“To the Angel of the Church in Laodicea write: These things saith the the Amen, the Martyr, the Faithful One and True One, the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14).
The final and True Word has spoken, the final Amen. After Whom there is no other Amen. The Lord Jesus is the the completion, the fulfillment, of all things. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36). He is the One Who holds all things together, most of all in His Body the Church.
He is the Martyr, the Witness. The First and final Martyr, of Whom and in Whom all martyrs participate. Every person who witnesses to the Lord Jesus in Truth participates in the spirit of martyrdom. “You shall be My martyrs” (cf. Acts 1:8). The path of the Christian – the little-christ – is that of martyric witness; the end of which is Calvary, the descent into hades, and then, only then, the empty tomb.
Christ is the only Faithful One, the only One Who has spoken, moreover revealed, the untainted Truth to mankind; He is Truth. “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Christ Jesus is the only One Who truly cares for humanity. In Christ Jesus alone, for the first and only time, humanity has spoken the fullness of truth; only in Christ Jesus is humanity able to continue in, and speak, the truth. Without Him there is no truth. “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (Jn. 14:8). The Truth is I AM.
Christ the Lord is the Creator of all creation – all things visible and invisible. “For in Him we live move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). He is co-Creator with His Father and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity. He is the source of all, the Creator of all, and He holds all things together, as the Holy Fathers tell us. Thus, He alone is the supreme authority and criterion for all things; there is no aspect of life and existence which falls outside of His domain. Nothing is exempt from the Truth of Christ the Master of all. Most of all for His special dwelling place, for His chosen people, His Body the Church.
“It is time for Judgment to begin from the house of the God; but if first from us, what shall be the end of those who disobey the Gospel” (1 Peter 4:17)? Thus the Lord says to the church of Laodicea, “I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot. Thus, because thou are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit thee out of My mouth” (Rev. 3: 16).
The spiritual state of being lukewarm is one of the most terrible and fearful of states. Archbp. Averky of blessed memory instructs, “The cold man, who has not known faith, can more easily believe and become a fervent believer than a cooled-off Christian who has become indifferent to the faith. Even an open sinner is better than a lukewarm Pharisee who is satisfied with his moral condition.” A true Christian is called to be “hot” with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This takes spiritual daily diligence. There are few things worse than a lukewarm Christian.
The blessed elder Athanasios has these sober words of warning for us today, “The great majority of Christians today, at least contemporary Christians, belong to this class and state [lukewarm]. As contemporary Christians we are not cold and certainly not hot. Most of us are lukewarm … According to St. Paul, in this class of the lukewarm faithful, God and the world, Christ and Baal, truth and lie, have the ability to intertwined and coexist. Worse yet, people who are able to live in both of these worlds – of God and of Satan, of the truth and of the lie – at the same time boast about their high level of spirituality and greatness. They feel extremely important and very pleased with their high position.”
We may in all sobriety, based on the testimony of elders and saints, take the message to the church of Laodicea as the message to the church of our times. The great temptation of lukewarmness is paramount in our days. Archbp. Averky describes it with these words, “The Church of Laodicea is the last, most frightful epoch before the end of the world, characterized by indifference to the faith and outward prosperity.”
I believe it not unbecoming to add that in the long run those who strive to serve both God and the world, Christ and Baal, truth and lie, will end up, in the long run, serving only one master, as our Lord Himself says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon” (Matt. 6:24-25). Ultimately, the spirit of lukewarmness simply makes of one who is called to be a servant of Christ but a servant of this world. It creates indifferent Christians. The terrible spiritual danger is that lukewarmness blinds a person to this reality, thus while serving the world he claims to be serving Christ! He takes his indifference to be spiritual wisdom. While many times reasoning according to the Devil he thinks he is doing Christ a favor. Thus, it is written, “Because of you, My Name is blasphemed continually among the Gentiles” (Is. 52:5).
Elder Athanasios gives us this spiritual indicator, “The first causes of being lukewarm are spiritual laziness, sloth, and spiritual indifference.”
So terrible is the state of spiritual lukewarmness that the end result is to be “vomited out” by the Lord! So revolting is such a state! So fearful, for the result is rejection by the Lord. Elder Athanasios teaches, “The hot is found in God’s love. The cold, those that are cold, have many possibilities of becoming hot. But the one who was hot in the past and suffered a loss of temperature, has no hope. He is in a state of hopelessness because … he lives the psychology of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness of self-assurance. The result is rejection by the Lord.”
We modern Laodiceans are warned by the Lord so that we may repent! Though this be the prevailing spirit of our times we need not be subject to it, rather we must doubly guard our hearts against it. We have been warned by our Lord and His saints. Let us throw off the spineless false piety of lukewarmness and be clothed once again in the zeal of our Lord together with heartfelt repentance.
“Because thou sayest, ‘I am rich and have gotten riches and have need of nothing’ – and knowest not that thou are wretched, and pitiable, and blind, and naked – I counsel thee to buy from Me gold which hath been refined by fire, in order that thou mightest become rich; and white garments, in order that thou mightest clothe thyself and that the shame of thy nakedness might not be made manifest; and eye-salve, in order that thou mightest anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see” (Rev. 3:17).
The Lord makes manifest the state of spiritual self-sufficiency and self-gratification in which this church lived. It felt itself to have no need, completely able to handle its own business. But the Lord says, “Those who are healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick do! I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32). The state of spiritual self-gratification, or indifference, is terrible. It closes one off to the healing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. When those who should be followers of Christ say, we have need of nothing – that is nothing of the grace filled guidance of the Holy Fathers and the life of the Holy Spirit – for we have already been filled with the riches, that is the knowledge, of this world. Such then will take worldly standards as the highest of all. They will apply the “riches” of the world as if they are the principles of the Church. Such will strive to govern the church according to the principles of the world.
Archbp. Averky teaches, “We may suppose that the Loadiceans actually trusted excessively in their wealth, striving to join together the service of God and mammon.”
A worldly spirit rather than Christ was the guiding factor for this church. Yet, trusting in the princes of this world, in all reality, makes one “wretched, and pitiable, and blind, and naked.” Here those who were to be servants of Christ alone were attempting to mix this service with that of mammon too. Such a church is warned that it will be vomited out.
The Lord mercifully warns his church because there is time for repentance – buy from Me those things needed for this work. Elder Athanasios says, “God reveals our true self to us. For this reason, let’s hurry to discover ourselves before the Lord reveals it to us – and worse yet, especially before it is revealed to all people and all the angels on the Day of Judgment … We need to take constant spiritual self-inventory.”
For those of us in the spiritual stupor of lukewarmness, the only path out is to buy from the Lord those things needed for our healing; as Christians, we have already “freely received” of the Lord’s grace. Having been poor stewards of His riches, they will be given once again only through the labor of “buying.” Archbp. Averky comments, “The Lord advises such ones to buy from Him, that is, not merely to ask and receive freely, but to buy – that is, to acquire from Christ Himself at the price of labors of repentance – these things: ‘gold tried in the fire’ … authentic grace-given spiritual wealth.”
This spiritual wealth is acquired first in coming to ones senses and resuming the practice of the virtues in repentance. “Thou hast proved my heart, Thou hast visited it in the night, Thou hast tried me by fire” (Ps. 16:3), “As silver and gold are tested in a furnace, so are the chosen hearts before the Lord” (Prov. 17:3). Pure gold is the re-acquisition of the spiritual wealth lost through negligence and lukewarmness. So often we through sloth mix the gold of the Gospel with the dross of this world. Only the refining fire of the Holy Spirit will separate the dross from the gold once again.
White garments are the living practice of the ascetic virtues. The cleansing of the eye is the washing of the heart in repentance so that it may once again discern truly.
Saint Cyprian of Carthage says, “Buy for yourselves white raiment, that you who had been naked according to Adam, and were before frightful and unseemly, may be clothed with the white garment of Christ. And you who are wealthy … anoint your eyes, not with the collyrium of the devil, but with Christ’s eye-salve, that you may attain to see God.” The wealthy may well encompass those who simply are content and satisfied with the pleasures of this fallen world.
Elsewhere garments are tied to watchfulness. “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one watching and keeping his garment, lest he be walking about naked and they be seeing his unseemliness” (Rev. 16:15).
“As for Myself, as many as I love, I reprove and chasten. Therefore keep on being zealous and repent. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear My voice and open the door, I will both come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:19-20).
Desiring the salvation of mankind, the Lord reproves us so that we would come to our senses and freely repent. This “judgment” starts first and foremost with those who claim to be children of God. “My son, cease making small account of the chastisement of the Lord, nor be faint when reproved by Him. For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastisement, God is dealing with you as with sons; for who is a son whom the father chastens not? But if you are without chastisement, of which all have become partakers, then you are bastards and not sons” (Heb. 12:5-8).
The Lord uses many things to chastise mankind. He does so that we would repent. Although, tragically, sometimes people, rather than repenting, continue to seek their own way. In doing so, such will be hardened in their rebellion and “blaspheme the God of Heaven because of their pain … and repent not of their works” (Rev. 16:11). The free and simple cure offered by our Lord to all is – be zealous and repent. Simple does not mean easy. Note the exhortation to a continuous action of “keep on.”
The Lord offers to those who of their own free will chose Him over the mammon of this world – fellowship with Him. Indeed, the “knocking” of the Lord is all around us, if we have ears to hear. To dine with the Lord brings to mind the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew chapter 22. It also carries clear analogy to the Holy Eucharist – “The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood dwells in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56).
“The one overcoming, I will grant to sit with Me in My throne, as I overcame and sat down with My Father in His throne. To the one who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches” (Rev. 3:21-22).
Iisous Xristos Nika! Jesus Christ Conquers! At every Orthodox baptism the new believer is named, “the newly enlisted warrior of Christ.” A warrior fights to conquer. The Christian warrior conquers through Christ Who is the God of all, the victor over all, even sin, death, the devil, and hell.
“The true Christian is a warrior fighting his way through the regiments of the unseen enemy to his heavenly homeland. According to the word of the Apostle, our homeland is in heaven; and about the warrior he says: we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph.6: 12),” St. Herman of Alaska.
The elder Athanasios says, “the victorious one is the person who defeats these three things: the world, his passionate self, and the devil.”
The throne is the eternal end of being victorious in Christ the Lord.
A warrior cannot be lukewarm. Lukewarm warriors are doomed to die. A warrior will serve his Lord faithfully and refuse service to a master who is at enmity with his. A cure to the spiritual malady of lukewarmness, which especially afflicts our times, is to kindle within our hearts the Christian warrior spirit. For, though one may fall in battle, if zeal for the Lord is burning within, such a one will rise and stand again. He will learn from his mistakes and shortcomings and drive on, utilizing them for greater spiritual profit and victory.
In closing I cannot help but think of these words which do speak truth, although not penned by a saint in the least; yet framed in a spiritual context they indeed ring with insight into the mindset one must have, in Christ, to overcome this fallen world – “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” – Theodore Roosevelt.
This article concludes the series I started well over a year ago, which focused on the Seven Churches of Revelation. The previous articles in the series may be found here.