Our 2015 Summer Bible Study of the Book of Revelation, Chapters 1-11, which began on June 3, has been consistently popular. We have recorded our class sessions (most of them anyway), and have posted them here on the website. In addition, below are links to some select talks by Fr Thomas Hopko of beloved memory, which followers of our Bible Study may find interesting and helpful in further exploring this challenging book.
Scroll down for class study notes and discussion topics from Fr. Steven . . .
Summer Bible Study Recordings:
Audio recordings of all but two of our 2015 Summer Bible Study sessions are available here.
Please email me if you recorded session 2 or 6.
Video of Session 1 also available.
Recordings by Fr Thomas Hopko:
CD Recording from SVS Press:
Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation within Orthodox Christian Tradition
Retreat lectures on compact disk — 4-CD Set
These lectures offer a fresh approach to reading the Book of Revelation and understanding its complex messages. While Fr Hopko notes that "everything about the Apocalypse is controversial--not only in modern scholarship but also in church history," he grounds the place of this cryptic writing within the context of ongoing life in the Orthodox Church.
In particular, he draws attention to the symbols and words originating in the Hebrew scriptures and demonstrates that the Book of Revelation not only has inspired the Liturgy of the Church but also has been inspired by it. Fr Hopko transforms the typical, modern exegesis of this biblical text from one of literal fundamentalism and futuristic prophecy to one of experiencing eternal life, here and now, in the worship of the Church.
Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation within Orthodox Christian Tradition
CD 1: Historical Context
CD 2: Signs and Symbols
CD 3: Apocalyptic Images
CD 4: The Last Days and Redemption
July 8, 2015
To Those Who are (Hopefully) "Sealed,"
Below is what I believe to be a fine passage that points to the purpose of the four horsemen of the apocalypse that we discussed last week. This is also just as true for many of the passages that describe the unleashing of the destructive powers that will continue in the Book of Revelation.
“The principle purpose of the visions in Revelation 6 is to awaken a sense of uneasiness in readers by vividly identifying threats to their well-being. The four horsemen are designated to shatter the illusion that people can find true security in the borders of a nation or empire, in a flourishing economy, or in their own health. Subsequent visions promise that God will not allow injustice to continue forever – which is assuring to the victims, but disturbing to the perpetrators – and warn that no place on earth and no position of power or wealth will protect people from the judgment of God and the Lamb. Those who grasp the way that these visions relentlessly undercut human pretensions will find themselves asking the final question in the chapter: “Who is able to stand?” (Revelation and the End of All Things, Craig Koester, p. 81-82)
This evening we are scheduled to read REV. 8 & 9, with more horrific images of destruction in the form of warrior-like locusts and a huge cavalry of warriors riding lion-headed horses. These are challenging passages, indeed. Here are a few questions that we can think over and discuss at our upcoming session:
+ Do we ever find out the contents of the scroll that had seven seals on it since they were all opened by 8:1?
+ What is the significance of the "half hour" interlude between the opening of the seventh seal and the appearance of the seven angels and the seven trumpets that follow?
+ What is the symbolic value of the seven trumpets?
+ It seems as if John is clearly referring to some of the plagues described in Exodus in the first four trumpet visions? Given that connection, how would these visions have been a message of hope for John's readers?
+ What do the passive verbs - "was given" 9:1, "were given" 9:3, "were told" 9:4, and "were not allowed" 9:5 - say about who is in control of this dire situation?
See you this evening. Vespers begins at 7:00 p.m. with the Bible Study to follow.
-- Fr. Steven
July 1, 2015:
Here are a few questions that could inform our study of REV. 6 & 7. Something to think about at work perhaps, if indeed the four horsemen of the apocalypse can somehow "fit" into a work-day mentality. The four horsemen have proven to be endlessly fascinating - and frightening - throughout Christian history and the objects of endless speculation. If you have the opportunity, you may want to compare them with the four horsemen of the prophet Zechariah (ZECH. 1:8-17).
+ What is the symbolic significance of the color of the four horses?
+ Do the four horsemen represent a future apocalyptic event; or are they a vivid and timeless reminder of the bleaker side of humanity and the world? What do they reveal about earthly power and the Kingdom of God? Are the horses purely destructive, or is there a call to repentance in their mission?
+ What do we know of those who "had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the Word of God? How do they contrast with the unbelieving world still on earth?
+ What is the symbolic significance of the number 144.000 in ch. 7? What does this say about the breadth of God's salvation in Christ?
June 17, 2015:
Dear Bible Study Participants,
We will complete the remaining three letters sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor on Wednesday. These letters continue to fascinate me, and I hope you have something like the same experience. Here are a few questions that we can answer together on Wednesday:
+ What are some of the biblical sources behind the promises of blessing that come at the end of each letter? Ex: the "tree of life" in the first letter to the Ephesians?
+ These letters are meant to bring consolation to each local church addressed. How would you describe this gift of consolation? What does it ask of each community so that it will be effective?
+ What problems were posed by the prevailing Greco-Roman culture of pagan gods and emperor worship for the churches? What are current forms of idolatry that we face?
+ What went wrong in Laodicea?!
Ch. 4 & 5 will then introduce us to an incomparable vision of heavenly worship. Here are a few more questions to think about:
+ From where does St. John borrow the throne imagery in the first heavenly scene? What does this imagery say about God's sovereignty and power versus the earthly king's sovereignty and power?
+ Why is the image of God in Ch. 4 so non-anthropomorphic? What does this tell us about our understanding of God?
+ What is the symbolic significance of all the numbers found in the scene?
+ What is the relationship between the One on the throne and the Lamb of Ch. 5?
+ What is the relationship between these scenes of heavenly worship and the Liturgy as we serve and celebrate it?
Hopefully, a few things to think about!
Dear Bible Scholars,
I thought that we got off to a pretty decent start to this summer's exceptionally challenging Bible Study - the mysterious Book of Revelation. The more I look at it, the more complex it is becoming! As an apocalypse, it is eschatologically oriented - that it, to the future and the end of history; though it is simultaneously deeply rooted in the life of the first c. Church. Finding that balance between the two is going to be our main challenge. Without falling into the trap of empty predictions, we want to always be aware and conscious of the ultimate victory of God against the powers of evil in the fullness of time.
We did get through the first chapter and the magnificent description of the Son of Man in his glory and as the source of the revelations that will unfold throughout the book. In a particularly powerful verse, we heard that Christ was described as "the first-begotten/born of the dead." (1:5) On this expression, St. Athanasius the Great writes:
He is said to be 'the First-begotten from the dead,' not that he died before us, for we had died first; but because having undergone death for us and abolished it, He was the first to rise as man, for our sake raising His own body. Henceforth, He having risen, we too from Him and because of Him rise in due course from the dead. (Second Discourse Against the Arians, ch. 21)
Next Wednesday evening, we will begin the discussion of the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia. Please read ch. 2-3 carefully. The chart that I handed out could be very helpful in finding the patterns that exist in these two chapters.
Looking forward to our next session. Hope you return!
Dear Parish Faithful,
CHRIST IS RISEN!
Our Spring/Summer Bible Study for this year is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, June 3. This year's Study should prove to be quite challenging and more than a little interesting (and perhaps fascinating) because we will be reading and discussing the mysterious Book of Revelation - Chs. 1-11.
This last of the canonical books of the New Testament is filled with apocalyptic imagery and enigmatic texts that have bewildered believers through the centuries. Unfortunately, instead of treating these difficult passages with caution, sobriety and spiritual vigilance, many "interpreters" have caused great havoc with their reckless predictions of the "end of the world" based upon dubious readings of the current geo-political state of the world (was the Antichrist Attila the Hun, Napoleon or Gorbachev?).
This book, therefore, has been used and abused. We will do our best to avoid that temptation! In other words, we will not try to come up with a collective prediction about the end of the world. And we will not spend our time interpreting current geo-political conditions in the world and twisting these events so as to align them with certain verses of the Book of Revelation. This climatic book of the entire Bible is actually much more meaningful than that! We will simply do our best to uncover the initial meaning of Revelation as it was read by the early Church; and also what it is saying to the Church today. If that does not sound too disappointing, then this year's Bible Study could indeed be worth the time and effort.
As far as preparation is concerned, I would of course encourage everyone to first read through the entire Book of Revelation without any commentary. If that proves to be too bewildering (a very real possibility if you are unfamiliar with the book!), then I would suggest using the very helpful commentary found in the notes of The Orthodox Study Bible. We will only study Ch. 1-11 this summer, so those are the chapters to focus on. Yet, knowing the outcome sheds much light on the first half of the book. The point is to be familiar with the text to some extent before we begin our actual sessions.
Below, I have provided links to two good supplementary books that will provide solid background material (and they are both relatively inexpensive). Both books are quite accessible and not weighed down by academic jargon. The first is by an Orthodox priest from England. This is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but a series of talks that discusses some major thematic material that is quite enlightening. A strength of the book is that it includes extensive passages from Ezekiel and Daniel, two prophetic books that are quoted or alluded to throughout by St. John in Revelation . The book is endorsed by Archbishop Kallistos Ware.
An Introduction to Reading the Apocalypse, by Fr. Columba Graham Flegg (1999)
This second book is written by a Lutheran biblical scholar with the express intention of refuting the fundamentalist types of "end time" predictions that were popularized in the fairly recent Left Behind novels. The author pretty much demolishes these types of mis-readings of Revelation in a thoroughly convincing manner. It further exposes the type of "rapture theology" that many American Christians seem addicted to. We may not agree with all of the author's conclusions, but such a book can prove to be quite helpful in today's climate.
The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, by Barbara R. Rossing (2005)
At the same time we do await the Parousia, or Second Coming of Christ. In the Preface to the first book above, Archbishop Ware writes the following:
The Creed ends with an affirmation of future hope: "I look for the resurrection of the dead ... " But the conventional translation "I look for" is far too tame; the Greek has a more dynamic sense - "I am expecting," "I am eagerly awaiting." The same note of urgent expectation marks the conclusion of the Apocalypse: "'Surely, I am coming soon." Amen. Come Lord Jesus!" (REV. 22:20). Our Christian faith will remain pale and timid unless we feel this eagerness and urgency in our own hearts.
According to clock time and calendar time the return of our Lord may seem to be long delayed, but in sacred time it is always near at hand, always imminent. May Fr. Columba's study help all of us to repeat with fresh conviction the early Christian prayer "Marantha, "Our Lord, come!" (I COR. 16:22).
~ Fr. Steven