The vision of the four horsemen
The vision of the seven seals acts as an introduction to the subsequent revelations of the Apocalypse. The removal of the first four seals presents the four horsemen, who symbolize four factors characterizing the complete history of mankind. The first two appear as a reason, and the second two, as a consequence. The crowned rider on the white horse "emerged in order to be victorious." He personifies those good beginnings, innate and blessed, with which the Creator endowed mankind: the image of God, moral purity and innocence, aspiration toward goodness and perfection, the ability to believe and to love, and individual "talents" with which man is born, as well as the blessed gifts of the Holy Spirit which man receives in the Church. In the Creator's plan, these good beginnings should have been victorious; they should have been able to define a happy future for humanity. However, already in Eden, man had fallen prey to the Tempter. His nature, corrupted by sin, was passed on to his descendants; that is why already from a very young age people are inclined to sin. Through repeated sinfulness, bad tendencies are reinforced. Thus, man, instead of growing spiritually and perfecting himself, falls under the ruinous influence of his own passions, succumbs to various sinful desires, and begins to envy and to show enmity. All of the crimes in the world arise from the internal strife within man (violence, war, and every sort of misfortune).
The ruinous actions of the passions are symbolized by the fiery red horse and rider, who took "peace away from man." Succumbing to his disorderly sinful desires, man squanders all his God-given talents, and he becomes impoverished in body and soul. Within the life of society, enmity and wars lead to a weakening and a breakdown of the community and to the loss of its spiritual and material resources. This internal and external impoverishment of mankind is symbolized by the black horse and rider, who holds a pair of scales in his hand. Finally, the complete loss of God's blessings leads toward a spiritual death and as a final consequence of enmity and wars comes the ruin of society and the death of mankind. This sorrowful destiny of mankind is symbolized by the pale horse.
The four horsemen of the Apocalypse depict in the simplest way the history of mankind. At first, the blessed life in Eden of our forefathers, called upon to "rule" over nature (the white horse); then their fall from grace (the fiery red horse); after which the lives of their descendants were filled with various sorrows and mutual annihilation (the black and the pale horses). The horses of the Apocalypse also symbolize the life of the various individual kingdoms, with their periods of prosperity and decline. Here also is the path of the life of each man: his childhood purity and innocence, his big potential possibilities, which are obscured by a tempestuous youthfulness in which a man dissipates his vigor and health, and in the end he dies. Here is the history of the Church: the spiritual persecution of Christians during the Apostolic times and the efforts of the Church to renew human society. However, in the Church itself there arise heresies and schisms, and the pagan community forces upon it its persecutions. The Church weakens and retreats into the catacombs, and some of the local churches totally disappear. Thus, the vision of the four horsemen sums up the factors which characterize the life of sinning mankind. This subject will be developed more fully in further chapters. By the removal of the fifth seal, the Seer shows the brighter side of mankind's calamities. Christians who have suffered physically were victorious spiritually: they are now in Paradise (Rev. 6:9-11)! Their feats bring them eternal rewards and they rule with Christ, as described in the twentieth chapter. The transition to a more detailed description of the hardships of the Church and the fortification of the godless is symbolized by the removal of the seventh seal.
Understanding the Bible Part 9. The Book of Revelation, Bishop Alexander (Mileant)