Signs of the Times
By Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim Rose
In the following talk Fr. Seraphim speaks to us from (more then) twenty
years ago, and yet his words are quite relevant to our times as we approach
the end of the Second Millennium (now at the beginning of the Third
Millennium). Although some of
the individual examples he gives are now dated, there are now even
more extreme examples of the same phenomena of which he speaks. As
always, he humbles his understanding before the holy Scriptures and
their interpretation by the Orthodox Holy Fathers, and thus his teaching
about the times remains timeless, free of the intellectual fashions and
prejudices of this world. As time goes on, the Orthodox world-view
from which he received his wisdom will become ever more
necessary for the spiritual survival of true Christians.
1. WHY STUDY THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES?
THE SUBJECT of this talk is watching for the signs of the times. First of
all, we have to know what it is meant by the phrase "signs of the times."
This expression comes straight from the Gospel, from the words of our
Saviour in Matthew 16:3. Christ tells the Pharisees and Sadducees who came
to Him, "Ye can discern the face of the sky," that is, tell what the
weather will be; "but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" In other
words, He's telling them that this has nothing to do with science, or with
knowing our place in the world, or anything of the sort. It's a religious
question. We study the signs of the times in order to be able to recognize
During the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees did not study
the signs of the times in order to see that Christ had come, that the Son
of God was already on earth. There were already signs that they should
have recognized. For ! example, in the book of Daniel in the Old
Testament, there is a prophecy concerning the seventy weeks of years, which
means that the Messiah was to come about 490 years from the time of Daniel.
Those Jews who read their books very carefully knew exactly what this was
all about, and at about the time that Christ came they knew that it was
time for the messiah.
But this is an outward sign. More importantly, the Pharisees and
Sadducees should have been watching for the inward signs. If their hearts
had been right with God, and if they had not been merely trying to fulfill
the outward commandment of the law, their hearts would have responded and
recognized God in the flesh when He came. And many of the Jews did?the
apostles, the disciples, and many others.
This same passage in the 16th chapter of St. Matthew speaks further
about signs. Our Lord told the Jews, "An evil and adulterous generation
seeketh afte! r a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the
sign of the prophet Jonah." The events of the Old Testament contain
prefigurations of events in the New Testament. When Jonah was three days
in the belly of the whale, this was a prefiguation of our Lord's being
three days in the tomb. And this sign?the sign of Jonah-was given to the
people of Christ's time.
Our Lord was telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that an evil and
adulterous generation seeks for spectacular events, that is, fire coming
down from heaven, or the Romans being chased away, angels manifesting
themselves and banishing the foreign government of the Romans, and things
of that sort. Christ told them this kind of sign would not be given. An
evil and adulterous generation seeks after this, but those who are pure of
heart seek rather something more spiritual. And the one sign that is given
to them is the sign of Jonah. Of course, it is a gr! eat thing that a man
should be three days in the grave and the rise up, being God.
Thus, from our Savior's words, we know that we are not to watch for
spectacular signs, but we are rather to look inwardly for spiritual signs.
Also, we are to watch for those things which according to Scripture must
come to pass.
2. THE SIGNS GIVEN US BY CHRIST
We Orthodox Christians have already recognized and accepted the signs
of Christ's First Coming. The very fact that we're Orthodox Christians
means that we've done this. We know what these signs mean: for example,
the sign of Jonah, the 490 years of Daniel, and many other things which our
Lord fulfilled. Our Orthodox Divine services are filled with Old Testament
prophecies which were fulfilled in the coming of Christ. These we all see
and recognize?it all seems clear. But now we have to look for different
kinds of signs, that is, the signs of the Second Coming of Christ. The
whole teaching about the Second Coming of Christ and the signs which will
precede it is set forth in several places in the Gospels, especially in the
24th chapter of St. Matthew. St. Mark and St. Luke also have chapters
This chapter of St. Matthew tells of how our Lord departed from the
Temple, an! d how his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of
the Temple. Of course, in those days the Temple was the center of worship.
Every Jew had to come to the Temple at least at Pascha, the Passover, for
this alone was where God could be worshipped in the right way.
Our Lord looked at the Temple and told His disciples, "See ye not all
these things? Verily I say unto you: There shall not be left here one
stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." To tell a believing
Jew at that time that the whole Temple is to be thrown down, that nothing
is to be left of it, is like saying it's the end of the world, because the
Temple is precisely the place where God is supposed to be worshipped. How
are you going to worship God if there's no Temple? So these words of our
Savior made the disciples start thinking about the end of the world. They
immediately said, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what ! shall be
the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?" In other words, they
already knew that He was going to come again and that this would be bound
up with the end of the world.
Then our Lord gives a whole set of signs which are to come to pass
before He comes again. First of all He says, "Take heed that no man lead
you astray. For many shall come in My name saying, 'I am Christ'; and
shall lead man astray." That is, many false Christs will come. This we've
already seen throughout the history of the Church: those who have risen up
against the Church, those who have pretended to be God, pretended to be
Secondly, in the next verse He says, "Ye shall hear of wars and rumors
of wars. Se that ye be not troubled, for these things must come to pass,
but the end is not yet." Of course, from the very beginning of the
Christian era there have been wars and rumors of wars, and even m! ore so
in our time. "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against
kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquake in
diverse places." Again, wars, then famines, earthquakes. And He says,
"All these things are the beginning of tribulation."
Then comes the next sign, which is persecutions. "Then shall they
deliver you up unto tribulation, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated
of all nations for My name's sake." So, first we have false Christs, then
wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions?and then a very
important sign for our times concerning the growing cold of love: "Because
iniquity shall be multiplied, the love of many shall wax cold." This is
the most deadly of all the signs, because the sign of Christians, as St.
John the Theologian tells us, is that they have love for each other. When
this love grows cold, this means that even the Christians are beginn! ing
to lose Christianity.
Then another sign, in the next verse of the 24th chapter: "This gospel
of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto
all the nation, and then shall the end come." This sign of the Gospel
being preached unto all the nations we see about us now. The Gospel itself
is produced in hundreds of languages now to almost all the tribes of the
earth, and Orthodox Christianity is being preached in almost every country
of the world. In Africa there are great missions: in Uganda, Kenya,
Tanzania, the Congo, and spreading out from there.
The a more difficult place: our Lord speaks concerning the abomination
of desolation which is spoke of by Daniel the prophet. "When you see the
abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (let him that readeth
understand)." That is, you're supposed to understand this from something
else. This is ano! ther sign. It is concerned, of course, with the Temple
in Jerusalem and some kind of desecration of it.
Then, in the 21st verse, there is the sign of great tribulation: "Then
shall be great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the
world until now, nor ever shall be." That is, it will be the worst and
most difficult time of suffering in the whole history of the world. You
can read history books and find that there have been many times in the
history of the world when there was great suffering. If you read about
what happened to the Jews when Jerusalem was taken after the death of
Christ, you will find that such suffering as went on then was unparalleled.
In other places there has been almost as much suffering. And yet the great
tribulation at the very end will be much worse. Of course, it will be
worldwide and involve everyone, not just one people, and will be something
of a very impressive! character. It will be called "such tribulation that
the world has never seen."
Just after this time, something even worse begins to come. Verse 29
reads: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be
darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall
from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." Such an
event, of course, has never been before, and this obviously refers to the
time just at the end of the world, when the whole of creation prepares to
be annihilated in order to be refashioned.
Finally, the next verse: "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of
Man in heaven," that is, the sign of the Cross will appear in the sky.
"And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the
Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
That is, the very coming of Christ shall be in the heav! ens with the sign
of the Cross?and that is the very end of everything.
After telling all this about the signs of the end, our Lord gives a
final command, saying, "Watch, therefore, for you know not on what day
your Lord cometh.... Therefore, be also ready, for in an hour that you
think not, the Son of Man cometh."
All this is in the 24th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. But all
this, for anyone not thoroughly acquainted with Scriptures and the writings
of Holy Fathers, almost raises more question than it solves. We must
understand what is the meaning of all these prophecies. How can we know
when they are really being fulfilled? And how can we avoid false
interpretations??because there are many false Christs, false prophets,
false prophecies, false interpretations. How can we know what is the true
interpretation and what are the true signs of the times? IF you look about
you and g! o to any religious bookstore, you will see shelves containing
many books of commentaries on the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse),
books with interpretations about the coming end of the world. In fact many
Christians who are not Orthodox have a very definite feeling that these are
the last times, but they all give interpretations based upon their own
3. THE BASIS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS
The first thing we must have if we are going to have the true
interpretation of the signs of the times is something we can call basic
Orthodox knowledge. That is, knowledge of the Holy Scripture, both the Old
and New Testaments (and not just according to the way it seems, but
according to the way the Church has interpreted it); knowledge of the
writings of Holy Fathers; knowledge of Church history; and awareness of the
different kind of heresies and errors which have attacked the Church's true
understanding of dogma and especially of the last times. If we do not have
a grounding in sources such as these, we will find ourselves confused and
unprepared. That is precisely what our Lord tells us: to be ready, to be
prepared. Unless we have this basic knowledge, we will not be prepared and
we will misinterpret the signs of the times.
A few years ago a book was printed in English which has become a fantastic
bestseller for a religious book. It has sold over ten m! illion copies in
America. It's called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey, a
Protestant Evangelical in Texas. In a rather superficial style he gives his
interpretation of the signs of the times. He believes it's the last times
we are living in now. He believes that everywhere around us there are being
fulfilled these signs which our Lord talked about. If you read this book,
you find that sometimes he gets something more or less correct according to
our Orthodox understanding, sometimes he is totally off, and sometimes he
is partly wrong, partly right. It's as though he's just guessing, because
he reads the Scripture according to his own understanding. He has no basic
Orthodox Christian knowledge, no background in the true knowledge of the
Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. Therefore, if you read this book
seriously, you will find that you become very confused. You don't know what
to believe any more. He talks, for example, about a millennium which is
supposed to come befo! re the end of the world. He talks about the rapture,
when Christians are supposedly gathered up into the heavens before the end
of the world, and then watch how the people suffer down below. He talks
about the building of the Temple in Jerusalem as though this is a good
thing, as thought this is preparing for Christ's coming.
If you read such books as this (there are many other books like it;
this one happens to be a bestseller because the author caught the
imagination of people just at one particular time), and if you take them
all as truth, you will find that instead of recognizing Christ?which is the
whole reason for our understanding about the signs of the times?you will be
Take, for example, the very question of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is
true, according to Orthodox prophecies, that the Temple will be rebuilt in
Jerusalem. If you look at people like Hal Lindsey, or even the Fundament!
alist Carl McIntire, they are also talking about the building of the
Temple, but they're talking about it as though we are building it in order
for Christ to come back and reign over the world for a thousand years.
What they are talking about is the coming of Antichrist. The millennium,
according to the Protestant interpretation, as being a special
thousand-year reign at the end of the world, is actually the reign of
Antichrist. In fact, there have already been people who have arisen and
proclaimed their thousand-year kingdom which is going to last until the end
of the world. The last one was Adolf Hitler. This is based upon the same
kind of chiliastic idea: that is, interpreting the millennium in a worldly
sense. The actual thousand years of the Apocalypse is the life in the
Church which is now, that is, the life of Grace; and anyone who lives it
sees that, compared to the people outside, it is indeed heaven on earth.
But this is not ! the end. This is our preparation for the true kingdom of
God which has no end.
There are many books of basic Orthodox knowledge now available. Those
who are seriously concerned about studying the signs of the times should
first be very well versed in some of these books, and they should be
reading them, seriously studying them, and having them as daily food. The
best books to read are not someone's interpretation of Revelation (the Book
of Apocalypse), because right now there's not really any Orthodox
interpretation of this in English.(superscript: 2)
(superscript: )The best books are the basic spiritual textbooks. First
of all there are basic texts of Orthodox dogmas, the various catechisms.
One of the best is the eighth-century work of St. John Damascene, On the
Orthodox Faith, which goes through the whole of the catechism. An even
earlier one is St. Cyril of Jerusalem's Catech! etical Lectures, that is,
lectures prepared for people about to be baptized, which goes through the
whole Creed and tells what the Church believes. There are many similar
books of catechism, both in ancient times and in more modern times. More
recently we have the catechisms in Russian of Metropolitan Platon and
Metropolitan Philaret, which are a little shorter and simpler.
Then there is a different kind of book: commentaries on Holy
Scriptures. There are not too many of these in English,(superscript: 3)
but we do have some of the commentaries of St. John Chrysostom. This area
is a little bit weak in English, because there are many good books in
Russian which are not in English yet, including more recent books of
commentaries on the Scriptures, even on the Apocalypse. Archbishop
Averky's books are very good, but they're just being put into English now.
God willing, before too long, they will be out! (superscript: 4)
Then, besides these two kinds of books?basic catechism and commentaries
on Scripture?there are all the books on Orthodox spiritual life. These
include the Lausiac History (which tells about how the monks lived in
Egypt, and how they fought spiritually), the Dialogues of St. Gregory of
Rome, the Lives of Saints, The Ladder of St. John, the Homilies of St.
Macarius the Great, the books of St. John Cassian, the Philokalia, Unseen
Warfare and St. John of Kronstadt's My Life in Christ. These books deal
with basic Orthodox spiritual life, spiritual struggle, how to discern the
wiles of the demons, how not to fall into deception. All of them give a
basic foundation by which to understand the signs of the times.
Then there are the works of more recent writers who are in the same
patristic spirit as the ancient Holy Fathers. The main examples are the
two great writers of 19th-c! entury Russia, Bishop Theophan the Recluse and
Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov,(superscript: 5) whose works are now coming
out gradually in English. Bishop Ignatius' book The Arena and various
articles by Bishop Theophan are in English.(superscript: 6) These two
writers are very important because they transmit the patristic teaching
down to our times. They have already explained many questions which arise
concerning how to understand the Holy Fathers. For example, the new
Orthodox Word has a whole text of Bishop Ignatius on the toll-houses which
the soul meets after death. Sometimes, in reading the Holy Fathers, one
has questions on such subjects and doesn't quite know how to understand
what the ancient Fathers say, and these more recent Father explain these
There are the histories of the Church, which tell of God's revelation
to men and how God acts with regard to men. It! is very instructive to
read the stories of the Old Testament, because exactly the same things
repeat themselves in the New Testament. Then one should read, along with
he New Testament, the histories of the New Testament Church. For example,
there's a pocketbook of Eusebius' History of the Church, which traces the
history of the Church down through the first three centuries, written from
an Orthodox Christian point of view.(superscript: 7) It's very important
to see what early Church writers saw was important in the history of the
Church: the martyrs, the apostles, and so forth.
So all these different kinds of writings help to prepare us with basic
Christian knowledge, that is, catechisms, commentaries on Scripture, books
on spiritual life, more recent patristic books in this same spirit, and
histories of the Church. Before we do too much reading about what
specifically the signs of the times mean, we should h! ave a basic
background in all of these categories of books. All of them prepare one to
understand something about the signs of the times. Once one has begun to
prepare oneself like this, it is not merely a matter of adding knowledge up
in one's head and being able to repeat by heart certain phrases, to have
exactly the right interpretation of a Bible verse, or anything of the sort.
4. SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT
The most important thing that one acquires through reading such basic
Orthodox literature as this is a virtue which is called discernment. When
we come to two phenomena which seem to be exactly alike or very similar to
each other, the virtue of discernment allows us to see which of them is
true and which is false: that is, which has the spirit of Christ and which
might have the spirit of Antichrist.
The very nature of Antichrist, who is to be the last great world ruler
and the last great opponent of Christ, is to be anti-Christ?and "anti"
means not merely "against," but also "in imitation of, in place of." The
Antichrist, as all the Holy Fathers say in their writings about him, is to
be someone who imitates Christ, that is, tires to fool people by looking as
though he is Christ come back to earth. Therefore, if one has a very vague
notion of Christianity or reads the Scriptures purely from one's own op!
inions (and one's opinions come from the air, and the air is not Christian
now, but anti-Christian), then one will come to very anti-Christian
conclusions. Seeing the figure of Antichrist, one will be fooled into
thinking that it is Christ.
We can give a few examples of how the virtue of discernment can help us
to understand some fairly complicated phenomena. One such phenomenon is
the charismatic movement. There is a Greek priest, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou
in Indiana, who is spreading this movement in the Orthodox Church. He has
a rather large number of followers and sympathizers. He's even been to
Greece and is going again soon, and there too people are sometimes quite
overwhelmed by him.
One can see that part of the reason for his success is that he comes
from an Orthodox church atmosphere in which people, being born Orthodox, go
to Orthodox church, receive sacraments, and take the whole thing for gran!
ted. Since it becomes with them a matter of habit, they do not understand
that the whole meaning of the Church is to have Christ in the heart, but
that one can go through the whole of Orthodox Church life without having
one's heart awakened. In that case, one is just like the pagans. In fact,
one is more responsible than the pagans. The pagans have never heard of
Christ, while the person who is Orthodox and does not know what spiritual
life is simply has not yet awakened to Christ.
This is the kind of atmosphere from which Fr. Eusebius comes. Seeing
that this is a spiritual deadness?and it's quite true that much of what is
in the Orthodox Church is spiritually dead?he wants to make it come to
life. But the trouble is that he himself belongs to the same spirit. In
fact, you very seldom see that he reads the basic Orthodox books. He picks
one or two that seem to agree with his point of view, but he does not h!
ave a thorough grounding in the Orthodox sources. He doe snot think that
they are the most important things to be reading.
If you look deeply at what he and other people in the charismatic
movement are saying?and our book The Religion of the Future goes into
detail on this subject?you see that what they call a spiritual revival and
a spiritual life is actually what more recent Fathers like Bishop Ignatius
Brianchaninov carefully described as deception, that is, a kind of fever of
the blood which makes it look as though one is being spiritual when
actually one is not even grasping spiritual reality at all. In fact, it's
as different from true Christian life, which is reflected in these very
basic Orthodox books, as heaven is from earth.
Quite apart from the details of how they pray and what kind of
phenomena manifest themselves at their services, you can see that the very
basic idea which Fr. Eusebius and these charismat! ics have is a false
idea. Yesterday we received an issue of Fr. Eusebius' magazine, Logos.
There he talks about the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last
times preparing for the coming of Christ. All Christians are supposed to
be renewed, to receive the Holy Spirit, to be speaking in tongues. This
prepares for the coming of Christ, and there will be a great spiritual
outpouring before Christ comes.
If you read the Scriptures carefully, without putting your prejudices
into them, even without the patristic commentaries you will see that
nowhere is anything said about a great spiritual outpouring at the end of
the world. Christ Himself says the contrary. First he gives His teaching
concerning how we should pray and have faith and not be faint. He presents
the example of the woman who goes to the judge and keeps begging him to
intercede in her case, and He tells us that this is how we should continue
to pra! y and pray and pray until God hears us and gives to us. This is a
very solid example about praying. Then He says, "Nevertheless" (that is,
despite the fact that I've given you this teaching and this is the way to
pray), "nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the
earth?" In other words, despite the fact you've been given all this, there
will be practically no one left who is a Christian at the end of the world.
"Will He find faith on the earth?" means He will find almost no one left.
There will not be flocks of people who are praying and inspired with the
Holy Spirit at the end of time. All Holy Fathers who speak about this
subject speak about the great terrible times at the end, and say that those
who are true Christians will be hidden away and will not even be visible to
the world. Those who are visible to the world will not be the true
Today there are tremendous charismatic ! revivals at Notre Dame
University, and in Jerusalem there is every year now a charismatic
conference on the Holy Spirit. Sixty, seventy thousand people come
together and pray and raise up their hands, and they all speak in tongues.
It looks as though the time of the Apostles has come back, but if you look
at what goes on there, you see it's not the right spirit; it's a different
Therefore, when Fr. Eusebius speaks about St. Symeon the New
Theologian, and about how you must know Who the Holy Spirit is and receive
Him consciously, this is fine, this is good teaching?but if you have the
wrong spirit, that teaching does not apply. And this is not the right
spirit. There are many signs evident that it is a different spirit and not
the Spirit of God.
Here is one case where, if you have discernment from basic Christian
knowledge, you can look at a phenomenon which claims to be apostolic and
just like the ti! mes of the early Church preparing for Christ's Second
Coming, and if you look closely you can see it is not the same thing. In
fact, if anything, it's just like those who want to build the Temple for
Christ. They're building for Antichrist; it's totally the opposite.
Again, you can see how discernment enables us to evaluate other
phenomena which may not be identical with Orthodox phenomenon, but are new
things. When you first look at them, you wonder what they are all about.
This is characteristic of intellectual fashions: something gets into the
air, everybody grabs it because the times are ripe for it, and then
everybody begins to talk about it and it becomes the fashion of the times.
Nobody quite knows how; it's just that everybody was ready for it, and all
of a sudden somebody mentioned it and it began to circulate everywhere.
5. THE DISTORTION OF CHRISTIAN EQUALITY
We have one particular idea right now that's taking possession of
people: the so-called idea of women's liberation. This takes the form of
women priestesses in the Anglican Church, and also in the Catholic Church,
which is preparing for it now.
Of course, if you look at this seriously, sit down and think about it,
and you read what St. Paul says about women and so forth, you have no
problems. It's all very clear that this is some kind of crazy new idea.
But it is also very interesting to look at this more deeply and see where
it comes from?why is there such an idea, what is it, what's behind
it??because if you understand the strategy of the devil, you're a little
better equipped to fight against it.
This particular idea of women's liberation can be traced back at least
two hundred years. Of course, you can go back even before that, but its
present from goes back at least tw! o hundred years, to the forerunners of
Karl Marx, the early Socialists. These Socialists were talking about a
great new utopian age which is going to come when all the distinctions of
class and race and religion and so forth are abolished. There will be a
great new society, they said, when everybody is equal. This idea, of
course, was based originally upon Christianity, but it distorted
Christianity, and amounted to its opposite.
There was a particular philosopher in China in the late nineteenth
century who brought this philosophy to its logical conclusion, as far as it
could go. His name is K'ang Yu-Wei (1858-1927). He's not particularly
interesting except as he incarnates this philosophy of the age, this spirit
of the times. He was actually one of the forerunners of Mao Tse-Tung and
the takeover of China by the communists. He based his ideas not only on
distorted Christianity, which he took from the liberals an! d Protestants
in the West, but also on Buddhist ideas. He came up with the idea of a
utopia which was to come into being, I think, in the 21st century according
to his prophecies. In this utopia, all ranks of society, all religious
differences, and all other kinds of differences which affect social
intercourse will be abolished. Everyone will sleep in dormitories and eat
in common halls. And then with his Buddhist ideas he began to go beyond
this. He said that all distinctions between the sexes would be abolished.
Once mankind is united, there's not reason to halt there?this movement must
go on further. There must be an abolition between man and animals.
Animals also will come into this kingdom, and once you have animals? The
Buddhists are also very respectful to vegetables and plants; therefore, the
whole vegetable kingdom has to come into this paradise, and in the end the
inanimate world, also. So, at the very end o! f t he world, where will be
an absolute utopia of all kinds of beings who have somehow become
intermingled with each other, and everybody's absolutely equal.
Of course, you read about this and you say the man must be crazy. But
if you look deeply, you see that this is coming from a deep desire to have
some kind of happiness on earth. No pagan philosophy, however, gives
happiness; no man-made philosophy gives happiness. Only Christianity gives
hope for a kingdom which is not of this world. The idea to have a perfect
kingdom comes from Christianity, but since the early Socialists did not
believe in the other world or in God, they dreamed of making this kingdom
in this world. That is what communism is all about.
We see what happens, of course, when this idea is put into practice.
You have the experiment of the French Revolution, which had apparently good
ideas?liberty, equality, fraternity?or the Bo! lshevik Revolution, or in
more recent times the various other communist revolutions. Last of all you
have Cambodia, a poor little country which for three years suffered
absolute communism and found that at least one-fourth of its population was
exterminated because it didn't fit. Everyone who had more than a
high-school education had to be eliminated, everyone who thought for
himself, and so forth. Now the regime has been overthrown by people who
are a little less ruthless, but there's nothing much to cheer about.
This shows that once you try to put these ideas into operation, you
get, not paradise on earth, but more like hell on earth. In fact, the
whole experiment in Russia for the last sixty years has been a proof of
this, that there is no paradise on earth, except in the Church of Christ,
with sufferings.(superscript: 8) Our Lord prophesied that already in this
life we would receive back a hundredfol! d what we give, but it must be
with persecutions and sufferings. Those who wish to have this happiness on
earth without suffering and persecutions, and without even believing in
God, make hell on earth.
6. "CHRISTIAN" INTEREST IN UFOS
A second example of a new phenomenon, which at first sight one doesn't
know what to make of, is the now very common phenomenon of UFOs, flying
There is a particular Protestant evangelist, the above-mentioned Carl
McIntire, who is extremely strict and righteous and very Bible-believing.
He has a radio program, the Twentieth-Century Reformation, and a newspaper.
He is absolutely upright?you have to separate from all people who are in
apostasy?and his ideas are very nice. He's anti-communist. He calls Billy
Graham an apostate, together with everyone who deviates from the strict
line of what he thinks is right. From this point of view he's very strict,
and yet you see the strangest things i his philosophy. For example, he's
building himself the Temple of Jerusalem, in Florida. He has a model of
the Temple, and he wants to build it so as to make it compete with
Disneyworld.&! nbsp; People will come and pay to see the great Temple which
is soon going to be built for Christ to come to earth. This is supposed to
provide a good opportunity to witness Christianity.
He goes in for the flying saucers, also. In every issue of his
newspaper there's a little column called "UFO Column," and there they talk,
to one's great astonishment, about all the wonderful, positive things which
these flying saucers are doing. The give conferences and make movies about
Just recently there have been several Protestant books about UFOs,
showing quite clearly that they're demons. The person who writes the
column in this newspaper got upset about this, and said that some people
say that these beings are demons, but we can prove they aren't. He says
that maybe a couple of them are demons, but most of them aren't. He cites
a recent case in which some family in the Midwest saw a flying saucer.!
The flying saucer came down, landed, and the family saw inside little
men?they're usually four and half feet tall or so?and they sang
"Hallelujah." They stopped and looked and then they flew away; I guess
they didn't talk to them any more. And that set the family to thinking;
they began to think "Hallelujah"; they began to think about Christianity;
they looked in their Bibles, and they finally ended up going to a
Fundamentalist church and being converted to Christianity. Therefore, he
says, these beings must be some kind of people who are helping God's plan
to make the world Christian because they said "Hallelujah."
Of course, if you read Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, you will know
about all the deceptions which the demons perpetrate: the demons "pray" for
you, the demons make miracles, they produce the most wonderful phenomena,
they bring people to church, they do anything you want, as long as they
keep you in this deception.&n! bsp; And when the time comes, they will
suddenly pull their tricks on you. So these people, who have been
converted to some kind of Christianity by these so-called outer-space
beings, are waiting for the next time they will come; and the next time
their message may have to do with Christ coming to earth again soon, or
something of the sort. It's obvious that this is all the work of demons.
That is, where it's real. Sometimes it's just imagination, but when it's
real this kind of thing obviously comes form demons.
This is very elementary. If you read any text of the early Fathers,
any of the early Lives of Saints or the Lausiac History, you find many
cases where beings suddenly appear. Nowadays they appear in spaceships
because that's how the demons have adapted themselves to the people of the
times; but if you understand how spiritual deception works and what kind of
wiles the devil has, then you have no problems in un! derstanding what's
going on with these flying saucers. And yet this person who writes the UFO
column is an absolutely strict Fundamentalist Christian. He is looking,
actually for new revelations to come from beings from outer space.
7. WHY WE MUST HAVE AN ORTHODOX WORLD-VIEW
So, to repeat the first point: we watch the signs of the times in order
to recognize Christ when He comes, because there have been many false
Christs, many more false Christs will come, and at the very end of the
world there will finally come one who is called Antichrist. The Antichrist
will unite all those who are deceived into thinking he is Christ, and this
will include all those whose interpretation of Christianity has gone off.
Often you can look at some people who confess Christianity, and it seems
that many of their ideas are correct?they go according to the Bible. Then
you look here and there, and you see that here's a mistake, there's a
Just recently Fr. Dimitry Dudko, in the little newspaper he puts out,
said there came t him someone who claimed to be Christian. As he began to
talk to him, he began to feel that this person wasn't Orthodox, and he
said, "What confession are you?! " "Oh, that's not important. We're all
Christians. The only important thing is that we be Christians." He said,
"Well, no, no, we have to be more precise than than that. For example, if
you're a Baptist and I'm an Orthodox, I believe that we have the Lord's
Body and Blood, and you don't." We must be precise because there are many
differences. It's good to have the attitude: I have respect for you, and I
won't interfere with your faith, but nonetheless there's a true way of
believing and there are ways which go away from the truth. I must be
according to the truth.
In the same way we can see that many people who ae not Orthodox have
many good things about them, and then they go off in some respect. In the
end it's up to God to judge, not to us. But we can see what will happen if
all these little ways people go off now are projected into the last times,
if people still believe that way when the last tim! es come. These
mistakes cause people, when they see Antichrist, to think that he is
Christ. There are very many sects now which believe that Christ is coming
to rule for a thousand years form the Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, when
the Jews start building the Temple, these sects will only rejoice because,
to them, this is the sign of Christ's coming. On the contrary, we know
that this isn't he sign of the Antichrist coming, because Christ will no
more come ot the Temple. The Temple has been destroyed. Christ comes only
at the end of the world to begin the eternal kingdom of heaven. The only
one who will come to the Temple is Antichrist.
So, this is why the correct Orthodox Christian understanding and
preparation based upon this understanding are absolutely necessary. The
closer we get to the very last times, the more indispensable this
understanding and preparation are.
8. A LOOK AT SPECIFIC SIGNS
Now let us look for just a moment at some of the signs in our times
that the Second Coming of Christ, preceded by the coming of Antichrist, is
close. Concerning the prophecies set forth in the 24th chapter of St.
Matthew?first of all, the false christs who will come, then the wars,
famines, earthquakes, persecutions?it is difficult to judge, because all
these things have been happening for almost two thousand years now. It's
true that they are now an a bigger scale than ever before, but it is also
true that they can be much worse yet. These signs are the beginning of
signs, and are not yet so severe that we can say we are right in the very
One sign, however , is very interesting and very indicative of our
times, that that is that Christ is now depicted on the stage. In previous
times it was never allowed that Christ should be depicted on the stage,
because an actor gives his own human ! interpretation, and Christ is God.
In Orthodoxy there is perhaps no particular canon about this, but the whole
Orthodox Christian outlook is against it; and nay Protestant or Catholic
until t he last few years would have been horrified at the idea of some
actor playing the part of Christ. Now this has become common, and not only
in religious contexts, but in contexts which are far from religious.
Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and so forth: all these are actually
blasphemous parodies which present Christ in secular form for people to
see.(superscript: 9) This is very symptomatic of our times because it
presents even to unbelieving people an image of Christ so that when
Antichrist comes they will say, "Aha, I saw on the stage something like
that. Yes, that must be it."
9. THE GROWING COLD OF LOVE
Another very symptomatic sign of our times is the next one mentioned in
this chapter of Matthew: that the love of many grows cold. This seems to
be a definite characteristic of our times, to a quite greater degree than
at any time in past history. One can see this in what can be called
nihilism. People commit crimes for no particular reason, not for gain but
just for a thrill because they do not have God inside them. In all kinds
of places now, one can see the lack of normal human relationships in
families, which produces cold people. It is this kind of people who, in a
totalitarian society, are used as slave drives, working in the
concentration camps and so forth.
Recently we had the tragedy in Jonestown, which was composed of
American citizens. The people there were idealists who devoted themselves
utterly to a cause. Although it's come out now that it was actually a
communist! commune, still the people were supposed to be Christians. The
leader was a minister of the so-called Church of Christ, one of the
mainline denominations. And yet these people, supposedly having some
awareness of God and Christianity, coldly killed each other. Those who
drank and administered the poison to their children did so with calm faces.
There's no problem: that's just your duty, that's what you're told to do.
This kind of coldness is what Christ is talking about. Any kind of normal
human warmth has been abolished because Christ has gone out of the heart;
God is gone. This is a frightful sign of our times. In fact, they very
thing that happened in Jonestown is a warning because it looks as though
much worse things are going to come. This is satan's work, quite
Just a year or two before that occurred, we heard of what happened in
Cambodia. A small party of men?some ten or twenty! altogether?took a whole
country in their hands and killed off at least two million people quite
ruthlessly, based on some abstract ideas. We're going to get back to the
country, they said; therefore, everybody is to leave the cities. If you
can't leave the city, you die. People in the hospitals had to go from
their operating tables, and if they couldn't go, they died?they were shot
and left in a ditch. Corpses were piled up in the cities?it was frightful.
This was the same kind of thing as what occurred in Jonestown: coldness
based upon the idea?which looks idealistic?of brining communism to earth.
It turns out that Dostoyevsky was right. In his book The Possessed,
written in the 1870s, there was a Russian character named Shigalov, a
theoretician, who had an absolute theory of how communism could come to
earth. He believed that the ideal state upon earth will be true communism.
Unfortunately, he said, in o! rder to make sixty million people happy, you
have to kill a hundred million people. But those sixty million people will
be happier than anyone else has ever been happy, and the hundred million
people will be like fertilizer for the future world paradise. It so
happens that in Russia there have been exactly a hundred million people
missing since 1917, of which at least sixty million were killed by the
So this sign is very, very present in our times: that love grows cold.
This occurs among Christians also, not just in the world at large.
Then another sign, which in our times has reached greater dimensions
than every before, is that the Gospel is being preached in the whole world.
This, of course, is true in that the very text of the Gospel is being
spread in almost all the languages which are spoken on the earth now?at
least a thousand languages, I think. Moreover, the Orthodox Gospel! is
being preached all over Africa now. We send our magazines to Uganda and
Kenya, and receive letters back?very touching letters from young African
boys who are converts to Orthodoxy. They have the utmost respect for their
bishop; they go to seminary. It's obvious that a very Orthodox feeling is
being given to these people in Africa. They are very simple people.
Orthodoxy does not have to be complicated if there are very simple people
to preach the Gospel to. It's only when others come in to challenge it and
to say that the Scripture means something else, trying to give over-literal
interpretation which mean doing away with priests and bishops, etc., that
the people begin to get mixed up. If they're preached the Orthodox Gospel,
simple people respond now in the same way that they've always responded in
the past. The problem is, rather, with complicated people.
10. THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM
Then there is the sign of the abomination of desolation and all that
relates to the Temple in Jerusalem. For the first time in history, this
has now become a possibility. The rebuilding of the Temple was tried only
once before, in the fourth century. Knowing about this is a very good
example of how reading Church history enlightens one. We can find several
sources about it from the fourth century: St. Cyril mentions it, as do
several of the Church historians at that time. Julian the Apostate,
because he had such a passion to overthrow Christianity, decided that,
since Christ had prophesied that not one stone of the Temple would be left
on the other, if he rebuilt the Temple, he would prove that Christ was an
impostor, and therefore paganism could be restored. So he deliberately
invited the Jews back to Jerusalem, and they began building the Temple with
the blessing of Julian the Apostate. They would b! uild a little in the
daytime, and the next morning they would come and all the stones would be
on the ground. They tried again and balls of fire began to come out of the
earth. All the historians agree on this. In fact, modern rationalist
historians, because they see that they cannot deny the texts and that
something did actually happen, begin to say things like, "They must have
struck oil," or "There were underground gas flues." It was obviously a
miracle of God to keep the Temple from being built, because it was not the
time?the Temple is to be built only at the very end of the world. Anyway,
they finally failed in their attempt and gave up the operation. Of the few
stones that remained, not one was left on the other. So the prophecy was
fulfilled in the time of Julian the Apostate.
But now, since 1967, the site where the Temple was before is now in the
hands of the Jews. Therefore for the first time, it ! becomes quite
possible that the Temple could be built. The only thing interfering is the
great mosque which the Moslems have there. If that's destroyed, there will
probably be a war.
Only since 1948 has there been a separate state of Jews in the Holy
Land. It is to the unbelieving Jews that the Antichrist will come. He
will come first to the Jews and then to the whole world through the Jews;
and only as this is happening will the faithful remnant of Jews finally be
converted to Christianity in the very last times.
So this sign of the Temple is a very big one. When we see the Temple
being built, then we know that the time is at hand, because that is
definitely one of the signs of the very end. So far, of course, it's not
being built, but there are all kinds of rumors that plans have been laid,
that stones are being gathered, etc. It's obvious that the Jews are
thinking about it.
11. OTHER SIGNS
Another sign is the fact that when Antichrist comes he is to be the
ruler of the world, and only in our times has it been a practical reality
that one man can rule the entire world. all world empires up until now
have been only over part of the earth, and before modern communications it
was impossible for one man to rule the entire world.
Furthermore, with increased communications, with atomic bombs and more
advanced weapons, the possibility of a worldwide tribulation now becomes
much greater than ever before. It's obvious that the next war will be the
most destructive in the history of mankind, and probably will cause, in its
first few days, more damage than all the wars in history. Besides atomic
weapons, there are various bacteriological weapons for spreading plagues
among people, poisonous gases and all kinds of fantastic things which in an
all-out war could come into play.
A! lso, the fact that all the peoples of the world are bound up more
with each other means that when some great catastrophe comes to one
country?a depression, or something of the sort?then all the rest of the
world will be affected. This we already saw in the 1930s when there was a
Great Depression in America and it spread to the rest of Europe. In the
future it's obvious that something much worse can occur. If one country
begins to starve, or if the crops fail one year in Canada, Australia,
America and Russia?all those four great countries which supply what?just
imagine how the whole world is going to suffer.
12. A WARNING TO THOSE ATTRACTED TO
GLOOM AND DOOM
All these signs of the times are very negative. They are signs that
they world is collapsing, that the end of the world is at hand and that the
Antichrist is about to come. It's very easy to look at all these negative
signs of the times and get into such a mood that we look only for negative
things. In fact, one can develop a whole personality?a negative kind of
personality?based on this. Whenever some new news item comes in, one says,
"Aha, yes of course, that's the way it is, and it's going to get worse."
The next one comes in and one says, "Yes, yes, it's obvious that's what's
going to happen, and now it's going to be worse than that." Everything one
looks at is seen merely as a negative fulfillment of the horrible times.
It's true that we have to be aware of these things and not be unduly
optimistic about contemporary events, because the news in our times is
seldom good. At ! the same time, however, we have to keep in mind the
whole purpose of our watching the signs of the times. We watch the signs
of the times not just so we can see about when Antichrist is going to come.
That's rather a secondary thing. We watch the signs of the times so we can
know when Christ is going to come. That is a very fundamental thing we
have to keep in mind so we do not get overwhelmed by gloom, depression, or
stay to ourselves, storing up food for the great calamity. That's not a
very wise thing. We have to be, rather, all the more Christian, that is,
thinking about other people, trying to help others. If we ourselves are
cold and gloomy and pessimistic, we are participating in this coldness
which is a sign of the end. We have to ourselves be warm and helping each
other out. That's the sign of Christianity.
If you look at history (in fact, this is another good reason for
reading Church histor! y), you see that throughout the whole history of
mankind, throughout the Old Testament, the New Testament and all the
Christian kingdoms afterwards?and if you look at the pagan world, the same
story?there's a continual time of sufferings. Where Christians are
involved there are trials and persecutions, and through all of these
Christians have attained the kingdom of heaven.
Therefore, when the time of the persecutions come, we are supposed to
rejoice. There was a good little incident related in Fr. Dimitry Dudko's
little newspaper. A woman in Russia was put in a psychiatric clinic for
making the sign of the Cross in the wrong place or for wearing a cross, or
something like that. Fr. Dimitry and his spiritual children traveled to
Moscow, went tot he clinic, made an appointment and talked to the doctor,
and they finally persuaded him that she shouldn't be there. Fr. Dimitry
says, "They're actually afraid of us, because when yo! u press them about
it, they say they haven't really got any law by which they can keep her
there." So finally they agreed to let her go, after she had been there for
a week. When she was there they gave her various drugs and "inoculations,"
trying to break her down and get rid of her religion. When she came out
she was a little shaken up. She sat down on a bench someplace outside the
clinic and began to talk. "You know," she said, "when I was there and they
were treating me so awful, I felt calm because I felt there was Someone
there protecting me; but as soon as I got out here, all of a sudden I'm
afraid. Now I'm all upset and scared that they are going to come after me
again, that the secret police are looking right around the corner." It's
obvious why this is so. When you're in conditions of persecution, Christ
is with you because you're suffering for Him. And when you're outside,
then there's the uncertainty of whether ! you might not get back into that
condition. You begin to go back to your own human understanding. When
you're there you have nothing else to rely on, so you have to have Christ.
If you haven't got Christ, you have nothing. When you're outside, you
begin to calculate and to trust yourself, and then you lose Christ.
(superscript: 1)A talk given at St. Herman's Women's' conference in
Redding, California, in the summer of 1980. This talk, which has never
before appeared in print, was transcribed from the tape archives of the St.
Herman Brotherhood. Fr. Seraphim gave another talk on the same subject in
May of 1981, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. That talk,
entitled "Signs of the Coming of the End of the World," is available on
(superscript: 2 )Fr. Seraphim gave this talk before the publication of his
translation of Archbishop Averky's Commentary on the Apocalypse, first in
The Orthodox Word, and later as a separate book.
(superscript: 3) Since Fr. Seraphim's repose, Orthodox commentaries on the
Scriptures by St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Theophylact the Bulgarian
have been published.
(superscript: 4) In addition to translating the whole of Archbishop
Averky's Commentary on the Apocalypse, Fr. Seraphim translated some
portions of his Commentary on the Gospels and epistles.
(superscript: 5) Later canonized by the Church in Russia.
(superscript: 6) St. Ignatius' book On the Prayer of Jesus is also in
English. Since Fr. Seraphim's repose, his Brotherhood has published three
books by St. Theophan in English: The Spiritual Life, The Path to
Salvation, and Kindling the Divine Spark.
(superscript: 7) Eusebius lived in the 4th century.
(superscript: 8) Cf. Mark 10:30.
(superscript: 9) The movie The Last Temptation of Christ, which came out
several years after Fr. Seraphim's repose, is more blasphemous than even
Reprinted from The Orthodox Word
Vol. 34, Nos. 3-4 (200-201) May-August, 1998