Dreading the Apocalypse

Thou Who art kindhearted to sinners, be merciful also to us in the day of judgement. Forgive us our debts according to Thy loving-kindness and in the day of Thy coming vouchsafe us Thy habitation.

When the multitudes to be judged tremble before the righteous judgement and stand before Thee stripped bare and in fear—then, O my Judge, have mercy on me for I have sung of Thy glory.

When the lips of the wise are stopped and Thy terrifying mighty scepter looms ominously before all, then may my lips be opened, for I have confessed Thee.

When neither friend nor acquaintance can save a man and every man is brought naked to account for himself—then, O Lord, be my intercessor, for I have hoped in Thee.

When the sound of the trumpet blares out, the nations shudder and every man is to receive reckoning according to his labors—then, O Lord, be my helper, for to Thee do I run.

Accept our service, O Lord, hope of those above and hope of those below, and have mercy on us.

Be merciful to us, O Lord, be merciful to our parents, be merciful to our teachers, be merciful to our brethren.

Be merciful to us, O Lord, and give rest to our relatives who have reposed and to all who have died and did confess Thee, believe in Thee and tast Thy flesh and Thy life-creating blood.

Vouchsafe us together with Thy sheep to enter into Thy pasture, and together with Thy saints to offer Thee praise in accordance with Thy greatness unto the ages of ages.

St Ephrem the Syrian; compiled by St Theophan the Recluse for Psalm 87 LXX in A Spiritual Psalter (St John of Kronstadt Press, 1997).

Just today I was thinking about the Apocalypse, the book more specifically than any such-named event, and how through all the time I’ve spent reading commentaries on it, and getting into persnickety little studies on various aspects of it, although seldom really clearing up this most oblique of the New Testament’s books, I realized that we almost never hear about the kind of fear in connection with this book that St Ephrem elicits above. These days people talk and write a whole bunch of nice stuff about how the book really describes God’s love, telling people to ignore the awful stuff as just imagery or rhetorical flourishes. Codswallop. Yes, the book describes God’s love for His own particular people, but also His anger at everyone else, who could be your local espresso clerk, the nice bus driver (but you wouldn’t be surprised if the mean one you don’t like was going to get it!), your mom, your dad, your brother, your sister, your wife, your husband, your children. Oh, God, not them! That gets some of that fear back right away, doesn’t it? Imagine a sound like a trumpet, earth-shatteringly loud, and imagine what follows, after the initial shock has worn off. Stockbrokers running to hide in the sewer from the One with a face like the sun, fanatics denying the reality to the bitter end, and hopefully some of us, the few left, will have the presence of mind to pray like St Ephrem above, for those we love and know, and not just for our own selves, for mercy in the time of judgment. And all the terrors of all the ages before will be nothing compared to facing that Judge in that judgment, the last ever. All the horrid events leading up to the end, visited upon a wretched world not too different from the one we’re living in, will be forgotten then. Game over; time for the score. That fear and dread is something that is a necessary part of the reception of the book of Revelation in anything remotely resembling its original intent, and something we’d all do best to keep in mind if we wish to understand it. Like the plagues and dread of the Exodus, the plagues and dread of the Apocalypse are an integral part of the experience, both as included in the depicted events and, perhaps especially, as intended to be elicited from the reader. But just as the plagues are so much worse, so also will the new song be even more joyous than the Song of the Sea. So, balanced in the dread scales between fear and hope is the Apocalypse. Something to keep in mind.

2 Replies to “Dreading the Apocalypse”

  1. i haven’t done a close study on this, but i seem to remember that most of the texts in St. Theophan’s Psalter are based on the Greek corpus of Ephraim’s writings in which this fear of the judgement is very prominent. Do you know of any research regarding this?

    1. I don’t know, specifically, Benjamin, and I’m at work right now so I can’t check my copy itself. I would certainly be pleasantly surprised, but certainly not shocked, were St Theophan to have worked from the Syriac. He did certainly know Greek, however, and St Ephrem’s works were translated into Greek during his lifetime. St Basil the Great was a great admirer of St Ephrem’s theological writing. I’ll be able to look around for some things later, and let you know if I find out any more details.

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