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Letters to the Seven Churches

(Chs. 2-3)

The Seven Churches - those of Ephesus (2:1-7), Smyrna (2:8-11), Pergamos (2:12-17), Thyatira (2:18-29), Sardis (3:1-6), Philadelphia (3:7-13), and Laodicia (3:14-22) - were located in the southwestern part of Asia Minor, today's Turkey. They were founded by the Apostle Paul in the fourth decade of the first century. After St. Paul's martyric death in Rome around the year 67 A.D., St. John the Theologian took over the care of those churches and ministered to them for a period of about forty years. Having become incarcerated on the Island of Patmos, St. John wrote letters from there to these churches in order to prepare Christians for the oncoming persecutions. The letters are addressed to the "angels" of these churches, i.e., to the bishops.

A careful study of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor brings to mind that in them are outlined the fate of Christ's Church, from the Apostolic period up to the time of the end of the world. Included is the imminent path of the New Testament Church, this "New Israel," which is depicted against the background of the most important events during the existence of Old Testament Israel, beginning with the fall in Paradise and ending with the times of the Pharisees and Sadducees during the days of the Lord Jesus Christ. St. John writes of events of the Old Testament in the form of examples for the fate of the New Testament Church. Thus, the three following elements are interwoven in the letters to the seven churches: a) the prevailing conditions current in the author's days and the future of each Church of Asia Minor, b) a new and more in-depth interpretation of Old Testament history, and c) the forthcoming fate of the Church. The combination of these three elements in the letters to the seven churches are summarized here in the diagram.

Note: The Church of Ephesus was the most populous and had the status of being the Metropolitan See in relation to the other neighboring Asia Minor Churches. In 431 A.D. the Third Ecumenical Council took place in Ephesus. Just as St. John predicted, the light of Christianity in the Church of Ephesus gradually died. Pergamos was the political center of the western part of Asia Minor. It was dominated by paganism with an elaborate cult of deified pagan emperors. On a hill close to Pergamos towered a magnificent pagan sacrificial monument that is mentioned in the Apocalypse as "Satan's throne" (Rev. 2:13-17). The Nicolaitans were ancient heretic-Gnostics. Gnosticism became a dangerous temptation for the Church in the early centuries of Christianity. The syncretic culture of the time came to be a favorable ground for the development of Gnostic ideas. It evolved within the empire of Alexander of Macedonia (Alexander the Great), which amalgamated the East and the West. The religious perceptions of the world in the East, with its belief in the eternal battle between good and evil, spirit and matter, body and soul, light and darkness, along with a speculative method of Greek philosophy, fermented various Gnostic systems, which characteristically taught that everything in the world emanates from the "Absolute," and that there is a multitude of subsequent steps in creation, uniting the world with the "Absolute." It is only natural that with the spread of Christianity in the Hellenistic world there arose a perilous threat of its interpretation in Gnostic terms and the transformation of Christian teachings into one of the religious-philosophical Gnostic thought systems. Jesus Christ was perceived by the Gnostics as one of the intermediaries (channelers) between the Absolute and the world.

One of the first to spread Gnosticism among the Christians was a certain Nicolai (Nicholas), hence the name Nicolaitans in the Apocalypse. (It is thought that this was the Nicolai who was among the six men chosen and ordained by the Apostles into the rank of deacon; see Acts 6:5.) In distorting the Christian faith, the Gnostics encouraged a moral decadence. Starting with the beginning of the first century, several Gnostic sects flourished in Asia Minor. The Apostles Peter, Paul, and Jude admonished Christians not to be ensnared by these heretic debauchers. Prominent representatives of Gnosticism were the heretics Valentinus, Marcio, and Basilides, against whom the apostolic learned men and early Fathers of the Church spoke out.

The ancient Gnostic sects have long disappeared, but Gnosticism as an amalgamation of heterogeneous philosopho-religious schools still exists in our time in theosophy, cabala, freemasonry, contemporary Hinduism, yoga, and various other cults.

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