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A Christian: Warrior for Christ.


"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21).

The Holy Scripture interprets the life's tests and sufferings as an opportunity of taking effort to achieve the supreme reward in Heaven. For example, in the Epistle of the Apostle Peter we read, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12).

The feats and sufferings of the righteous can be both voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary feats include fervent prayer, fasting, voluntary poverty, abstinence from marriage, God-thinking and various works of piety, which lead to purification of heart and gaining of the grace of God. Since ancient times, people who wished to dedicate their entire lives to God in such efforts, have been receiving monastic vows. This type of feats is called reverence (prepodobnyie), and those canonized for it are known as reverend (prepodobnij). Involuntary feats may include standing persecutions, hardship, tortures and violent death for the sake of the Christian faith. Such feats are called martyrdom. These two forms of feats — martyrdom and reverence — are traced throughout the entire Church history, and each Christian would do one or the other to the extent of his or her ability and devotion.

In the book of Revelation we see representatives of both these forms of feats: martyrs in Chapters 6 and 7, and reverends in Chapter 14. The visions, retold in these chapters of the Revelation, show us the implementation of the Savior’s promise, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Rev. 3:21). The description of the Heavenly world starts with the vision of God Father.

"I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Rev. 4:2-6, 8-11).

The crystal sea before the throne is a symbol of tranquility and placidity of the heavenly world as opposed to the troubled worldly life, which is like a sea raging in a tempest of vain misfortunes. The twenty-four elders around the throne are representatives of the Old Testament and the New Testament Church, prophets and apostles.

Further on from Chapter 5, the visionary turns to a more elaborate description of the throne and those who surround it. In the first place, he describes his vision of the Lamb of God, Who was in the midst of the throne and looked "as it had been slain," meaning that He looked like a lamb for the Jewish Passover sacrifice. Doubtlessly, we should interpret Lamb as the Son of God because John the Baptist said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The removal of seals from a mysterious book must signify the revelation of the mankind's history, which is known only to God until its fulfillment. Skipping the peculiarities of numerous events here, we are to see the results, revealed after the fifth seal gets opened.

"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (Revelation 6:9-11).

It is significant that the dwellers of heaven, who foreknow of the persecutions, would not prevent them from happening — because through persecution will the faithful receive the heavenly glory and 'fulfill the number' of winners that reached the heaven. Looking at the life through spiritual sight, we would view suffering for the sake of God as great honor and opportunity to partake in the glory of Christ, rather than necessity. The Holy Apostle Paul writes, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29). Such suffering is just a superficial, exterior test for believers. Their spiritual self is absolutely out of reach for the devil and servants of evil, because the faithful are fenced off from the evil with the mysterious seal of God, which must be understood as the grace of the Holy Spirit.

"And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel... After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17).

The number one hundred and forty four thousand — same as other numbers in the Apocalypse — has a symbolic significance, although it is not necessary to discuss it here. Having said about martyrs, the visionary proceeds to describe the efforts of reverend, venerable people who voluntarily undertook living in virginity and rejected having any property (mostly monks and nuns).

"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God... Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them" (Revelation 14:1-5, 12-13).

Harps are to symbolize the great inner harmony achieved by virgins for their feat of purification of heart. Their moral cleanliness makes them especially close and dear to God.

Many visions of the Apocalypse tell about the tight spiritual relationship of the heavenly-worldly Church. Reading this sacred book, we see that saints take a very active part in all tests that their lesser brothers have to pass on the earth, and fortify them in such tests through their prayers. Their prayer is symbolically represented as incense offered from sacred censer, depicted in Chapter 8.

"And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand" (Revelation 8:3-4).

A man, submerged in routine vanity, does forget his heavenly homeland and that saints care for him. Our Orthodox church decorated with images of saints, and also supplication of saints during divine services, are the reminders of spiritual nearness of the heavenly Church Triumphant to us.

Should we read the cited visions of the Apocalypse with more attention, we will notice some amusing likelihood to the order of Liturgy of the Church. In the heaven, there is a throne and the slain Lamb, elders in gold crowns surrounding the throne, seven lanterns, censer with incense and hosts of bystanders. How similar it is to what happens in the altar during the Divine Liturgy! As in the heaven, we have a throne with the Lamb in the Holy Gifts of Eucharist, elders that are clergymen standing around the throne, a seven-branch lantern and censer with ascending sweet smoke. During the Liturgy, the clergy, cantors and the faithful join into one choir with angels and saints in the heaven, and as though with one mouth glorify the Creator, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."

No other faith has divine services so close to divine services made in the heaven. How poor and idle-looking are sectarians' meetings, how void and unimpressive are their prayer halls against the background of our beautiful, inspiring Liturgies! This is why we must treasure spiritual riches of our Orthodox Church, and Her close connection with the Heavenly Church.

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