The Roots of Eastern Orthodox Historicist Eschatological Thought

Some New Research Reveals the Roots of Eastern Orthodox Historicist Eschatology Trace Back to After the Fall of Constantinople

It is a common assumption that Western Classic Historicist ideas sprang from the dawn of the Reformation. Historicist authors viewed interpreting the apocalypse as a continuous-time fulfillment of events from the time of John until the Second Coming of Christ. In addition to the Western Historicist schools of thought, there was also a Greek Orthodox author and theologian, Apostolos Makrakis, who write a commentary on the “Interpretation of the Revelation” published in the year 1881. Makrakis was thought to be the first Eastern Orthodox commentator writing similar “Historicist” ideas to those expressed by Western Post-Reformation commentators. However, new evidence suggests that we are finding that there were also Eastern Greek Orthodox authors from as early as the 16th century writing from a Historicist perspective in viewing the two “beasts” or apostasies as coming to pass through the rise of the Medieval Papacy and Islam. These two apostasies were often the central core theme to the many Historicist Eschatology writings through the 18th and 19th centuries, and often the proof of the 1260-year apostasies were often demonstrated and applied using the “day-for-a-year” principle and method of prophetic interpretation.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD, there is now evidence of Orthodox writers during the time of the Turkish occupation of Greece who firmly believed that the Book of Revelation was written to describe what was happening in Orthodoxy and Hellenism of this period in history, which they equated to the times of the “reign of the Antichrist”. “Also were called to answer what was the role of the Pope and of Muhammad. And this happened because there was a large number of Muslim traditions and eschatological texts, which reported that the Basel of Muhammad would have lasted a thousand years. Besides, between 1560 and 1660 the Muslim world was flooded by prophets and prophecies, which strengthened their faith.” In fact, the very idea of an Islamic Antichrist was often promoted in many of the Greek Orthodox Prophecy of the Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, such as the prophecies of Pseudo-Methodius, St. Andrew Salos for Christ, the Greek Apocalypse of Daniel, St. Constantine’s Tombstone prophecy, the Oracles of Leo the Wise, to name a few.

One of the earliest Orthodox commentaries published after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 were Zacharias Gerganos from Arta, wrote a Greek commentary in 1621, which identified the Papacy as the Antichrist. Then we have Anastasios Gordios who published a work in the year 1717 titled “About Muḥammad and against the Latins” which was a commentary which supported the idea that the Apocalypse identifies the both Islam and Papacy as the Antichrists. Then the monk Nektarios Terpos wrote a commentary around the year 1740 AD which specifically identified the Islamic Ottomans as the Beast and Antichrist with the gemmatria calculations identifying them as such. And in the year 1800 the monk known as Theodoret of Ioannina wrote a book titled “Interpretation of the Apocalypse”, described as “a voluminous interpretation in Revelation, where – without forget the Papacy and Islam – inflicted upon now Napoleon and France, in which foresees the Antichrist, while in the face of the Tsar of Russia foresees the Messiah and Resurrection of the Eastern Orthodox Empire.” It is obvious then that Orthodox writers like Apostolos Makrakis just a few decades later coming out of the Greek Independence of 1821 were influenced by writings of Theodoret of Ioannina and St. Kosmas Aetolia while also mirroring some of the historicist interpretations of Protestant Authors during the Reformation. Is there a possible link between the Eastern and Western eschatological thought? Or did these evolve separately, unknown to one another?

Marios Hatzopoulos, who is an adjunct professor at Hellenic Open University in Patras Greece, has recently wrote a research paper on the subject of tracing the roots of post-Byzantine eschatological thoughts after the fall of the Byzantine empire in 1453, where we can trace some of the early origins of Orthodox Historicism. The paper is titled: Eighteenth century Greek Prophetic Literature. Marios Hatzopoulos’s paper published in the following trade publication:

David Thomas & John Chesworth (eds), Christian-Muslim Relations. A Bibliographical History, Volume 13 Central and Eastern Europe 1700-1800, Leiden: Brill (forthcoming April 2020) Page Numbers: 357-377

The research paper is described as follows:

“This essay article gives an overview of the key texts and authors of the Greek prophetic literature during the 18th century. The works of Anastasios Gordios, Nektarios Terpos, Kosmas of Aitolia, Theokleitos Polyeidis, Nikolaos Zerzoulis, Pantazis the Larissian, Ioannis Lindios, elaborated on the prophetic expectation of a Christian vessel of divine will who would wrest power and space from Muslim hands and resurrect the Eastern Roman Empire from its ashes. When the age of revolution arrived Greek prophetic literature had become a validating charter for collective actions that would have otherwise appeared unacceptably revolutionary, spanning from the Orlov Revolt up to the Greek war of Independence.”

Some excerpts from the research paper:

Description/Abstract:

“Medieval and early modern Greek prophetic literature was literature with a purpose. It aimed at restoring hope and dignity to the community of Orthodox Christians during times of threat, anxiety and change by offering divine assurances that the present, sad state of affairs tormenting the community of the faithful would not last. The long period of Byzantine decline, from the 13th to the 15th century, had redefined the meaning of two ideas that played a critical role for Greek prophetic literature and lore after the fall of Constantinople (1453): First, that the sacralised centre of the Eastern Roman Empire could be taken back after a period of loss – a prospect experienced historically in 1261, when the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople from the Latins; second, that the Prophet Muḥammad was a personification of the Antichrist, and thus the rule of his followers and believers was the rule of the Antichrist”

Peri tou Mōameth kai kata Lateinōn 

“The first 18th-century work that belongs to the eschatological strand is Peri tou Mōameth kai kata Lateinōn (‘About Muḥammad and against the Latins’), written by Anastasios Gordios (1654-1729) around 1717-18, shortly after the Ottoman reconquest of the Peloponnese in 1715. Known as a physician, monk, teacher and preacher, Gordios was also believed to have the charisma of being able to foresee the future. The problem that motivated him is overtly stated in the preface: if the Bible contains every-thing about the past and the future of humankind, it must also refer to the rise of Islam, explaining the great power it wields in the present and predicting its future demise. The interpreter’s duty, therefore, would be to find out which part or parts of scripture describe the present state of things and decode what is foretold about the future.  (….) Although himself preoccupied about the future of the Orthodox people, Gordios does not fail to underline that ‘the oracles’ about the advent of a Christian king are uncertain and false because they lack a real foundation in scripture. Only God’s intervention, as prophesied in the Bible and par excellence in the Revelation of John, tells the truth: Islam will only fall at Christ’s second coming, but the faithful do not have to wait long; it is coming soon (…)”

Vivliarion kaloumenon PistisIf

Christian losses to Islamisation were only one of Gordios’s concerns,they were the major causes of apprehension for the author of Pistis, Nektarios Terpos (or Terpou; latter part of the 17th century – 1740/41). Terpos was a monk who was an itinerant preacher for a decade or so (1720s) and then went on to Venice and had his teachings published as a book, whose full title is Vivliarion kaloumenon Pistis, anankaion eis kathe aploun anthrōpon, vevaiōmenon apo prophētas, euangelion, apostolous, kai alloussophous didaskalous (…) Apocalypticism is employed when Terpos explicitly identifies the Antichrist with Muḥammad, thereby suggesting that conversion to Islam is more than just a matter of choice: it is an unconditional surrender of one’s self to the forces of evil. (…) In both chapters, Terpos draws on Revelation, trying to prove that the identification of Antichrist with Muḥammad, and with the Ottomans, has a firm foundation in scripture. First, he states that the numerical values of the Greek letters in the word Otmanes (‘Ottomans’) when added together make up the number of the beast. Second, he freely interprets scattered lines from Revelation 13 to underpin the conclusion that the Turk is the very embodiment of the Antichrist (see Revelation 13:3: ‘and all the world wandered after the beast’; 13:7-8: ‘and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him’). Had not the Ottoman Empire managed to defeat every nation?

To read the complete research paper, visit and download the article from Mario Hatzopoulos author page on Acadamia.edu:

Eighteenth century Greek Prophetic Literature

Conclusion

Clearly we can see that some of Mario Hatzopoulos’s findings help us to identify an earlier progression of post-Byzantine eschatological thought leading to later works by other Greek Orthodox Historicist commentators such as Theodoret of Ioannina book titled “Interpretation of the Apocalypse”, Apostolos Makrakis with his 1881 AD work titled “Interpretation of the Revelation” and Nelios Sotiropoulos 1964 AD work titled “Sharp and Coming Two-Edged Sword”. And we can thus conclude that Historicist Eschatology was not just a Western Protestant phenomenon, but an Eastern Orthodox one as well which evolved over a period of time, albeit to a lesser degree and magnitude as the historicist writings in the West.

-Jonathan Photius

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s