1 June 2020
Now is the Judgement of this World
In the last chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Lord Himself warns us in the most intense and frightening way about the catastrophes which will precede His Coming. He foretells that that evil will be uncontrollable and people’s afflictions will be so unbearable that they will ask the mountains to cover them, so that they may not see the terrible day of the Lord’s coming: ‘There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword,’ ‘men’s hearts shall fail them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth’. Even the affliction of God’s elect will be extreme and the pain will be insufferable for the surrounding world. Nevertheless, in spite of the tragic character of these words, the Almighty Jesus says suddenly: ‘And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.’ The Apostle Paul also reassures us that God will not allow us to be tempted above our strength, but that together with the temptation He will grant a way to escape.
The Book of Revelation, which provokes fear in many, speaks in essence about the final victory of the Lamb Christ and of His elect, who ‘loved not their lives unto death’ ‘and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’. Terrible signs and apocalyptic afflictions had already become a fact from the moment of Christ’s crucifixion: the sun was darkened, the earth was shaken, the dead came to life and so forth. This prophetic event has repeated itself throughout the current of history. From early Christianity until our times, the fury ‘of the murderer of men’ has tried again and again to exterminate with inconceivable cruelty every trace of the seed of Christ. How many times have torturers, devils in human bodies, subjected the faithful to unprecedented torments? And how many holy ascetics throughout the centuries, like the contemporary example of our Fathers Silouan and Sophrony, have condemned themselves to be thrust there where Satan is so as to be burnt in the outer fire? Nevertheless, Christ’s blood on the Cross, the blood of the Martyrs and the endless tears of the holy ascetics became the power of triumph in the Church.
When we are threatened by death from all sides, the power of our faith diminishes because love has grown cold and because our expectation of salvation has grown weak. However, if we still stand steadfast and say with courage to the Lord, ‘Amen, come Lord Jesus’ for our deliverance, then God will give us that faith which overcomes not only the world but even death. Thus we will understand the true meaning of the words of the great Apostle Paul: ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ This does not mean that sin is blessed, but that when evil will multiply above measure, the faithful will wage war against it with greater tension. The crisis and the adversity of those days will force some to turn to Him Who alone is ‘able to save them from death’, and in this struggle they will surely be given the gift of the great grace. Those who have recourse to human means will either become themselves criminals or will fall into dark despair. All things will be polarised and the pain will be a two-edged sword, for it can become either a privilege for those who follow the way of the Lamb or a plunge in despair and wickedness for those who spare their own life. ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.’
The calamities and general panic will be followed by the coming of the Beloved Lord, bringing all His grace, eternal life, the life that we all wait for and that is ‘hidden with Christ in God’. His Coming will grant joy that ‘no man taketh from us’. Seeing the end approaching, whether it is the general or our personal end, we turn our spiritual gaze towards God saying: ‘Who is sufficient for these things? Do Thou Thyself help us to be ready for anything Thy providence will allow. We can only be saved through Thy power and grace. We can do nothing good upon earth. Come quickly, O Lord.’
Elder Sophrony spoke about the end of times in a positive way, being inspired by the living experience of the Saviour God. He never spoke about the sign of the antichrist. His mind was on the sign of Christ, the circumcision of the heart, caused by His spotless love. He did not wish to frighten people with the imminent end, the coming afflictions, the rage of the enemy against those who follow the meek and lowly Christ, ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’. On the contrary, he derived inspiration from his strong hope in the coming of the Author of our faith, so that with our head high we may hasten to meet the Lord Jesus, Who is coming again just as He ascended to heaven, ‘while blessing’, calling His own to be ‘with Him unto all ages’, with the words: ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father.’
The crisis of our time is nothing other than a privilege and a challenge for us, which hides within it the great gift of faith. It is a unique opportunity to prove our faith and to give the Almighty Lord the possibility to manifest His power in our weakness and poverty.
As Saint Sophrony writes, Christ, our example, ‘does not have a tragic character and neither does His saving Passion… The tragedy is not in Him but in us.’ Moreover, through the Gospel, we discover that two diametrically opposed states coexist harmoniously in the Person of the Lord: the tragic nature of His work for our salvation and the triumph of His imminent victory. In the final moments of the life of the Lord, we hear from His holy mouth His most momentous words:
- As He was going up to Golgotha, He turned towards the women who were following Him, saying: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.’
- ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ and at the same time, He said to the thief, ‘Verily, verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise’.
- ‘His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground,’ and a little later, He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’
- ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death’, and further on ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.’
The Lord was hastening towards His voluntary Passion and shameful death, so as to take upon Himself the tragedy, the shame and pain of the whole Adam. His irrevocable purpose was to open Heaven for us and lead us to the banquet of His love. Thus, deadlock and tragedy cease to afflict us, and there is no room for despair. ‘The Lord gives the faithful a foretaste of the vision of His eternal victory; the tragedy of the fall, the dark abyss of death, are overcome by Christ, Who does not reject us, but receives us in His bosom.’
A little while before the Passion, the Lord offered peace to His disciples. Elder Sophrony explains: ‘The essence of Christ’s peace is perfect knowledge of the Father. So it is with us – if we know the Eternal Truth lying at the root of all being, then all our anxieties affect merely the periphery of our existence, while within us reigns the peace of Christ.’
In a similar way, in our own epoch, when the ‘power of darkness’ is roaring, the Lord cries and thunders with His voice, ‘Lift up your heads’ for grace is drawing nigh and do not be terrified by the hardness of heart of those all around. Seeing the injustice in the world which is in accordance with the prophecy of the Lord: ‘The world hateth you’, and seeing sinners prosper, the Christian is consumed by zeal for righteousness. His inspiration would fade away if he did not have the assurance of the Book of Revelation: ‘Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.’ The man of faith lives with the expectation of the coming of the Lord, because without expectation there is no hope, without hope there is no salvation, for ‘by hope we are saved’, and without salvation there is no Christianity. True Christianity is the expectation of the coming of the Lord; deprived of it, man can only surrender to complete despondency, as expressed by the Apostle, ‘Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.’
In the beginning of the history of Christianity, the whole Church lived with the daily expectation of the Second Coming. The early Christians had a very highly developed eschatological hope. They had their face turned steadfastly to the east. The hope of Christ’s coming kept them in great tension, and imparted to them such grace that it rendered them fit for the sacrifice of martyrdom. The prayer that they bore on their lips and in their heart was ‘Let Thy grace come, and let this world pass away’. It is not that they did not love creation, but having tasted heaven in their heart, they knew that they were not made for that which is unstable and transitory. Their spirit, created for eternity, longed for boundlessness. As they lived continually in the presence of God, His grace brought the ends of the world upon them. They prayed that the end of man’s tragic history might come, yet gloriously, by entrance into the searchless infinity of God.
Until the Almighty Saviour comes again into this world, the tares shall grow together with the wheat of God. From the moment the enemy sowed them through sin, no victory, nothing good could be achieved without toil and combat, oftentimes even unto blood, following the Lord, Who courageously foresaw at the end of His path the resurrection and salvation of the world. When the trumpet shall sound the end of the world, then ‘the Lord shall consume (Satan) with the Spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy (the sinner) with the brightness of His Presence.’
As the Lord forewarned His disciples about the end of the world which would take place in His Person, so as to deter their stumbling when it should come, thus also now we must know that all things related to the Last Judgement have been prophesied and we ought to await them with courage. ‘Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ The evil servant says, ‘My Lord delayeth his coming,’ and the foolish virgins, while the Βridegroom tarried, ‘all slumbered and slept’ without taking ‘oil in their vessels’. However, the crown belongs ‘unto all them who love His appearing’ and unto those who endure ‘as seeing him who is invisible’. The Master does not tarry: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ During a time of crisis and despair among the nations, when iniquity abounds, the gift of faith and expectation gestates within the faithful. Blessed is the servant who will say with trust, ‘Amen, come Lord Jesus.’
Our era is often considered to be post-Christian, but this is only because this world, in its arrogance and self-justification, has never known authentic Christianity or the true spirit of holiness. This spirit makes man a ‘new creation’ in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, and imparts to him a ‘royal priesthood’ wherein he presents to God every creature through his prayer of intercession.
When people are confronted with the signs of the end times, many in the world who do not know Christ are paralysed with confusion. It is a fact that in our days the dynamics of the fall have intensified to an extreme degree in the whole world. The current of Cain’s fratricide seeks to eradicate the spirit of humility and evangelical love that has the power to save the world. The passions of dishonour have developed into an art which contends to devastate even the life of God’s elect. The world goes through ‘a famine of hearing the words of the Lord’, not because the word of God disappeared, but because people no longer turn to it in order to find peace. They prefer to smother the insurmountable problems of their times by ‘bread and circuses’.
The crisis that the world is currently going through has one magnificent aspect. It constitutes a true privilege and a great challenge for the Church in its work for the evangelisation and spiritual regeneration of man. The tribulations which are coming will force many souls to seek a Saviour from heaven and to find the path of salvation. This crisis is a challenge especially for us, priests, in our holy ministry to the world. The Lord speaks through the mouth of His Prophet Isaiah saying: ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.’
How can we, as priests, offer to our fellow men the incorruptible consolation of the New Israel, which is none other than Christ Himself?
The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Romans that the ‘casting away’ of the Jews for their lack of faith became the cause of the ‘reconciling’ of the world. Could perhaps, now also, the devastating image of the world’s turning away from God become a cause for its regeneration in faith? If this has already taken place in a few individuals and groups, could it not then be generalised and bring about the reconfiguration of the whole world? The power for this belongs to the Lord but it requires the co-operation of our humility.
In our age, which is a period of suffering, poverty, despair and great travail, people are in need of comfort. As we have said, Christ is the incorruptible consolation and salvation of the world. Christians and, more especially, the priests of God, are His humble instruments which offer this comfort to the world. Christ relates easily to them that are sick, to them that are sore broken. In His very nature He is the God of mercy and of every consolation. We need to teach the faithful to approach Him with a humble spirit and a contrite heart, and then of a surety they will be able to find contact with Him and the repose which is bestowed by the grace of His salvation.
The Church has imparted to its clergy very strong means by which we can console the people of God:
Firstly, we can encourage them to pray in His Name, because there is none other Name under heaven given to men through revelation, whereby they may be saved. Through the invocation of the Name of the Lord we enter into His Presence, because His Name is inseparable from His Person, and then the power of His Presence renews us. The Name of the Lord becomes a source of comfort and regeneration. Particularly nowadays, when Christians cannot find sanctuary in the services of the Church, the Name transforms the heart into a temple not made by the hands of man, wherein Christ imparts power and peace.
Secondly, we can encourage the faithful to study the word of God. Thus, they will learn the language of God, which He used to speak to us, and they will speak to Him with the same words inspired by the Holy Spirit. In this way, the Spirit will pray within them. As through the word of the Lord all things came into being, so now, through the power of His word, the faithful are regenerated. Moreover, the word of God was not given in order to frighten man, but to instill courage within him and restore his soul. To whomever approaches it with faith, it imparts ineffable consolation and peace, as well as the strong conviction that ‘the Lord has overcome the world’ and is ‘with us always even unto the end of the world’. His word will never pass away. Thus, He addresses to us the word that He delivered to His chosen people: ‘Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee…for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.’
Finally, under normal circumstances, we also comfort the people of God by offering them the Holy Liturgy. It is vital that in our parishes or in whichever place we serve, we draw together a nucleus of people who understand the power of the great Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. New people will continually be attracted to this core and the number of faithful will increase. We should encourage people to come to the Liturgy prepared and with a positive disposition, offering their whole life to God together with the precious gifts. When the Lord responds to the offering of His people, saying, ‘The Holy things unto the holy’, they receive in return the very Life of the Risen Lord. They have the opportunity to exchange their corruptible and desolate life with the incorruptible and blessed life of God. This exchange is indeed unequal and fearful, but also the most lovingkind at the same time. Afterwards, the faithful sing a triumphal hymn of thanksgiving and spiritual victory: ‘We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly spirit; we have found the true faith. We worship the undivided Trinity for the same has saved us.’ This is the ever new song of the children of God who become like ‘them that dream’ in the Liturgy. And when it is not possible to attend the Liturgy, we accept it and strive to make the cry of our prayer reach His throne as a ‘bloodless, reasonable and acceptable’ sacrifice before Him. As Saint Silouan said: ‘We are given churches to pray in, and in church the holy offices are performed according to books. But we cannot take a church away with us, and books are not always to hand, but interior prayer is always and everywhere possible… the soul is the finest of God’ s churches, and the man who prays in his heart has the whole world for a church.’ When circumstances do not allow us to attend the Liturgy, God is not unjust, but grants His abundant grace to those who thirst for communion with Him and devote all their strength to finding ways of contact with him. However, if the possibility is open for us to participate in the Holy Liturgy, it would be a great delusion to consider that our own personal prayer can make up for the rich communion of gifts of God’s elect in heaven and on earth.
As priests, we are able to comfort the people who approach us by all the means through which we ourselves obtain divine consolation and peace in our heart every time we enter into the living presence of the Redeemer. As Saint Paul writes: ‘Blessed be God…Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.’
However, if we desire the pastoral ministry wherewith the Church has entrusted us to be well-pleasing to the Lord and fruitful, imparting inspiration and life to the suffering people of our times, then we must be mindful to fulfil one necessary prerequisite: our every priestly work ought to be in accordance with the word of the Lord: ‘He that serveth is greater than he that sits at meat.’ That is to say, our ministry will have a prophetic character and we shall minister blamelessly ‘being clothed with the grace of priesthood’, when we follow in the footsteps of Him Who said: ‘I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ We as priests ought always to humble ourselves and to place ourselves lower than the people that we serve, who come to us for help, so that they may feel honoured and open their hearts to the word of grace. The most perfect example of imparting the Gospel to the rejected is given by the Lord in his meeting with the Samaritan woman, a heretic who led a dissolute life. Honouring her through His humble love, He proved her to be equal to an Apostle of His word. We should never behave as those who have power, but on the contrary, as those who comfort, surrendered to the work of God, and to the humble sacrifice of love. In this way, we will justify the title ‘Father’ with which Christians address us and we will impart hope to our brethren who are in need and adversity, reviving the gift of faith in their life.
Just to support one another and preserve our faith under the apocalyptic circumstances that threaten us, is in itself a precious gift of the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed in one of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:
‘The holy Fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?” One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.” The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?” He said “They will struggle to achieve half our works.” They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?” He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.”
As a final consideration on our subject, we will refer to the word of Saint Silouan the Athonite, ‘Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.’ Crushed by despair and the hell of demonic attacks, Silouan heard this word in his heart, which ordinarily should have crushed him even further and led him into utter despair. Nevertheless, the counterweight of faith strengthened him and opened unto him the perspective of the Gospel which is: death – resurrection, the despair of hell – the Kingdom of Light. He says with simplicity, ‘I started to do what the Lord advised me and my mind was cleansed and the Spirit witnessed in my heart to salvation.’
For someone to reach the light, it is essential first to go willingly through darkness with confidence in the word of Christ. In order to enter life we must pass through death following Christ and through this life as ‘living from the dead’, because only close to Christ are we able to lose our life and find it again.
Whoever voluntarily and continually judges himself in the light of Christ’s commandments, becomes stronger than any other judgment. If we confront the crisis of contemporary life with the wisdom of the Gospel, it can be transformed into a springboard for a rich entrance into eternity.
Consequently, if we encourage the faithful to turn to God with pain of heart in those days, they will be convinced that the grace of the Holy Spirit is abundant, plentiful and palpable in the life of the world, because eternity is opening up wide before us. Precisely for this event we are prepared by the word of the Lord, ‘Lift up your heads…’ ‘The time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.’ The great and last trial comes upon earth, but also the greatest grace which accompanies the coming of the Lord and which will bring strength for the living to be transformed and for the departed to be resurrected, in order to receive altogether the promised perfection of the Almighty Jesus in the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.