Book of Revelation
The Apocalypse, or the Book of Revelation, it has been said, is impossible to know outside of the Liturgy, and it is certainly spiritually dangerous to try to read too deeply into it, especially if one has been a long time distant from Holy Communion.
This book is generally attributed to St. John the Theologian, one of the Twelve Apostles, and written as he was exiled in the island of Patmos towards the end of his life. The book itself has been one of the many to drift in and out of the Bible canon, and it certainly is controversial; heterodox opinion itself is not always certain that it actually is prophecy, or even referring to the end of the world, and the Last Judgment.
The writings of Fr. Seraphim Rose are a good starting point.
Within the book there is a certain metaphor and symbolism, and it is important to note that this symbolism can have more than one meaning. The number seven is often used to represent permanence, as this was the day of the completion of Creation; the woman can represent the Church, and the serpent Satan; and other things we will likely not understand until the end comes.
The Book of Revelation is best divided into three parts:
- those things that have occured,
- those things that are in the process of happening, and
- those things that have yet to be.
Those things that have occurred
Satan's fall from Heaven, as well as, in some understandings, the thousand-year reign of Christ ('one thousand' is likely used symbolically rather than an absolute value), or, in Orthodox understanding, the Church. It is important to remember that the Second Coming is described as "like lightning from the east to west," and that Christ Himself warns of those who come claiming to be Him.
Those things that are in the process of happening
Well, many things, in modern times it is not hard to think that evil reigns; we certainly have wars and rumors of wars. There is an ongoing drive towards one Church, and perhaps the time when the Church will hide in the desert is not far off.
Those things that have yet to be
These are many, and are cataclysmic. The stars falling from the sky, the fall of the city referred to as Babylon, the return of the two prophets Elijah and Enoch (who were taken to heaven and didn't yet pass through physical death).
Common question: Pre- or post-millennialism
The view of the Orthodox Church can best be described as "amillenialist"; that is, holding to the teaching that the thousand years mentioned in the Apocalypse refers to the current age of the Church.
The Last Judgment
The Soul after Death by Fr. Seraphim Rose is an excellent reference for this.
- Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, Fr. Seraphim Rose
- The Soul after Death, Fr. Seraphim Rose
Additional notes on the Apocalypse from the American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
Apocalypse signifies revelation, but is particularly referred to the revelations which John had in the isle of Patmos, whither he was banished by Domitian. Hence it is another name for the book of Revelation. This book belongs, in its character, to the prophetical writings, and stands in intimate relation with the prophecies of the Old Testament, and more especially with the writings of the later prophets, as Ezekiel, Zechariah, and particularly Daniel, inasmuch as it is almost entirely symbolical. This circumstance has surrounded the interpretation of this book with difficulties, which no interpreter has yet been able fully to overcome. As to the author, the weight of testimony throughout all the history of the church is in favor of John, the beloved apostle. As to the time of its composition, most commentators suppose it to have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem, about A.D. 96; while others assign it an earlier date.
It is an expanded illustration of the first great promise, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent." Its figures and symbols are august and impressive. It is full of prophetic grandeur, and awful in its hieroglyphics and mystic symbols: seven seals opened, seven trumpets sounded, seven vials poured out; mighty antagonists and hostile powers, full of malignity against Christianity, and for a season oppressing it, but at length defeated and annihilated; the darkened heaven, tempestuous sea, and convulsed earth fighting against them, while the issue of the long combat is the universal reign of peace and truth and righteousness-the whole scene being relieved at intervals by a choral burst of praise to God the Creator, and Christ the Redeemer and Governor. Thus its general scope is intelligible to all readers, or it could not yield either hope or comfort. It is also full of Christ. It exhibits his glory as Redeemer and Governor, and describes that deep and universal homage and praise which the "Lamb that was slain" is forever receiving before the throne. Either Christ is God, or the saints and angels are guilty of idolatry.
"To explain this book perfectly," says Bishop Newton, "is not the work of one man, or of one age; probably it never will be clearly understood till it is all fulfilled."
(The American Tract Society Bible Dictionary is a dictionary of the Holy Bible, for general use in the study of the scriptures; with engravings, maps, and tables. Its copyrights have expired. Previously published in New York by the American Tract society [c1859]. Rand, W. W. (William Wilberforce), 1816-1909, ed.)