We continue with the greeting of St. John the Theologian to the seven Churches which are in Asia (Rev. 1:4).
St. John conveys grace and peace to Christians from the Most Holy Trinity in these words:
Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him Which is, and Which was, and Which is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before His throne; And from Jesus Christ, Who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:4-5).
Let’s examine the name of Christ, “Prince of the kings of the earth.”
“Prince of the kings of the earth”
In the Old Testament, God announced the Messiah through the mouths of the prophets: I will make Him My Firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth (Ps. 88:28); I shall give thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession (Ps. 2:8-9, cf. Dan. 7:14, Is. 9:6-7). The Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament. Christ rejected all the kingdoms of the Earth and their glory, which the devil had offered Him (Mt. 4:8-10), and after His Resurrection and Ascension sat down at the right hand of God the Father, above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion (Eph. 1:21). He is the head of all principality and power (Col. 2:10, cf. Phil. 2:8-10), the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Rev. 19:16).
He wages battle against forces hostile to Him, which are sometimes served by the kings of the earth. “Kings of the earth” should immediately remind us of Ps. 2:2: The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His anointed (Christ). But their efforts are in vain. Christ is the Prince of the kings of the earth, whether they want it or not. He is obviously stronger. He is God, and allows them to act as far as it is part of His Divine plans.
Praise of Christ
After the epistolary introduction to the book, that is, the address and greeting, follows the praise of Christ. Similar praises (so-called “exclamations”) are preserved in Orthodox worship to this day (at the end of prayers, litanies). This praise glorifies Christ as Redeemer. Some scholars suggest that this glorification used to be part of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Let’s read the end of the fifth and the sixth verses:
Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen (Rev. 1:5-6).
But Christ not only “loved” us, He still loves us now. The love of God in Jesus Christ is something permanent and uninterrupted.
He washed us from our sins in His own blood
He washed us from our sins in His own blood. Our liberation from sin was accomplished on Golgotha. The effect of Christ’s sacrifice is actualized for us in our faith and repentance, in Baptism and the Eucharist.
We find these words from the Apostle Paul: The blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, shall purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). This is the result of what is written: To Him Who washed us from our sins in His own blood! In the world above, Christ offered His Blood as a sacrifice for us, entering into the Heavenly Tabernacle. And here, on Earth, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ unto the remission of sins and the purification of conscience, because the conscience is unclean precisely because of sin.
In this Sacrament we receive such a strong assurance of the purification of our hearts that we need no other proofs. I think every one of us has experienced at least once in life the feeling of true, undoubted purification of soul after communing of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. Of course, Communion always has the same power, as Christ always has the same Divine power. But sometimes the Lord reveals to us in a special way the greatness of this Mystery, and we sense with all our heart how we are changing: As the burden that lies upon our soul vanishes, our mind is enlightened, this or that passion is weakened or completely falls away, and the conscience is cleansed. At such moments, to our every “Lord, have mercy,” we hear the response: “Your sins are forgiven you. Go in peace.” In such moments, you want to die—not in the sense of “not living,” but of being released from the body to be with the Lord.
But, According to your faith be it unto you (Mt. 9:29). The believer is cleansed as much as he wants it and as much as he believes in it. The Lord doesn’t save a man without the man himself.
Kings and priests
And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father (Rev. 1:6). “Hath made” can be taken as an indication of the new creation in Christ. Through Baptism, people die to the old and rise again to the new world; they enter the Kingdom of God.
In what sense are we kings and priests?
The meaning of the royal priesthood can be found in the Old Testament. The Lord promises a kingdom and a priesthood to His people: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation (Ex. 19:6); But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves (Is. 61:6). In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter sees the Old Testament promises fulfilled in Christians: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light (1 Pt. 2:9).
Man was originally created as the king and priest of creation. “The work of a priest is to offer sacrifice; that is, to be a mediator between God and creation, a ‘sanctifier’ of life through its inclusion in the Divine will and order. This double function was inherent in man from the very beginning… Man is king and priest by nature and by calling,” writes Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.
Man’s priestly calling was betrayed and lost in the Fall. In fact, the Fall of man consisted in his renunciation of his priestly vocation. Man chooses a non-priestly relationship with God and the world and becomes a consumer. This situation is amended by the Sacrifice. The priesthood of Adam is restored and fulfilled in Christ.
“This calling consists in sanctifying and transfiguring yourself and your life and the whole world, given to each of us as our kingdom. We sanctify ourselves by constantly offering our lives, our work, our joys and our sufferings to God, leaving them ever open to God’s will and grace; trying to be what we have become in Christ: the temple of the Holy Spirit; the transformation of our life into the kind of life the Holy Spirit has made it: into the Liturgy, service to God, and union with Him. The world is trying to be ‘people for others,’ not in the sense of constant participation in public or political affairs— to which Christianity is often reduced in our time—but in trying to be always, everywhere and in everything witnesses of Christ’s Truth, which is the only true life, and bearers of sacrificial love, which is the ultimate essence and content of the human priesthood,” writes Protopresbyter Alexander.
The priesthood is the offering of sacrifices. What sacrifices can a layman offer to God?
In the Old Testament prophetic texts, you can see many mysterious prescriptions for future sacrifices of a spiritual nature. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit (Ps. 50:19); the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice (Ps. 140:2); offer God a sacrifice of praise (Ps. 49:14); Offer the sacrifices of righteousness (Ps. 4:6); Accept, I beseech thee, the freewill offerings of my mouth, O LORD (Ps. 118:108). The semantic concept of these phrases, woven into the ornate canvas of the Messianic prophecies of the Psalter, testifies to the time of their fulfillment with the coming of the Messiah, that is, Christ. This, according to many interpreters, is also indicated by the mysterious inscription of many psalms: “For the end.”
Were these ancient prophecies fulfilled with the coming of Christ? Yes, they were. Let us open the New Testament. The Apostle Peter writes: Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pt. 2:5). What kind of spiritual sacrifices are these? In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul calls to us: By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15). This is the fulfillment of David’s prophecies! “By Him,” that is, by Jesus Christ, our praise of God becomes a real, spiritual sacrifice, glorifying His name. Like the fire that continually burned in the Tabernacle, we can and must offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.
The Apostle also writes: But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Heb. 13:16). I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). I have written the more boldly unto you … because of the grace that is given to me of God, That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God (Rom. 15:15-16).
These are our New Testament sacrifices: praising God, good works, communication (alms and heartfelt participation in the needs of others), the sanctity of the body, and the labor of ministering the Gospel! And with them, other spiritual virtues, which, if done in the name of Christ and in the Holy Spirit, become new, pleasant sacrifices for God, “as an odor of spiritual fragrance.”
Man—the church of God
It must be noted that the Patristic spiritual experience—the incarnation of the Gospel—exactly confirms the apostolic words. St. Maximos the Confessor writes about it beautifully:
“The holy church of God is a man: The altar represents the soul, the Divine altar table the nous, and the church the body; because the church is the image and likeness of man, created in the image and likeness of God.”
The fact that these words are not just words can be confirmed by opening the lives of the saints. The life of every saint is a Divine service.
St. John Chrysostom counts up to ten types of spiritual sacrifices offered on the altar of the heart: the sacrifice of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of martyrdom (Rom. 12:1), the sacrifice of prayer (Ps. 140:2), the sacrifice of exclamation, or praise (Ps. 26:6), the sacrifice of righteousness (Ps. 4:6), of mercy (Jas. 1:27), of praise (Ps. 49:14), of preaching (Rom. 15:16), and the sacrifice of a broken spirit and humility (Ps. 50:19). Man, in the Christian understanding, is the church of God, in which spiritual sacrifices are constantly offered.
Our priesthood also consists in special access to God, which man was denied in his old state. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God (Eph. 2:18-19).
This is also our participation in the Liturgy, after all, the Liturgy cannot be served without the laity. The Liturgy is a mystery performed by Christ in community. For this mystery to be fulfilled, both the community and the head of the community (a bishop or presbyter appointed by him) are necessary. If they are there, we serve the Liturgy. We serve as its full-fledged participants. The laity participate in the Liturgy as a royal, spiritual priesthood; the bishops and presbyters as the hierarchical priesthood.
The royal priesthood of the laity and the professional (hierarchical) priesthood complement each other; they don’t contradict one another. “The royal priesthood is the true image of the Christian life, and the professional priesthood is the form of the Church’s existence,” writes Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann.
In general, the only absolute priesthood is the high priesthood of Christ. Our Church’s priesthood is the priesthood of Christ, which He exercises in the Church through people who are especially appointed to this ministry.
In the next article, we will speak about our royal status and its fulfillment in the Church.
To be continued…
Sergei Komarov is a well-known Orthodox writer and catechist based in Moscow.