Chernobyl, Wormwood, and Prophecy

      Within Christianity, and especially amongst Pentecostals, there has always been an intense interest in any present or future event which could be identified as a marker or clue that we are approaching the climax of the human age as we know it. Naturally the primary source for prophetic utterances for the church community is the Bible. Within the Bible are several Old Testament books which deal heavily in prophecy, much of it geared toward Israel and its centuries-old struggle for survival. Many of these prophecies we have lived to see fulfilled even in this modern age. What piques the interest of many church goers these days are prophecies concerning what we euphemistically call “the end of the world,” although it is far from that. Most of the clues concerning this time frame are found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
     Interestingly, when we think of Revelation, we think its primary purpose is to reveal the events of the end time, but John the Revelator, the author of the book, entitled his tome “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” in the first verse, indicating that the experiences he would described, although they would offer a chronology of events leading toward the end, were designed primarily to reveal to the world the true power and majesty of Jesus Christ. Replete with imageries, metaphors, analogies, similes, visions, and colorful descriptions of cataclysmic events, the book of Revelation has been a source of intense discussion, controversy, and argument for centuries. Nowhere else in the Scriptures has interpretation of verses been so varied, and conclusions so jumbled as has been in the hosts of analyses of Revelation.
     I must confess to you…usually when the subject turns to prophecy and future events, I tend to get a little bored. It’s not that I have no concern, it’s just that I have found that people who are really into the study of prophecy tend to be like Republicans and Democrats, conservative and liberals, or Keynesian and Smith economists. They are dead set in their opinions, and to them, every scripture of prophecy is crystal clear in its meaning and there is neither negotiation nor compromise. My personal contention (and of course I won’t compromise, either) is that there is very little that is crystal clear in politics or economics…and especially prophecy. An additional reason I tend to breeze through prophecy is that I feel if a person maintains an active relationship with God, He has promised He will see us though every problem. So whatever may come in the future, He has already said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.”
     My church, Bethel Tabernacle, recently enjoyed the ministry of Rev. Ervin Baxter, a renown student of prophecy. Rev. Baxter has delved into Revelation for the better part of forty years and has developed a tremendous following because of his astute analyses of the events of biblical prophecy. He is analytical, thorough, articulate, and makes his presentations in a manner that grabs your attention and yet drives home the primary point that our first priority as living souls is to insure that we have a relationship with God. Not just a knowledge or awareness, but a true personal communion with the Almighty.
     His subject for the morning service was “The Seven Trumpets” as described in Revelations 8-11. Another confession on my part: I had not read too much about the seven trumpets, so being a good servant I decided to do a little homework in preparation for the lesson. I was surprised when, after looking at several reference discussions of Revelation, the general consensus was the seven trumpets, each signifying a catastrophic event, were expected to occur sometime after the tribulation period, but no commentator was willing to hazard what each one meant. The plot thickened, so I decided this service with Brother Baxter might be interesting, after all.
     Rev. Baxter has visited our church before, so his was a somewhat familiar face as he approached the pulpit. Especially since I subscribe to his weekly on line newsletter where he gives analyses of current news which are a lot more astute that some I hear on CNN and FOX. Quickly getting into the subject at hand, the Seven Trumpets, he began to offer evidence that perhaps the seven trumpets as described in Revelations would not occur in rapid succession at the endtime, but perhaps had already begun, starting with the first trumpet prophesying the events of the First World War, and the second trumpet describing the Second World War. I thought these were pretty novel ideals, but he was able to offer some backup evidence, such as the second trumpet describing a conflict where one-third of the ships were sunk. Coincidentally, in WWII, out of over 100,000 ships from all the nations involved in the conflict, almost exactly one-third were sunk in combat. Interesting, I thought. But it was the third trumpet which caught my attention in earnest.
     Revelation 8: 10…”And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from Heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers and upon the fountain of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters because they were made bitter.” Brother Baxter then made the statement, “In the Russian language ‘chernobyl’ means ‘wormwood.’” This scripture, he said, was describing the nuclear disaster which occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. At that time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia) was the dominant power and our Cold War enemy and was the controlling force in the area which is now independent Ukraine.
     On that day in 1986, a titanic explosion ripped through the Number Four reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, blowing a 100 ton roof completely off and sending radioactive debris over a mile into the air and instantly contaminating everything within a thirty mile radius, including the city of Chernobyl. The Soviet Union, with its security paranoia, did not announce the disaster to the world until the contamination began to drift over Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the Chernobyl area, but death and sickness from radiation prevailed. The Soviets dubbed the area the “Zone of Alienation,” sealing the area off from anyone except those who were required to attempt the cleanup, thus sealing their own fates to radiation sickness.
     On my Blackberry cell phone, which isn’t the very latest technology (but it ain’t bad), I have a language application which can translate several different languages to any of several other languages. Since I have an interest and some past experience in the Russian language, I quickly began to try to verify that “chernobyl” did in fact mean “wormwood.” No luck. I tried English-Russian, Russian-English, English-Ukranian, etc. with no success. I also have an application on my Blackberry that has 26 versions of the Bible convertible into 25 different languages, including three Russian-produced versions of the Bible. I went to the Russian versions and found that полынь, or “polin” with an accent on the last syllable was the word for “wormwood.” Brother Baxter continued with his viewpoints on the other trumpets, but to be honest, I was researching everywhere I could find on my phone trying to find a chernobyl-wormwood connection.
     That afternoon I spent time on my computer trying to find the connection, and I was successful. “Chernobyl” is the Russian word for artemesia vulgaris, which refers to a plant which grows to a height of 3-4 feet in the area of Chernobyl. In English the plant is known as mugwort or “common wormwood.” Prior to 1986 both Russian and Ukranian dictionaries included wormwood as a secondary definition for chernobyl, but since that year, coincidentally the year of the disaster, the secondary definition of wormwood for chernobyl has been expunged from Russian and Ukrainian dictionaries. Additionally, Revelation refers to a star falling from the sky. The Greek word for star also refers to “strewn over the sky” as in radiating. Could what John described as a star actually been a radiating explosion?
     In 1992, a Russian research center, the Kurchatov Institute, issued a “manifest” (statement) describing the official version of events surrounding the explosion of 1986 and the subsequent relocation of citizens. In it the statement is made that “polin” is a Russian word and means “chernobyl.” Since “polin” translates to “wormwood” in English, the connection can be loosely made that “chernobyl” means “wormwood.”
     Connecting Chernobyl to wormwood is noteworthy, but something else I discovered is much more amazing. In 1986 after the explosion, the Soviets embarked on a massive cleanup operation of the Chernobyl area. The city of Chernobyl became a ghost town and thousands of inhabitants had to be relocated to safe areas. For years after the disaster the “Zone of Alienation” was restricted with no access allowed.
     Due to the magnitude of the buildup and the knowledge that the process would take years, the Soviets gave the cleanup an all-encompassing name…Проект Полынь…Project Polin, or Project Wormwood. I find that fact to be astounding. The Soviets and their military in those days were our adversaries, and yet like all military machines, there were many remarkable similarities in operations. Even today, the U.S. military gives each of its activities a special name, such as “Operation Overlord” and “Operation Freedom.” However, during the years of the Cold War, if the operation was somewhat secretive and not to be publicized, the operative name was usually a dictionary word which was not used in normal conversation to avoid compromising the activity. “Wormwood” was not a commonly used word and sufficed to identify an operation which the Soviets did not wish to publicize.
     We know that there have been Pentecostals in Russia since the early 20th century. With the Communist Party firmly in charge after the October Revolution of 1917, most Christians went underground, but managed to survive even during the Stalinist Purges. Somewhere in the heart of the Russian military or scientific command after the explosion at Chernobyl, there was a committee which made the decisions concerning the cleanup of Chernobyl. That committee made a decision to name their work “Project Wormwood.” Think about this…only one of the 21 apocalyptic events described in Revelation was given a proper noun as a name by John the Revelator, and it was an unusual, obscure name at that…Wormwood. What are the odds that the name associated with the single worst disaster ever created by man just coincidentally carries that same name as its dictionary definition and is the same name as mentioned in Revelation 8:11? Could there have been on that Soviet science committee in charge of cleaning up the disaster a “closet” Christian who understood Revelation and recognized the enormity of the Chernobyl disaster? Or was the committee an unknowing pawn in the progression of God’s will and were merely fulfilling the prophecy written two thousand years before?
      This prophecy thing may be more interesting than I thought!

      P.S. Fascinating facts about Chernobyl: Today, 25 years after the explosion, the area around Chernobyl has become the largest wildlife sanctuary in Europe. It is a flourishing and sometimes unearthly wilderness teeming with large animals and birds, many of them members of rare and endangered species. Many people, elderly and sick from radiation and homesickness, have moved back into their abandoned homes and are continuing to live. The forests, fields, water, people, and animals are all radioactive. Cesium-137 is packed in their muscles and strontium-90 is packed in their bones, and yet all are not just surviving, but are thriving. Tourists and scientists visit the area on a regular basis, securely covered in radiation-proof clothing and carrying radiation meters. Chernobyl has become a testament to Earth’s ability to withstand the most devastating calamity.