Why do we have an altar in our Sanctuary? We do not make sacrifices on it. We do not believe, as some do, that the Body and Blood of Christ are re-sacrificed in the Sacrament of the Altar. Instead, the altar is a reminder of the one and only final sacrifice of Christ. The altar is a symbol for the Cross on which our Lamb was slaughtered for all sins. The altar is here because of Christ and what He has done for our benefit.
In the same way, the altar mentioned in Revelation six should remind us of Christ and His sacrifice. He has died, never to die again, so that our sins have been atoned for by His Blood. The saints of the martyrs are under the Altar, that is, they are under Christ and under His Cross.
What does that mean? We Christians in this present life are under a cross. Because we are in Christ through faith, we must be willing to bear the sufferings that go along with being a Christian. Whatever cross, great or small, we must carry comes because we bear witness to the Word of God. If only by letting it be known that we are Christians, we leave ourselves open to the world’s persecutions.
And the world indeed wants to persecute us. Sometimes unbelievers act in a friendly manner toward us. They may seem appreciative toward our works of love. But eventually their true face comes out. They despise us, as they despise our Lord.
But we are under Christ also in the sense that He watches over and shields us. No persecution will come to us unless He allows it. Always, He loves us and wants only blessing for us. Although He must allow some suffering to come to us from the sinful world, it will not be forever.
Once we are taken out of this present life, all pain will be removed. The wicked people of the world will not be able to harm us ever again. Yet we will still be under the Altar, that is, under Christ. We will join the number of those who have been exalted because they were under the Altar, that is, redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. They are all those who carried a cross in this life, yet remained faithful unto death.
Whoever was persecuted in this life for the sake of the Gospel will enjoy the blessing of their Lord’s presence. This includes but is not limited to those who were specifically killed because of their testimony. All the souls of those who died in the faith will be in the hands of Christ. He will be their shade and protection, and keep them safe from all perils and pain, until the Day of Judgment when they are raised in glorious bodies.
We might ask, What dangers are there in Paradise that the souls need protection from? Of course there are none. But that is the whole point. By taking them to be with Him there, He has brought them to the refuge where they need never fear the sinful world’s attacks ever again. They live under the altar there because they have the honor that belongs to those who have suffered for the faith until the end. They have braved their crosses in faithfulness to their dear Lord Jesus until He brought them to their reward. It is such a wonderful reward because He earned it for them by His mighty work.
Yet, even in that Paradise, the saints remember their brethren who still labor under the torments and attacks of the world. The saints in glory pray to God, “How long until you are avenged upon the wicked? How long will You tolerate Your enemies on the earth? For the sake of Your dear Church, purchased with Your precious Blood, set them free from the persecutions of the vale of tears.”
We also sometimes pray similar prayers here on earth.
The saints in heaven do not pray this way because they are vindictive or vengeful. They are set free from any sinful desires. They pray out of concern for their fellow brothers and sisters who are on the other side of the curtain of death. They want justice for the sake of the oppressed. They want God’s honor to be upheld by ending the attacks of satan’s servants upon the Church. As Saint Chrysostum said, “They cry out, meanwhile, for God to break the power of their adversaries, so that they may acknowledge the power and divinity of Christ.”
But do not think that those souls of the martyrs are in any kind of anguish. There is no pain where they are. They live in blessed and perfect joy. This is symbolized by the white robes that they wear. The robes can also mean the glorification that they experience in the presence of Christ, and the glorification they anticipate at the resurrection of their bodies. The white robes can also mean the holiness and purity which is theirs through Christ. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has clothed them in His own immaculate sinlessness. The white robes surely mean all these things.
In this life, we experience these blessings in a lesser or hidden way. We have His righteousness as a free gift, yet we are still not completely free from the sinful flesh as the saints in glory are. We have the joy of the Lord, although it is still interrupted from time to time by the tears that must be shed in this life. We have the glory of Christ, if only in a hidden way, for as many of us have been Baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ. But it awaits the final day for this hidden glory of us sons of God to be revealed openly.
We should take comfort in these things. As the saints did, we should wait patiently for God’s good time. When we are pressed hard, we should remember that He loves us and will not let us suffer too long. We are poor judges of what “too long” is, so we must trust His wisdom.
When we are saddened by the many saints who are being daily removed from this world, we should be comforted by the fact that they are safe in the hand of Christ. When we are fearful, we should recall that we, too, are safe in His hand.
The world’s victories over the Church are momentary and passing. No one can conquer the saints of God who are under His watchful eye. He will be vindicated at the right time. He will show the world that He has been victorious, and His saints with Him, through Christ Jesus His Son.
In His Name, the only Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world. Amen.
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