Millennialism (Chiliasm) in the early Church and today10 August 2017
Religious convictions concerning the end of the world, the final judgment, the justification of the righteous, the punishment of sinners by the Messiah, and His kingdom, have, for a thousand years, been at the centre of the heresy of millennialism (Chiliasm). This heresy is based on the book of the Revelation and, in particular, on chapter 20, verses 1-10. We shall attempt here to present the manner in which this teaching concerning the thousand-year kingdom of Christ arose and the repercussions it had on Christian communities at different times. We shall mention the Fathers who interpreted the text according to Orthodoxy and how the same passage has been seen erroneously by some contemporary ecclesiastical writers who have created heresies. We shall then briefly mention the modern heresies which represent millenarianism as something material, before the Second Coming.
In all the great religions which have appeared at various historical stages, we come across millennialist doctrines. The thousand-year supremacy of Good over Evil is the central tenet of Millennialism, and it is to that that it owes its name. There are other related religious movements which embrace it, though they have their differences.
The term ‘thousand years’ was initially introduced from Saint John the Evangelist, from the Revelation. The thousand year reign represented the time between the triumphant appearance of the Bridegroom and the arrival of the Bride. Chapter 20, verses 1-6 refer to the thousand-year reign of Christ, in which the righteous and the elect will take part. Naturally the question arises as to who are and who are not the elect who will be present at the marriage of the Bridegroom and His Church. In this particular period, Satan will have been defeated, ‘so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended’ (Rev. 20, 3). Here the influence of the passage Daniel 7, 9-10 is obvious: ‘As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence.
A thousand thousand served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgement, and the books were opened’.
The term ‘millennium’ is derived from the Latin ‘mille’(thousand) and ‘annus’ (year). Thus we have ‘millenarianism’ and ‘millennialism’, the latter of which is also expressed by the Greek ‘chiliasm’, also derived from ‘thousand’. [There is a technical difference which is more honoured in the breach than the observance. ‘Millenarius’ means ‘containing a thousand’ -of anything. Millennium means ‘a thousand years’. While it is obviously dangerous to over-generalize, millenarianism envisages, at least, the possibility of a violent introduction to the ‘golden age’, whereas, by and large, millennialism is more pacific. WJL].
(to be continued)