The above warning was given to me when I first met Orthodoxy in 1986. Today [2009] it is even more perilous, even more difficult to find the Royal Path. For one thing there is a far greater abundance of misinformation. And many materials are missing, and other materials are being rapidly rewritten. For another thing there are fewer than ever guides remaining on the Royal Path, especially who speak English. Hopefully this website will be a place where Newcomers to the Faith can keep at least one foot on solid ground, while they are "exploring."

blog owner: Joanna Higginbotham


jurisdiction: ROCA under Vladyka Agafangel

who did not submit to the RocorMP union in 2007


27 February 2011

The Apocalypse


THE APOCALYPSE, In the Teachings of Ancient Christianity
An Orthodox Commentary by Archbishop Averky Taushev
Translated and edited, with annotation, an Introduction, and a Life of the Author by Father Seraphim Rose

306 pages

About the Author by Fr. Seraphim Rose [copied below]
Translator's Introduction by Fr. Seraphim Rose [copied below]
Introduction by Archbishop Averky  [copied below]
The Apocalypse of St. John: An Orthodox Commentary
Chapter 1
Chapter 2 
...etc. to Chapter 22
Appendix I: On "Neo-Chiliasm" by Archbishop Averky
Appendix II: Before the Face of Antichrist by Archimandrite Constantine
Appendix III: A Pilgrimage to the Cave of the Apocalypse
General Index
Scriptural Index

Archbishop Averky
1906 – 1976


by Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose)

"Alas! His golden lips
have been silenced!"

Too often have we Orthodox Christians grown used to "taking for granted" the great men in our midst, of not valuing them as we ought until they have departed from us—and even then not evaluating them properly, and letting their significance and their teaching slip away from us into oblivion.
Archbishop Averky was one of the last giants of 20th-century Orthodoxy, not merely of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, or even of Russian Orthodoxy—but of the whole of the 20th-century Orthodox Church.
Born Alexander Pavlovich Taushev on October 19 /Nov. 1, 1906, in Kazan, Archbishop Averky was of a noble family.  His father was a government official whose duties took him to many parts of Russia, allowing young Alexander to have a first-hand acquaintance with the heart of Holy Russia, its monasteries and holy places; the memory of these places remained with him all his life, even though he left his homeland while still a young teenager.  Even at that tender age he was attracted to books of a spiritual nature, such as Unseen Warfare, and already from the age of seven or eight he began to feel an alienation from the ordinary life of the world and a subconscious attraction towards the monastic life.
In the midst of the civil war that followed on the Revolution of 1917, the Taushev family left Russia, in 1920, with great grief of soul.  The family settled in the Bulgarian city of Varna, where Alexander attended school until 1926.  The chief religious influence for him at this time was the local parish church and its priest, Father John Slunin.
Then, in 1925, a bishop came to Varna who was to give Alexander's life its direction: Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, a strict monk, a man of prayer, and theologian in the true Patristic tradition.  After meeting him, the young student resolved to undertake the monastic way of life.  With Archbishop Theophan's blessing, he attended the Theological Faculty of the University of Sophia, and on graduating from it with brilliant success in 1930 he went to Carpatho-Russia (in Czechoslovakia) with the intention of becoming a monk and serving the Russian Church.  Tonsured a monk there in 1931, and ordained priestmonk the next year, he served several parishes and assisted the abbot of the monastery of St. Nicholas near the village of Iza.  Soon he also undertook responsibilities as editor of the diocesan periodical and teacher of catechism in secondary schools.
When Carpatho-Russia was occupied by the Magyars in 1940, Father Averky went to Belgrade and served under Metropolitan Anastassy, Chief Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, conducting courses in religious subjects both for seminarians and laymen.
When the Synod of Bishops moved to Munich in 1945, he followed it and continued his work of the religious education of youth.  In 1950 he was appointed by the Synod as chairman of its Missionary Education Committee.  When he came to America in 1951 he was invited to the newly-organized Holy Trinity Seminary at Jordanville, New York, to teach New Testament, Liturgics, and Homiletics.  In 1952 he became Rector of the Seminary, in 1953 Bishop of Syracuse, and in 1960, at the death of Archbishop Vitaly, Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery.  In these positions he continued until his death his life's work of enlightening the Orthodox faithful, both the future pastors of the seminary (about 100 priests came from the seminary in these years) and all those who read the Monastery's publications, which were all solid works of Orthodox piety and theology.  His sermons appeared frequently in the Monastery's bimonthly publication, Orthodox Russia, and his own books included textbooks on Homiletics and the interpretation of the New Testament (2 volumes), collections of his sermons and articles, and works on the life and letters of his beloved Abba, Archbishop Theophan.
All of the writings of Archbishop Averky bear one and the same character of love for God's truth, righteous zeal in expressing it, and urgent exhortation to others to follow it.
The abundance with which his golden lips gushed the sweet honey of the pure teaching of Orthodoxy, especially in his most fruitful last years, has perhaps helped to hide from us the rarity and even uniqueness of his teaching in our evil days.  We have grown so used to his flaming and bold words that we have not noticed that he was virtually the only hierarch of any Orthodox church writing in any language with such boldness and uprightness in defense of Orthodoxy.
In earlier centuries the Church had many Holy Fathers writing in defense of Orthodoxy against the numerous heresies which attacked her singly or together.  But in our day, when Orthodox Christians are losing the savor of Orthodoxy and virtually all the Local Orthodox Churches are giving in to the apostasy of our times, his voice was almost the only one to continue speaking the truth with such vigor and boldness, even amid the many infirmities of his old age.  Truly, he was a champion of Orthodoxy in our age when faith is growing cold.
His view of the contemporary world was sober, precise, and entirely inspired by the Sacred Scripture and Holy Fathers of the Church: He taught that we live in the age of the Apostasy, the falling away from true Christianity, when the "mystery of iniquity" has entered its final stage of preparation for the "man of sin," Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2:3-12).  Archbishop Averky traced the development of this Apostasy in particular from the time of the schism of the Church of Rome (1054 AD), through the era of Humanism, the Renaissance and Reformation, the French Revolution, 19th-century materialism and communism, culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917, which removed the last great barrier to the working of the mystery of iniquity and the coming of Antichrist.  (See his book, True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World, pp. 18-21; the quotes that follow are all from this book).
In such an age, he writes, "to be a true Orthodox Christian, ready unto death to preserve one's faithfulness to Christ the Saviour, in our days is much more difficult than in the first centuries of Christianity" (p. 17).  Although often open (in the lands under communist control), the persecution against Christianity today is more often hidden.  "Under the covering of a deceptive outward appearance that looks good and leads many into error, in actuality there is occurring everywhere today a hidden persecution against Christianity…  This persecution is much more dangerous and frightful than the previous open persecution, for it threatens a complete devastation of souls—spiritual death" (18).  He often quoted the words of St. Theophan the Recluse about the latter times: "Although the name of Christian will be heard everywhere, and everywhere there will be churches and church services, all this will be only an appearance, while within there will be a true apostasy" (21).
In fulfillment of these words in our own days, Archbishop Averky writes, "The Christian world, it is frightful to say, presents today a frightful, cheerless picture of the most profound religious and moral decadence" (22).  The temptation of worldly comfort and prosperity drive God away from the soul.  "The servants of antichrist more than anything else strive to force God out of the life of men, so that men, satisfied with their material comfort, might not feel any need to turn to God in prayer, might not remember God, but might live as though He did not exist.  Therefore, the whole order of today's life in the so-called 'free' countries, where there is no open bloody persecution against faith, where everyone has the right to believe as he wishes, is an even greater danger for the soul of a Christian (than open persecution), for it chains him entirely to the earth, compelling him to forget about heaven.  The whole of contemporary 'culture,' directed to purely earthly attainments and the frantic whirlpool of life bound up with it, keeps a man in a constant state of emptiness and distraction which give no opportunity for one to go at least a little deeper into his soul, and so the spiritual life in him gradually dies out" (29).  All of contemporary life, on the public level, is a preparation for the coming of Antichrist: "All that is happening today on the highest level of religion, government, and public life… is nothing else than an intense work of preparation by the servants of the coming Antichrist for his future kingdom" (24), and this work is being done as much by "Christians" as by non-Christians (18).
After painting such a grim picture of the present and future, Archbishop Averky calls on Orthodox Christians to struggle against the spirit of this world that lies in evil.  "All who in the present day desire to preserve faithfulness to Christ the Saviour must guard themselves especially against every attraction towards earthly goods and against being deceived by them.  It is extremely dangerous to give oneself over to every desire to make a career for oneself, to make a name for oneself, to obtain authority and influence in society, to acquire wealth, to surround oneself with luxury and comfort" (28).
To those willing to struggle to preserve their faith, Archbishop Averky offers a sober and inspiring path of confession: "Now is the time of confession—of a firm standing, if need be even to death, for one's Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret attacks, oppression, and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist" (28).  We must be true Christians, not given in to the spirit of the times, making the Church the center of our lives (26).  Giving thanks to God for the existence of our Russian Church Outside of Russia, "which has not tainted itself by submitting to the dark powers of Antichrist that are acting in the contemporary world" (24), we must be "its faithful and devoted children, and at the same time its missionaries, fighters for the true faith of Christ, both in the non-Orthodox environment that surrounds us and among the Russian people who have fallen away or are falling away from it" (27).  We must lead a conscious life of prayer, nourished by the reading of Scripture and the Holy Fathers and by frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion (30).
The path ahead of us, despite the deceptive promises of modern "progress," is a path of suffering: "The Lord has clearly said that it is not 'progress' that awaits us, but ever greater tribulations and misfortunes as a result of the increase of lawlessness and the growing cold of love; when He comes, He will scarcely find faith on earth" (St. Luke 18:8).
The strength of the true Christian in the terrible times ahead is the apocalyptic expectation of the Second Coming of Christ: "The spirit of a constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ is the original Christian spirit, which cries out in prayer to the Lord: Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Apocalypse 22:20).  And the spirit opposed to this is undoubtedly the spirit of Antichrist, which strives by every means to draw Christians away from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ and the recompense which follows on it.  Those who give in to this spirit subject themselves to the danger of not recognizing Antichrist when he comes and of falling into his nets.  Precisely this is the most frightful thing in the contemporary world, which is filled with every possible deception and temptation.  The servants of Antichrist, as the Lord Himself has forewarned us, will try, 'if possible, the deceive the very elect' (St. Matthew 24:24).  The thought of this, however, should not oppress or crush us, but on the contrary, as the Lord Himself says, Then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh" (St. Luke 21:28).

It is such a man, a true Holy Father of these latter times, filled with the Christian apocalyptic expectation of Christ's Second Coming and with the sober Orthodox spirit of preparedness for it, who is the author of a patristic commentary on the culminating book of the New Testament Scriptures, the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian.  Although his interpretation of the book is based solidly on the early Fathers of the Church, the very fact that he himself is so much in their spirit, and in the spirit of St. John, is a pledge for us of the accuracy of his commentary, as well as of the fact that it can speak not merely to our curious minds, but also and above all to our believing hearts.  Archbishop Averky was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought which has come down to us from the ancient Fathers to our own days, and which he imbibed most of all in his own teachers, the 19th-century St. Theophan the Recluse (1894) and the 20th-century Theophan of Poltava (1940), a modern day cave dweller and an unblemished teacher of the Orthodox moral and spiritual life, he is also an unrivaled theological and patristic guide for us.
There are few saints left in our pitiful times.  But even if we do not see about us now such upright and righteous ones as he, his teaching remains with us and can be our guiding beacon in the even darker days ahead which he foresaw, when the Church may have to go into the wilderness, like the Woman of the Apocalypse (ch. 12)—the Church of the last times.

Reprinted from The Orthodox Word, Vol. 17, Nos. 5-6 (100-101) September—December, 1981


Our times, more than any before us, are "apocalyptic."  It has become realistic politics to speak of the possibility of the annihilation of whole countries and even the whole of humanity, whether by nuclear weapons or by the production of the modern "monsters" of pollution, chemical and biological experiments, and the like.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the book of the Apocalypse [Revelation] has attracted widespread interest today as never before.  However, much of the interest in it is very superficial, as may be seen in a popular book of our times, Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth.  Someone interested in world affairs and a believer in the truth of the Bible can read this book [which has sold over a million copies in the United States] in a single sitting and be extremely impressed about how everything "fits together," how the prophesies of the Apocalypse seem to apply directly to our own times.  Identifications are made of Scriptural personages and symbols: the "king of the south," the "king of the north," "Gog," "Magog," and many others; and the events associated with these names in Scripture are applied to contemporary history and future projections based on it with regard to Russia, China, Europe, Israel, the Arab countries, etc.  In such books as this one is told to "watch what Russia does next, "look at Iran," "a tenth nation will join the Common Market" of Europe, etc.  All this can make one very excited, almost dizzy, in an agony of suspense over what apocalyptic event will occur next.

But this is not the way we should be reading the book of the Apocalypse.  Some of these identifications may turn out to be accurate; others will turn out to be the product of a fevered imagination.  But it us all on a superficial level which does not help us to save out souls; we should approach Biblical prophecy , and in particular the book of the Apocalypse, in a quite different way.


The difficult images and symbols of the Apocalypse are best examined separately in a reliable Orthodox commentary like that of Archbishop Averky, who has taken as his chief source the 5th century commentary of St. Andrew of Caesarea, who in turn sums up the earlier Patristic commentaries on this book [some of which no longer exist].  But it will also help us, in approaching this book to keep in mind the general aids to the interpretation of Scripture which have been utilized in such commentaries>

1. In some cases, the Scripture itself interprets its own difficult images.  In the Apocalypse, for example, when our Lord Jesus Christ was seen in the first vision in the midst of seven golden candlesticks with seven stars in His right hand, He Himself explained the meaning of these two images to St. John [Apoc. 1:20].  Similarly, the angels who appeared to the Prophet Daniel explained for him some of the symbols seen in his visions [Daniel 7:16-27; 8:16-26] -- symbols which themselves are related to the content of the Apocalypse.

2. Parallel passages in other books of Scripture often shed light on or even directly explain some of the difficult images in the Apocalypse.  The book of Daniel and other Old Testament prophets are especially helpful in this regard, as are the New Testament books that describe the coming of Antichrist.  The fact that there are a number of Orthodox commentaries on these books helps to make up for the fact that there are so few on the Apocalypse itself.

3. A knowledge of Orthodox doctrine in general -- and in particular of Orthodox  eschatology, [the doctrine of the last things, including the end of the world] -- is an indispensable part of any study of the Apocalypse.  Without it, Protestant interpreters have gone astray into a multitude of fanciful opinions about the Apocalypse [for example, notions of the "millennium," the "rapture," etc.] which only lead readers astray and, in many cases, actually prepare them to accept Antichrist in place of Christ.  The general account of the events preceding and accompanying the end of the world contained in the other New Testament Scriptures [Matthew chs. 24-25, Mark ch. 13, Luke ch. 21, II Peter ch.3, II Timothy  ch. 4, I Thessalonians chs. 4-5,  II Thessalonians ch. 2, Romans ch. 1, I Corinthians ch 15 -- all interpreted, of course, in accordance with the commentaries of the Holy Fathers] gives an outline of the Church's eschatological teaching which places the events described in the Apocalypse in their proper dogmatic historical context.

4. Also helpful is an historical examination of the book itself -- the author, time and place of writing, and most of all, its purpose -- all within the context of Orthodox tradition and piety, and not in the spirit of the rationalistic criticisms of modern times, which often destroys the meaning of he book in its concern to be in harmony with academic fashion.  Archbishop Averky's Introduction supplies this examination for Orthodox readers.

5. A knowledge of ancient languages, geography, history, archeology, etc. can sometimes throw light on various passages of Scripture.

6. More important than any specific scientific knowledge, however, is a general view and philosophy of history and culture.  To understand some of the visions of the Apocalypse [and the Old Testament book of Daniel to which it is so closely related], one must have a grasp of the meaning of the succession of world monarchies and of the one unending monarchy of Christ which replaces them.  Further, one can better understand Antichrist by studying ancient tyrants [such as Antiochus, Epiphanes] and the modern rulers [truly forerunners of Antichrist] who attempted world conquest -- Napoleon, Hitler, Communism.

With these aids the context of the Apocalypse, difficult as it sometimes is, may be fairly well understood.  However, since the book is so much composed of symbols and figurative images, we should make a special note on the different levels of meaning in the Holy Scripture.


Many would-be interpreters of Scripture go astray precisely on this point, whether by a too-literal understanding [as in the case of the Protestant Fundamentalists who come close to believing that everything in the Bible is literally true] or a too-free interpretation [as in the case of the liberals who dismiss everything difficult to believe as "symbolic" or "allegorical"].  In the Orthodox interpretation of Scripture these two levels of meaning, the literal and the symbolical, are often intertwined.

There are many passages to be sure, that are only meant to be understood literally: such are the strictly historical parts of Scripture [for example: "I John .. was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day" -- Apoc. 1:10  Theoretically, every point in such historical statements could be checked for accuracy by means of eye-witnesses, primary documents, early church historians, etc.  Metaphorical statements, as when natural things are spoken of in poetic images ["The sun knoweth his going down" -- Ps. 103] may also be classed under the literal sense of Scripture, as are those cases of actions or qualities of God are spoken of in earthly terms, or when bodily members or passions are ascribed to God [God grew angry, or repented, or walked in Paradise].   These kinds of meaning can still be classed as "literal" [even though they are not strictly so] because they only attempt to describe reality as it is [whether earthly or Divine] and not to refer to something else entirely.

Symbolic meanings, on the other hand, can be of several kinds.  There are, for example, prefigurations, when historical persons or events are used as types or foreshadowings of events in the life of Christ [for example, Jonah's 3 days in the whale, prefiguring Christ's three days in the grave -- Matt. 12:40]; symbols, when Divinely inspired actions indicate God's will or revelation [for example, the bonds and yokes which Jeremiah put on, signifying the Babylonian captivity -- Jer. ch. 27; or the girdle of St. Paul which the prophet Agabus wound around himself, indicating the Apostle's imprisonment in Jerusalem -- Acts 21:11].  In both these kinds of symbolical meaning the literal, historical meaning of the text is also true.

In what one might call mystical images, when a deeper, spiritual meaning is given to some earthly person, thing or event, the literal sense is also retained -- as, for example, with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Paradise, which St. Gregory the Theologian interpreted as "contemplation" without thereby denying that it was also a tree; or the tree of life which besides being a prefiguration of the Cross of Christ is also an image of the future eternal life, without ceasing to be a literal tree in a literal garden, as Patristic tradition makes clear.

There is also allegory, in which a fictitious story is used as symbolizing a higher reality; this is rather rare in Scripture, and is chiefly  limited to such forms as parables and apologies -- instructive stories and fables in which the literal story itself need not be true [although in some parables it may be true].  Even the Song of Songs, a kind of allegory of the love between Christ and the Church, has a historical  reference to the love between Solomon and his Egyptian bride.

The visions of the Apocalypse, on the other hand, make use of symbols of a little different kind from all the above.  Sometimes they present heavenly realities in forms adapted to the understanding of the seer [the vision of Christ in chapter 1; of heaven in chs. 4-7; of the future age in chs. 21-22]; sometimes they present allegorical pictures of the Church and her life [the "woman clothed with the sun" in ch. 12, the "thousand years" of the Church's existence in ch. 20], or of specific beings that war against the Church [the dragon in ch. 12, the two beasts of ch.13], or of future events, whether general [the four horsemen of ch. 6] of specific [the seven last plagues of ch. 15].

The interpretation of all these images -- to the degree that is accessible to us now, before all the prophecies have been fulfilled -- is set forth in the text of the commentary.  Here we shall give only a few final words of warning and preparation for the reader.

1. We should not be over-definite or overly narrow in our interpretation of these images and visions.  Many of the symbols of the Apocalypse are s sweeping in heir application that no simple prose formula can encompass them; a man of richer experience and knowledge will see more in them than someone who lacks these.  Too, as history proceeds to its end, the meaning of some of the images will become clearer.  Archbishop Averky himself notes that some of the images simply cannot be understood yet while others [for example, the "locusts" and "horses" of ch. 9] he hazards interpretations based on the 20th-century experience of warfare. 

2.  We must be careful to distinguish between the passages that refer to realities of this fallen world of earth, and those that refer to the other world, heaven.  Misinterpretations of the Apocalypse invariably confuse these two spheres by trying to apply prophetic visions about the other world [where and sorrow have an end, there is no death, and "the leopard shall lie down with the kid" --Is. 11:6] to this earthly world; this is the fatal mistake of the chiliastic interpretation which prevails among Protestants today, which understands the "thousand years" of chapter 20 as a kind of "heavenly" historical epoch and applies to the earthly Jerusalem prophecies which can refer only to the heavenly Jerusalem in the age to come. 

Sometimes even Orthodox commentators will have varying interpretations of the visions with their images.  We should not, however be quick to look for "contradictions" in this fact.  With symbolic language, it often happens that images have multiple meanings and levels of interpretation.  Thus, the strange creatures of chapter 9 may indicate frightful modern weapons, but they may also symbolize demons and the actions of human passions; the "great star" of chapter 8 may be a meteor or missile or some physical cause of destruction, but it may also symbolize the devil.

3. The chiliastic interpretation of the Apocalypse proceeds also from another basic mistake of most Protestant interpreters: to take the text of the book in strict chronological order instead of seeing it as it is: a series of visions quite distinct in nature from each other -- some of heaven, some of earth; some very general and symbolic, some quite specific and literal; some of the past, some of the future, and some of the present.  To identify each of these visions for what it is requires a precise Orthodox commentary and not simply reading the text as it appears to our modern understanding.  The present book is an attempt to supply this much-needed 0rthodox commentary.

4. Our reading of the Apocalypse should be one not of fevered excitement but of sober awareness.  0ur first concern should be to gain an understanding of the Orthodox doctrine and world view which are contained in the book; about specific applications of prophesies to contemporary events we should be slow to form a judgement and not be carried away by our own opinions and fantasies.

5. It is very important that the reading of this book should be done together with regular spiritual nourishment -- the Church's services and sacraments, regular reading of Scripture and spiritual books.  If this is done, and our Orthodox Christianity is a conscious struggleconducted daily and constantly -- then we will be not overwhelmed by some new catastrophe or some new fulfillment of apocalyptic prophecy.

6. With all this in mind, we must understand that the Apocalypse is a book of mysteries -- the deep things bound up with the beginning and end of thins, the ultimate purpose of the world and man, the opening of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven; and so we must read it with fear of God, and with a humble distrust of our own wisdom.


The subject of the Apocalypse is a mystical depiction of the future fate of the Church of Christ and of the whole world;  it describes the battle of the Church against all its enemies and its final triumph over them.  Thus, the reading of this book is a great consolation especially in times of persecution and discouragements for Christians -- such as our own times.  Historical events we see about us are placed in the context of the whole battle of the Church against the powers of evil, and the final victory of the Church and the opening of the unending Kingdom of Heaven.

Members of the Catacomb Church in Russia today invariably see themselves in terms of the persecuted woman in the wilderness [Apocalypse, ch. 12] and thereby gain strength from God for their most difficult struggle.  When the powers of evil take such a strong form as that of a totalitarian atheist government, it is very easy to give up the battle if one does not have a picture of the meaning of this seeming triumph of evil, and a knowledge of the eventual triumph of good and Christ's Church.

Much interest was shown in this book in the Church of the first Christians centuries, when it seemed that the events depicted there might be close to fulfillment.  However, the temptation of chiliasm,into which even some of the early teachers of the Church fell  [St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Justin the Philosopher], together with the peace and stability of the age of Constantine, when the empire itself became Christian -- led to a waning of apocalyptic thinking in the Church and a general neglect of the book.  Even its place in the New Testament canon was uncertain until the 4th century, and some of the great Fathers  of the Church hardly mention it.  As Archbishop Averky states, it is the one New Testament book which has no regular place in the Scripture readings during church services, even though the Typicon does give it a place in a part of the services which is seldom if ever performed in our days. [At the Saturday night Vigil, all the New Testament Epistles and the Apocalypse are appointed to be read in order between Vespers and Matins, beginning with the Sunday of All Saints.]

Some great Fathers, however, did make use of the Apocalypse: among the 3rd and 4th-century Fathers one can name St. Hippolytus of Rome, St. Cyprian of Carthage, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Athanasius the Great, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and Blessed Augustine.  Some of their interpretations of the book will be given in the footnotes.

The one main Patristic commentary on the book is that of St. Andrew of Caesarea in the 5th century, which rejects the main misinterpretations of earlier centuries and gives the Orthodox understanding of such points as the "thousand years" of Christ's reign with His saints ch.20].  In the present work, inn addition to St. Andrew's commentary, Archbishop Averky has made use of 19th and 20th-century Russian Orthodox scholarship on the Apocalypse, as well as his own observations on the apocalyptic events of our times.

We do seem, indeed, to be living in the last times of this world's existence, when the prophecies of the Apocalypse relating to the end of the wold are beginning to be fulfilled. The time surely is ripe -- especially in view of the numerous false interpretations of this book which fill the contemporary air -- for a fully Orthodox commentary on it.

Many Orthodox Christians gain from it a sober awareness of the signs of these times and learn to prepare themselves to endure to the end the trials and tribulations which are coming upon us!

The text of the Apocalypse used in this book is that of the King James Version of the New Testament.  Since the understanding of the Apocalypse is so dependent upon the text of other books of Scripture, the parallel places in other books which are cited in Archbishops Averky's commentary are given more fully at the end of each chapter, in the order in which they appear in the text.  These citations are taken: the New Testament, from the King James Version, the Old Testament, also from the King James Version; the Old Testament, also from the KJV, unless indicated as being from the Septuagint [published by Bagster & Sons].

The text of Archbishop Averky did not include the whole text of the Apocalypse which he was interpreting.  In this translation, this whole text has been furnished, so that the translation proceeds verse by verse.  In some cases, explanatory material from St. Andrew's commentary which Archbishop Averky did not cite has been added in order to provide a commentary on every verse.  The aim of Archbishop Averky, however, and of this translation, has been not to make an exhaustive interpretation of the text of the Apocalypse [which would require a book many times longer], but rather to provide a brief and practical understanding of the book for serious Orthodox Christians of these latter times.

The footnotes, which chiefly attempt to give explanatory material from other books of Scripture and from the Holy Fathers, are those of the translator and are so identified.

by Archbishop Averky

The Significance of the Apocalypse and the Interest in It

The Apocalypse or, as it is translated from the Greeks, the Revelation of St. John the Theologian, is the only prophetic book of the New Testament.  It is the natural culmination of the whole cycle of the New Testament sacred books.

In the books of the Law, of history, and of instruction the Christian draws knowledge concerning the foundation and historical growth of the life of the Church of Christ, as well as guidance for his own personal activity in life.  In the Apocalypse, however, there are given to the believing mind and heart mystical prophetic indications of the future fate of the Church and of the whole world.  The Apocalypse is a mystical book which gives itself to a correct understanding and interpretation only with great difficulty; as a consequence, the Church Typicon does not indicate readings from it during the time of the Divine services.

But at the same time, it is precisely this mystical character of the book that draws to it the gaze both of the believing Christians and of simply curious thinkers.  Over the course of the whole New Testament history of humanity, men have striven to decipher the significance and meaning of the puzzling visions described in it.  There exists an immense literature about the Apocalypse, including many absurd works which touch on the origin and content of this mystical book.  One might indicate, as one of such works in recent times, the book of N.A. Morozov, The Revelation in Thunder and Storm.  Proceeding from the preconceived idea that the visions described in the Apocalypse depict, with the precision of an astronomical observer, the condition of the sky with its stars at some definite moment of time.  Morozov makes astronomical calculations and comes to the conclusion that such precisely was the sky with its stars on Sept. 30, 395.  Replacing the persons, actions and pictures of the Apocalypse with planets, stars, and constellations, Morozov makes broad use of indefinite, vague forms in the clouds, making them take the place of the missing names of stars planets and constellations in order to depict the full picture of the sky corresponding to the facts of the Apocalypse.  If even the clouds do not help him, with all the softness and the receptivity in capable hands, then Morozov redoes the text of the Apocalypse to fit the meaning which he needs.  Such a free and easy attitude towards the text of Sacred Scripture Morozov justifies either by the mistakes and the ignorance of the copyists of the Apocalypse, "who did not understand the astronomical meaning of the picture," or even by the idea that the writer of the Apocalypse himself "thanks to his preconceived idea," made forced interpretations in describing the picture of the sky with its stars.  By such a "scientific" method, N.A. Morozov determines that the writer of the Apocalypse was St. John Chrysosostom [347-407], Archbishop of Constantinople.  To the total historical absurdity of his conclusions, Morozov pays no attention whatsoever.

In our times -- the period of the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and then the yet more frightful Second World War, when mankind has experienced so many terrible shocks and misfortunes -- the attempts to interpret the Apocalypse as applied to the events being experienced have increased yet more.  Some of these attempts have been more, some less, successful.

In making such attempts there is one important and essential thing to remember:  In interpreting the Apocalypse, as in general in interpreting any book in Sacred Scripture, it is essential to make use of the facts given in the other sacred books which enter into the composition of our Bible, as well as of the works and interpretations of the Holy Fathers and the teachers of the Church.  Among the special Patristic works in the interpretation of the Apocalypse, especially valuable is the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea,* which gives a summary of the whole understanding of the Apocalypse in the pre-Nicean period [before the First Ecumenical Council in 325].  Likewise very valuable is the Apology on the Apocalypse by St. Hipponlytus of Rome [about 230]. *Almost nothing is known of St. Andrew apart from his authorship of the Commentary.  He lived apparently in the 5th century or a little later and quotes also 4th century Fathers such as St. Gregory the Theologian.

In more recent times there have appeared so many works of commentary on the Apocalypse that there are already 90 of them by the end of the 19th century [in the Russian language].  Among the Russian works the most valuable are:

1. A. Zhdanov, The Revelation of the Lord Concerning the Seven Churches of Asia
2. Bishop Peter, Explanation of the Apocalypse of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian
3. N.A. Nikolsky, The Apocalypse and the False Prophesy Exposed by It
4. N.Vinogradov, Concerning the Final Fate of the World and of Mankind
5. M. Barsov, Collection of Essays for the Interpretation and Edifying Reading of the Apocalypse

Concerning the Writer of the Apocalypse

The writer of the Apocalypse calls himself "John" [Apoc. 1:1, 4-9].  In the common belief of the Church, this was the holy Apostle John, the beloved disciple of Christ, who for the height of his teaching concerning God the Word received the distinctive title of "Theologian."  To his inspired pen belongs a the fourth canonical Gospel and three catholic epistles.  Thus belief of the Church is justified both by facts indicated in the Apocalypse itself, and by many inward and outward signs.

1]  The writer of the Apocalypse calls himself "John" at he very beginning, saying that to him was given the Revelation of Jesus Christ ]1:1].  Further, greeting the seven churches of Asia Minor, he again calls himself "John" ]1:4].  Later he speaks of himself, again calling himself "John" saying that he was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ [1:9].  From the history of the Apostles it is known that it is precisely St. John the Theologian who was subjected to exile on the island of Patmos.  And finally, at the end of the Apocalypse, the writer again calls himself "John" [22:8].  In the second verse of the first chgapter he calls himself an eyewitness of Jesus Christ [compare I John 1:3].

The opinion that the Apocalypse was written by a certain "Presbyter John" is totally without foundation.  The very existence of this "Presbyter John" as a person separate from the Apostle John is rather dubious.  The only testimony which gives reason to speak about "Presbyter John" is a passage from a work of Papias which has been preserved by the historian Eusebius.  It is extremely indefinite and gives opportunity only for guessing and suppositions which contradict each other.  Likewise the opinion is totally without foundation that ascribes the writings of the Apocalypse to John Mark, that is the Evangelist Mark.  Even more absurd is the opinion of the Roman presbyter Caius [3rd century] that the Apocalypse was written by the heretic Cerinthus.

2]  The second proof that the Apocalypse belongs to the Apostle John the Theologian is its similarity to the Gospel and the epistles of John, not only in spirit but also in style, and especially in several characteristic expressions.  Thus, for example, the apostolic preaching is called here "testimony" or "witness" [Apoc. 1:2, 9; 20:4 compare John 1:7, 3:11, 21:24, I John 5:9-1].  The Lord Jesus Christ is called "the Word" [Apoc. 19:13; compare John 1:1-14, I John 1:1] as well as "the Lamb" [Apoc. 5:6, 17:14; compare I John 1:36].  The prophetic words of Zechariah, And they shall look on Him Whom they pierced [Zech 12:10], both in the Gospel and the Apocalypse are cited according to the Hebrew text of the Scripture [KJV; Apoc. 1:7, John 19:37].

Some have found that the language of the Apocalypse is supposedly to be distinguished from the language of the other writings of the Holy Apostle John.  This difference is easily to be explained, both by the difference of content and by the conditions in which the writings of the holy Apostle had their origin. The Holy Apostle John, even though he knew well the Greek language, still, finding himself in exile far from the living conversational Greek language, naturally placed in the  Apocalypse the seal of the powerful influence of the Hebrew language, being himself a native Jew.  For the objective reader of the Apocalypse there is no doubt that on its whole contents there lies the seal of the great spirit of the Apostle of love and contemplation.

3]  All the ancient as well as later Patristic testimonies acknowledge as the author of the Apocalypse St. John the Theologian.  His disciple, Papias of Hierapolis, calls the writer of the Apocalypse "Elder John," as name which the holy Apostle gives to himself in his own epistles [II John 1, III John 1].

The testimony of St. Justin the Martyr is also important.  Before his conversion to Christianity he lived for a long time in Ephesus, the city where the great Apostle himself lived for a long time and reposed.

Further, many Holy Fathers cite passages from the Apocalypse as from a Divinely inspired book belonging to St. John the Theologian.  Such quotations are to be found in the works of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the disciple of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who himself was the disciple of St. John the Theologian; St. Hippolytus, Pope of Rome and disciple of St. Irenaeus, who even wrote an apology on the Apocalypse; Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen likewise acknowledge the holy Apostle John as the writer of the Apocalypse.  In the same way Ephraim the Syrian, Epiphanius, Basil the Great, Hilary, Athanasius the Great, Gregory the Theologain, Didymus, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome were convinced of this.  The thirty-third canon of the Council of Carthage, ascribing the Apocalypse to St. John the Theologian, places it in the rank of he other canonical books.  The absence of the  Apocalypse in the Syrian translation [Peshito] is explained solely by the fact that this translation was made for reading at Divine services.  In the 60th canon of the Council of Laodicea the Apocalypse is not mentioned, since the mystical content of the book did not allow it to be recommended to all, since it could give rise to false interpretations.

The Time and Place of the Writing of the Apocalypse

We do not have precise facts concerning the time of the writing of the Apocalypse.  However, ancient tradition indicates for this the end of the first century.  Thus St. Irenaeus writes, "The Apocalypse appeared not long before this and almost in our own time, at the end of the reign of Domitian" [Against Heresies, 5:30].  The church historian Eusebius states that the pagan writers contemporary to him mention also the exile of the holy Apostle John on the island of Patmos for his testimony of the Divine Word, and they refer this even to the 15th year of the reign of Domitian, 95 of 96 A.D.  Clement of Alexandria, Origin and blessed Jerome affirm the same thing.

The Church writers of the first three centuries are in agreement also in indicating the place of the writing of the Apocalypse: the island of Patmos, which is referred to by the Apostle himself as the place where he received the revelations [Apoc. 1:9-10].  But after the discovery of the 6th century Syrian translation of the Apocalypse [the "Pokoke"], where, in a superscription, Nero is named in place of Domitian, many began to refer the writing of the Apocalypse to this time of Nero, that is, in the 60's of the first century.  St. Hipponlytus of Rome, likewise ascribes to Nero the exile of St. John to the island of Patmos.  Such people likewise find that one cannot refer the writing of the Apocalypse to the reign of Domitian because, judging from the first two verses of the eleventh chapter of the Apocalypse, the temple of Jerusalem was not yet destroyed at that time, since in these verses they see a prophecy of the future destruction of the temple -- something which under Domitian, had already been accomplished.  The indication of the Roman emperors which some people find in the 10th verse of the 17th chapter fit more than anyone else the successors of Nero.  They likewise find that the number of the beast [Apoc. 13:18] can be fond in the name of Nero:  Nero Caesar, 666.  The very language of the Apocalypse, which is full of Hebraisms, likewise, in the opinion of certain people, indicates an earlier origin compared to the fourth Gospel and the epistles of St. John.  The full name of Nero was: Clausius Nero Domitius, as a result of which one could also confuse him with the emperor Domitian, who reigned later.  According to this opinion the Apocalypse was written about two years before the destruction of Jerusalem, that is, in the year 68 A.D.

Against this, however, it is objected that the condition of Christian life as it is presented in the Apocalypse speaks for a later date.  Each of the seven Asia Minor churches which St. John addresses already has its own history and a direction of religious life which in one way or another has already been defined.  Christianity in them is already not in its first stage of purity and truth; false Christianity strives to occupy a place in them side by side with true Christianity.   All this presupposes that the activity of the holy Apostle Paul, who preached for a long time in Ephesus, was was something that had occurred in the distant past.  This point of view, founded upon the testimony of St. Irenaeus and Eusebius, refers the time of writing of the Apocalypse to the years 95-96 A.D.

On the other hand, it is quite difficult to accept the opinion of St. Epiphanius , who says that St. John returned from Patmos under Emperor Claudius [41-54 A.D.]. Under Claudius there was no general persecution of Christians in the provinces, and there was only a banishment from of the Jews, among whose number Christians might also be included.  Likewise unbelievable is the supposition that the Apocalypse was written at a yet later time, under the Emperor Trajan [98-108 A.D.], when St. John had already ended his life.

Concerning the place of the writing of the Apocalypse there is another opinion that it was written in Ephesus, after the return there of the Apostle from banishment.  However, the first opinion is much more natural: that the epistle to the churches of Asia Minor which is contained in the Apocalypse was sent precise only from Patmos.  It is also difficult to suppose the the holy Apostle did not immediately fulfill the command to write down what he had seen [Apoc. 1:10-11].

The Chief Subject And Aim of The Writing of The Apocalypse

In the beginning of the Apocalypse, St. John himself indicates the chief subject and aim of its writing: to show things which must shortly come to pass [1:1].   Thus, the chief subject of the Apocalypse is a mystical depiction of the future fate of the Church of Christ and of the whole world.  From the very beginning of its existence, the Church of Christ had to enter into fierce battle with the errors of Judaism and paganism with the aim of effecting the triumph of the Divine Truth which had been brought to earth by the incarnate Son of God, and through this to give to mankind blessedness and eternal life.

The aim of the Apocalypse is to depict this battle of the Church and its triumph over all enemies, to show clearly the perdition of the enemies of the Church and the glorification of her faithful children.  This was especially important and necessary for believers in those times, when frightful and bloody persecutions had begun against Christians, so as to give them consolation and encouragement in the sorrows and difficult trials which had overtaken them.  This vivid picture of the battle of the  dark kingdom of satan with the Church and the final victory of the Church over the "old serpent" [Apoc. 12:9] is necessary for believers of all times for precisely the same reason: to console and strengthen them in battle for the truth of the faith of Christ, a battle which they must always wage against the servants of the dark forces of hell, who strive in their blind malice to annihilate the Church.

The Church's View of the Content of the Apocalypse 

All the ancient Fathers of the Church who wrote commentaries on the sacred books of the New Testament unanimously look on the Apocalypse as a prophetic picture of the last times of the world and the events which are to be accomplished before the Second Coming of Christ on earth and at the opening of the Kingdom of Glory which is prepared for all truly believing Christians.  Despite the darkness under which the mystical meaning of this book is hidden, as a consequence of which many believers have striven in every way to defame it, the deeply enlightened Fathers and Divinely wise teachers of the Church have always had great respect for it.

Thus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria writes:  "The darkness of this book does not prevent one from being astonished at it.  And even if I do not understand  everything in it, it is only because of  my incapacity.  I cannot be a judge of the truths which are contained in it or measure them with the poverty of my mind; being guided more by faith than by understanding, I find them only surpassing my understanding."  Blessed Jerome expresses himself concerning the Apocalypse in a similar spirit: "In it there are as many mysteries as words.   But what am I saying?  Every praise of this book will be beneath its worth."

Many consider that even Caius, the presbyter of Rome, did not consider the Apocalypse to be the work of the heretic Cerinthus, as some infer from his words; for Caius speaks not of the book called: "The Revelation," but of "revelations."  Esuebius himself, who quotes these words of Caius, does not say a word about the fact that Cerinthus was the author of the book of the Apocalypse.  Blessed Jerome and other Fathers who knew this passage in the works of Caius and acknowledged the authenticity of the Apocalypse, would not have left this without reply if they considered the words of Caius as referring to the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian.

But at Divine services the Apocalypse was not read and is not read.  One must suppose that this is because in antiquity the reading of Holy Scripture at Divine services was always accompanied by interpretation of it, and the Apocalypse is too difficult for [an ordinary] interpretation.  This also explains its absence in the Syrian translation, the "Peshito," which was intended especially for use in Divine services.  As has been shown by researchers, the Apocalypse was originally in the list of the "Peshito" and was excluded from it only after the time of St. Ephraim the Syrian.  We know this because St. Ephraim quoted the Apocalypse in his works as a canonical book of the New Testament and uses it widely in his own Divinely inspired writings.

Rules For the Interpretation of the Apocalypse 

As a book of God's decrees concerning the world and the Church, the Apocalypse has always attracted to itself the attention of Christians, and especially in those times when outward persecutions and inward temptations have begun to disturb the faithful especially powerfully, threatening from all sides with all kinds of dangers.  In such periods believers have naturally turned to this book for consolation and encouragement and have tried to use it to decipher the meaning and significance of the events which are occurring.  However, the figurativeness and the mystical quality of the book make it extremely difficult to understand.  Therefore, for careless interpreters there is always the risk of being drawn beyond the boundaries of truth, and there is the occasion for fantastic hopes and beliefs.

Thus, for example, a literalistic understanding of the images of this book has given occasion and even now continues to give occasion for the false teaching of "chiliasm" --  the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth.  The terrors of the persecutions which were endured by the Christians in the first century and which were interpreted in the light of the Apocalypse gave occasion for some people to believe that the last times and the Second Coming of Christ were already at hand then, in the first century.

In the nineteen centuries which have since elapsed there have appeared a multitude of commentaries on the Apocalypse, and they have been of the most varied character.  One may divide all these commentaries into four groups.  Some of them refer all the visions and symbols of the Apocalypse to the "last times"-- the end of the world, the appearance of Antichrist, and the Second Coming of Christ.  Others give to the Apocalypse a purely historical significance, referring all the visions to the historical events of the first century -- to the times of the persecutions raised against the Church by the pagan emperors.  A third group strives to find the realization of apocalyptic prophecies in the historical events of recent times.  In their opinion, for example, the Pope of Rome is Antichrist, and all the apocalyptic misfortunes are announced in particular for the Church of Rome, etc.   A fourth group, finally, sees in the Apocalypse only an allegory, considering that the visions described in it have not so much prophetic as a moral meaning, and allegory is introduced only to increase the impression, with the aim of striking the imagination of readers.

The most correct commentary, however, is one that unites all these approaches, keeping in mind that, as the ancient commentators and Fathers of the Church clearly taught, the content of the Apocalypse in its sum is indeed directed to the last part of the history of the world.  There can be no doubt, moreover, that in the course of the whole past history of Christianity many of the prophesies of the Apostle John concerning the future fate of the Church and the world have already been fulfilled.   But great caution is required in applying the apocalyptic content to historical events, and one should not misuse this approach.  One interpreter has rightly said that the content of the Apocalypse will only gradually become understandable to the degree that the events themselves approach and the prophesies uttered in the book are fulfilled.

A correct understanding of the Apocalypse, to be sure, is hindered most of all by the departure of people from faith and true Christian life; this always makes people dull, and even leads to a complete loss of the spiritual vision which is essential for the correct understanding and spiritual evaluation of the events which occur in the world.  The total devotion of contemporary man to sinful passions which deprive one of purity of heart, and consequently of spiritual vision [Matt. 5:8], serves as the cause of the fact that certain contemporary interpreters of the Apocalypse wish to see in it only an allegory and teach that even the Second Coming of Christ is to be understood allegorically.   The historical events and persons of the times we are now experiencing -- times which, in all justice, many already call "apocalyptic" -- convince us of the fact that to see in the book of the Apocalypse only an allegory only means to be spiritually blind.  Everything now happening in the world does indeed remind one of the frightful images and visions of the Apocalypse.

The Content and Division of the Apocalypse

The Apocalypse contains in all twenty-two chapters. The book can be divided, according to its content, into the following sections:

1.  An introductory picture of the Son of God Who appeared to John commanding him to write to the seven churches of Asia Minor.  [ch.1].

2.  Instructions to the seven churches of Asia Minor:  The churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea [chs. 2 and 3].

3. The vision of God sitting on the throne, and the Lamb [chs. 4 and 5].

4.  The opening by the Lamb of the seven seals of the mystical book [chs. 6 and 7].

5.  The voices of the seven trumpets of the angels declaring various misfortunes to those living on the earth at the taking away of the seventh seal  [chs. 8, 9, 10, and 11].

6.  The Church of Christ in the image of the woman clothed with the sun who is in the pangs of childbirth [ch. 12].

7.  The beast [Antichrist] and his helper, the false prophet [ch.13].

8.  Preparatory events before the general resurrection and the Last Judgement [chs. 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19].

   a.  The hymn of praise of the 144,000 righteous ones; and the angels who declare the fate of the world [ch. 14].

   b.  The seven angels who have the seven last plagues [ch. 15].

   c.  The seven angels who pour out the seven cups of wrath of God [ch.16].

   d.  The judgement upon the great harlot who sits on the many waters and is seated upon the scarlet beast [ch.17].

   e.  The fall of Babylon, the great harlot [ch.18].

   f.  The battle of the Word of God with the beast and his army, and the destruction of the latter [ch 19].

9.  The general resurrection and the Last Judgement [ch. 20].

10.  The revelation of the new heaven and the new earth; the New Jerusalem and the blessedness of its inhabitants [chs. 21 and 22 to the 5th verse].

11. Conclusion: confirmation of the truth of everything said and the testament to preserve the commandments of God; the giving of a blessing [ch. 22:6-21].

Appendix I

Appendix II

Editor's note [Fr. Seraphim] :  The following article was written by a colleague and monastic brother of Archbishop Averky.  The author, the late Archimandrite Constantine [Zaitsev] of Jordanville was a brilliant thinker who, being fully within the tradition of the Church, was able to see beyond the externals and into the heart of the Orthodox faith, wherein lies its mystical, unseen essence and its living apostolic power.  His vision is expressed in these reflections on the end times, and on the ways in which true Christianity will manifest itself in the midst of growing apostasy.

These great ones {Archbishop Averky, too] are being disregarded and unhonored and dishonored - brushed off as no longer relevant - when the truth is they are more relevant today that they were in their lifetimes.  -jh
---∞ ∞ ∞---

This book is out-of-print.   Anyone who wishes to borrow my copy of the book [1995 edition], please email me. 

Also see: