Worship in the Book of Revelation and the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy

(Family Faith : Worship)
Eastern Orthodox, Revelation, Liturgy, Worship, Early Church Worship

Worship in the Book of Revelation and the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy --- by Robert Gray

The Revelation to John makes dramatic use of the rich symbolism of the sacrificial ritual of the Jewish temple. A comparison of the language and imagery of the book of Revelation with the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox churches suggests that in the Revelation we see an early stage in the development of Christian liturgy, especially that of the Eastern churches.

Recent studies on the worship described in the book of Revelation indicate its vision of worship made a significant impact on that of the early church, particularly Eastern Christian worship. This article points to images within this ancient vision of worship that correspond to images in the worship of the Orthodox churches.

The Revelation of John the Theologian is a verbal icon of liturgy. The Revelation present at once an almost kaleidoscopic image of the past, the present and the future, the earthly and the heavenly. The text states that the revelation itself was received on the Lord's Day (i.e., Sunday--Revelation 1:10). In fact, the whole of the Revelation was recorded in the context of the celestial liturgy. Tradition holds that it records the ecstasy that John experienced during the Sunday celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy among the colony of persecuted Christians on the island of Patmos. In Order to better understand worship in the Revelation, it is helpful to review certain elements in the worship of the Old Covenant.

The temple in Jerusalem had (by the time of the Savior) become the focal point of Israel's whole life: everything was oriented and organized around it. By the first century, this temple liturgy had developed into an exacting and precise ritual. It basically consisted of the Tamid: the elaborate daily sacrificial offering of lambs (one in the morning and one in the evening) to pay the penalty of sin, and thus cleanse and purify the people of Israel. The Hebrew word for "sacrifice" is qorban, the root meaning of which is "coming near."

After the temple was destroyed in A.D.70, it was the synagogue (which had its own services) through which early Christians continued to participate in formal worship. Nonetheless, early Christians preserved a continuity of worship from the Old Covenant to the New. They employed elements from the Jewish temple liturgy, the synagogue liturgy, and the rituals of the Jewish home.

The NT bears witness to the fact that the liturgy of early church included psalms, doctrinal hymns, spiritual songs, doxologies, confessions and creeds, readings, proclamations and acclamations, homilies, thanksgivings, prayers, the Sactus ("holy, holy, holy"), supplications, the holy kiss, memorial meals, blessings, daily prayer. These Old and New Testament liturgies are reflected in the liturgy developed by Eastern Christian churches.

Worship Symbolism in Revelation and in Eastern Liturgy
1 The Throne: One of the most important liturgical images in the throne of the Holy One (4:2). This image appears frequently through out the Old and New Testament and indicates the presence of God. This image is used over 40 times in the Apocalypse itself.

2 Pantocrator: Rev.1:8 Pantocrator meaning " The Almighty."

3 Lamb of God: Rev. 1:13; 5:6 the Savior is "the offerer and the offered; the receiver and the received." He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and he is the heavenly High Priest.

4 Twenty Four Elders: 4:4 This "synthronos" of the twenty-four elders is the basis of the "synthronos" of the apse in an Orthodox church--the semicircle of presbyters that sorrounds the holy Table during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.

5 The White Robe: It is an image of the baptismal garment given to all who have been clothed in Christ, the garment of salvation, the robe of light. It symbolizes blessedness, good deeds, purity and innocence, triumphal joy, eternal life, the resurrected and glorified body. Matt.22:1-4; Rev. 19:1-8

6 The Celestial Court Liturgy: The synthronos of elders provides a concrete image of the celestial court liturgy. Vested in prestly attire, they fall down in worship. They sing hymns, they offer incense, they present the prayers of the saints, they play their instruments. they proclaim the mighty acts of salvation--as did the priests of the Old Covenant.

7 The Martyrs: 6:9 The sacrifice of the martyrs was associated with the sacrifice of Christ. The early church continued to use this imagery. From the second century, memorials and eucharistic liturgies were celebrated on or near the tombs of the martyrs and other saints.

Worship Components in Revelation and Eastern Liturgy

Hymns, doxologies, acclamations, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb of God, and Communion are five major components of the celestial liturgy as recorded in the Apocalypse.

1 Hymns and Doxologies: are addressed to the Father, to the Lamb, or to both.

2 Amen: 7:12 The doxology begins and ends with an Amen! Amen is a liturgical acclamation that was common in the liturgy of the Old Covenant. It signifies "so be it!" or "I ratify!"

3 Alleluia: The only place in the NT where the "alleluia" is found is in Rev.19:1, 3-4,6. This Hebrew liturgical word, which means "praise the LORD," is found throughout the Psalms. The primitive Christians did not desire to make a translation of it, so they kept the Hebrew in Greek transliteration. The Alleluia remains in the Orthodox liturgy today as a conclusion to the singing of Psalms.

Worship in the Presence of the Holy One
Rev.8:1-6 The reality expressed here is this: In the final analysis, the new order of the universe will be that God's people wall partake of his divinity (2pet.1:4). There will no longer be the presence, for his presence will be complete(Rev. 21:22). God will be all in all, filling all things with himself (1 Cor.15:28; Eph.1:23; Col.3:11). The new order will simply be God.

The Wedding Supper of the Lamb
Holy Communion in Jesus Christ Rev.19:6-8 The concept of a marriage between God and his people is deeply rotted in the OT where the covenant relationship is described as a marriage. This theme was proclaimed scripturally at the Feast of the Passover. In the New Covenant, it is applied to Jesus, who is the Bridegroom. It is with this theme that we enter into the services of Holy Week.
The image of a messianic banquet is taken from both the Old and New Testaments. Eating and drinking in the kingdom of God form one of the most significant images we can find to express the concept of Communion. Since the communion in Paradise was broken by a disobedient act of eating (Gen.3), restoration of that communion (and return to paradise) comes about in part through the obedient act of eating (1Cor. 11:24-25).
Eating of the tree of life (Rev. 2:7) and partaking of the hidden manna (Rev.2:17), or tasting of the bread from heaven (John6:31; Heb.9:4) is linked with the spiritual food (1Cor.10:3) of the Eucharist. Ignatius describes the Eucharist as "the medicine of immortality." Through these images it can be seen that those within the church "standing in the temple, stand in heaven."