In The Last Days

Abba Ischyrion was asked, “What have we done in our life?”

He replied, “We have done the half of what our Fathers did.”

When asked, “What will the ones who come after us do?”

He replied, “They will do the half of what we are doing now.”

And to the question, “What will the Christians of the last times do?”

He replied, “They will not be able to do any spiritual exploits, but those who keep the faith will be glorified in heaven more than our Fathers who raised the dead.”

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

17 Responses to “In The Last Days”

  1. Tracy Says:

    Interesting juxtaposition of this post with the last, Father. The Lord is mighty, glorious, holy, strong — and over time the faithful fade away.

  2. Stephen W. Says:

    This could be a good answer as to why we see a lack of spiritual fathers and of wisdom in general today. I would venture to guess that most people have it much easier economically than in the past and it also seems that many people may not take the time to contemplate their lives due to all the distractions and entertainment around us, literally 24hrs a day. It does seem difficult to establish a spiritual routine today. I have always wondered if this is not a type of persecution, and because of it’s subtleness, may be more deadly.

  3. fatherstephen Says:

    Tracy,

    Yes, I guess it is (an interesting juxtaposition) but it was unintentional. However, Scripture seems to indicate that it gets harder for the faithful until Christ comes to bring everything to a close. The faithful do not fade away (this is not what Abba Ischyrios said) but the times do get harder. That’s Scripture. And faithful Christians, if they seek to truly enter into battle with the passions, to draw closer to Christ, will encounter struggle. Not a struggle that destroys us, but nonetheless, a struggle. The faithful do not fade away.

  4. Tracy Says:

    So you advocate simply accepting increasing spiritual difficulty as a plain fact — it’s just the way it is — like with suffering (two posts ago). But Christ goes through our suffering with us. He’s been there. Suffering may not gain “meaning” thereby, but at least it gains a point of reference. Does He go through loss of faith with us? No. So the only point of reference for our current spiritual malaise is eschatological (whether personal or cosmic). Is that a comfort? Suffer and fall away until it’s over?

    Nope. I don’t think so. The victory’s been had, on all counts. No caving. We are called to rouse ourselves. You, O Lord, have aroused me from my bed and from sleep. Do you enlighten the eyes of my understanding and my heart, and open my lips that I may sing of You, O Holy Trinity…

    Good insights, Stephen W.

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Tracy,

    I was quoting from the fathers regarding the last days. What God has for each of us is known to God alone, but that all things are for our salvation, I indeed believe. Note that Abba Ischyrios said that those who believed in the last days would be considered even greater than those who raised the dead. He didn’t say we just fall away. Christ has promised to keep us.

    And indeed we should rouse ourselves and not live in fear, but live in faith towards God.

    But it is Christ Himself who asked, “When the Son of Man cometh will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). As well as his own statement that “Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” (Matt. 24:22) So I’ve not said anything here that’s not part of the Tradition. But having said that, I certainly agree that we should maintain hope and rouse ourselves and put our trust in God. Should the days need to be shortened, He said He’d shorten them. He is with us.

    I think, by the way, that Christ goes through everything with us, even loss of faith (2 Timothy 2:13) “if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” Christians in many times and places have gone through very difficult things, but Christ does not abandon us.

    In America, it’s mostly the alurements of a consumer culture that we have to wrestle with (and our own passions). It’s not like living in a Gulag or something. But I did not mean to sound a note of pessimism, just to be faithful to what the Scriptures and the Tradition teaches.

    Peter denied Christ, but Christ sought him out and brought him back into proper relationship. So, please don’t read me wrong, or contrary to what I intended. Regardless of whether we suffer, or are abound in good things, Christ is with us and our joy should be in Him. But that Christians will have spiritual struggles is pretty much straight Scripture, whether from Christ’s teaching, St. Paul’s or whatever. They are not to destroy us, but to draw us closer to Christ and work within us the glory of the image of Christ.

    For more on spiritual struggle and the passions, this post might be of interest.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    I seem to have been on a roll the last couple of days. I’ve had more difficult comments (with very good questions and points) than usual, most of which make me have to go back and reread what I’ve written. I appreciate your patience. And ask forgiveness where needed.

  7. Tracy Says:

    Thanks, Father. I ask your forgiveness, too. I know you ARE standing in the Tradition and are reminding me of it, which I need. There is spiritual struggle, and that means a fight, and it’s easy to turn and try to fight where the enemy is not, whether it’s with Tradition itself (misunderstood) or even with God Himself in frustration. At least one can stand in good scriptural Tradition with that also (wrestling with God, I mean). :o] But as you say, when we are faithless, He is yet faithful. Thank God! Glory to Him!

  8. Mary Says:

    Father Stephen,

    Can you tell us anything about the photo?

  9. Margaret Says:

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for this post! Also thank you for taking the time to respond to these comments and for the reference to the past post concerning our Passion to Consume. That posting was a blessing also. May God continue to bless you!

  10. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: All I know is some elderly monks in Greece and the photo is rather old. Google images is a treasure chest.

  11. moretben Says:

    Thank you, dear Father. This post resonates very strongly with something His Grace +Elisey of Sourozh preached at the weekend – that the society we inhabit today is very different from that in which the Holy New Martyrs shed their blood; so much so that today we need equal courage and fortitude simply to stay faithful.

  12. fatherstephen Says:

    Those who have known both “persecutions” seem to be quite clear that our struggle today is not necessarily the easier for its lack of shedding blood. I think of Ireland, long an island famous for its devotion and Church attendance. Now, in the wake of its growing prosperity (for the first time in almost ever) Church attendance has plummeted. Mammon is harder than Marx, it appears.

  13. Stephen W Says:

    Was not the beginning of monastisim the end of physical persecution in the Church? It seems as if struggle helps us to to keep things in perspective.
    It is difficult to compare apples with oranges: physical persecution and a life of relative ease but lacking spiritual depth and maturity. Both are crosses in my opinion. Either way one is in need of salvation and either way the only thing required is ones life.

  14. Joseph Hromy Says:

    I am in my late 20s and living a life of piety and thinking about God becomes hard when one is trying to go to school and work. I still think my grandma generation had it easier in the sense of life being simple and more focused on the important things. How many young people go to church on Sunday just because they have to work and pay the bills. PS I live in NJ so rent etc is very high

  15. Robert Says:

    What I struggle with is to see the life of ease characterized as a “cross to bear” because it is self imposed (or self inflicted). I just don’t see it, at least not in comparison to the martyrs. In fact, it borders on some twisted perversity in some odd sense to compare our life of comfort with their lives. It more than likely reveals our own self deception. Sorry I wish I had a more upbeat post.

  16. Stephen W. Says:

    I don’t think we can get to romantic about the past and how easy and clear it was to be aware of and praise God in all things. For me struggle has happened on different levels. Right now it is in a very physical and demanding way but at other times it has been more subltle and more phychological. There is always a war going on inside for our soul. In my opinion when things get to easy we lose our awarness and God consciousness. The struggle at any level is to be closer to God. There are so many distractions and pleasures that have the potential of seperating us from God. I would never compare myself to a saint but it is up to me to reach into the depths of my heart and use whatever strength God has given to deal with whatever situation has been put in my path. Let us not forget the evil one, who I am sure has many tricks and snares. In my opinion (only an opinion) idle thought can be just as dangerous if not more than anything else. For this we seem to have much time for these day’s. Maybe Fr. Stephen will have some good clarifications?

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Physical persecution is truly a great cross to bear. My experience is that when we speak of the cross, particularly an “inner” cross, we can never really judge another or even concern ourselves with comparisons. Part of the revelation from monasticism is that the inner struggle can be as great or greater than an outer struggle.

    In my thought, what matters is patient endurance and to be found faithful to the end. The cross in monasticism is not at all the extra prayers, labors, fastings, etc. These are all done with the aim towards the inner struggle, and with inner struggles you don’t get to pick your struggle. It just comes.

    Crosses are not self-imposed, they come very differently.

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