“…For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”
We, the Hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, have gathered this year for another Council of Bishops, in the times when these words of St. Apostle Paul take on a new meaning in the context of the so-called "world pandemic". Once again, it seems that another attempt is being made by the forces of "global evil" to make it difficult or impossible for the remnant of the faithful scattered throughout the world to have a normal communion, whether in prayer or simply in-person.
This reminds us once again of the brevity of our earthly existence, that we should not be attached to this earth with all its corruptible goods, but that with all our thoughts, feelings and desires we should look forward to the life that awaits us in the age to come.
At all times true Christians have contemplated that we are only "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13) and have always confessed that " we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1) and have incessantly groaned, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2). Bearing well in mind the words of Christ, "My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), they did not set themselves the special task of building the Kingdom of God on earth, knowing that "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:10) and that "our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20).
"It would be impossible for men," says the teacher of asceticism, St. John of the Ladder, "to spend this day piously, unless we would think that it is the last day of our life”. This is why all ascetics shared the conviction that "as bread is more essential than any other food, so is the thought about death needed more than any other deed". In consequence of this they loved to repeat the saying of the wise Sirach: "Keep in mind thy last day, and you will never sin" (7:39). According to the Holy Fathers, all those who wish to live the true Christian life, should make the four final things awaiting man their main subject of constant reflection: death, judgment, heavenly bliss and the torments of hell.
According to the notion of the Fathers, the Christian living on earth should not please himself, but on the contrary, he should soberly motivate himself with the thought of the danger of his situation. "Above you is the sword of righteousness, under you is hell, ready to devour you, ahead of you is death, behind you is a multitude of sins, on your right and left are the crowds of vicious enemies: can you really be careless?” (St. Tikhon of Zadonsk).
During the Midnight Office, the Holy Church puts into our mouths the hymn "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh at midnight, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching...", reminding us of the need to constantly think about the Second Coming of Christ and prepare ourselves for it. All true Christians have indeed always been living with the thought of this great and terrible "Day of the Lord" seeing it as the fulfilment of all their hopes.
The Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian spoke of the emergence in his day of the "spirit of the antichrist", which he contrasts with the "spirit of Christ". The essence of this "spirit of antichrist" is the rejection of the divinity of Jesus Christ and its intention to bind people to the "world lieth in wickedness" with its lusts (I John 4:1-5, 5:19; 2:15-18).
The "spirit of the antichrist", which began to struggle against the spirit of Christ in Apostolic times, "now", according to Bishop Theophanes (Vyshensky, the Hermit), "begins to dominate among us in the world” ("Words on the Feast Days" p. 262).
This "spirit of the antichrist", inspired by the “liar, and the father of it”, the very "murderer from the beginning" (John 8: 44), to this day does not cease its pernicious work and finds new ways to capture more and more modern people in its nets of flattery. He is now seeking to root out the truly Christian worldview and plant in its place a view that is directly opposite, while sometimes masking it with the appearance of Christianity. For his ultimate goal is to create world conditions conducive to the appearance of the Antichrist. As his very name shows, he will be not just an "adversary of Christ", but also an imaginary "Christ", a false Christ. His forerunners, preparing the reign of the Antichrist, and later the Antichrist himself, are the leaders of the world process which is called “a falling away (Apostasy)” by St. Paul (2 Sol. 2:3).
If we really believe in the Gospel, if we believe all the God-inspired prophecies of the Apostles, if we believe in "the life of the age to come" and wish to be saved "from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40), we must look soberly at everything that is happening in the world. We cannot help but notice the increasingly stifling moral atmosphere and the growing process of Apostasy. If we are not spiritually sober, we will not be prepared to avoid, as the Gospel says, all the calamities coming upon the universe "and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).
In the words of the Prophet and Psalmist David: "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man" (Psalm 146:3). Therefore, unsubstantiated, deeply opposed to the Word of God, dreams of "universal progress and a bright future for mankind" are both dangerous and criminal. They spiritually disarm us Christians, and inspire us with carelessness, while Christ the Saviour repeatedly and insistently impressed upon His followers the need to "watch and pray at all times" so as not to be caught off guard.
The "spirit of the antichrist", in order to distract Christians from their saving contemplation about the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ, even goes as far as using the words of the Scripture: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man" (Mt 24:36). But in doing so, he is slyly silent about other significant words of Christ: "So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." (Mt 24:33). We must not speculate about “the day and the hour", assigning precise time limits. But we also cannot close our eyes to the obvious signs of the apostasy, disobeying Christ's clear command to recognise the signs of the times.
It is often heard that there have been difficult times in the past, when many expected the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. Nevertheless these expectations have not been fulfilled, and the world continues to exist to this day. Who knows, it could be that the world has indeed been close to its end in those times. However, because of the repentance of mankind, the merciful Lord had granted a reprieve. As we know from the Bible, the Prophet Jonah, at the command of God, went to Nineveh to preach: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” But the Ninevites, starting from the king himself, repented sincerely of their sins to God, and God, feeling sorry for that great city, cancelled His decision to destroy it (John 3:2-10).
We are compelled to testify that today we see no examples of a repentance that would be even remotely in likeness of the repentance of the Ninevites.
This seems to be the most characteristic sign of the approach of the end times and the end of the world.
We must honestly confess only the pure, unadulterated teaching of God's Word, which clearly states that the world is coming to its end. However, we Christians should not be afraid of this and become discouraged or panic-stricken. We must strive to prepare ourselves and our loved ones to have time to repent in this temporal life, so that, by the mercy and help of God, we could, in a humble and dignified manner give worthy account at the Last Judgment of Christ.
All our hope and all our trust is not in the anti-Christian "progress of mankind" and not in the prolongation of this sinful earthly life drowning in charming lusts, but in the discovery of new heavens and a new earth, "wherein dwelleth righteousness " (2 Peter 3:13).
All of us, according to the Apostle's instruction, must imprint in our hearts this saving thought about our imminent passage to eternity, in order to appear before Him (the Lord, who is coming to judge the living and the dead) “without spot, and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14) and to "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world " (Mt 25:34).
We invoke the blessing of the Lord upon you, by His Grace, His Bounty and His Love for mankind. Amen.
† Most Reverend Vladimir, Archbishop of Montreal and Canada
† Most Reverend Victor, Bishop of St. Peterburg and Northern Russia
† Most Reverend Alexiy, Bishop of Soltanov and Lesser Russia
† Most Reverend Tikhon, Bishop of Vasilkovsk
† Most Reverend Herman, Bishop of Kharkov