Orthodox America

  The Lantern of the Soul

      A few years ago, Metropolitan Vitaly (Russian Church Abroad), said that the world has now opened the first page of the Book of the Apocalypse; in other words, we have now begun to live in the times described in that dread book of prophecy.

      Similarly, less than fifty years ago Archbishop Theophan of Poltava told a spiritual child: "You ask me about the near future and about the last times. I do not speak on my own but give the revelation of the Elders: The coming of Antichrist draws nigh and is very near. The time separating us from him should be counted a matter of years and at most a matter of some decades."

      In 198l, just a year before his death, the late Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) said to an audience of Russian youth in San Francisco:

      "Even secular writers speak of our 'apocalyptic' times. And truly, the problems that plague the world today--the exhaustion of resources and food, overpopulation, the literal monsters created by modern technology, and especially the weapons capable of destroying entire countries or even the whole civilized earth---all point to the approach of a crisis in human history quite beyond anything the world has ever seen, and perhaps to the literal end of life upon earth."  

Take Heed that ye be not deceived... (Luke 21:8)  

      Many people, however, would argue that such end of the world predictions have often been heard in history, ever since the time of the apostles. "Besides," they say, 'look at how much better things are today than they were even five years ago. Computers have brought improved communication; advances in medicine and other sciences hold promise of being able to solve many of today's problems; the whole situation in the Soviet Union is changing: the Cold War has ended and we are on the way towards nuclear disarmament... In short, for the first time we are looking towards the possibility of real security for the future through lasting peace."

      Yet Saint Paul tells us that it is in just such times as these that we must be most discerning: The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night, for when they shall say Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them...

     Indeed, it is a question of discernment: the ability to identify and set things apart as different and distinct, the ability to recognize deception which, from the time of Adam, the Enemy has used to draw man away from God. Apostle Paul, in his epistles, constantly exhorts his reader: Be not deceived. In both Old and New Testament times people ran after false prophets because they lacked the discernment necessary to distinguish between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not (Mal. 3:18). One of the signs of the end of time will be that many such false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many (Matt. 24:11). And this widespread deception will prepare the way for the acceptance of Antichrist (Il Thess. 2:3).

  Like the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom the Lord sternly upbraided, many people today can discern the face of the sky, but fail to discern the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3), which to the sober observer are becoming increasingly---and shocking – apparent: in spite of seemingly promising political developments, our generation has descended into wickedness like unto "the days of Noah" spoken of by Christ, with an unprecedented increase of immorality, demonic activity materialism. "Peace" is desired above Truth, inviting a religious synthesis (already preached by New Age devotees) which accepts Christ equally with Mohammed and others as 'Great Masters' a deception made possible by a profound lack of spiritual discernment.

      We should not assume that because we are Orthodox Christians we are 'safe' from such delusion; it takes many forms and can be very refined. We must, therefore, strive to be spiritually vigilant and pray for discernment, that we may escape the snares of the Evil One.  

Discernment is light, and the spiritual insight it generates is more necessary than all other gifts. For what is more necessary than to perceive the wiles of the demons and with the help of God's grace to protect one’s soul?    --St. Peter of Damaskos, Philokalia 

      Without discernment we can only understand things on a superficial level; we cannot penetrate to the real meaning of events and issues; we cannot prepare for what is to come; we may fall to one unhealthy extreme or another.

      Discernment is all the more crucial today when we no longer have the support of a basically, Christian society. No longer is the Christian perspective the accepted norm. We must, therefore, be conscientious in applying discernment to issues which affect us and our children. For example, what are the implications of sex education and the proposed introduction of religious education in schools? Unless we are careful to exercise discernment we are in danger of accepting facts with the interpretation given them by the context in which we receive them: the political philosophy of the journalist, the levity of the newscaster, the moral values of the movie maker, the ethics of our business partner...

      In the realm of spiritual struggle, discernment refers to the "lantern of the soul by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes" (Philokalia, volume II). It is "characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does" (St. Peter Damaskos, Ibid.). There are, of course, many levels of discernment, and few attain the heights manifest by the clairvoyant elders and saints. But in this age of spiritual confusion and uncertainty it is imperative that we strive to acquire it to the measure that God's grace will grant it to us.

      How is this accomplished? The Holy Fathers tell us that discernment is born of humility. The late Archpriest Boris Molchanoff, in his excellent study, Antichrist, [Available from St. John of Kronstadt Press, Rt. 1 Box 205, Liberty, TN 37095] says that to acquire discernment "one must first of all be obedient to the mind of the Orthodox Catholic Church."' This means that "one must verify each of one's own reasonings with the word of God and the teachings of the Fathers". Therefore, careful and constant study of Scripture---which Fr. Boris says should be our "constant handbook" and "guidebook"--together with the commentaries of the Fathers, is an indispensable aid to discernment, particularly concerning the Last Times. And since our contemporary Holy Fathers now testify that we do, indeed, seem to be at the beginning of the Apocalypse, discernment is all the more critical if we are to withstand the apostasy and endure the prophesied tribulations to come.

Fr. Alexey Young, Editor.