“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 …