“To the angel of the Church in Ephesus write: ‘These things says the One Who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One Who walks about in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” (Rev. 2:1).
According to the Patristic understanding, the seven stars represent bishops and the lampstands the churches. Christ the Lord shows His direct authority over His Church by holding the seven stars in His hand. Arcimandrite Athanasios comments, “bishops do not govern the Church as representatives of Christ, but Christ governs the Church and the bishops govern in the presence of Christ.”
Christ the Lord is speaking to His house, to His Church.
Christ the Lord consoles His Church, as if saying, “I’m intimately close.” He walks in our midst, the midst of the lampstands. Seven is indicative of the seven days of creation (Gen. 1 & 2) and the seven-branched candle-stand which stood in the Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple (cf. Ex. 5:31ff). Elsewhere in Revelation there will be seven seals and seven angels who are given seven trumpets (cf. Rev. 8ff). The Scriptures are saturated with references to seven, generally speaking seven always has to do with the work of God.
Gold indicates the purity to which the members of the Church are called. Again Christ walks in our midst; He is ever directly present in His Church and is the One to Whom all will answer.
“Since Christ is the true Light (cf. Jn 1:9), those who have become enriched by His illumination are like candlesticks which illuminate the darkness of the present life” (St. Andrew of Crete).
What does our Lord praise in the church at Ephesus? Let us see.
“I know your works, and your toil, and your patience, and that you are not able to bear evil ones. And you have tried those who count themselves to be apostles and are not, and found them to be liars; and you have patience and did bear for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Rev. 1:2-4).
A reoccurring theme with all seven churches is the fact that Christ Jesus opens His words to them by saying, I know your works. This is important to note at the offset because of false teachings such as Sola Fide. I will elaborate more on this when examining the Church in Smyrna.
The Ephesians are praised for their labor and patience. Toil and patience are clearly related to the fact that the Church of Ephesus would not endure false teachers, who are called “evil ones.” Indeed, they labored diligently to hold fast the Faith which was given them (Cf. 2 Thess. 2:15).
Yet, overall, the image of diligent labor is a constant theme in the Scriptures. There is no quick, easy, and magic path. The Christian life is founded upon faithful diligence – to the end. Diligence in holding to the Truth. Keep in mind even when these words were written near two thousand years ago, false teachers were assailing the Church.
Christ Himself tells us, “In your patience possess your souls” (Lk. 21:19). “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Lk. 8:15). St. Paul echoing Christ’s words teaches, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory honor and immortality, He will give eternal life” (Rom. 2:7). Elsewhere in Romans St. Paul calls God the God of endurance (cf. Rom 15:5). He also prays that Christians would be directed in “the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5). He tells us again that in the Orthodox way of life, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Heb. 10:36). St. James in the harmony of Scriptural testimony says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:3-5).
What a contrast this is to the prevalent modern microwave oven “christianity” of instant “spirituality” which is packaged up and sold today in big box “churches!”
The Chruch of Ephesus is also praised because they “test those that claim to be apostles but are not.”
In this praise, we see our mandate to “be testing all things” (1 Thess 5:21). This Christian vocation is also taught by St. John the Theologian, “test the spirits to see if they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
Contrary to the Siren voice of modern ecumenism, it is a deep Christian virtue to be rigorous in holding to True doctrine. If “testing and holding fast” is praised by the Lord Himself we may conversely conclude that those who break down the standard of Faith and accept every “wind of false doctrine” (Cf. Eph. 4:14) are condemned.
The Scriptures are explicit in their warning about false teachers. “There shall be false teachers among you, who introduce privily heresies of destruction, even denying the Master Who about them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction …” (2 Peter 2:1). Note that false teaching is a denial of the Master. St. Paul warns the Corinthians, “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Also, see 1 Tim. 1:3-7.
Archimandrite Athanasios comments, “It is quite evident that Scripture accentuates and insists on dogma … Unfortunately, our times are characterized by an eagerness to lay dogma aside, to downplay doctrine. This includes members of our Orthodox Christian leadership – the very members who are supposed to safeguard or dogmas also lay them aside. This is abominable, a true betrayal of Christianity. Even more strange and bizarre is the attitude that in the name of Christianity unity, doctrinal and dogmatic differences become irrelevant.”
Our times of “doctrinal relativism” are directly rebuked by these praises spoken by Christ Himself to Ephesus.
And yet, the Lord holds the Church of Ephesus lacking in one area, “But I have this against you, because you have left your love, the first one. Be mindful therefore from what place you have fallen, and repent and do the first works; but if not, I am coming to you quickly and will remove your lampstand out of her place unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5).
Christ Himself inseparably unites the commandments to love, thus right-doctrine must always be grounded by right-love. “If you love Me, keep My commandments … Whoever it is how has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me” (Jn. 14:15, 21). There is a danger of being “correct” without love. Love for Christ is the foundation for fulfilling what is “correct.” It is a both-and deal. In fact, it is love which gives the wisdom of true application of doctrine for the living of the Christian life.
Bl. Seraphim (Rose) notes, “We who wish to remain in the true Traditions of Orthodoxy will have to be zealous and firm in our Orthodoxy without being fanatics … Above all, we must strive to preserve the true fragrance of Orthodoxy ….”
It may also be that in encountering the “lawlessness” of false teaching the love of the Church of Ephesus waned, giving an example of Christ’s own warning elsewhere, “Because of lawlessness … the love of many will grow cold” (cf. Matt. 24:12).
Remember from where you have fallen is an injunction to Christian self-examination. “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:12).
Through Christian self-examination, our hearts may be softened, and we may then repent. True heartfelt repentance. Through lack of self-control the great apostle Peter denied the Lord three times and fell; yet through tears and repentance, he was restored (cf. Matt. 26:69ff).
The fearful result of losing love and not repenting will be the removal of their lampstand.
Arcimandrite Athanasios notes three possible manifestations of the “removal of the lampstand.”
First – the loss of divine grace. The loss of the savor of Orthodoxy. He says that such a state is “frightful.” He takes the example of those who in our day desire to reconstruct Orthodoxy, “We are talking about wolves here. The demons rush into these people.”
Second – the literal historical removal of a church. This happened to the great church of Ephesus. Archbp. Averky points out, it is but “a heap of ruins (where now there is) a small Muslim village.”
Third – a church remains in its historical place, it is not physically destroyed. “It stays in its geographical area but loses its orthodoxy and orthodpraxia.” An example of this is the Roman church, which has become ever so evident in our times with insane idol worship in the Vatican itself, and the very Pope himself undermining what is left of Christian savor is Rome (my Roman friends it’s time to return to the True Catholic Church! You also Protestants, who are but children of Rome).
“To stay in your place as a church and to lose your orthodoxy and orthopraxia, is, I believe, the worst of all three kinds of lampstand removals. This type of removal does not exclude any Church.” He then warns us to not think are safe simply because we are Orthodox. He says it will occur if we sell out our Orthodoxy. There are “clergy and laity (who) are itching to change and modify the very character of our Orthodox Church.”
“Orthodox spirituality,” he says, “is not a luxury.”
“But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which works I also hate” (Rev. 2:6).
Yes, certain works are hated by Christ and woe to us if we are workers of them! “He directs the hate not against the Nicolaitans personally but against their works.”
Generally, the Nicolaitans were a Gnostic sect which was started by Nicholas of Antioch who is mentioned in Act 6:5. It is generally held that the book of Jude is also addressing the early church struggle with these heretics.
“Gnosticism attempts to create a melting pot of all ideologies of all times … they attempted to give themselves a Christian garb … while their abuse and distortion of the gospel was appalling,” comments Archimandrite Athanasios.
The Nicolaitans were as Antinomians (against the law). “They had a very lax attitude toward idolatry and carnal sins … they had great difficulty accepting the commandments of God … They were tremendously loose (in moral life), saying that the things the law of God teaches are quite unrealistic and inapplicable, speciffically regarding the subject of abstinence or sexual control,” says Archimandrite Athanasios. He goes on to say that this ideology “has reached its peak (today).”
I believe that within the Orthodox sphere groups such as public orthodoxy, orthodoxy in dialogue, Fordham “orthodox” studies, and others in that vein all exhibit the spirit of the Nicolaitans. Lazar Puhalo is a spokesman of modern Nicolaitanism, why doe the OCA tolerate his works? They would be wise to follow the words of the Lord here. Such works are hated by the Lord and we are called to hate such works.
“The one who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. To the one overcoming, I will give to him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7).
While incarnate in the flesh our Lord also called out numerous times, “He who has an ear, let him hear!” (Cf. Matt. 11:15, 13:9).
Notice the unity of voice between Christ and the Spirit, Christ is speaking in harmony with the Father and the Spirit.
It is also the Holy Spirit who enables us to truly hear, that is to have spiritual ears. “Every man has physical ears, but spiritual ears belong to the spiritual man,” St. Andrew of Caesarea.
Archimandrite Athanasios comments, “When we begin to possess these spiritual ears, then they will enable us to screen out all the waves and sounds and different pied pipers of our times. And by this screening process we will be able to say, ‘this is dangerous.’ By using this spirit of discretion, which is one of the greater gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to stand in our turbulent times. We have a great need to stay standing in a time of unprecedented in its corruption.”
“Overcoming …” may be related back to the discussion on patient endurance. Overcoming means that we finish our Christian course, by the grace of God. There is a chance of running “in vain” (cf. Gal. 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5).
Only our Lord Jesus opened the way of return to the Paradise of God. In some sense, we may say that He Himself is the Tree of Life.
“Each Christian must apply himself to all the things … discussed … in this epistle: the rejection of and struggle against every dogmatic and ethical derailment, and persistence in the first burning love,” Archimandrite Athanasios.