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The seven trumpets, the marking of the chosen, and beginning of calamities

(Chs. 7-11)

The trumpets of the angels foretell mankind's calamities, both physical and spiritual. But before the beginning of these, St. John sees an angel conferring a mark upon the foreheads of the sons of the New Israel (Rev. 7:1-8). "Israel" is the Church of the New Testament here. The marks symbolize selection and blessed protection. This vision brings to mind the Sacrament of Chrismation, during which the "mark of the gift of the Holy Spirit" is conferred upon the brow of the newly baptized. It brings to mind the sign of the cross, which protects "against the foes." People who are not protected by the blessed mark suffer harm from the "locust" that has emanated from the bottomless pit, i.e., from the devil's power (Rev. 9:4). The prophet Ezekiel describes the same imprint on the righteous citizens of ancient Jerusalem before it was taken by the Chaldean forces. Then, as well as now, the mysterious mark was placed with the purpose of saving the just from the fate of the impure (Ezek. 9:4). At the counting by name of the twelve tribes of Israel (Rev. ch. 7), the tribe of Dan was purposely omitted. Some see in this the indication that the antichrist came from this tribe. This thought is based on the enigmatic words of the Patriarch Jacob regarding the future descendants of Dan: "a serpent on the way, a viper by the path" (Gen. 49:17).

Thus, the present vision serves as an introduction to the subsequent description of the persecution of the Church. The measuring of the temple of God in the eleventh chapter has the same meaning as the marking of the sons of Israel: the preservation of the children of the Church from evil. The temple of God, like the Woman clothed in sunshine, and the city of Jerusalem are different symbols of the Church of Christ. The basic thought of these visions is that the Church is Holy and is dear to God. God allows the persecutions for the sake of achieving moral perfection of the faithful but protects them from enslavement by evil and from the same fate as the godless.

Before the removal of the seventh seal there is a silence "for approximately a half hour" (Rev. 8:1). This is the calm before the storm that will rock the world during the time of the antichrist. (Does not the current process of disarmament resulting from the break-up of communism appear to be an intermission, which is given to mankind for his conversion toward God?) Before the onset of calamities St. John sees the saints ardently praying for mercy upon mankind (Rev. 8:3-5).

Calamities of nature. Following this, the sound of the trumpets reverberates from each of the seven angels, after which various calamities begin. At first, a third of the vegetation dies, then, a third of all the fish and other marine creatures, which is followed by the poisoning of rivers and water sources. There will be a falling upon earth of hail and fire, a flaming mountain, and a glowing star. This seems to point allegorically, in other words, to the vast dimensions of these calamities. Does this not appear as a prophecy of the global contamination and the destruction of nature that we are observing in our time? If so, then the ecological catastrophe foretells the coming of the antichrist. By further defiling within themselves the image of God, mankind ceases to value and love God's beautiful world. With mankind's own refuse it pollutes the lakes, rivers, and seas. With oil spills it jeopardizes vast expanses of shoreline. It destroys forests and jungles, and it annihilates many species of animals, fish, and birds. In poisoning nature the perpetrators become ill and perish from their own actions, as do the innocent victims of their cruel greed. The words "the name of the third star is Wormwood . . . and many perished from the water because it became bitter" remind us of the catastrophe at Chernobyl because "Chernobyl" means "Wormwood." But what does the damage of a third of the sun and of the stars and their eclipse mean (Rev. 8:11-12)? Evidently this is a discourse regarding the pollution of the air to such an extent that the light of the sun and stars reaching the earth appears less bright. (For instance, due to air pollution in Los Angeles, the sky appears to be of a dirty-brown color, and sometimes at night, with the exception of the brightest, the stars are hardly visible.)

The narrative of the locusts (the fifth trumpet, Rev. 9:1-11), which emanated from the bottomless pit, talks of the strengthening of demonic powers among people. Heading it is "Apollyon" which means "the destroyer," referring to the devil. To the degree to which man by his non-belief and sins depletes God's blessings, a spiritual void forms within him, which is filled more and more by demonic strength, which in turn torments him with doubts and various passions.

The Apocalyptic wars. The trumpet of the sixth angel brings into motion a great army beyond the Euphrates River due to which a third of mankind is lost (Rev. 9:13-21). In Biblical representation, the river Euphrates denotes the boundary beyond which the nations hostile to God are concentrated, threatening war and annihilation to Jerusalem. For the Roman Empire, the Euphrates River served as a rampart against attack from eastern peoples. The ninth chapter of the Apocalypse is written against the backdrop of the cruel and bloody Judeo-Roman war of 66-70 AD that was still fresh in the memory St. John. This war had three phases (Rev. 8:13). The first phase of the war in which Gasius Flor headed the Roman forces lasted five months, from May to September of 66 (five months of the locusts, Rev. 9:5 and 10). Soon the second phase of the war began, from October to November of the 66th year, in which the Syrian governor Cestius headed four Roman legions (four angels by the Euphrates River, Rev. 9:14). This phase of the war was especially ruinous for the Jews. The third phase of the war under the command of Flavius Flavianum lasted three and a half years, from April, 67 A.D., to September, 70 A.D., and ended with the fall of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple, and the scattering of captive Jews throughout the Roman Empire. This blood-letting Judeo-Roman war became the prototype of the terrible wars of later years, which the Savior pointed out in His sermon on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:7). In the attributes of hell's locusts and the Euphrates' hordes, one can recognize contemporary weapons of mass extermination, tanks, cannons, fighter planes, and nuclear missiles. The following chapters of the Apocalypse graphically describe the increasingly larger wars of recent times (Rev. 11:7, 16:12-16, 17:14, 19:11-19, and 20:7-8). The words "the waters of the Euphrates River dried up, so that the way of the kings from the East might be prepared" (Rev. 16:12) may point to peril from further east in Asia. In conjunction with this, one must consider that the description of the Apocalyptic wars bears the characteristics of real wars, but in the final summation it refers to a spiritual war, and the proper names and dates have an allegorical meaning. Thus St. Paul explains: "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).

The name Armageddon is composed of two words: "Ar" (meaning level ground in Hebrew) and "Megiddo" (an area in the North of the Holy Land, near Mt. Carmel, where in ancient times Barrack defeated the armies commanded by Sisera and the prophet Elijah executed more than five hundred priests of Baal) (Rev. 16:16, 17:14; Judges 4:2-16; 1 Kings 18:40). In light of these biblical events, Armageddon symbolizes Christ defeating the godless powers. The names Gog and Magog in chapter 20 remind us of the prophesy of Ezekiel regarding the invasion of Jerusalem by an indeterminate number of regiments under the leadership of Gog from the land of Magog (south of the Caspian sea; Ezek. chs. 38 and 39; Rev. 20:7-8). Ezekiel attributes this prophecy to the times of the Messiah. In the Apocalypse, the siege of "the camp of the saints and the beloved city [the Church]" by the regiments of Gog and Magog and the destruction of these regiments by the Heavenly fire must be understood in the sense of the total defeat of the godless forces, both human and demonic, by the Second Coming of Christ.

Concerning the physical calamities and the punishment of sinners that are often mentioned in the Apocalypse, the Seer himself explains that God allows them as a lesson in order to bring sinners to repentance (Rev. 9:21). However, the Apostle mentions sorrowfully that mankind does not heed God's call, continues to sin, and serves the demons. As if having taken "the bit in their mouths," people are rushing toward their own perdition.

The vision of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:2-12). The tenth and eleventh chapters occupy an intermediary place between the visions of the seven trumpets and the seven signs. In the two witnesses of God, some Holy Fathers see the Old Testament righteous ones Enoch and Elijah, who will come to earth before the end of the world in order to disclose the falsity of the antichrist and to call mankind toward loyalty to God. Or the two might be Moses and Elijah. It is known that both Enoch and Elijah were taken up alive to Heaven (Gen. 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). The capital punishment that these witnesses will impose on mankind brings to mind the miracles performed by the prophets Moses, Aaron, and Elijah (Exo. chs. 7-12, 1 Kings 17:1, 2 Kings 1:10) The Apostles Peter and Paul, who had recently suffered in Rome under Nero, could have served as examples (prototypes) of the two witnesses for St. John. Evidently, the two witnesses in the Apocalypse are a symbol for other witnesses of Christ who spread the Gospel in a hostile pagan world and often seal their preaching with a martyr's death. The words "Sodom and Egypt, where even our Lord is crucified," point to the city of Jerusalem, in which our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, as well as many prophets and the first Christians.

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