Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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Hermas, in his vision, sees an old woman and later in the vision he gets to know that is the church. Could you please explain how could that possibly be?

The Shepherd of Hermas is an apocalypse in form. It consists of a series of revelations made to Hermas of the Church, who appears in the form of a woman, first old, and afterwards younger. Hermas is consoled by the vision of the Church in the form of the aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of the faithful, who tells him to do penance and to correct the sins of her children. Subsequently he sees her made younger through penance, yet wrinkled and with white hair; then again, as quite young but still with white hair -- this is the Church of the forgiven. Lastly, she shows herself all glorious as a Bride -- this is the Church of the end of the days.

So, in his vision, Hermas saw the church as an old woman, young woman and a strong woman. Each stage of these visions is symbolic of a specific character of the church.The old woman refers to the church which was in God's thought before the creation of the world; for whom everything has been created and Heavens and earth pronounce her glory which is of God's Glory. The young woman refers to the strength of the church as it is established on Christ Who is the Cornerstone; and so the church does not know aging or death; thus remaining young forever. The strong woman refers to the church endurance for persecution and torture. So, although the church has faced and still faces torture and persecutions, she will remain strong forever as Christ protects her all the time.

Literally, these visions represent the church, the body of Christ, the true believers. However, spiritually Hermas' visions showed some of the characters of this church which denote God's love for every one of us. In conclusion, the church was in God's thought before the creation of world and for her everything is created (old woman); she will remain young; never know aging or death (young woman); and will remain strong whatever persecutions or tortures (strong woman).
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