Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Orthodoxy on "666"

Following up on our earlier post about today's date, here are some Orthodox and patristic reflections on the number 666:

St. Hippolytus of Rome: "I have an opinion as to this number [666]...will give us the words, 'I deny.'"

St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes this number signifies the number of heresies from the foundation of the Church.

The Coptic priest Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty gives an interesting review of patristic thought on this number in his Commentary on Revelation: "Many of the Fathers think that he mentioned the number simply to confirm the truth, that he is in fact a man and has a name." He also relates St. John Climacus' view that "6" means "incomplete" and "inferior," two outstanding traits of this figure. Fr. Malaty concludes, "[I]t is enough for us to know that he will come denying and refuting faith in the Lord Jesus, appointing himself as a king."

Rassophore Monk Vsevolod follows the fathers in discouraging vain speculation -- particularly the kind rampant in the "end times" culture of today -- in his article "Count the Number of the Beast: '666,'" published in the ROCOR publication Orthodox America:

[T]he Apostle John the Theologian indicated specifically that in order to comprehend the name of the beast it was essential to have wisdom, i.e., Christian love of wisdom, and not simply an arithmetical formula...Many people think that the seal of the Antichrist will be something like a stamp or brand, or an electronic chip implanted under the skin. The basis for such thinking lies in the fantastically rapid development of science and technology in this direction. Most likely, however, this scientific development is designed to distract mankind's attention from the real mark of Antichrist, which will have nothing to do with the advances of science, technology or medicine. At a time when people's suspicions and anxieties are fixed upon some innovation of progress-the implantation of computer chips in humans, for example-the real seal of Antichrist will be imprinted quietly, without any particular commotion...even before the placing of the marks (or even before the coming of Antichrist), they will accuse the earthly part of Christ's Church with having accepted the mark of Antichrist, although in fact this will be simply some credit card or new type of personal document. Furthermore, such zealots "not according to knowledge" will proclaim that their group alone - which has rejected these "marks" (cards, documents, products with certain symbols, etc.) - is the true Church. Clearly, this will be nothing but a new schism or sect. Already now we find many sad examples of such splinter groups, and they will only increase in the last times.

This makes an interesting contrast with this picture of the Greek Church in Cyprus from the year 2000:

The Greek Orthodox Church spoke out against the use of 666, prompting the government to announce that it will no longer issue its citizens identity cards that bear the creepy code. In fact, it went so far as to promise that the I.D.s will now feature six instead of three digits.

This should take care of any and all numeric disputes until a devout churchgoer ends up with 696969.

Finally, I see the phone number for Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in L.A. (home of Bp. TIKHON) begins with -- wait for it! -- "666." Other Orthodox churches with this prefix include:

(My Russian friends tell me that's St. George Cathedral gets for leaving ROCOR.) :)

The Orthodox fathers, though perhaps non-plussed by having the number 666 plastered on a church, would draw attention not to the numbers on the outside of the Church but the Savior within Who beckons all to Himself in the hopes that where He is, we may be also.

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