Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Repent, Hold Fast, Conquer

Jesus had messages for the seven churches in the region in which St John lived (and perhaps over whom he had some authority). These comprise chapters 2 and 3 of the Book of Revelation. Even though part of what Jesus said applies only to the circumstances of that time and those particular places, most of his words can apply directly to us, and to the Church everywhere in the world today.

The title of this post gives the major themes and repeated injunctions of these divine messages. In addition, Jesus declares his omniscience—for Christ is “He who searches mind and heart”—by beginning almost all of the messages to the churches like this: “I know your works…” And that is for better or worse. Most of the churches have room for improvement. The Lord starts out by commending them for their labors and faith, but often He must add: “But I have this against you…” So here is the call to repentance. “Remember from what you have fallen, repent… Remember what you received and heard; keep that, and repent… Be zealous, and repent…” Probably the most frightening is the one that applies to the great number of unenthusiastic, half-hearted, or apathetic Christians: “Because you are lukewarm…I will spit you out of My mouth” (3:16). Therefore repentance is the primary and most urgent work that must be done. First turn from sin, correct what is not of God in your life—then you can be about the business of fidelity and perseverance.

The Lord then calls his faithful ones to hold fast in the truth, for they were sorely tried both by persecutions from outside and by heresies and errors from within. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life… Hold fast what you have, until I come… Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown…” Perseverance in the faith is one of the most important virtues to maintain during turbulent times, for those who turn away into seductive errors or who buckle under the pressure of persecution forsake their heavenly reward.

Finally, the fruit of repentance and of the steadfast holding and defense of the Faith is victory. All of the messages to the churches, without exception, conclude with a blessing and promise for “he who conquers.” In this the faithful become like Christ the Victor, the Conqueror of sin and death. The same term here used for the saints is the one used in the common “logo” of Christ: IC XC NIKA, Jesus Christ Conquers, which is emblazoned all over Eastern Christianity, and is even stamped into the bread used for the Holy Eucharist. Whoever conquers everything that fights against truth and divine revelation and the will of God, will enjoy manifold heavenly blessings: “To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God… He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death… He who conquers shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; I will confess his name before my Father and his angels… He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne…”

We ought to keep these themes in mind as we read the Book of Revelation and as we live our daily lives. There may not yet be overt, sweeping persecutions, imprisonments, and executions of Christians (not in this country, anyway), but more subtle ones are clearly evident—and increasing. We must be willing to stand up for what we believe in, even to the point of martyrdom. Repent of sin, hold fast the Faith, and conquer evil and the devil by the power of the Blood of the sacrificed Lamb, the victorious Word of God, who rides in triumph and glorifies forever his faithful servants.