Orthodox America

  It’s Later Than You Think!

       We have entered this new decade, the final decade before a new millennium, propelled by a torrent of events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Their unexpected magnitude and the gathering speed at which history is unfolding heighten the apocalyptic aura surrounding the year 2000, now only ten years away.

      Man will never harness time. It ticks away inexorably. We all grow older, nearing the end of our days, just as the world will one day reach the end of its course. For many people time is a curse; they try to stave off its effects and disguise its passing. But for us Christians time is a gift, its passage bringing us ever nearer to a blissful life with our Lord Jesus Christ in a timeless eternity-provided we use this gift wisely to prepare ourselves for that Kingdom that is to come. 

My soul,  my soul arise, why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near... (Kontakion of the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete)

       Unfortunately, we are more readily inclined towards the ways of the world and its preoccupations with this life, in which there is always "tomorrow.'' We live with no "end" in sight, and therefore we are slack in our spiritual endeavors. We need a sober reminder. Fr. Seraphim Rose would often say, "It's later than you think," and not many years ago a priest in the Soviet Union wrote from prison to his spiritual children, 'The end is not somewhere beyond the horizon; it's just over your shoulder ."

      Such admonitions become still weightier as one examines Orthodox prophecies concerning the end times.

      A number of saints and righteous men--St. Niphon of Constantinople (+1508), Martyr Agathangelus (+1592), St. Nilus the Myrrhstreamer of Mt. Athos (+1651), St. Cosmas Altolas (+1779), St. Callinicus of Romania (+1860)-point to the year 1992 as a year of reckoning. The economic and political unification of Common Market countries, scheduled for 1992. together with the changing face of the Soviet Union, leads many to expect greater security and material prosperity in the near future. However, an Athonite monk from the Romanian Skete of the Forerunner, Hieromonk Petronius, commented in a recent article on the subject (Pravoslavnaya Rus  11/28/89) that "the Christian world knows that material well-being does not go hand in hand with spiritual progress (on the contrary, as Apostle Paul writes, when materialism increases, spirituality declines), and therefore the Christian world looks at 1992 with distrust and concern, fearing that a growing attention to material good may well lead to a growth of evil, which even now rages in our present world."

      Fr. Petronius goes on to describe the vision of St. Callinicus, who delayed expansion of his monastery because "at that time predictions were circulating in Romania to the effect that very shortly, in 1848, frightful events would occur, marking the end of this world..? He was granted a vision in the heavens of the Holy Trinity, "as He is depicted in icons, and, underr~eath, a large, luminous parchment on which was written in bold letters: 7500 years from Adam." St. George and St. Nicholas, who were present during the vision, urged Callinicus to begin building: "You see, the end of the world will come not in 1848, but only after 7500 years from the time of Adam are fulfilled." According to the Church, the year 7500 from Adam corresponds to the year 1992 AD.

       "On the strength of St. Callinicus' high level of sanctity," writes Fr. Petronius, "his revelation cannot be doubted; and this fills us with trepidation. But how are we to understand this vision if we know from Holy Scripture that the Saviour Himself said: Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only (Matt. 24:36)? The solution to this quandry is given to us by St. John Chrysostom in his commentary on the book of Gevesis:

      "'If God wished to destroy the world, He could do this very easily. There is nothing easier for the Creator Who created all things by a word alone than to turn the world in an instant back into nothingness, out of which the world was formed. But in His exceeding concern for our salvation, God has told us beforehand of the punishment , which He is prepared to send upon us---in order that He might not send it. He tells us precisely in order that we should know about it, that we might be filled with fear before the face of His wrath, that we should turn away from sin and that there should remain no doubt as to His sentence.

      "'Thus, for example, did He act towards the great city of Ninevah, whose iniquities surpassed all measure. He sent the prophet Jonah to tell the people, 'Another forty days and Nineyah will be destroyed!' The Ninevites, however, on hearing this, did not lose hope. Trustingin God, they appointed a strict fast both for the people and for the animals, at d repented in sackcloth and ashes. And God, seeing their repentance, had mercy on them, and the punishment which they were to have suffered was averted.

      '"Similarly, before the Flood the earth became filled with the iniquitous deeds of the people, and God decided to destroy them. He did not, however, do this at once, but informed the people 120 years in advance. Then He commanded Noah to build the ark, and for 100 years Noah labored on it, so that the people, seeing this, would come to their senses and return to the true path. It was only after God saw that in spite of all the warnings they were given the people still did not turn aside from evil, that He destroyed them by means of the Flood.'

       "It is in this light that we should understand the above-related vision of St. Callinicus, as also a whole series of signs in the last times: the appearance to people of the Mother of Cod persuading the world to repent, the appearance of weeping and myrrh-streaming icons, swinging vigil lamps, and other signs. For in our times the iniquities of the people have increased immeasurably, and God in His mercy and love for man (through similar prophecies, and signs) is reminding us that unless we turn away from evil, we will suffer punishment. He tells us about this beforehand precisely in order not to subject us to punishment, but that we should wake up and turn away from evil" 

       We who live in these prosperous United States must hearken to these admonitions and exert ourselves in spiritual vigilance. Only then can we resist being lulled to sleep by our material well-being. Only then can we resist squandering whatever time is left to us in this life. If we diligently apply ourselves to cultivating our soul's salvation, we can greet the future with hope, secure in the knowledge that God, Who is Supreme Love, rewards those who seek Him with the good things of this earth and of the world to come.