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About the problem of chiliasm
Hegumen Varsonofii (Khaibulin)

The theologians-anti-chiliasts of our time continue to adhere to the “Orthodox-dogmatic theology” of Metropolitan Makariy (Bulgakov), first published in 1849-1853, but they do not read it very carefully.

This textbook recognizes the essential difference between the crude sensual chiliasm of the ancient heretics (Cerinthes, Ebionites, Montanists, etc.) from the eschatology of the early Christian saints Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus of Rome, Justin the Philosopher, Methodius of Patara, and the apostolic man Papias of Hierapolis. It is also recognized that for the time being, it was permissible for an Orthodox Christian to follow their teaching as a private opinion.

And if a sharp criticism of the crude chiliasm of the ancient heretics can be found in Sts. Gregory the Theologian, Ephraim the Syrian, Dionysius of Alexandria and other fathers of the 4th-5th centuries, then on the authority of St. Irenaeus and his like-minded people none of them encroached, except perhaps the Blessed Augustine. But even he, outlining the main thesis of their eschatology, does not blame them for the doctrine of the “thousand-year kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth”, which is not found in their writings that have come down to us.

Outlining their teaching, Blessed Augustine writes: “'One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day' (2 Pet 3:8), there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years; and that it is for this purpose the saints rise (meaning 'the first resurrection' — Rev. 20:5-6 — H.V.), viz. to celebrate this Sabbath” (“The City of God”, Book XX).

Indeed, Saint Irenaeus and his associates taught that this world would exist for as many millennia as the number of days it was created, and they interpreted the thousand years promised in Apocalypse 20:3-7 as “the sanctified seventh day, the rest, the Sabbath of the saints.” Regarding the Kingdom of Christ and the earthly kingdom of the saints, based not only on the twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse, but also on the seventh chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel (vv. 18,22,27), they used only one epithet — eternal (“Against heresies”, book 5, Ch.26:2, Ch.29:1, Ch.33:2, Ch.35:1).

But let us return to Blessed Augustine: “And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion.” (“The City of God”, Book XX).

So Blessed Augustine testifies that until some time, the teaching of the ancient martyrs about the “sanctified seventh day” was recognized by the Church as quite acceptable.

But until what time?

In the dogmatic theology of Metropolitan Macarius, it was argued that the teachings of the early Christian saints about the apocalyptic “millennium” could be held as a private opinion until the Second Ecumenical Council introduced an addition to the Nicene Creed to the seventh article: “His Kingdom will have no end.” After the introduction of these words, “it became no longer permissible at all for an Orthodox Christian to hold these opinions” (“Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” by Macarius, Archbishop of Kharkov, vol. II).

But Blessed Augustine does not refer to this addition to the Nicene Creed. He was baptized at the age of 33, i.e. six years after the Second Ecumenical Council, Blessed Augustine certainly knew that this addition was not directed against the eschatology of the ancient martyrs. He criticizes their teaching in a completely unexpected way: “I myself, too, once held this opinion. But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal” (“The City of God”, Book XX).

According to St. Irenaeus of Lyon, “the thousand-year Sabbath of the righteous” will begin with the Second Coming of Christ, “in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings” (Ch.35:1).

Are “immoderate carnal feasts” compatible with “seeing the Lord”?

As for the addition to the seventh member of the Nicene Creed “His Kingdom shall have no end”, it was introduced by Sts. Fathers of the Second Ecumenical Council in refutation of the heretical (anti-trinitarian) Christology of the theologian of the fourth century Markell, Bishop of Ancyra. Its exposition can be read in the work of Kartashov A.V. “The Ecumenical Councils” (Paris, 1963), as well as in “History of dogmatic movements in the era of Oecumenical Councils” by A.A. Spassky (Sergiev Posad, 1914, reprint 1995).

Spassky writes: “Markell, Bishop of Ancyra taught that the Son of God always existed in God the Father, as His eternal word. He receives his personal existence only as a result of the incarnation in Christ. The Word of God becomes a person. Christ establishes His Kingdom, but it is not eternal, and when the Kingdom of Christ, which is also a millennium kingdom, ends, the Word will again return to God the Father. It was this heresy that was condemned by the Second Ecumenical Council” (see S.V. Bulgakov, “Handbook for clergymen”, ed. 1993, p. 1629).

And in his eschatology Markell is very close to Blessed Augustine (apparently for this reason, when criticizing the eschatology of the ancient martyrs, Blessed Augustine does not refer to the Second Ecumenical Council). Blessed Augustine taught that the apocalyptic “millennium” is an indefinite fullness of time from the first coming of Christ to the reign of the Antichrist (this is how Metropolitan Macarius expounds his concept). And Markell believed (based on 1 Cor 15:25) that the “thousand-year kingdom of Christ” already exists on earth from the incarnation of the Logos and will last until the return of the Word to God the Father.

Consequently, the Second Ecumenical Council did not condemn the eschatology of the early Christian saints, but a doctrine diametrically opposed to their “chiliasm”, if only this term can be applied to their eschatology.

Therefore, there is every reason to assert (contrary to the textbook of Metropolitan Macarius) that the eschatology of St. Irenaeus of Lyon and his like-minded people, like all interpretations of the apocalyptic “millennium”, are alien to the sensual, rude, materialistic chiliasm of the ancient heretics and do not contradict the seventh member of the Nicene-Tsaregrad Symbol Faiths remain permissible for Orthodox Christians as private theological opinions.

Following this truth, the compiler of the “Collection of articles on the interpretive and edifying reading of the Apocalypse”, published in Simbirsk in 1894, M. Barsov, along with the Augustinian interpretation of the “millennium”, repeated by Bishop Andrew of Caesarea in his “Interpretation of the Apocalypse”, placed the exegesis of Bishop Peter (Ekaterinovsky), which is quite consistent with the eschatology of the early Christian martyrs. And on the question of the “first resurrection” Barsov cites the opinion of St. Filaret (Drozdov), who disagrees with Blessed Augustine.

In the book “The Apocalypse of John” (Paris, 1948), Prot. Sergius Bulgakov resolutely asserts: “The Church has not established any definite and final dogmatic and exegetical attitude towards it (the doctrine of the apocalyptic “millennium” and “first resurrection”).”

The theological discussion about the problem of chiliasm continues to this day.

In this paper, materials from articles by Kapitanchuk V.A. "Chiliasm is not condemned by the Councils" «Хилиазм не осужден Соборами» and by Makartsev V.S. «Две греческие рукописи архиепископа Андрея Кесарийского и тысяча лет вечного Царства Христа» are used.

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