Posted 08 January 2009 - 01:15 AM
St John's Apocalypse (i.e. the Book of Revelation) is canonised in the writings of the fathers at least as far back as the mid-second century. It bears significan canonical weight in this period, as well as in all following.
The question of its canonisation into the listing of books assembled as the New Testament (which came about most strongly in the fourth century) was varied, as in some places it was viewed as 'essential reading' on a wide, general scale; in others it was not. But its canonical authority was not a question: it was already the basis of liturgical worship, and a key text in patristic writings of every sort.
The Church does not read it as part of the general lectionary, nor prescribe it for general private reading, because it has long understood it as a book that requires a teacher, which is best read in obedient relation. Given its nature as apocalyptic vision, it is easily prone to mis-reading, to falling prey to the phantasms of perception of the passions. It is a text, the proper meaning of which requires some considerable ascesis and discernment, aided by the pastoral vision of a teacher who can help bring out its true meaning.
This is yet another reason for the Orthodox encounter with the book being, as it is, framed largely through liturgical experience. No single book more distinctly shapes the divine services, and there are numerous days in the calendar (especially some in pre-Lent and Lent, as has recently been mentioned) that focus on it more directly. In these, the Apocalypse is seen, and heard in a liturgical framework that draws our hearts into it in its truth -- something far different than simply sitting down to read it on our own, or even hearing it proclaimed in pericope, and letting our passionate minds make of it what they will. That is noble and challenging enough a task for us with the Beatitudes or commandments: how much more so with the apocalyptic visions of this text! So the Church, in her wisdom, preserves this text for proper, constructive encounter.
INXC, Dcn Matthew