Are the Orthodox Clergy Staying Awake?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN GREECE
“WHEN Jesus entered the temple . . . and saw the ‘trade fair,’ he was infuriated and he shouted: ‘Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!’ If he were to sail these days to the island of Patmos, . . . he would speak even more scathingly. But I am not sure if anyone would listen to him.” Thus lamented a journalist covering what was called a “Pan-Christian gathering of paramount importance” and “one of the high moments in modern Christianity.”
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, considered to be the symbolic head of the Orthodox Church worldwide, proclaimed the year 1995 the “Year of the Apocalypse.”* From September 23 to 27, 1995, the festivities reached a climax as high-ranking clergymen of most of the Orthodox patriarchates gathered on the island of Patmos. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and various Protestant denominations were also present. The highest political and military authorities of Greece attended the events, along with foreign officials, politicians, prominent businessmen, and other invited guests from around the globe.
Students of the book of Revelation will remember the urgent reminders presented therein by Jesus Christ: “Look! I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one that stays awake.” (Revelation 16:15) In view of this and the much publicized religious celebration revolving around Revelation, we cannot help but ask: Is Christendom staying awake? Do they keep on the watch, eagerly awaiting the coming of Jesus Christ as the enthroned King? Were these festivities focusing on the theme of the Bible, which reaches its climax in Revelation—the sanctification of Jehovah’s name and the vindication of his sovereignty by means of the Kingdom under Christ? Let us consider some of the facts.
A Part of This World?
To many observers the uneasy alliance among religious leaders, politicians, and businessmen during the festivities was quite objectionable. Some felt that all parties involved tried to exploit the situation for their own particular advantage. Clergymen enhanced their clout by appearing next to eminent politicians, whereas the politicians tried to shape up their own image by playing on the religious sentiment of the public. The spokesman for the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece even stated: “Revelation also had a political implication . . . It is a drama that unfolds on the earthly scene.”—Italics ours.
How well this fits in with the description found at Revelation 17:1, 2, where the symbolic “great harlot,” the world empire of false religion of which Christendom is a prominent part, is depicted as committing spiritual “fornication” with “the kings of the earth”! Instead of remaining spiritually clean and watchful, the Orthodox Church, like the rest of Christendom, has enticed political rulers into an unholy friendship with her, fomenting religious persecution, particularly against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It is noteworthy that two Orthodox patriarchs were absent from the celebrations. Why? In an act of protest, the patriarch Alexios II of Moscow refused to attend because the patriarchate of Constantinople had responded favorably to a petition made by the archdioceses of both Estonia and Ukraine to place themselves under the jurisdiction of Constantinople instead of Moscow. According to reports, “this is the gravest crisis that has ever arisen in the relations between the [patriarchate of Constantinople] and the much stronger Russian Orthodox Church,” threatening “unpredictable consequences for the unity and the authority of Orthodoxy.”
Additionally, the patriarch of Jerusalem boycotted the synod. Why? Reportedly because he was enraged over the penance he had been required to do three years earlier by the patriarchate of Constantinople for attempting to gain control of the Orthodox Church of Australia.
Initially, Pope John Paul II was to be invited, but this changed at the last moment because of strong opposition raised by conservative elements within the Orthodox Church. In May 1995 a leading Orthodox clergyman in Athens labeled the pope “a war criminal.” Then it was announced that under such circumstances “the pope . . . cannot share in the celebration in Patmos.”
Adding to this deplorable situation was the irony that during these celebrations, just 950 miles [1,500 km] northwest of Patmos, Orthodox and Roman Catholic “Christians” were killing one another in Bosnia and Herzegovina!
Clearly, spiritually lethargic professed Christians allow sectarianism to divide them! Decrying this disunity, Iakovos, Orthodox archbishop of North and South America, stated in an interview: “We have failed in our effort to see the churches united in order to render services to man and not to the powerful of this world. . . . People are fed up with . . . patriarchal benedictions.”
“A ‘Revelation’ of Luxury”
What was termed “an extravaganza of opulence” came under heavy scrutiny. A newspaper report stated: “The four days of festivities in Patmos eventually proved to be a ‘revelation’ of luxury. . . . The Byzantine glamour transcended the limits of ecclesiastical ceremony, threatening to convert an ecumenical event into an expensive fiesta.” Many were concerned about the amount of money that went into these festivities, especially at a time when the survival of people in the neighboring Balkans and Eastern Europe was being threatened. Some estimates put the price tag for this “unprecedented merrymaking” at almost $17 million (U.S.). Luxury cruise ships arrived at the port of Patmos to accommodate some of the wealthy guests who were invited to attend the convocation. To the disgust of many permanent residents, the island underwent a last-minute face-lift to create a better impression on the high-ranking visitors—although it lacks a hospital and a proper school building.
How aptly the words of Revelation 18:2, 3, 7 apply in this situation: “The traveling merchants of the earth became rich due to the power of [Babylon the Great’s] shameless luxury. To the extent that she glorified herself and lived in shameless luxury, to that extent give her torment and mourning”! At a time when the common people suffer, the Orthodox Church, instead of being wakeful to provide comfort and spiritual assistance, was preoccupied with the extravagance of spiritually empty feasts.
Nurturing False Hopes
In the context of this celebration, several symposiums and conferences took place. Solutions were proposed to deal with the serious problems humanity is facing. A resolution was issued calling for scientists to act urgently to solve mankind’s problems. The Kingdom of God was not mentioned even once. In contrast, the book of Revelation, in harmony with the rest of the Bible, stresses that God’s Kingdom in the hands of Jesus Christ is the only solution for all of mankind’s problems.—Revelation 11:15-18; 12:10; 21:1-5.
It is no wonder that Christendom does not take the Bible-based hope of the Kingdom seriously. Echoing the prevailing attitude, one of the monks of the Patmos monastery freely admitted: “We do not treat Revelation as being an authoritative text. It is the kind of scripture that is not being read in the churches.” In a similar vein, a theologian stated: “It is dangerous to link Revelation with the history of this world in the sense that it is a text that describes in detail what is going to happen. . . . This is naïveté and a rather dangerous interpretation.” What deep spiritual slumber!
They Are Not Staying Awake
Clearly, then, Christendom is not staying awake. This celebration, instead of focusing attention on the Word of God and his promises, was an empty and useless religious “fair.” The condition of the so-called Christian churches is very much like that of the congregation in Laodicea, to which Jesus said: “You say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.”—Revelation 3:17.
Interestingly, a die-hard supporter of the Orthodox Church wrote to a newspaper to complain that “the only ones who got the best out of this” celebration were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why did he think so? He explained that the revelation to John “has a common eschatological basis with that of the doctrinal position of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Yes, it is true that the Witnesses are diligently endeavoring to “keep on the watch” by keeping alert to the outworking of God’s purpose. They are also eager to assist all honesthearted people to ‘keep awake in order to succeed in standing before the Son of man,’ Jesus Christ.—Matthew 24:42; Luke 21:36.
According to Christendom’s chronology, that year marked the 1,900th anniversary of the writing of the book of Revelation (Greek, a·po·kaʹly·psis) on Patmos. Reliable evidence shows that Revelation was written in 96 C.E.
[Blurb on page 20]
“An extravaganza of opulence” and “unprecedented merrymaking”
[Blurb on page 21]
“People are fed up with . . . patriarchal benedictions”
[Picture Credit Line on page 19]
Photo: Garo Nalbandian