A wave of fear and panic has entered among our faithful, both in Greece and abroad, during the past two years with regard to the number 666, the sign with which the Revelation of St. John characterises the "Beast" that is the Antichrist.
Seeing the agony of simple people about all that is said and written in this respect, one is terribly saddened wondering what one could do to offer them consolation and peace. For surely the nightmares from which our people suffer are not few - including the economic crisis of recent years, the danger of cancer or of AIDS, political instability, the impending war with Turkey and many other evils - and it would not be necessary for the "church" to add a further nightmare.
We are pleased to print in this issue a long article from the Monastery of Stavronikita in an attempt to offer enlightenment with particular interest on every individual question with respect to this "risky talk". Supplementing in some way this theological text of Mount Athos, we shall present here some thoughts, with the purpose of reminding our faithful of some simple but saving truths.
a) We need to have not only great care but literally awe and fear of God, when we are to interpret a passage of Holy Scripture, particularly the book of the Revelation which is the most difficult prophetic text that speaks in an especially symbolic language. Let us not forget that the Fathers of the Church, in their attempt to approach God's word from every possible viewpoint, gave many interpretations often to the same passage. Furthermore, let us not forget that even the God-bearing Fathers with much humility consulted the best among themselves with respect to the interpretation of difficult passages of the Holy Scripture, in order to avoid
the danger of falling into error in matters of faith. Finally, in the event of not finding a satisfactory answer from the personal explanations of the God-bearing Fathers, the unique and absolute criterion was always the voice of the Church, which is expressed not through the mouth of one individual but with the official verdict of the Synod. Since, therefore, our Church has not pronounced, officially through a Synod, any verdict with respect to any concrete action of a contemporary nation (money notes, police I.D. cards etc,), let us leave aside the number 666, which cannot have any magical power at all, at least for those who believe and reverence the "reasonable worship" of the living God.
b) The message which Jesus Christ brought to the world is called, as is known, "New Testament" and "Gospel". Both these names express most characteristically the definitive guarantee and joy that the faithful feel for the death of Death and for the abolition of sin, both "worked out" once for all by the Lord. Such guarantee and joy of the faithful are not at all compatible with the panic and fear of 666, which testifies to a mechanical and magical understanding of God's world, rather than to the freedom of the spirit, "by which Christ liberated us" (Gal, 5:1). In such an atmosphere of fear and panic; St. John Chrysostom's words uttered with doxological assurance to the ruler of darkness after Christ's Resurrection would constitute a caricature: "Where is your victory, O Hades? Where is your sting, O Death? "Therefore, the primary fear of the faithful should not be the presence of the Antichrist in the world -which is everywhere and always given, but which is at the same time abolished where Christ is confessed - but the downfall from correct faith and from God's sanctifying grace safeguarded by the Mysteries of the Church.
c) Although the Second Coming of the Lord will appear as "a thief in the night" and will finally transform the world, yet we Christians know that after Christ's Ascension and the Coming of the Paraclete we live already from now the age of the "eschaton". This means that every minute of our day can be of decisive significance for our salvation or our damnation. At least that is the way to interpret the eschatological message of the Apostles and especially of St. Paul, who designated the daily life of a Christian as the "acceptable time" and as the "day of salvation" (2 Cor, 6: 2). Let us remember that it was precisely through this daily life that St. Paul declared that 'the Lord is near" (Phil. 4:5).
d) The fact that the "Second Coming" of the Lord will constitute the great "surprise" since "concerning that day and hour no one knows" (Mat. 24:86) does not mean that the permanent presence of the Lord in our daily life is in any way doubted. The difference between the two forms of presence is not "Of time" as if there ever was a time without the definitive presence of the Lord, "who is everywhere present and fills all creation. The difference is purely "qualitative", and which means that the unceasing presence of the Lord in the world before the Second Coming is the presence of the paraclete, that is strengthening and consolation, while the operation of the Second Coming is judgement and final transformation.
e) Since every curious "embroidery" recently circulates in Greece unofficially but widely by way of advertisement, which when placed before a bent glass really presents the form of Satan with horns, tail, wings etc, we should explicitly declare the following: If indeed the new 1.D. cards to be issued in Greece are going to be in any way related with such demonological emblems in the form described, the Church should openly fight the challenge and call its faithful to refuse such 1.D. cards. This should be done of course not out of fear for demonic influence, but out of divine indignation at this blasphemy. Again, if this is not true, the Church should condemn all those who with such demagogic and profane "juggling" disturb the peace of the people and also slander the nation. As for the so called "unified code number" which is said to be used in Greece for the more systematic and the quicker registration of the citizens, we should say that there is nothing against it from a purely theological and spiritual viewpoint. From the moment, however, that this system regards persons as numbers and encroaches openly on the citizen's freedom and responsibility, the problem that is created is no longer simply constitutional and political, but also moral and extremely theological, in which case the Church should again express its clear position, in order to protect the sacred and inviolate human person.