O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? (Mt 16:3).
In the last hundred years or so, many articles, discussions and books on the topic of the last apocalyptic/eschatological events have been written in the Orthodox Church. Warnings about the possible apocalypse have particularly increased since the overthrow of the Russian Emperor and the fall of the Empire, which many linked with the prophetic words of St. Apostle Paul on the removal of the one "who is holding back" (2 Thess. 2:7). The additional warnings say that the WCC ecumenical movement helps with its work to create antichrist's religion, which will be the spiritual precondition for the enthroning of "that man of sin, the son of perdition" (2 Thess. 2:3).
In this regard, it is important to emphasise that the Roman Catholic "Church," during the reign of the last three Popes, has fully accepted the Judaic eschatology of the Great Sabbath, on the basis of which the Protestant chiliastic belief in the millenarian kingdom of Christ was born much earlier. At the end of last year, Pope Francis preached about the three Comings of Christ, the first of which was His Incarnation, the second will supposedly be in the present, and the third at the end of time, which has nothing to do with the truths of the Holy Scripture that testify only of two arrivals of the Lord (1). It should be added that among many Orthodox bishops, priests and theologians, different types of chiliast-apocalyptic, heretical-utopian beliefs about the implementation of peace and love among all the peoples of the earth dominate, which is also contrary to the words of the Lord about the end of the world and history (Mt 24). What spreads among the Orthodox additional caution and fear is the open messianic fever among certain Judaic groups and, finally, the threat of a general collapse of the global economy, an inextinguishable war in the Middle East, which can spread to the whole world at any time, as well as a growing dissatisfaction and panic in the West due to the wave of refugees, conflicts and terrorist attacks.
We consider the above sufficient for re-seeking answers to the three basic questions related to the topic of the last events: can one talk with certainty, on the basis of the Holy Scripture, about the criteria for determining the end times, is the time we live in the end time, and how to act when the time comes?
Our first question is similar to the question of the Apostle, addressed to the Lord, when he told them about the demolition of the Temple: "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Mt 24:3). It is this very story about the demolition of the Temple, the last events and the Second Coming of Christ that is crucial to the reasoning about the topic we are interested in. In it, Christ tells us about everything that has to occur before His return: false Christs and prophets will appear, there will be wars, famines, plagues and earthquakes, sufferings, tortures, and the Gospel will be preached throughout the world - "and then the end will come" (Mt 23:14). And the end will be the "abomination of desolation" (Mt 24:15), the enthronement of the antichrist in the restored temple, and after that the appearance of Christ's Cross in heaven will follow, and then His coming "in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Mt 24, 30). Then a general resurrection of the dead will take place, the Last Judgment, the abolition of death, and the establishment of the eternal Kingdom of God, with the descent of the Holy City, the Celestial Jerusalem to the new earth, or the eternal hell in its womb (Rev. 20-21). In the continuation of the story, Christ answers the question about the time of all these events and warns: "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled" (Mt 24:34). And at the end, he gives advice what the Apostles should do to resist these temptations: "Watch therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Mt 24,42).
This story, therefore, gives four basic warnings: a notification about the events preceding the end, a notification about the events which represent the end, a warning that this will all take place during the generation of the Apostles, and the advice how to resist it all.
The three apostles, James, Peter and John warn that it is the end times: "Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5:8); "But the end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7); "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it" (1 John 2, 18).
Did the Apostolic generation experience all that was prophesied? It did: there were wars, famines, earthquakes, there was "the abomination of desolation" - the demolition of the Temple and Jerusalem in the year 70 by the Romans. Did the end, i.e. the Second Coming of Christ arrive? It did not. Christ, however, did not say that the end will come in the age of the Apostles; He prophesied that their generation would not pass until all the events happen, and did not say that the end will come. Christ gave counsel to the Apostles how to endure all these sufferings and how, at the same time, to postpone His Coming: by watching, i.e. keeping vigil in constant prayer, fasting, repentance and keeping the true faith. Both the Apostles and their followers, the early Church, kept guard in prayer and fasting, and thus they postponed Christ's Arrival, i.e. the apostasy and the enthronement of antichrist, which precede the Second Coming.
From this we conclude that the events of suffering, the warning about the events that will occur before the Coming and the call to watch are general, i.e. they refer to Christians of all times and every generation, while the end, the enthronement of the antichrist and the Coming of Christ will happen only once. And we also conclude that the only defence against "apostasy" (2 Thess. 2:3), which is the prerequisite for the Coming of Christ, is precisely the watching, i.e. prayer, fasting, and repentance. In other words, as the history of the Church and the world show, in every generation of Christians there are continuous wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, and in each of them there is a danger that the salt will lose his savour (Mt 5:13), and the flock of Christ would become little (Luke 12:32), that is, in each of them there is a great danger that "the man of sin, the son of perdition" will sit "in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2 Thess. 2:4), and that the Coming of Christ will also occur, which can be postponed by standing in true faith and watching in prayer and fasting, which is interconnected.
So, every time is potentially "the end time", i.e. "the end times" are possible, in every time and every generations, and with it the enthronement of antichrist and the Coming of Christ. That's how the words of the Lord were understood by the Apostles and the Holy Fathers during the 2000 years of the Church, and by prayerful watchfulness and standing in the right faith they have endured the sufferings of their age and postponed the end of the world. This affirms the existence of the community of God and humans and shows that the prophecies of the Lord are not "fate", and their fulfillment depends on humans. Just like Ninevites: they repented, and with fasting and prayer they removed the threat and God's fury. "St. John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus Christ himself have foretold about the end times, they were prophesied by the Apostles - Peter, Paul and others, testified by all the Holy Fathers. In that way, the theme about the Second Coming and the enthronement of antichrist that precedes is a kind of call to all of us to participate in the prayerful standing in faith" (2). Christ's words: "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Lk 21:36), can be understood as an affirmation that by prayer the Orthodox Christians can not only avoid, but also postpone all the suffering, "what has to pass" in the end times to later generations.
Every generations of Christians, therefore, have seriously understood the warning of the Lord that their "generation will not pass until all this happens", and they have stood in the Orthodox faith, and with prayer, fasting and repentance, watch and guard, they have postponed "the mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess. 2:7), and with it the Second Coming of Christ.
From everything told above, it can be concluded the Lord will come when a great apostasy in faith comes and when the prayerful watchfulness of the Orthodox Christian grows weaker. In regard to the former, the Lord himself testifies and prophecies: "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). The salt of the faith will grow sour and His flock will truly become small. The apostasy of the heads of the Church is the prerequisite of the enthronement of antichrist. St. John of Shanghai writes about this: "During the time of antichrist a massive falling from faith will take place. Many bishops will deviate in faith and they will justify it by the present good state of the Church. Readiness for compromise will become a characteristic of the people. Real confession of faith will disappear. People will skillfully justify their apostasy, and evil will support this general mood. People will become accustomed to lies and the sweetness of compromise and sin" (3). And regarding the latter, we can say that the Lord will come when the greatest number of Orthodox Christians says: "He will not come yet! This is confirmed by Christ's words: "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." (Mt. 24:44). Then when the majority of Christians become heedless like the foolish virgins, and are left without oil of the grace of faith and prayer in their heart, then the Groom will come at midnight, and those ready will enter the wedding with him and the doors will be shut (Mt. 25:12). This is what Fr. K. Bufeev warns: "As soon as the faith at that Terrible Second Coming of the Lord becomes weak, when the Gospel salt loses its power, when Christians stop singing 'Look, the Groom comes at midnight,' when we allow even the slightest doubt in Christ's promises and accept the thought that this event will not happen that soon, not in these days, not during our lifetime, but sometime later, in a hundred, thousand, million and even billion years - then the end will come" (4). In other words, Christ will come when the majority says: "He won't come yet". So, "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching"; "Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." (Lk. 12:37,40).
The Creator and the Owner of the time Himself testifies about the fact that the coming of the Lord will occur when all will not only say that He will not come, but will also reject every conversation on this subject: "But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." (Mt 24, 37-39). So, the majority in the Church will not be awake and will not believe the Noahs - the Fathers and the priests who will warn, as they are warning in our time.
Similarly, St. Apostle Paul says: "But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that 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, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape [...] Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." (1 Thess. 5:1-3,6). Are not the mouths of our Orthodox bishops, priests, and theologians full of words of peace, love, security, optimism?
On the basis of all this, we can try to answer also our second question from the introduction: is the time of our generation last, and can the end come, i.e. antichrist rise to power and Christ come again? The answer is related, therefore, to the state of our Orthodox faith and the state of our prayerful watchfulness. In relation to the former, it is enough to point out the terrible consequences of accepting heretical documents on Crete by the ten autocephalous Churches, to which we should add the Russian Orthodox Church, which has accepted the same documents, in a slightly changed vision, at their Sabor on February 2-3, 2016. The document "Relations of the Orthodox Church to the rest of the Christian world" accepts the Protestant-Ecumenical ecclesiology of the WCC, according to which the heretics are recognised as the Church, and paves the way for possible future unions, while the document "The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World" beside the heresy of pantheism, contains elements of the heresy of chiliasm and apocatastasis. These latter are the consequence of the delusional-utopian, modern, so-called optimistic theology of the Orthodox, which, contrary to the above mentioned warnings of the Lord and the Holy Apostles and Fathers, preaches secularist-syncretist peace, fraternity and love among the peoples and religions of the world. These are signs of a great apostasy and possible preconditions for the devil to gain power in the world and the spiritual space and power to achieve the mystery of iniquity, in accordance with the warning of St. Apostle Paul: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (1 Tim. 4: 3-4). It may just happen that because of this apostasy the Lord will allow - as was the case with the treason of the Russian Tsar by the Synod of the ROC, the nobility and part of the people, for which the Lord gave way to the victory of the Bolsheviks - the new terrible sufferings of the Orthodox and finally the restoration of the temple and the enthronement of the son of lawlessness. Will pure faith, prayerful watchfulness, fasting and repentance of those Orthodox Christians who are rejecting heresies of Crete and ecumenism, have greater weight and value in comparison with the galloping apostasy? We doubt it. On the contrary, we believe that the Lord will allow the only tool that can stop the destruction of the Church - war. In support of this, we quote the words of I. Romanov: "First of all, moral healing of the people is necessary. And this healing, no matter how terrible it is, can be brought by war. Of course, the Lord does the healing, and He will not leave Russia. But in our situation, most likely, He will cure us with suffering. Of course, we do not want that. Of course, it's terrible and horrible. But, in fact, no matter how sick a person is, a necessary surgical operation has to be done. A surgery without narcosis. Shall we survive this operation? Well, the Lord is the doctor Who loves. He treats us and saves us. And the upcoming war will be for the salvation of many souls. And that war is inevitable "(5).
Finally, the answer to the question: what should one do in those last days? Asking this question and looking for a response to it was prompted by the existence of two extremes related to it: on the left, the liberal modernists call for carelessness and relaxation, condemning the devout for the unnecessary spread of fear and panic, and on the right, unreasonable leaving of the world and flight to forest, or a Siberian tundra, as in the case of some of the devout in Russia.
The truth is never found in the extremes, neither in the left liberalism, nor in the right zealotry, neither in nonchalance nor in panic, but in the middle, in temperance, in Christ. Since we talked about the former, let's consider the latter. We ask the question: where can one flee outside of the only safe shelter, which is the Church? Hiding in remote spots, where there is no church or priest, is the salvation of the physical and the perishment of the soul. Likewise, the non-canonic, arbitrary, without a connection with the bishop, retreat of some priests or hieromonks with their parishes is also unwise and dangerous.
The church is the only safe shelter. In the mentioned story, the Lord accurately marked the time when one should leave the world and flee into the mountains: right after the "abomination of desolation"; Then Christ said: "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes" (Mt. 24:16-18). It is only after the future enthronement of the antichrist in the restored temple, whenever it occurs, that one should leave the world and flee into the mountains. This is confirmed by the words of the Revelation: "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Rev. 12:6). According to the Holy Fathers, the woman who goes to the desert at the time of the enthronement of the antichrist hides there and waits for her Groom - Christ for three and a half years. "A place prepared of God" means that God will make sure to move his Church to a safe place. This is in accordance with the words of the Holy Fathers, that at that time the Lord will do great wonders, that people will eat pellets from the earth, leafs from trees, or that the earth will yield bread, which we will not talk about here in more detail.
So, neither the calls to carelessly eat, drink and sleep, nor the panicky calls for early escape from the world, especially not outside the Church, should be heeded. The only thing that can be recommended and blessed is a timely and pre-emptive abandonment of large cities and settlement in the countryside, in order to create conditions for feeding oneself, but, we emphasise again, close to churches and monasteries.
The Lord, as the All-knowing and the Almighty, once foretold everything in His speech and explained: "Behold, I have told you before" (Mt. 24:25); "Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors" (Mt. 24, 32-33). It is our duty to explore the Scriptures with tranquility, to listen to the ancient and contemporary Holy Fathers, to keep the commandments of the Lord with peace and repentance, and to follow and recognise the signs of the times. One, universal and comprehensive, pre-emptive and saving instruction, as mentioned, reads: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Mt 24:42).
"Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (Rev. 16:15).
"He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20).
"Maranatha" (1 Cor. 16:22). The Lord cometh!
(1) Јереј Сергеј Карамишев, Имформациона провокација Ватикана, или О „трећем“ Христовом доласку, превод: архим. Н. Богосављевић, http://borbazaveru.info/content/view/9215/1/ (05. 01. 2017.).
(2) Буфеев К. (прот.), Православное учение об антихристе и признаки его приближения, http://3rm.info/publications/57931-pravoslavnoe-uchenie-ob-antihriste-i-priznaki-ego-priblizheniya-prot-konstantin-bufeev.html (05. 01. 2017.).
(3) Св. Јован (Максимович), Страшни суд, Свети Кнез Лазар, 1997, 1 (17), 160.
(4) Буфеев К. (прот.), Православное учение об антихристе и признаки его приближения.
(5) Романов И., Готово ли население России к большим потрясениям?, http://ruskline.ru/news_rl/2017/12/21/gotovo_li_naselenie_rossii_k_bolshim_potryaseniyam/ (22. 12. 2017.). http://nikodimbogosavljevic.com/o-poslednjim-vremenima