I was asked to speak about the Book of Revelation at next Tuesday’s Discussion About our Faith, a weekly adult class in the parish.
For the most part I don’t think the book is what people generally think it to be. The very title implies a revelation, which in turn implies that it’s filled with answers to the obvious questions – how and when will the world end.
All of Scripture is a book of revelation. It’s so important for us to read and know that St. John Chrysostom says: “This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe?” Moreover, in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, when the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might believe, Abraham tells him they have Moses and the Prophets (which is to say, they have the Scriptures). And he gives him a warning, “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead”.
As we all know the Book of Revelation is the only book from the Bible not used liturgically in the Orthodox Church. In an interview with Metropolitan Savas (here) I found this point he made very interesting. Even though we don’t read from it, we find the book in our every day liturgical practice:
But while we may not read from the text in the lectionary, we do make plentiful use of it.
Some examples would include the symbols of the Evangelists in the pendentives, the thrones, the incense, the relics of martyred saints in the altar, the prostrations, the constant use of the Trisagion: “Holy, Holy, Holy. . . .” These are all echoes from the Book of Revelation, but echoes we put into practice every day in the divine services of the Church.
“The Lord is the one who created us, who has given us every blessing we need for life, and who calls us not only to be baptized, but that we believe in Him. Out of His inexpressible love, as righteous God He came to the world to save us sinners and deliver us from death. And not through some wild story or tale but with His example. The Lord gives to all the faithful not only a bodily healing from their illnesses, but true faith, which is the only thing that saves us from death. Physical health is in vain without spiritual well being, for the body needs harmony. And we can only nourish and heal the soul with God. This is why we should know that it is our Christian obligation to nourish our souls on Sundays. All of those who are in church today have chosen the good part but we must know that all of life and not just one moment is the Christian life. This is why we must constantly witness to the fact that we Christians, that we believe in God, that we not be ashamed, but take pride in our faith in Him, for through the Cross salvation has come to the human race. The Cross is that which saves us, but not as a symbol but an expression and this is why Communion is our only medicine for salvation for it requires faith and effort”
Bishop Justin of Zicha
In the iconography of the Archangels – the above picture is taken from above our sanctuary in the apse – they are usually depicted, in the case of St. Michael, holding a sword in one hand; in the other he often carries either a shield, a date-tree branch, a spear, or a white banner (possibly with a scarlet cross). Some icons of the Archangel Michael (or the Archangel Gabriel) show the angel holding an orb in one hand and a staff in the other. Inside the orb are often the superimposed greek letters X P. The “Chi Rho” symbol for Jesus Christ. Thus the orb carried by the archangel belongs to Christ and represents the kingdom of the enthroned Divine King.
Sometimes, Michael is also represented in icons as standing on a horizontal body and with his left arm held high, holding a small image of a “baby”. The body represents a human being at the time of his death and the image of the “baby” represents the soul of the deceased. This icon came about since the belief has always been held that the Archangel Michael takes the souls of the dead with the Guardian Angel. This is typical of the miraculous and wonder-working Panormitis icon in Symi of Greece (see here).
The Nativity Fast begins today. We think of fasting as being a chore; as something we have to do. And in a way, while we don’t have to fast, we should. For instance, last week when I sat down for my Thanksgiving meal I was starving, I didn’t fill up on anything before but waited for the main course. I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I had spent all day filling up on other foods.
The difference here is that our preparation is for more than just one meal; for that matter, more than just one church holy day, the Lord’s Nativity. Let’s not forget those following it: His Circumcision, Baptism, His Presentation in the Temple, not to mention the ones connected to those – St. John the Baptist, St. Stephen the Protomartyr……
It’s an entire liturgical cycle of salvific events. But whatever the case, the key word is preparation.
Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory had a presentation entitled, “Putting Christmas Back Into Christ”. He explains that it was actually his spiritual father, Fr. Schmemann, who had said that it’s impossible to put Christ into Christmas, as the saying usually goes. Rather, he argued the real focus should be on celebrating Christmas the right way as it was given to us by the Church – through not just this preparation with fasting but also all the services and hymns and readings that are prescribed for this season, then we can take Christmas and put it back into Christ.
In the end, the point is for the fast not to be our chore but of our choosing.
When I was ordained a priest my bishop gave a new set of vestments. They weren’t particularly ornate or of some high quality – but they were new and very beautiful and it was a wonderful gift. My first parish was a mission parish where I stayed just shy of seven years. And during those years I ended up – for the most part – wearing those same vestments. There were too many other things the church board was focused on than vestments. More specifically, purchasing property for the future church.
By the time I arrived at my second parish I think I was over the whole ‘beautiful vestments’ thing. Perhaps I was so used to wearing the same ones each Sunday that I realized that, deep down inside, I preferred comfort over style.
I’m now in my third parish, the vestments I wear are a little snug, nothing really special…but they’re nice and I’m as comfortable in them as I would be in an old pair of shoes.
I must admit though, looking at the picture of my deacon’s gorgeous set of vestments (pictured above from this morning’s liturgy) I just might be having second thoughts. If nothing else maybe I should just get those old, now beat up vestments my bishop gave me some twenty years ago.
If nothing else, they’re comfortable.