Contemporary Signs of the End of the World

By: Father Seraphim Rose - Continued

3. Spiritual Signs of the End

St. Paul himself, who was very filled with awareness of the coming end of the world and the coming of Christ, warns Christians even in his time not to be too excited about the end of the world. He says: Be not quickly shaken in mind or troubled, as though the day of the Lord is just at hand. Let no one deceive you, that day will not come except the falling away come first and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the son of perdition (II Thess. 2:1-4).  This is a very important sign of the end: the falling away or apostasy and the coming of the man of lawlessness, which is Antichrist. And on this subject I would like to focus quite a bit of our attention. This concept of apostasy is a key one with which to understand the events of our own times.  It is a very complex subject, difficult to go into completely.  Briefly, however, a student of history looking at the whole past two thousand years of history, especially Western history, can see a continuous thread of development.  And in the first nine hundred or thousand years, you can see the various strands which go to make up our modern history and modern civilization.  The civilization of today is shaped by the events and developments of yesterday.

When Solzhenitsyn speaks about the coming of a great world crisis, or even of the end of the world, he is referring to the fact that this historical current, which has been going on for the last thousand years at least, is now coming to an end.  There is no place further for it to go: either it must change drastically or else destroy mankind.

Solzhenitsyn traces it back to the end of the Middle Ages.  Actually, it goes back further.  If you examine it historically, you can traces it back to the Church of Rome when that jurisdiction of the Catholic Church broke away from the rest of the Church; that is, in the year 1054, the middle of the eleventh century.  Something happened in the West: the West chose to go its own way.

This breaking away on the part of Rome was the beginning of what can be called the mainstream of apostasy.  Apostasy means "falling away," even a small falling away.  If you look at Rome in the twelfth century, it was still fairly close to Orthodoxy; nonetheless, it had begun to deviate in its various new ideas about the importance of the Pope, and so forth. Once this movement of apostasy began, it went step by step very logically to produce the world which we see today. Rome broke off from the Church because worldly ideas of Church government-the Papacy-became dominant.  And once independent from the Churches in the East, these innovations began to enter into the life of Rome until it became, over the centuries, increasingly different from Orthodoxy.

Worldliness in the Western world produced the pagan Renaissance, and the departures in the Roman Church from the true Christian practices of the earlier Roman Church-most notably the innovation of "indulgences" and especially the selling of them-produced the Protestant Reformation, which gradually threw out almost all of the ancient Christian traditions together with the various superstitions and false practices against which they were supposedly rebelling.

This, in turn produced the reaction which we know as the Age of Enlightenment, the eighteenth century, which threw out religion altogether and tried to base life on human reason or common sense. This is basically what civilization is trying to live on today.  And this produced communism, out of which Solzhenitsyn came and against which he is protesting, which is the last and most consistent form of trying to make life on earth solely fitting human rather than divine ideas.

If Rome had not first fallen away from Orthodoxy and started this whole process, world history would have been much different. We can see even now that the Eastern Orthodox countries, like Greece and Russia, did not have a Renaissance, or a Reformation, or even an Enlightenment period, as did the West.  And if they are now bound up with the same kind of worldview as the West, it is because they have in this last century or two finally accepted all these ideas and been poisoned by them and, therefore, become part of the whole world which is now involved in one single civilization, that is, Western civilization and its dying phase, as Solzhenitsyn rightly sees. 

In the same passage in which St. Paul mentions the apostasy, in II Thessalonians, he gives a second name for this movement or process.  He calls it the "mystery of iniquity," the "mystery of lawlessness."  He says the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, preparing for Antichrist, who is the "man of lawlessness."  As we look around in our twentieth century civilization, the word "lawlessness" or "anarchy" is perhaps the chief characteristic which identifies it.

A few examples here are appropriate.  In modern art, by the beginning of the twentieth century, all various schools of modern art dissolved into what can only be called some kinds of lawless states: Cubism, Futurism, ending in some blocks on a canvass, or, like Jackson Pollock was doing twenty-five years ago: standing in the midst of a large canvas, he would become "inspired" and dip his paint brush in the pails and, based simply on whatever came into his hands, he would throw the paint upon the canvass. Sometimes it is very pleasing, with nice shapes, but it is not art.  You cannot seriously call it art if the ancient masters are art, because they were meticulous and careful.  There was a whole art and science to it.  And therefore you would say it was a comparatively ancient art; modern art, however, is a kind of lawlessness, because the artists are letting themselves go and do what is against all the artistic laws. And now, of course, you can see "masterpieces" which are simply Campbell soup cans, "worth" $20,000. . . .

In modern music, it is the same way.  A historian of modern music, Albert Frankenstein, wrote a complete history of Western music, and when he came to the twentieth century and stopped, saying: I cannot write any more because what comes from here on is no longer music which I know. That is, he appreciated that there was something there, but he said it does not obey the laws that music obeyed up until the end of the nineteenth century; therefore, it is something else; let someone else write about it; because, again, some kind of lawlessness, a new principle entered into it.

Once you get this far, there is really no place else to go; that is the end.  That is why Solzhenitsyn has this feeling that something is coming to an end, because you cannot keep going down; you cannot keep painting Campbell soup cans and call it art. Something else has to happen if there is no place else for it to go. There has to be either an explosion: a totally new principle has to enter in, like Christianity came in Roman times and totally transformed art, making a whole new art; or else, if something new does not happen, then the whole civilization simply winds down, and that is the end of it.

In the realm of moral teaching, it is quite noticeable, especially in the last twenty years or so, how lawlessness has become the norm.  And even people in high positions within the clergy in various denominations of Catholics and Protestants, and so forth, are sometimes quite willing to justify all kinds of things which were previously considered immoral.  Now there is considered something of a new morality, "situation ethics," and so forth. Most civilized people (and even wild pagan tribes) had a fairly good sense of right and wrong and decent behavior up at least to the Second World War, since then the philosophy has taken hold of many that one can ‘do whatever one feels like,’ and even so-called Christians justify and promote behavior that until now was everywhere considered a total loss of decent standards, not only Christian but even human.  This is a deep sign of lawlessness in contemporary society.

Solzhenitsyn mentions specifically in his Harvard lecture what happened in New York City three years ago when the electricity was cut off.  He said: "The center of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc.  The smooth surface film must be very thin.  Your social system must be quite unstable and unhealthy". . . . Forty years ago in America, if the lights went out, people would have helped each other out, lit candles, and so forth.  Now, instead, they go and break windows, loot, take everything they can get for themselves, kill people and get away with whatever they think they can get away with. Something has changed in a short time. This should not happen wherever people have basic religious and moral views of any kind. It is a direct result of the abandonment of Christianity and the ‘falling away’ from Truth.

All this is a sign of what St. Paul calls the "mystery of lawlessness." It is a mystery because a mystery is something which is not fully revealed in this world; it is something which comes from the other world. And the "mystery of righteousness" is the whole story of how Christ came from heaven and tried to save us.  The mystery of lawlessness is the opposite: it is some kind of mystery coming up from hell, which breaks into this world and changes this world.  Therefore, this mystery of lawlessness or anarchy is preparing for the coming of the man of lawlessness, who is Antichrist.

Even in politics and government-which make no sense at all unless you have the idea of order-this idea of lawlessness is entering in. If you look at how the world is divided: almost half the world now is in the communist camp.  And communism, if you look at it objectively, is a very strange form of political and economic order, because it makes no sense: as far as politics is concerned it is tyranny, which the Communists claim to be against; as far as economics is concerned, it does not work, and yet the whole point of installing it is ostensibly to make it work better than capitalism.

From this point of view of those who introduced communism into world government, it makes no sense because it does not accomplish what it intends to accomplish and produces a slave state, as Solzhenitsyn writes about it very eloquently. And yet it takes over the world.  And the rest of the world seems to be falling into it, powerless to stop the movement of communism.

What is the reason for this?  I will now say a word about communism.  It is not simply a system of politics or economics.  Politically, it holds together only by terror, by the Gulag.  And anyone who understands what is happening in the world today should and must read Solzhenitsyn's book, The Gulag Archipelago.  That tells exactly what life was like in Russia for sixty years, in other countries for thirty years or less, and which is coming to the rest of the world. It is written very humanely.  Solzhenitsyn does not have any bitterness about what happened; he has suffered through it himself and gives a very accurate description of what it is all about.  Economically, it fails.  Solzhenitsyn points out that the Tsarist government exported wheat, and the Soviets have to import wheat – to name just one of their failures.  The two most serious accomplishments of Communism in Russia are: the building (after stealing western secrets) and stockpiling of enough weapons to destroy life on earth; and its network of prison camps – the Gulag.

But how can people believe in this Marxist system?  If you do believe in it, you have to admit that it is a very strange philosophy. It is not an ordinary philosophy that it is better to have the people vote, or that it is better to have one monarch over many people; it is not simple like that at all.  It is like a dream world, a fantasy world.

It is exactly like the movements which were very common in the sixteenth century such as the Anabaptist movements: someone would proclaim himself to be Jesus Christ, or a prophet of Jesus Christ, and he would go out and people would begin to follow him.  He would cause a big uprising, there would be a peasant revolt, and finally the prince would come along and chop them all down, and then everything would be peaceful again.  But in the meantime, he had gotten the whole country excited, and people had felt that some kind of great religious thing was happening.

Communism has this same idea. If you examine it, it is actually a chiliastic idea-that Paradise is coming to earth, just ahead of us.  It is very interesting to read about the beginning of the communist movement in the nineteenth century, because the writings of its early prophets, such as Fourier in France, is fantastic nonsense.  He talks about the coming age of world peace and prosperity, when all the fountains will be overflowing with pink lemonade, when we will go and pick meat from trees, and all kinds of fantastic things.

How can people take this seriously?  They did, and this is what inspired Marxism, in the beginning, until Marx finally became mature and saw that since this is all fairy tales, that he had to place it onto a "scientific basis," and so he developed what is called "scientific materialism."  He then set forth the means of bringing this into reality, of overthrowing the bourgeois governments. .

When he comes into power, however, what is his answer?  He promises actually the same thing that these people were promising.  In fact, even Lenin, at the foundation of Russian communism, had the idea that first of all there is revolution: change society, overthrow and kill all the kings; the middle class-take all their possessions; give power to the "workers," for the workers are the first ones to go to jail.  You give power to the "people" somehow-though in fact it is only a few who take it over for them, holding it, as it were, in the bank for the time being, the people being unable to take care for it themselves-and after a certain number of years these so-called dictators of the proletariat are to wither away.  Then people become peaceful, happy, contented, and there are no more problems. Someone even asked what is going to happen in case somebody has a religious idea, or wants to go back to the old-fashioned ways of doing things.  They asked if a police department would at least be needed.  And Lenin said there will be no need for a police department because the people themselves will be so changed under the new conditions of society that when anybody has a non-social idea he will be automatically squashed like a bug by the people themselves.

In other words, people would be so happy, those doing the squashing to begin with, that they will themselves do it, and there will be no need for police or armies or anything else.  This is an absolute fairy tale.  And this is what communist ideology is based upon.  It is a very strange political philosophy. This means that it partakes of this same principle of lawlessness.  It is a kind of lawlessness which pretends to be orderly.  It is a forerunner of the coming of Antichrist.

The reason why communism takes over the world is not because it is so much "smarter" than capitalism or democracy, or anything of the sort.  It is because in the West there is some kind of spiritual vacuum, and, when this vacuum is present, communism simply marches in and takes in one little territory after the other until, at present, it has conquered nearly half the world.

Communism, however, does not have the final answer because it is a very negative thing.  In fact, if you see what has been happening in Russia in the last ten or twenty years, you can see that there is a full revolt, as far as the people's mentality is concerned; it is against this whole system of communism.  Although the dictatorship is just as strong as ever, in the last two years especially it has been putting more people in prison again, and the police are very strong everywhere.  Nonetheless, the people more and more are rising up; that is, not in armed revolt but rather in elevating their minds and becoming independent, which means sooner or later the whole system is going to collapse.

So, communism does not have the answer; it cannot conquer the whole world and then bring peace and happiness as it claims it can. In the meantime, however, it is preparing for one very important thing which has to happen before the end of the world can come: there is to be one unified world government from which Christianity has somehow been kicked out.  And that communism has been doing very successfully.

In order to supply people with a "spiritual" basis for one world government, there has to be something higher. And we see in the ideas of, for example, the United Nations, some kind of thing which looks like a "spiritual" answer.  It claims to be for the foundation of one world government which will not be a tyranny, or based on any particular idea like communism.  It is very vague with no particular Christian basis. There is a "meditation chapel" in the UN building which, when it was built twenty years ago, was greatly discussed as to what would be the object of worship in this room.  If you place a Cross, you are quickly branded as Christian; you can't have anything Moslem or Hindu as you are already identified; it must be "above" all religions.  They finally decided upon some kind of little black block.  It is like bowing down before some kind of idol.   This means a very vague kind of religious interest, because everybody does indeed have a religious interest.  (You can't hide that. Communism is going to fall because of this.)  Still, such a vague thing! This is exactly the kind of thing which the devil likes to grab hold of, for in any particular religious belief you may be mistaken, but at least you have put your heart to it, and God can forgive all kinds of mistakes; however, if you do not have any particular religious belief and you give yourself to some kind of vague idea, then the demons come in and begin to attack.

Another sign of the times of the end which is approaching is the present state of the Jews in Israel, in the city of Jerusalem.  According to the prophecies of Scripture and the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church, Jerusalem will be the world capital of Antichrist.  And there he will rebuild the temple of Solomon, in which he will be worshipped as God. This is one of the events which comes near the very end of the world.  Of course, it is very significant that only since 1948 has Jerusalem been once more in the hands of the Jews.  Only since 1967 has the place where the temple was, beneath the Mosque of Omar, been in the hands of Jews, because that was in the part which was held by the Moslems.

If you were to ask anyone who is aware at all of political events in the world a question as to what would be the ideal city to have as the world capital, if there is going to be a world empire, it is obvious what the answer would be.  It cannot be New York, because it is the center of capitalism.  It cannot be Moscow because it is the center of communism.  It cannot even be Rome, because Roman Catholicism is still some kind of limited tradition. The logical place is Jerusalem, because there three religions and continents come together.  It is the logical place where there can be peace, brotherhood and harmony, all of which will seem to look good but unless they have a solid Christian foundation they are not God-pleasing -those things which can be used by Antichrist.

Another aspect of the Jewish question is that many young Jews are becoming interested in Christianity, because among the Jews also there is the same kind of religious seeking and problems which occur among other people, and some of these Jews are being converted to Christianity; some are coming even to Orthodoxy.  This is already a sign and preparation for the fact that at the end of time the Jews will be restored to Christianity.

We should now say a word about Antichrist. He is not simply a cruel dictator who is anti-Christian.  I think most people, when they think of Antichrist, think of someone like Hitler, who was a persecutor, or Stalin, who persecutes Christians and is against religion.  But that is not Antichrist, though he has that aspect.  "Anti" means not just "against," but also "in place of."  He will be someone who will come and take the place of Christ; it says quite clearly that he will be worshipped as God in the temple of Jerusalem.

You don't go and worship some kind of ordinary dictator, and the whole world could not very easily do that.  But he will come as a world dictator who is accepted as God, as something and someone very positive; thus he will do everything possible to imitate and take the place of Christ.

Therefore, the Apostles always emphasize very strongly in their warnings about the end of the world that we must be aware of deception.  St. Paul says that the coming of the lawless one, by the activity of Satan, will be with all power and signs and lying wonders.  God shall send-that is, allow a strong delusion that men should believe a lie.  That is, it will be something very deceptive; in fact, so much so that the elect themselves might be deceived if the times were not cut short.

Christ Himself warns, in speaking of the last days, that false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders so as to lead astray if possible even the elect.  And in the Apocalypse, St. John states that the last times will be characterized by demonic spirits working wonders.  Thus, one of the signs of the coming of the end is the multiplication of demonic signs and wonders; that is, false miracles, and things of that sort.

By such things I mean in particular, for example, the increase in the last several decades of outright satanism-satan worship, which only in this last twenty years or so has achieved such openness and notoriety; people who openly call themselves witches; the greatly increased interest in Eastern pagan religions, which in these last two or three decades have become tremendously fashionable so that there are now Western-born, American and English gurus and Zen masters, and so forth.

People take it quite seriously, bowing down to the ground before Maharaji, who declared himself to be God-something which was quite unheard of until the last two or three decades.  It is occurring among ordinary, idealist Americans-just ordinary people bowing down on the ground before Maharaji.

In Western Christianity --- because the element of the true worship of God which Orthodoxy has preserved has been lost-there has come a reaction which takes the form of "searching after signs."  It is very strong in the so-called "Charismatic Movement."  There are quite a number of spectacular things which happen: people "speak in tongues"; they give so-called "prophecies"; there are some kinds of "healings," and a number of remarkable things occur.

These are not in accordance with what we Orthodox Christians know of real spiritual life.  It is a whole false outlook on spiritual life, causing people to seek these things and obtain them.  Of course, all this seeking of "peace," such as in transcendental meditation, gives a more or less this-wordly feeling of contentment which has nothing to do with true spiritual striving.

Then one could name all kinds of occult and paranormal phenomena which are so prevalent in our times: various kinds of research into ESP is very strong in the Soviet Union, much more so than in America, where people who claim to be atheists allow and even promote research into things like mental telepathy, hypnotism, faith healing, prophecies, auras of plants and humans, photographs of the boundaries between matter and psyche, the action of mind over matter.  One contemporary psychic, Yuri Geller, of whom you have heard, is able to bend spoons without touching them, and he claims he gets his power from "beings from outer space."

Some people laugh, of course, when they hear about this, and think it is very funny when people are so stupid as to think things like that, but the phenomena which are occurring are quite real.   The explanations which people use to explain them have a remarkable similarity to what we know in the ancient Lives of Saints.

That is, all the phenomena which are told by people, for example, who claim to be abducted by a UFO spacecraft, and so forth-whatever you might think about the story-is exactly what we have read described in the Lives of Saints as the way in which the demons operate.  That is, their very remarkable ability to switch from matter to psyche, instantly to vanish or appear, or to move quickly from one place to the other.  This is the way in which the demons operate.  It is precisely the way these so-called "space beings" operate also.  It is very interesting that the demons come back into modern history through this means.

All these are signs of occult and strange spiritual attitudes, which produce today what cannot but be described as miracles; that is, something which does not accord with the normal way of natural processes.  This is just what is needed when Antichrist comes with great deception and demonic miracles and wonders, in order to deceive people.

Many followers of the Charismatic Movement, who do not believe in occultism, and in fact are very much against it, nonetheless take their very strange "charismatic" phenomena as being Christian in context. Many people like these believe that what they are seeing is an "outpouring of the Holy Spirit." Their name for it is the "Coming of the Third Age of the Holy Spirit," or the "New Age of the Holy Spirit." And they think that this is a sign that Christ is coming soon.

The actual prophecies, however, in the Holy Scriptures, as well as in the writings of the Holy Fathers of the early Church especially, indicate exactly the opposite.  Christ Himself said in Luke 8:18: When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth? That is, the true flock of Christ at the end will be very small, and most Christians, or people who call themselves Christians, will follow Antichrist.

This idea of the "New Age of the Holy Spirit" is, again, a chiliastic idea, looking forward to some kind of a worldly adaptation of Paradise.  And it has been troubling the Western world since the twelfth century and appeared for the first time in the Italian Abbot, Joachim of Floris, the “prophet” of the spiritual Franciscans.