Archive for July 12th, 2008

Orthodoxy and the Apocalypse

July 12, 2008

And Christ said unto them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” (Acts 1:7)

We live in difficult times, and for some of us the times are more difficult than others. We also live in a culture of apocalypticism, in which numerous movies, made from many angles, use imagery drawn from one Christian corner or another to create excitement and horror.

We live in a time when the headlines of the media themselves seem apocalyptic. There are always “wars and rumors of wars,” unspeakable crimes against children, sometimes even perpetrated by their parents.

We live in a time when the “hearts of many have grown cold.” In some cultures the Church is not only disdained but openly hated (this has not yet manifested itself so much in America as in certain places within the world where open assaults on Christianity are more tolerated within the culture). Often this hatred is driven by the Church’s uncompromising stand on certain moral issues and its renewed witness in certain parts of the world.

And yet, all of these events added together do not make for the time of the Apocalypse. Though it is always true that every day brings the end of history nearer to us, Christians are not bidden to live as the prisoners of history. Rather, having been translated from this world “into the Kingdom of His dear Son” (Colossians 1:13), we have transcended the prison of history and live increasingly in the freedom of the age to come. Every sacrament of the Church, and the Church herself, is a participation in the age to come. Thus the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church because in Christ, we have already prevailed against those gates ourselves. Pascha cannot be undone.

Having said this, we cannot make the culture to cease its efforts to sell Christians fear and to market the Apocalypse like any other horror genre.

We are assured in Scripture that:

But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:1-9)…

Modern evangelical tradition has taken this verse as an excuse to support its morbid fascination with constant wrangling over the meaning of various Biblical prophecies, with the idea that we are not overtaken as theives in the coming of our Lord, because we have grasped some rational scheme of Biblical interpretation.

In truth, we are not overtaken as theives because we are children of the light and children of the day – that is we already to an extent live in the age to come. It is only the light of that Day that can illumine in us the reality of its coming, which is why we may arm ourselves with faith and love and the hope of salvation, being assured by the brightness of that Day which shines in our hearts that God has not appointed us to wrath.

These things are spiritually (noetically) known and are not revealed by mere rationality.

None of us should be surprised when darkness behaves as darkness – what else can it do? There is a clear teaching in Scripture that darkness becomes even more dark as that Day approaches, but it only becomes more dark because the Light of Christ is drawing near. Darkness has no “darkness” of its own, only a hatred of the Light. The wrath of God is not a punishment sent on the world, but the world’s own fomenting of anger against the light, because its deeds are dark.

Thus we are cautioned in Scripture:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).

The connection between our meeting together and the Day drawing near is clear. The gathering (synaxis) of the Church is an eschatological moment – it belongs to the age to come. Where else would we rather be as that Day draws near, than standing in that Day itself? In the Light of Christ and the mystical banquet we stand far removed from the wrath of God, but rather yield ourselves to our only sure hope. We give ourselves to the perfect love which casts out fear.

Orthodoxy would do well to avoid the temptations set before us by the marketers of fear, no matter how well meaning they may be. We are not of the darkness but of the day, and we do not need to be afraid of the dark.