The Number Of The Beast – An Orthodox Interpretation
Among the broad masses of believers in subjugated Russia [note, this was written in the dark days of the Bolshevik terror against Christians in Russia – KTI Ed], the expectation of the second coming of Christ is exceptionally widely spread. A great number of people is busying itself with the interpretation of the apocalypse. All parts of the Revelations of John are being applied to the current moment; events that have already passed are being intelligently interpreted. Stages that have already been passed and new steps are diligently being noted according to the Holy Nook.
The author of these lines was a witness and participant of many conversations on this subject that were held in different parts of the country. Meetings with simple monks and spiritual persons of various ranks and statuses, as well as contact with the faithful flock, continuously provided one with the same material on the antichrist and the end times; in addition, they made oneself, too, engage with the Word of God in this direction. However, familiarity with Marxist-Bolshevik ideology definitively convinced the author of the idea, that no single ideology contrasts more with Christianity. Satan is truly engaging in a “final and decisive struggle” as is sung in the Internationale, and he knows that his song has been sung and that he has little time left. However, all this having been said, there is no assurance at all that the “end of the world” will come soon (and if there was, this would have been a source of joy for the Christian faithful); apart from this, there is so much Christian salvatory work to be done that a faithful soul cannot know anything of panic: for does it truly matter under which conditions he is to acquire eternal life, during a global catastrophe or in the face of his own, peaceful death? Remember the business of your salvation and that of those near to you. It is in these kinds of tones that the author conversed on this subject in many cases, because, to the majority, exercises in eschatology where a matter of curiosity that made one forget the matter of personal salvation. An especially great number of “theological” efforts concentrated, of course, on the number of the beast: 666. In the Slavic language , as in the Greek and Hebrew languages, the letters of the alphabet also signify numbers. To find a name whose letters have a numerical value of 666 is the task of such enquiries.
As the ancient patristic era had found many different personal and negative names of the antichrist following this method, and, seeing as these names beyond any doubt characterise the antichrist, his spirit, and his activities, it is impossible to deny that this method is void of any and all meaning. However, the word of God is so deep and multi-layered, that to limit research only to this method would mean deforming it. What is more, we must acknowledge that the use of this method in Russian conditions (where it marks even the personal names of Bolshevik leaders as those of the antichrist) does not bring any satisfaction. Of course, it strengthens resistance to the satanic government, but its superficiality is very clear, nor is the essence of the problem revealed.
As is known, the Revelations of saint John are pregnant with images and concepts taken from the books of the Old Testament. Where did the New Testament prophet take this number to mark the beast from? We must first of all turn to the account of saint John himself. He writes: “And he (that is the second beast, or the false prophet of the antichrist) causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” (Revelations 13: 16-18) .
This number is only found twice in the Bible, and, [using the same definition], it is the number of golden talents in King Solomon’s yearly income. This is the entirety of his annual income in gold. The rest (silver, valuable gems, and other valuables) are not subject to any kind of computation. “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold” (3 Kings 10:14; 2 Chronicles 9:13).
The author of the Revelations, wishing to characterise the essence and strength of the antichrist’s power, must have involuntarily remembered the entire greatness of king Solomon and notes in this power only one trait in his description of the essence of power or the true name of the beast. His name is gold. This is the mystery, secret, and strength of his power and influence.
Thus, the fundamental rule of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture is the placement of this text in relation to other, parallel places, of which in this case (for the text of the Revelations) there have been found only two, or, to be more precise, one, which already gives us an important result. Further, the rule (to take the place in context in relation to the previous and following verses) entirely confirms such an interpretation of the number of the beast. It is said, that without this mark, without the imprint of the name of the beast, “no man might buy or sell” (Revelations 13: 17). Naturally, without a gold collateral in the hands of the government, no kinds of purchases and sales are possible. The imprint shows that a purchase or sale by made by a marked person is backed by gold (i.e. the wealth of another marked person on whose account the deal is made). It is enough to have the mark, name, or number of the name of the beast in order for your purchase or sale to be considered guaranteed, legal, satisfactory, and worthy of trust. The holder of all valuables and riches is the beast; in order to buy or sell something, all that is necessary are his name or number.
It is not random happenstance that it is precisely the number that is shown as the essence of the antichrist’s name. The number is necessary for the computation of riches. In order to determine wealth, the number is necessary. The number is the spirit, meaning, essence, mark, or name of the antichrist. The essence of his influence, seduction, or strength in the world is determined by computation. It was best of all to use this number to mark the immense wealth of Solomon and thereby determine the spirit and strength of the antichrist.
Wealth is the strength of the antichrist; it is juxtaposed with Christ in the book of Revelations in complete agreement with the spirit and meaning of the entire Holy Scripture. The Gospel, the very word of Christ juxtaposes mammon and wealth with God, as a force in combat with God and one that replaces Him in humanity’s eyes, a powerful force that is (according to man) equal to the Divine. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6: 19-24). Either your heart is in heaven with God (in Whom is nestled the entirety of all wealth and perfection), or your heart is on earth, in its seductive pleasures and riches. How does the thorn “choke the word” of God “and become unfruitful”? “The care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13: 1-23). What is the one thing that made a young man who until that point had kept his covenant with God abandon Christ with sadness in his heart? His large property, about which Christ said: “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matthew 19: 16-30). For what reasons did the called refuse to come to the Eucharist? Because of riches and earthly goods: one was distracted by land he had purchased, another by oxen, and a third by marriage (Luke 14: 16-24). This is why the apostle said “for the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6: 6-10, 17-14).
Gold is both wealth itself and a symbol, a sign of wealth. It is the idol of the universe, an object of deification and veneration. Its power is strongly believed in and with is help all that is desired is created. Gold buys everything: hands, mind, conscience, soul, and body. It arouses the basest passions, tempts with a multitude of delights. It corrupts justice, laughs at virtue, does not acknowledge truth, is alien to mercy, and persecutes faith. During the time of the antichrist, it will cease to be a boon to the chosen and will become the seducer of all. Seduction by wealth will first consist of it [that is wealth] being considered a panacea against all evils of life, and second in the fact that power over wealth will be declared to be within everyone’s reach. The property of all of things that are actually possessed by a few will be declared to be just. Thus, power will become dominion over all riches. It is possible, that the masses themselves will centralise all riches in the hands of one government (which they will consider to be theirs), depriving all others and themselves off all wealth and the very smallest part of delights by dedicating themselves entirely to the safeguarding of that government. Only as a result of such a centralisation of goods in the hands of one institution will a single mark or stamp of that power have meaning for the feeding of the people.
However, if the Revelations do not directly call the beast by the name mammon, wealth, or gold, this is because the number has a greater meaning and its significance is wider.
Just being in the possession of collected wealth is not enough for those who wish to be truly rich. It is not only important to spend wealth, but also to continue gathering it. To accomplish this, it is important to possess the very power, the very source that produces wealth: human labour. Power over labour is true power over wealth and a guarantee of the stability of riches. This is what the secret of Solomon’s riches consisted of. He entrusted his entire people with labour duties (3 Kings V: 13-15), tens of thousands of men simultaneously worked construction; the work had a systematic and protracted character, which resulted in the people asking Solomon’s heir: “Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.” (1 Kings 12: 4).
This is a fitting place to ask the following question: why has, in order to serve as basis for the definition of wealth, the number six been selected: six hundreds, six tens, six units, six repeated thrice? Because it is the number of the work that creates all riches: it indicates the foundation of wealth, labour itself, for it has been said, that: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath (rest) of the Lord thy God” (Exodus 20: 9-11).
The number of the beast indicates, however, that one should not work six days, but six hundred sixty-six…. The frequent repetition of a number indicates eternity in the Biblical language, “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” “Until seventy times seven” (that is to say, an infinite amount of times) (Matthew 18: 21-22). And in our case: how many days should we work? Without end, continuously. The government does not just collect all wealth, but all of your labours as well, it takes your hands. This is why it is said, that “they will be marked on their right hand”. The seal is a sign of power over those who are on the receiving end of it. The right hand is a sign of power. They take all your work and feed you in return. You create wealth, and you receive what you need to survive in return.
However, the number six determines time spent working: it is the number of the working days, six days. All your time is taken away only for you to work and create wealth; nothing, not a single day remains for the Lord. The seventh day is entirely excluded. There is no God but mammon, who you will work for ad infinitum. Everything is done in order to forget God and draw man into an eternal bustle of thoughts and actions. In this way labour, fruits of labour or wealth and time are taken away, and with them go will, mind, and God. It is said: “they will be marked on their right hand or on their forehead”; that is to say, physical and mental workers will come under the power of the beast. He will not just appropriate muscles, but the minds, knowledge, and convictions of man as well. The seal of the antichrist will be stamped on minds, along with their ideas and convictions. There will not only not be enough time for prayers and service to God, but there will not even be any space in the souls of men. Man’s labour will become a new god, who (according to the common man) will create everything. This labour likens man to God. God created the world in six days, man will work six hundred and sixty-six, ad infinitum; he will recreate the world anew according to his tastes. This is the reasoning of those whose minds have been stamped with the seal of the antichrist. We draw a conclusion from this: even banal materialism with its faith in the power of wealth, devotion to work out of the drives of avarice and miserliness (and not need) and disregard for the day of resurrection and service to God is already drawing men closer to the seal of the antichrist, preparing them for it. During the times of the antichrist, these will be his willing servants.
Although we have exclusively followed the text of the Holy Scripture and drawn our conclusions in accordance with the spirit and meaning of the Holy Bible in our interpretation of the number of the beast, it remains clear, that it was Soviet reality that directed our thoughts to such an interpretation of the Scripture. The wealth of the rich is evaluated by socialism as a panacea in the hands of the proletariat, which, invigorated by the spirit of avarice, jealousy, and hatred, plunders everything and transfers the loot to the hands of the government; this government is not a government of the proletariat, but a government ruling over the proletariat that forces the masses into torturous, involuntarily, endless labour. The centralisation of all wealth in one set of hands is socialism, which, actually, is nothing but state capitalism, and a form of capitalism that has collected and solidified all negative forms of bourgeois capitalism, magnified by a thousand: slavery, exploitation, lawlessness, and poverty. The dictatorship of socialist theory did not just begin as a mental imprint, but as an entire “imprint”. The word “imprint” best transmits the concept of the theory, ideology, and systematic knowledge that is glorified as if it were a coryphee: science, totally incorrupt and with a singular right to dominion and power. Thus, this Power that imprints itself into human minds can be characterised as the rule of knowledge over wealth and human labour. This power of false knowledge or socialism is well described by the number, for it is statistics and accounting that form the remorseless dominant axle of socialism, an axle that is merciless towards human life and personality. Socialism does not only disregard man as a living, free personality by which everything is built in the world, but it also thinks that it can victor and affirm itself by force and the enslavement of minds. But it will fail to totally and universally distort the image of God into the image of the beast, and it is in this that the foundation of his eventual downfall is founded.
: This is a reference to Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Slavic-language Orthodox Churches.
: All translations of biblical quotations have been drawn from the King James Bible.
By Protopresbyter Mikhail Polsky
Translation and additional notes by Edvin Buday
Father Polsky was born in Russia in 1891 and became an Orthodox Christian priest. Persecuted by the Soviet regime he escaped in 1930, living in Damascus, then London and then moving after World War Two to the USA. He retired in 1959 and died in San Francisco the following year.
Here, by contrast, is a much-watched American explanation of the ‘Number of the Beast’:
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