giving-spring of the Body of Christ.
In this fallen world both wheat and tares (cf. Matt. 13:24ff), good fish and bad fish (cf. Matt. 13:47ff) seemingly abide within the Church side by side. We are becoming true members of Christ our Lord in as much as we are abiding by His way. In doing so we connect our person to the essential reality of the Church which is unshakable. Christ the Lord warns His people so that we may repent, so that we may not suffer self-inflicted destruction because of our own stubborn insistence upon following our own “reason.”
Indeed, the Lord comes to His Church, “winnowing fork in … hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
The Lord calls to all of us, “Be mindful of the place from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). He also says, “The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Rev. 2:7).
We are given these instructions, messages, and warnings so that we may stand fast in the Faith and receive the reward which the Lord Himself has promised to those who overcome.
The other option is fearful. To those who do not heed, the Lord makes clear – remember He is speaking to those in the Apostolic Church, the Holy Orthodox Church – “your lampstand will be removed, the sword of My mouth will strike you down, I will come upon you as a thief, you nakedness will be exposed, I will give to each according to his works.”
May we indeed have ears to hear as we examine the message of the Lord to the seven churches.
A study of each of the seven churches will be forthcoming …
One thought on “The Seven Churches of Revelation: A Message to the Church For All Time.”
Please forgive the length of this excerpt from an addition of The Orthodox Word by Blessed Father Seraphim Rose, not long before his repose.
This book is now out of print I believe so added here also is a link to a pdf download.
Doxa to Theo, John
The Apocalypse In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity pdf download
ARCHBISHOP AVERKY TAUSHEV & FATHER SERAPHIM ROSE
Archbishop Averky HIS SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE ECUMENICAL ORTHODOX CHURCH
by Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose)
All of the writings of Archbishop Averky bear one and the same character of love for God’s truth, righteous zeal in expressing it, and urgent exhortation to others to follow it.
…. To those willing to struggle to preserve their faith, Archbishop Averky offers a sober and inspiring path of confession: “Now is the time of confession—of a firm standing, if need be even to death, for one’s Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret attacks, oppression, and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist” (28). We must be true Christians, not given in to the spirit of the times, making the Church the center of our lives (26). Giving thanks to God for the existence of our Russian Church Outside of Russia, “which has not tainted itself by submitting to the dark powers of Antichrist that are acting in the contemporary world” (24), we must be “its faithful and devoted children, and at the same time its missionaries, fighters for the true faith of Christ, both in the non-Orthodox environment that surrounds us and among the Russian people who have fallen away or are falling away from it” (27). We must lead a conscious life of prayer, nourished by the reading of Scripture and the Holy Fathers and by frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion (30).
The path ahead of us, despite the deceptive promises of modern “progress,” is a path of suffering: “The Lord has clearly said that it is not ‘progress’ that awaits us, but ever greater tribulations and misfortunes as a result of the increase of lawlessness and the growing cold of love; when He comes, He will scarcely find faith on earth (St. Luke 18:8).”
The strength of the true Christian in the terrible times ahead is the apocalyptic expectation of the Second Coming of Christ: “The spirit of a constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ is the original Christian spirit, which cries out in prayer to the Lord: Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Apocalypse 22:20). And the spirit opposed to this is undoubtedly the spirit of Antichrist, which strives by every means to draw Christians away from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ and the recompense which follows on it. Those who give in to this spirit subject themselves to the danger of not recognizing Antichrist when he comes and of falling into his nets. Precisely this is the most frightful thing in the contemporary world, which is filled with every possible deception and temptation. The servants of Antichrist, as the Lord Himself has forewarned us, will try, ‘if possible, the deceive the very elect’ (St. Matthew 24:24). The thought of this, however, should not oppress or crush us, but on the contrary, as the Lord Himself says, Then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth night(St. Luke 21:28).”
It is such a man, a true Holy Father of these latter times, filled with the Christian apocalyptic expectation of Christ’s Second Coming and with the sober Orthodox spirit of preparedness for it, who is the author of a patristic commentary on the culminating book of the New Testament Scriptures, the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian. Although his interpretation of the book is based solidly on the early Fathers of the Church, the very fact that he himself is so much in their spirit, and in the spirit of St. John, is a pledge for us of the accuracy of his commentary, as well as of the fact that it can speak not merely to our curious minds, but also and above all to our believing hearts. Archbishop Averky was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought which has come down to us from the ancient Fathers to our own days, and which he imbibed most of all in his own teachers, the 19th-century St. Theophan the Recluse (†1894) and the 20th-century Theophan of Poltava (†1940), a modern day cave dweller and an unblemished teacher of the Orthodox moral and spiritual life, he is also an unrivaled theological and patristic guide for us.
There are few saints left in our pitiful times. But even if we do not see about us now such upright and righteous ones as he, his teaching remains with us and can be our guiding beacon in the even darker days ahead which he foresaw, when the Church may have to go into the wilderness, like the Woman of the Apocalypse (ch. 12)—the Church of the last times.
Reprinted from The Orthodox Word,Vol. 17, Nos. 5-6 (100-101) September—December, 1981