Daniel, Metropolitan of Kaisariani, Vyron and Hymettos|
The Eschatological Expectation of the Church
From "A Mystery Great and Wondrous", Church of Greece, Year of Salvation 2000, Athens, Byzantine and Christian Museum.
The eschatological expectation of believers, members of the Church, is based on the teaching of Holy Scripture concerning the state of Our Lord Jesus Christ in glory, to whom the Church turns man's mind and attention.
Two states of Jesus Christ are distinguished in Holy Scripture. The first is that of evacuation (kenosis) and humility, beginning from the conception and culminating in the death on the Cross. The second is that of elevation and glory, beginning from the Descent into Hell and culminating in the seat on the right hand of God the Father, and from then onwards until His Second Coming and the Day of Judgement.
Holy Scripture refers to these two states of the Lord, sometimes separately and independently for the humanity and the divinity, sometimes to both divinity and humanity. Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Philippians refers to the humanity and to the divinity of Jesus Christ: who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11). Of course there is the issue of interpretation of the passage, which was used by the heretics in order to diminish and to dispute the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. In attempting an Orthodox understanding of the passage, we shall make recourse to our Holy Fathers, the initiates in and recipients of revelation of heavenly mysteries, who in the Holy Spirit explained the enigmas of the Holy Scripture.
The royal pen of the Church and polymath of Caesaria, Basil the Great, in his fourth homily against Eunomios, says that the name above all and the confession of every tongue were given in the humanity of Jesus Christ and not in the divinity. And he explains this with the following reasoning: If the Father gave the Son, who was God, the name above all after he became man and because of his obedience, and every tongue acknowledged him as Lord; before he became man he had neither the name above all nor the confession by all that he was the Lord. So, after he became man, he became greater than he was before he became man, which is without place. Similar too is this: All power was given me in heaven and on earth. Consequently, these should be considered as relating to the humanity and not to the divinity (PG 29, 693).
In the seventh homily against Eunomios, our most saintly and mystical Holy Father, Gregory of Nyssa, interpreting the apostolic word in the Epistle to the Philippians, demonstrates that Jesus Christ on the one hand has the name above all in his divinity, and on the other hand is worshipped by all creation in his humanity: For he not only has the name above all, but also with the human name of Jesus is worshipped by all creation (PG 15,737). Therefore the meaning of the Holy Scripture is that after the Incarnation and the hypostatic union in the person of the Son of God of the two natures of the divinity and the humanity, mankind was exalted and deified. The Son of God became man so that man can become, by grace, God, according to Orthodox patristic teaching.
Not only is the Christological meaning of this passage obvious, but also the anthropological one. Because the things concerning the humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the gifts and honours bestowed on him as man, are transmitted to men with the synergy of the Holy Spirit.
It is important for our subject to note that from his heavenly throne the Lord Jesus Christ addresses those in heaven, those on earth and those under the earth, saying: Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion. I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to me, You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel' (Psalms 2:6-9). The Lord, Our God, was king even before he became man. After he became man and sat on the right hand of God the Father, the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ also assumed royal power and crown. This is advocated by the following:
The Lord in the prayer before His Passion, asked for the glory of his humanity, saying: And now, O Father, glorify me together with yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was (John 17:5) He received this glory after the Passion and the Resurrection. When he appeared to his Disciples and Apostles, after the Resurrection from the dead, he said: All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). When he conversed with the two disciples, on the road to Emmaus, he asked: Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory? (Luke 24:26).
The God-inspired authors of the New Testament refer in various ways and most sufficiently to the state of Jesus Christ in glory.
1. The principal Apostle Peter speaks about the state of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, saying: Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
2. The Apostle Paul in his Epistle to Hebrews (1:3) speaks of him: who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
The same heaven-walking Apostle and beholder of the unspoken and the unseen mysteries, in supporting the faith of the Ephesians in the True God and reinforcing their trust in the working of his mighty power (Ephesians 1:19), presents as convincing proof what God worked in Jesus Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And he put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:20-23). The conclusion drawn from these words is that man is able to trust in God and in God's plan for him.
In his Epistle to Romans, the Apostle Paul, that excellent interpreter of the Old Testament, invokes the words of the Prophet Isaiah, which he also applies to the Lord Jesus Christ, and explains that to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living... 'As I live', says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God (Romans 14:9,11. Isaiah 49:18; 45:23).
3. The Apostle and Evangelist John presents the Lord in glory with most vivid and intense imagery in the Revelation, as a fable and boost for the Christians then being persecuted by the idolaters, as well as for all the struggling believers, in order to keep them far from all cunning and evil, saints according to the Holy God calling them.
Just as the Lord was exalted and glorified through the Passion and the Cross, so the believers too must be baptized in the same baptism, in order to be glorified and exalted, according to Jesus Christ's words to the sons of Zebbedee: ... and with the baptism I am baptized with you (Mark 10:39), in order for them to follow him to eternal glory and life. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus (I Thessalians 4:14).
In the Apocalypse Jesus Christ is revealed:
1. As Pantocrator. The Lord is Ruler of All. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End... who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1:8). The temporal powers granted to him (Revelation 13:7) possess both authority and might, and God does not take these away from them, not even when they are turned against Him, because they are already defeated. However, God presents the heavenly power above human reality. He appears patient and silent above the oppressive and satanic powers of this world. He is the Eternal and the Ultimate Judge, against whom strike those who battle against those dwelling in heaven and his true tabernacle.
He who appears in the Revelation is Jesus Christ. He calls himself the First and the Last,...the Beginning and the End. He is the Living One, who is above life and above death. Life and death obey his omnipotence. And through this he holds the keys of Hades and of death (Revelation 1:18). He is the strongest of even the mightiest powers. He has suffered what all men suffer from their birth to their death, but he conquered these because he is the eternally Living One and Love.
2. Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and one sat on the throne (Revelation 4:2).
The Evangelist John sees the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, seated on a throne and glorified. He does not describe his form, but the splendid glory that wells from him. Through this description he reveals the magnificence, the majesty, the radiance of him in whom all the races of the earth hoped. He reveals the power of God, which is not affected by temporal changes, but remains steadfast, since he himself directs everything that happens in the world.
3. As worshipped. In a superb verbal icon the Evangelist John describes the worship of Jesus Christ by the twenty-four elders, who in this vision symbolize the whole of mankind. The twenty-four elders are attired in white robes and wear gold crowns on their heads. They fall down before him who sits on the throne (Revelation 4:10) and place their crowns at his feet. The meaning and significance of this act is that man willingly surrenders to God and places his entire existence before him. This life attitude becomes the believers' prayer: Let us deliver ourselves and others and all life to Christ the God. It becomes an exhortation: Come, let us worship and bow down before Christ (Entrance of the Holy Gospel in the Divine Liturgy).
When man appears unbending before the majestic Lord, it seems as if he is stubborn, as if he is keeping a dynamic stance. It seems as if he is saying to God: I am here I stand; I have both strength and will; I represent my interests and I defend my right'. Man sacrifices this haughty attitude with the venerating bend of his body when he bows and worships. It is as if through this movement and stance, he is saying to God: 'You have the power and the authority and not me. You exist. You are "the Being" and not me'. He, whom man addresses, acknowledges that he is superior to man and is able to rule and govern. This self-awareness is expressed by the patriarch Abraham when he confesses: I... am but dust and ashes (Genesis 18:27).
We are able to say more analytically that the eschatological expectation of the believer, and by extension the Church, contains three elements.
1. The Christian, who lives in place and time, and is surrounded by opposing forces, who confronts the traps of the enemy daily and who in the course of his life encounters daily death in its various forms, vanity, corruption and threats to his existence, looks with optimism towards the Almighty Lord and is strengthened and comforted by the victor over death who promises: To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (Revelation 3:21).
These words of the Lord open up in redemption the horizon of human life, they affirm the human person, vindicate and justify the spiritual struggle of militant man, the toils of exercise, the sacrifice of lifting the Cross of the Lord. The man reborn in Christ through the Holy Mysteries and his struggle against all manners of sin, and through cleansing 'the inside of the cup', will be glorified in the end, and he too will be seated on the throne of God the Father. The devil, the misanthropist and primeval evil opponent of man, will not succeed in cancelling the Will of God through man, nor in preventing man from being exalted and glorified in God through Jesus Christ.
2. Our Lord Jesus Christ, in comforting his dejected and distressed disciples in his farewell address, full of divine inspiration and majesty, on Holy Thursday, the day before his death, made an argument and gave a promise on behalf of the life and salvation of the world. He said: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:3).
On the one hand, his argument is that his own death will prepare the place, that is the preconditions for believers to follow him into glory and eternal life. On the other, his promise is that he will surely return in order to receive them, so that they shall live eternally with him.
The believer lives with this intense expectation, as this was experienced also by the Apostle Paul, who wrote: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body, according to the working by which he is able even to subdue all things to himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
3. This eschatological expectation of the believers, the members of the Church, also includes the transubstantiation of the body and the imperishability of the material element, its exemption and liberation from vanity and corruption. The Apostle Paul, in the most glorious chapter of the New Testament, chapter 15 in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, preaches that the last enemy that will be destroyed is death (I Corinthians 15:26).
Moreover, creation, waiting earnestly, anticipates the revelation of the glorified sons of God and the enjoyment of the beauty and goodness of the Son of God. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption in the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole of creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now (Romans 7:19-22).
The heavenly home of the believer, the Land of the Living, the Heavenly Bridegroom, the King of Glory and the brilliant splendour of heavenly Jerusalem are signified by the Evangelist John with his visions in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation, 21 and 22. They are a new heaven and a new earth. The God-inspired holy man and father, Andrew of Crete, describes these sacred relics: Where the true life, the all shining Kingdom, the inconceivable choir of Angels... where the meadows of imperishability, the springs of eternal life, the streams of the God-welling Light, the rivers of everlasting brilliance. There the pass of all who hoped and are hoping; the region of all bounties, the revelation of the hidden and only seen then; the ultimate end beyond which is absolute nothingness. There the Father is worshipped and the Son is gloried. Holy Spirit be hymned, the single nature of the one Trinitarian divinity (Homily XV On the Dormition of the Virgin, PG 97a, 1100D-1101A).
The Church confesses the two presences of Jesus Christ when singing the psalm: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord (Psalm 118:26). It awaits the Coming, repeating the words of Apostle Paul: 0 Lord Come (I Corinthians 16:22), and of the Evangelist John: Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).
The believer looks towards the Lord in glory, the Saviour, the Redeemer Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal conqueror of sin, of corruption, of death, of the devil. He lives in the world with the conviction that... here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come (Hebrews 13:14). The believer, through his struggle, abandons the earth of servitude and makes for his heavenly home, the Blessed Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, where (is heard) the clear sound of those celebrating and singing incessantly; Glory to you Lord (II troparion Ainon of Holy Tuesday).