The use of the word ‘apocalypse’ in many modern contexts oftentimes invokes cataclysmic imagery involving cosmic judgement and destruction. When one thinks about the apocalyptic genre of literature it’s fairly common for the mind to turn towards the final book of the biblical canon with all it’s language, images, and symbols that present the struggle between the forces of God and the forces of His adversaries that result cosmic destruction through plagues, heavenly warfare, and the ultimate end of this age through the judgement of God. In fact, if we look at the Greek word behind the title of the Bible’s closing book we find that it’s the root for our modern word ‘apocalypse’ (Gr. apokalypsis). However, the reason for this title isn’t derived from the cataclysmic content of the book but rather it’s stylized as an apocalypse due to the revelatory nature of the content. This is because the meaning of the Greek word apokalypsis is to ‘uncover’ or to ‘unveil’ (this explains why the common English translation for the book is ‘Revelation’ even though the Greek can also be directly translated as ‘apocalypse;’ the words are synonymous). Thus an apocalypse is an unveiling, or a revealing, of something previously covered, or unknown.
Immediately preceding the distribution of the Eucharist to the faithful, in many Orthodox parishes, is the rolling away of the curtain and the opening of the Royal Doors; revealing to them the altar and the outward processing clergy with the Eucharistic gifts. These liturgical movements are apocalyptic acts. Previously the Eucharistic gifts have been covered. Even when they are processed during the Great Entrance, and the faithful see the chalice and the patin in the hands of the clergy, they are covered up. Only at the moment when the faithful are to receive the Eucharistic gifts are they unveiled; revelation issuing in reception.
Likewise the pattern of revelation issuing in reception is found in the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation. The archangel Gabriel announces (or reveals) to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive the Son of God in her womb through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Mary responds to the archangel’s message by saying, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). In the narrative we see a revelation by the archangel, the descent of the Holy Spirit, the response of the Virgin, and the conception of the Son of God (making Mary into a ‘God-bearer’).
The Eucharistic distribution is a new annunciation; formerly revealed to the Virgin Mother of the Son of God, now revealed to a new Virgin Mother – the Church. The apocalyptic opening of the Royal Doors and the deacon’s exhortation to the faithful, “With fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near,” is the new heavenly announcement to Virgin Mother Church that she’ll become the God-bearer. Just as the Holy Spirit descent upon the Virgin Mary and the Son of God was conceived in her womb so during the consecration of the Eucharistic gifts the priest says that God would, “Send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered.” Through the mystery of the operation of the Holy Spirit the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become to Body and Blood of Christ. Mary responded to the archangel’s promise that the Spirit would descend and she would bear God in her womb as the faithful respond to the deacon’s summoning to receive the Son of God through Eucharistic gifts changed by the Holy Spirit. The revelation of the archangel that elicited the Virgin’s response resulted in the conception of the Son of God and the transformation of the Virgin into a God-bearer; so now the faithful draw near to the chalice in response to angelic summons of the deacon to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and thus become the new God-bearers through the operation of the Holy Spirit.