At the Last Battle

The Scriptures end with the description of a battle that is truly “apocalyptic” in its scale: all the forces of evil arrayed against all the forces of good. It is grand theater, having caught the imagination of countless generations (and even Hollywood). I do not know quite what to make of the description. That it describes a reality, I do not doubt. What that reality will look like to its bystanders (if any there be) is another question entirely. Things that seem hidden now will surely be made manifest – but will that manifestation have to await the completion of things? My own suspicion is that the answer is ‘yes’ –  we’ll see it all quite clearly when it is all quite clear.

There is another vision – something that also has a hidden aspect.

In The Brothers Karamazov, one of the most devastating diatribes ever launched against the Christian faith comes from the lips of Ivan Karamazov in the chapters “Rebellion,” and “The Grand Inquisitor.” His argument is largely based on the so-called “problem of evil.” He does not dismiss the existence of God – instead he dismisses God Himself – preferring to have no part of a justice that would ever allow for the torment of a single child. The answer to that diatribe in the pages of Dostoevsky’s great novel is not a counter argument, but the person of the Elder Zossima, a monastic who lives in the Tradition of the Holy Elders of the Orthodox faith. He is a character in the mold of such elders as St. Silouan, St. Seraphim of Sarov, the Elder Sophrony, and a host of others. Their lives, frequently hidden from the larger view of the world, are the continuing manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst – fellows of the sufferings of Christ – who freely and voluntarily bear with Christ the weight of all humanity. It is this secret bearing that forms the very foundation of the world – a foundation without which the world would long ago have perished into nothing. It is the emptiness of Christ, also shared in its depths by His saints, that is the vessel of the fullness of God, the source of all life and being. We can search for nothing greater.

“Their lives frequently hidden from the larger view” … is the point which seems worth pondering here. Why should those who are having the greatest impact on the world  not be the one’s who seem most hidden? Christ Himself came to us in a way that, though manifest, was all but hidden from the view of the world of that time. Galilee. Really.

Met. Kallistos Ware relates this story:

In one of his letters, St. Barsanuphios of Gaza (sixth century) says in passing that, at the present time, there are three person whose prayers protect this wicked and sinful generation from the wrath of God, and because of these three persons and their prayers, the world continues in being. And then he mentions their names. John, he says is one them; Elias is the second; and the third is a person in the province of Jerusalem. Now the third person, presumably, designates himself, living in Gaza. But the first two, John and Elias, are otherwise totally unknown to us. So here we have the word of a saint, gifted with insight, that the people who were preserving the world from destruction in his day were three persons, two of whom are entirely unknown to history and the third of whom was a hermit in the desert.

The things which seem important are often of little true consequence. Does it matter that the President of the United States had a beer with two men? Does it matter that a hollywood figure dies tragically and suddenly? Does almost anything most people treat as important matter at all?

Who sustains the universe and why does it exist?

The difficulty with political schemes and grand plans is that even at their greatest moment – they have done very little. It may be that everything they have done carries less weight than the prayers of a hermit in the desert.

And so we are called to pray – to stand quietly before that “still point of nothingness” that “disposes all things” (in the words of Thomas Merton).

Such things seem quite hidden – unless the definition of “manifest” means “what God sees.” Perhaps prayer is not about my “prayer life.” Perhaps prayer holds the entire universe in existence.

The last battle may be fought quietly in a human heart that stands sentinel before God and says, “Lord, have mercy.”

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15 Responses to “At the Last Battle”

  1. WW2 Marine Veteran, Tucson, AZ Says:

    Lord have mercy on me a poor sinful being. I pray for Your forgiveness for my sins against You and others.

  2. dean Arnold Says:

    A good meditation, Father. I still have not recovered from your comment a while back that God never called us to change the world.

  3. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    Dean Arnold — could you reference that comment? I deal with people whose entire Christian focus is on Changing the World, and it’d be nice to have a point of reference for those folks. Thanks!

  4. davidperi Says:

    Interesting and thank you for posting. I am half-way now through reading The Body & Soul according to Gregorius Palamas…where the source of evil lies. Palamas discusses the relationship between the human body & soul and the conflict between the two in an imaginary court room scene. For those who want to read it go to http://www.theandros.com/articles.php and scroll down to the above title. Blessings.

  5. dean Arnold Says:

    Father will have to find it. I don’t know how to search this site.

  6. Marsha Says:

    Reminds me of C.s. Lewis’ book “The Last Battle”. I never fail to get goosebumps when all is revealed, when a little stable holds something that is bigger than the whole world.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Dean et al,
    One article on our role in change is this.

  8. Darlene Says:

    Father,

    I really needed to read this today. Lately, I have been sliding into despondency, such that I almost feel powerless against it. Reading this post lifted my heart. Actually, one part of it brought tears to my eyes.

    “Their lives, frequently hidden from the larger view of the world, are the continuing manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst – fellows of the sufferings of Christ – who freely and voluntarily bear with Christ the weight of all humanity. It is this secret bearing that forms the very foundation of the world – a foundation without which the world would long ago have perished into nothing. It is the emptiness of Christ, also shared in its depths by His saints, that is the vessel of the fullness of God, the source of all life and being. We can search for nothing greater.”

    What wondrous words that convey the truth of a life lived for Christ in humility. As I read these words, my spirit rejoiced because I have placed certain expectations upon myself that are unrealistic. Today, I was suffering under the weight of feeling I have not “made my mark” and I need to leave something behind of significance, something of which those who remain will remember me by.

    The problem is that the things I think I must do, the pressures I place myself under, are an illusion. Those most effective in the Kingdom of God are not noticed in this life. They don’t even strive to be noticed and take to heart not to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing. Unlike those who seek recognition who “have their reward,” those who quietly live in obedience to Christ will receive the greater reward – but not here on planet earth.

    Modern American Christianity with all its glitz, fails to honor the person with the hidden jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit. Rather, it spectacularizes and puts on display those who, in their estimation, accomplish GREAT THINGS for God. And thus others, bedazzled by the show, fall under the spell that they too must accomplish feats of greatness and leave their mark on the Christian world.

    Oh, to be delivered from such fantasies. Scripture tells us that what is honored in the eyes of men is an abomination in the eyes of God. Those whom God recognizes as remarkable were ill-treated, walking about in animal skins, wandering over deserts and mountains, dens and caves, of whom the world was not worthy. Each period of history has its hidden saints such as these, who do not look for human recognition here, but rather, seek after Christ’s approval. Many of their names are unknown except to God, and those who had/have the wisdom from above to truly recognize. And one day they will be revealed to have chosen the better portiion in the presence of all.

  9. Seraphim Says:

    Dear Darlene,

    I do empathize with you in your spiritual trials. Our expectations should be nothing less than to die with Christ for His death is, in reality, both a resurrection and a glorification (far beyond any metaphor).

    As far as the world is concerned, I would rather it thought of me as a sinner. There is no place in Paradise for my ego.

    Christ really is in our midst!

  10. Seraphim Says:

    Robert,

    I am no linguist, but as far as I am aware, the English word apocalypse appears to be derived from the transliterated Greek apo-kalyptein which translates well as the uncovering of that which is hidden (apo = “from” + kalyptein = “to conceal”).

    What remains covered (Gk. = “kalyptein”) by definition remains in darkness and it is from this (= “kell”) that the English word Hell may be derived.

    Mankind’s redemption from a hell of his own making, can only really be described in terms of an unsolicited act of a loving Father towards His children — by sending His Uncreated Holy Spirit to dwell forever with all who would believe on His only begotten Son.

  11. Art Says:

    I have read that HELL, was taken from Pagan times, and adopted by the Christian Community !

  12. Seraphim Says:

    Art,

    It’s not quite as simple as that. Heaven and Hell are internal as well as eternal realities.

    Abbot Joseph has posted an excellent article on this most profound and perhaps neglected of Christ’s teachings.

    Here’s the link:

    http://wordincarnate.wordpress.com/2009/02/15/he-will-come-again-in-glory-to-judge/

    May His Face shine upon us all.

  13. At the Last Battle (via Glory to God for All Things) | Constitutive Relationality Says:

    […] The Scriptures end with the description of a battle that is truly "apocalyptic" in its scale: all the forces of evil arrayed against all the forces of good. It is grand theater, having caught the imagination of countless generations (and even Hollywood). I do not know quite what to make of the description. That it describes a reality, I do not doubt. What that reality will look like to its bystanders (if any there be) is another question entirely … Read More […]

  14. Art Says:

    Thank God we have prayer, in the stillness of our day we can only then be truly with God .

  15. Micah Says:

    True, there is an indescribable stillness in Prayer which has both a time and a space component — in the Jewish faith world Paradise has always been understood as a circumlocution for God…

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