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The Church Militant.


"For 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" (Ephesians 6:12).

The devil hates the good and persecutes those trying to set themselves free of his power. God permits devil to tempt people for their own benefit, as struggle with temptations helps man improve and strengthen spiritually. An ancient thinker was right, saying, "Without the devil and temptations, there would have been no saints."

Although the devil out of malice often sets off physical persecution of the faithful, it needs to be clearly understood and remembered that he can seize and ruin a man only through sin! Mean and experienced psychologist, the devil artfully adjusts his tactics of temptation to individual weaknesses of the man he wants to incline to sin. So he tempts lascivious people primarily with fleshly sins; people attached to material goods - with love of money; vainglorious people - with pride; pusillanimous and cowardly - with fear of persecutions, and so on. When the devil succeeds to incline a man to sin, then the devil wins; when a man repulses the temptation, then the man is the winner. Our entire life is woven out of episodic wins and losses. The summary will be made at the end of a man's life.

The pages of the Holy Scripture, secular and church histories, lives of saints and ordinary life stories contain, in a billion variations, reflections of visible details of the spiritual warfare between the devil and man. In this regard, the most expressive and bright example of writings describing this warfare, is the book of Apocalypse, or Revelation. This book was written by the Holy Evangelist John the Theologian on the island of Patmos during his exile under the Roman emperor Domitian. It is primarily dear for depicting the spiritual struggle between the powers of good and evil in its maximum fullness and comprehensiveness, and due to it a faithful person can see that he or she fights the evil not alone but with the help of God and the entire Heavenly Church. This book is especially valuable for revealing the extreme result of the warfare we are all willy-nilly involved in: utmost defeat of the devil, his punishment and punishment of all armies of evil, and eternal reward to all who fought him and did not surrender. What can be more comforting than knowing that good and life will be victorious after all!

Before we describe certain episodes of the spiritual warfare, depicted in the Revelation, we should say something about the book itself. Among the books of the Holy Scripture, the Revelation is the most complicated for comprehension. It is so because the book is written in the language of symbols and similarities. It does not describe events directly, but does it through picturesque images. The Revelation was not written this way in order to make it hard to understand; its goal was to demonstrate the spiritual core of the entire human history, summarize the original causes of all disasters ever occurred to the humankind, and vividly depict the abomination of sin and the beauty of righteousness.

Therefore the Apocalypse has two particular features: 1) combination of homogeneous events in one vision, and 2) repetitive description of complicated events from various perspectives. It is usually thought that the Book of Apocalypse only predicts what would happen in the latter days of antichrist and the end of the world. In reality, the Revelation does encompass the history of humankind, and Church history in its entirety. The end of the world and the judgment are described just as a natural completion of the past events. That is why the visionary draws one single apocalyptic picture for several events, which can be set apart by a space of centuries, but are very close in their essence. For example, combined in one vision are persecutions of Christians under Roman emperors in the early centuries of this era, massacres of Christians by the Arabs in the 7th through 9th centuries and by the Turks in the 14th through 18th centuries, persecution of the faithful by atheists in Communist countries of our days, and, at last, persecutions under the antichrist before the end of the world. In other words, a single vision would join elements of various historical epochs: Antiochus Epiphanes, Nero and Diocletian, Khozroi and Omar, Mohammed II and Murad III, Stalin, antichrist and the like all would merge into the image of the scary, many-headed beast. The value of such combination of facts in one description is that it allows rendering the essence of events; while out of precise description of each separate case we would receive only a list of superficial details but would not be able to grasp the essence.

Similar combinations of different historical episodes in the same one vision can be found elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures. For an instant, in His conversation about the end of the world, Our Savior overlaps this event with the devastation of Jerusalem under Titus in 70 A.D. He did it because the former foreshowed the latter.

Another example of such combination of events in a single picture is found in the description of the vision of the Woman in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation.

"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.

Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:1-17).

The Woman clothed with the Sun is the Church. The moon, stars and the sun that decorate Her are to symbolize Her spiritual beauty and glory. Travails and pains of childbirth represent the austerities of Christians in the way of their spiritual rebirth. The red dragon is the devil with his servants. Of course, a few details of this description are unclear to us, but the sense and the result of spiritual warfare are obvious. The dragon proved to be powerless to hurt the Woman and destroy her children. The Woman's two wings can be perceived as fasting and prayer, which spiritually enrich a man and take one nearer to God. The flood that the dragon cast out after the Woman can be viewed as temptations. The dragon's allurements were swallowed up by the earth, which some Church Fathers understand as humbleness because no temptation can attract a humble man, committed and fully obedient to God. It is noteworthy that the faithful suffered no harm from the dragon and even overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. The flight into the wilderness can be understood both literally and figuratively when the faithful voluntarily and completely separate themselves from the sinful society and its vanity, in order to submerge entirely in spiritual life. Mentioning of Archangel Michael and other heavenly hosts that overthrew the dragon is obviously related to the time preceding the creation of our tangible universe, when the angels, who were faithful to God, expelled Lucifer's rebellious angels from the Paradise (it was the first revolution).

So it is doubtless that the vision of the Woman is a combination of events from different epochs. It also contains elements from the life of the Holy Virgin: birth of Christ (the Firstborn of the Church), and the flight to Egypt, and persecution of Christians in various periods.

In other apocalyptic visions, the Holy Apostle John reiterates the description of persecutions of the faithful but from a different perspective that will be discussed later. In Chapters 19 and 20 of Revelation, the Apostle John depicted the conclusive defeat of antichrist, false prophet and the ancient dragon, which would be thrown into the lake of fire the place of their never-ending torture.

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