A MESSAGE FROM PATMOS TO OUR ORTHODOX BROTHERS IN THE WEST
by Archimandrite Paul Nikitaris
The Cave of the Apocalypse, Patmos, Greece
There exists a widespread idea that the Apocalypse or Revelation of St. John the Theologian is a book entirely sealed, apparently containing nothing but paradoxical statements and dark prophecies for the future. Such an impression, however, is not entirely correct. The Apocalypse, included as it is in the canon of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, is a book of the Church, like all the other books of the Bible. In the words of one leading theologian, it constitutes a 'highly dynamic record of the praying, struggling, and victorious Church.' That means it has something to show us, some meaning or significance for us, as its author clearly states in the first verse, in the general title to the whole work. Indeed, what else does the name of the book mean except: disclosure, unveiling of hidden things!
That is why we, whose great privilege it is to live on Patmos beside the Holy Cave, on the very spot where the last work of the New Testament was written, consider it our duty to communicate with you, for our mutual comfort and support.
Year by year an ever-increasing stream of visitors comes to this place. Some are Orthodox, but most belong to one of the Christian Churches of the west, or perhaps to no Church at all. Only a few come as pilgrims, while the overwhelmingly majority are tourists. They depart, no doubt, with a vivid impression of the natural beauty of this island, and of the rich treasures of Byzantine art which it contains: but how many appreciate the spiritual significance of Patmos, its real meaning in the history of Christendom, the startling and revolutionary message of the Apocalypse?
It is our desire to do all within our power to make this great message better understood: and with this purpose in mind we venture to send you the present letter. Let us reflect together on a few of the basic themes in the opening three chapters of this holy book.
In the concluding verse of the first chapter, in the keystone of the prologue, St. John states clearly that he intends to disclose to us the mystery of the seven stars and the seven candlesticks-a heavenly and secret message, that is to say, addressed to the bishops and the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. These Seven Churches are a model or figure of the whole Catholic and Apostolic Church "from one end of the world to the other."
To these Seven Churches, then, the exile of Patmos-the disciple of Love, who leant on Jesus' breast- has certain specific messages to impart. Not personal messages of his own, but messages entrusted to him by the First and the Last, the faithful Witness, He who is and was and is to come, the Alpha and Omega (1:4, 5, 8, l7) It is worthwhile considering with some care these imposing titles which God applies here to Himself. They are titles which underline the faithfulness, the eternity, and the almighty power of the Lord of Hosts. And so He who is the First and the Last, He who alone is eternal, faithful, and true, sends certain weighty and momentous messages to the Churches of Asia and to the Churches of the world. To the bishops of the first century and to the bishops of the twentieth century. Here are a few of the things that He has to say:
"Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write … I have something against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works …"
"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write … Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life …"
"And to the angel of the church in Pergarnos write …Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith …"
"And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write … Hold fast that which ye have until I come …"
"And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write … Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die …"
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write … Behold I come quickly: hold that fast thou hast, that no man take thy crown…"
"And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write … I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou went cold or hot …"
What is the deeper meaning and the eternal significance of these divine commands?
The Churches of Christ must always be in a state of watchfulness and repentance. They must always hold fast to two fundamental virtues: Faith and love. They must hold fast to that which they have received- the priceless treasure of the Apostolic Tradition, the Gospel of Jesus, His dogmatic and His moral teaching, His Name and His Word. And all this precious deposit they must guard — whether they are shepherds or faithful — with humble and tender hearts, like wise and watchful Virgins, with the lamps of their souls alight, confessing their own shortcomings in a spirit of repentance, with holy fear and in deep compunction. Yes, the Churches of every century should be ever vigilant and ready to meet the Bridegroom in the middle of the night of this present age. The Churches should love as He loved and died for His love. The Churches — clergy and laity — should repent, for all too often they forget their first love; they should repent at the feet of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. The Churches should be neither cold nor lukewarm but hot- fervent in spirit, burning with divine fire and in their turn setting the world on fire … For, as the Bridegroom concludes at the end of the first three chapters of the Apocalypse:
"Behold I stand at the door and knock: If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, he with me!" Such is the moving and affectionate epilogue to the Seven messages sent out to the whole Christian Church. And such is the Christ-centered foundation of Orthodox ecclesiology. Jesus Christ must be unceasingly present inside the Churches, as a friend, as a brother, as one who joins us for our common meal, on relations of intimate personal friendship and brotherhood, sharing everything with us.
And the great exile of Patmos thunders out:
"He that has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches!"
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An old Arabic proverb says: "The dawn never comes a second time." Every day we have is unique; no day is ever exactly the same. And each day gives us the opportunity to do something good with it; days are precious, every one we misuse is one wasted from the number allotted to us.
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten,
Or even by reason of strength fourscore years;
Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow;
For it is soon gone, and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may get us a heart of wisdom," (Psalm 89)
Let no day go by without doing some good act, something unselfish and altruistic. Visit someone who is aged or ill; do something to help lighten the burden of life for someone who labors or suffers. These are the things that add up to a life well spent.
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It isn't what you have in your pocket that makes you happy, but what you have in your heart.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America