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Does the Gospel of John Entail Anti-vaxx Theses? Explanation by a Cleric

8 September, 2021

Over the course of the last few months, a number of social media accounts (see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) have been trying to shape the public discourse around mass vaccination by connecting them with the Gospel of John. These accounts have been asserting that coronavirus vaccines are connected with the mark of the beast and the Second Advent. In order to determine whether the aspects of theology are linked with the global pandemic and the vaccination process, we have contacted the archpriest Ilia Tchigladze, the head of the Georgian Parish of Manchester, Diocese of the Georgian Patriarchate in the United Kingdom.

Check out the explanatory article by Archpriest Ilia Tchigladze:

Ilia Tchigladze

In the aftermath of the atheistic Soviet era, in parallel with the revival of religious life during the last 30 years, many pseudo-Christian teachings and mythologies have spread in Georgia, predominantly caused by the lack of theological and theological education.

Anti-vaxxers have used the emergence of the global pandemic to link the coronavirus vaccines with the seal of Antichrist, claiming that vaccination is an aberrant satanic act. To support the argument, anti-vaxxers often refer to the passages from the Revelation of John (Apocalypse), the last book of the Bible, which concerns Antichrist and the mark of the beast.

The claim mentioned above is misleading for the following reasons:

The Lord Jesus Christ has repeatedly warned and prohibited Christians from searching and investigating potential cues about the ‘Second Coming’ since it is a mystery that only God knows and hence should remain so. The allegorical nature and inexplicability of the Book of Revelation further confirm that people should know as little as possible about the “last days”, and when the future becomes the present, then the hidden mystery will be revealed by itself:

“He said to them: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts of Apostles; 1:7)

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark; 13:32)

What do “Second Advent” and “Last Days” Mean?

In theological language, “Last Days” is the time left from the ascension of Christ until his second coming. The term is often used to signify the end of the world, the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. According to the teachings of Jesus Christ, he shall return on earth for the second time, and this second coming should be glorious, solemn, accompanied by angels from heaven. The dead should be instantly resurrected and face judgement in the face of Christ, which in the ecclesiastical language is called “The Day of Reckoning.”

In ecclesiastical and evangelical terms, this act embodies the ultimate victory of good over evil and the ultimate disappearance and destruction of evil/sin. Following the day of Christ’s ascension to heaven, the whole Christian church awaits his second coming. Repeatedly emphasized in the Gospels and the books of the Apostles (or the New Testament), this belief is also repeated in the Nicene-Constantinople’s Creed of faith and represents one of the most critical teachings uttered before baptism by the baptized or his godfather: 

“He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” (Nicene Creed)

The Second Advent of Jesus Christ is often labelled as dangerous and ominous, which is alienated from the true Christian worldview. In fact, in Christian theology, the Second Coming of Christ is a joyous and divine act that renews the world and eliminates evil (including death and sickness).

Where and How is the Book of Apocalypse Read?

First and foremost, every Christian must realize that the book of the Apocalypse represents an entirely metaphorical-allegorical text that is impossible to be understood literally, word by word. For this reason, most of the holy fathers avoided explaining it to the public until the 7th century. Some even disputed its apostolic origin and protested its inclusion in the Bible. These actions were motivated by suspicions that the “Book of Revelation” was written by another John and not by the apostle John the theologian. Noteworthy, unlike the Book of Revelation, the other books of the Apostle John - the Gospel and the three epistles (or Scriptures) - were never disputed in the Christian Church. If one accepts the literal understanding of the Book, then it would be no different than pagan myths in which, for example, gods and titans fight each other.

In the second half of the 7th century, the Orthodox Church finally recognised the Book of Revelation at the Sixth World Council of Trulli. However, it still failed to become a liturgical book read in the Church and remains so until today.  The Georgian Orthodox Church recognized it only at the end of the 10th century when it was translated into Georgian by St. Ekvtime Mtatsmindeli (Athoneli).

The “Seal of Antichrist” and the “Mark of the Beast” are mentioned in Verses 16-18 of the Chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation:

“16. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17. so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.” (Revelation; 13:16-18)

It should be noted that the corresponding passage of the Greek original does not use Arabic numerals to denote this number, which is a relatively late invention, but the numerals corresponding to the Greek alphabet. (χ = 600, ξ = 60, ζ = 6; sum = 666). Knowing this is important because this book, like the entire New Testament, except for the Gospel of Matthew, was written by the apostles in Greek in the first century. Consequently, the three-sixes conveyed in Arabic numerals, often depicted as, are unbiblical and contradict the authenticity of the holy book.

In the VI-VII centuries, St. Andrew, the Archbishop of Caesarea, has attempted to explain the Book of the Revelation. The text, adopted by the Church, remains virtually the only guide to understanding the book of the Apocalypse. However, of course, this explanation does not claim to be the perfect and ultimate truth. It is only an attempt to clarify a sophisticated theological topic:

“Therefore, there is nothing unreasonable for even the adjutant of the Antichrist, working through démons to make an image for the beast and show it speaking, and to prépare and to destroy those who do not worship it. And the mark of the destructive name of the Apostate he will earnestly endeavor to put on ail: on the right hand in order to eut off the doing of good works, and on the forehead in order to teach the deceived ones to boldly speak in error and darkness. But the ones marked with divine light on their faces will not accept it. And he will make it his business to extend the symbol of the beast everywhere, in both buying and selling so that a violent death will be suffered from lack of necessities by those who do not receive it.” (Studies on the Apocalypse Commentary of Andrew of Caesarea, 2009, p.146)

What Symbolic Meaning Does Number 666 have?

There is no agreement among the Holy Fathers about the meaning of the number 666. St. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235) and St. Andrew of Caesarea thought that the number (666) should have been encrypted in the personal name of the Antichrist; that the number 666 is a cipher of the personal name of the Antichrist. (For more, see Dr Irakli Orzhonia's article "The Sign of the Apocalyptic Beast 666 and its Ecclesiastical Explanation"). The prominent Holy Father and ecclesiastical writer of the second century 666, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (130-202), provides a different explanation, namely: In his Against Heresies, Irenaeus argues that 666 is a particularly “fitting” number for the name of the beast. “For Noah was six hundred years old when the deluge came upon the earth, sweeping away the rebellious world. For that image which was set up by Nebuchadnezzar had indeed a height of sixty cubits, while the breadth was six cubits; Therefore, 666 (600+66+6) indicates the number of the name of that man in whom is concentrated the whole apostasy of six thousand years, and unrighteousness, and wickedness, and false prophecy, and deception; for which things’ sake a cataclysm of fire shall also come.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5.29.2 [ANF 1:558])
 
According to the explanation spread among the Orthodox Church today, the sign of the beast finds 666 parallels in the Old Testament, with the story described in the book of Kings: King Solomon the Wise of Israel received 666 talents of gold in the treasury every year. Solomon's fall into sin was caused by pride, selfishness, and luxury, which are all embodied by the number 666, which is, therefore, called the sign of the Antichrist in the book of Apocalypse. This definition, however, is not found by the old ecclesiastical fathers and commentators.

How appropriate is it to link vaccination with the seal of the Antichrist?

Let us return to the question of the possible connection between the Antichrist's seal and vaccination. Head of the Department of Dogmatic Theology and Patrology of the Tbilisi Theological Academy, Doctor of Philology and Theology, Prof. Edisher Chelidze writes:

“If we read the text of "Revelation" directly, the seal of the Antichrist will be placed on his right hand and forehead (It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads", 13.16); nonetheless, the right hand is an indication that the recipients of the seal of the Antichrist will be hindered from good deed, which is symbolized by the right hand, and the forehead is an indication that such filthy shamelessness is committing an evil deed. Therefore, ones who modify the Apostle’s words and introduce their false explanations are heretics.”

Accordingly, the definition of the chief theologian of the leading theological school of the Georgian Patriarchate (Prof. E. Chelidze) can be considered as the norm of the Tbilisi Theological Seminary. In other words, this is how students and future clergymen are taught about this issue. Consequently, we can unequivocally state that vaccination has nothing to do with the seal of the Antichrist described in the book of Apocalypse (or the "mark of the beast"). Current pseudo-religious statements are falsified; they contradict the Bible and aim to invoke fear in the population and create panic to prevent mass vaccination, eventually leading to a significant increase in the overall death rate. Furthermore, the same disinformation will paralyse Georgia as a functioning state and demonize the West when even anti-Western countries such as Russia, Iran, and China carry out mass vaccinations.


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