“Little children, it is the last time” (1Jn. 2:18). True Christianity is a pronouncement of the end, the last of time; not an end unto death but an end unto never-ending Life. What is this end? The definitive end of the corrupt system of sin and death that is proliferated and energized through human rebellion against the truth of Christ Jesus, which is collectively called “the world.” Christ our Lord came to put an end to this tyranny of destruction.
The good creation that God Himself called into existence from nothing languishes under the evil yoke of sin, which mankind has willingly unleashed, and subjected himself to, through rebellion and self-exaltation (cf. Rom 8:19-22). But not without hope, it awaits the refashioning of all things at the end, the restoration of immortality and the victory of Life and Truth.
St. John the Theologian proclaims, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:17). The world, the system of rebellion against God, is passing away – ending – it is its last time. And its death throes are visible in rippling effects that are ever-growing with every passing day.
The world is passing because, as a system, it has rejected Christ. Only Christ is Eternal. Christ announces to the world: I have come (the first time) not to condemn but to save (Jn. 3:17, 12:31); I have come to bring you from death to life, so that you would not perish (Jn 6:33,51); I am the light of the world (Jn 9:5); cease your rebellion and be healed. Essentially Christ announces: I have come to bring an end to the darkness and death in which you have bound yourselves. The tragedy is: “Light came into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19).
The world system was – and is – too in love with its own darkness and bondage; it fears the freedom proclaimed by Christ Jesus. What would we do without the bonds we have grown so use to, indeed that we have grown to love? Fear then turns to hatred, for the love of bondage can be nothing but hatred. The world system has turned against the very One Who has come to heal, save, and bring life to all. Thus our Lord Jesus said, “The world … hates Me” (Jn 7:7, 15:28), “I am not of this world” (Jn. 8:23), and He tells His disciples that the world will rejoice in His seeming destruction (cf. Jn. 16:20) on the Cross. Christ proclaimed the end of death and darkness and the beginning of Life and Light. He ratified this freedom with His own Blood, destroying death and sin, rising on the third day as the Victorious King. “Remembering the saving commandments, and all those things that have come to pass for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and the second glorious coming again”, in truth these are the events of the eschaton, the apocalypse – the unveiling.
True Christianity is mandated with the same dramatic apocalyptic proclamation. For all those who have been truly born from above through water and in Spirit (Jn 3: 5) have begun to put on Christ (Gal 3:27, Rom 13:14), to acquire the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and thereby crucifying the flesh and its lusts (Gal. 5:24). The Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who fills all things (Eph. 1:23), continues Christ’s proclamation to the world: Come, abandon death and darkness, throw off the totalitarian dictates of sin and the devil, they are passing away into the never-ending destruction of Gehenna. Those who cling to them will share the same fate to which they are destined.
Christ has come to set humanity free. But Christ Jesus soberly warns his Church, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of this world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of this world, therefore the world hates you … If they kept My words, they will keep yours also” (Jn 15:18-20). The Theologian instructs, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life” (1 Jn 3:13-14). It is a difficult thing to endure hatred. But there seem to be only two general responses (most of all according to St. John) to the Christian proclamation of end: Hatred or love, rejection or acceptance. Thus the world that continues in darkness seeks to stop up the mouths of those proclaiming its end.
True Christianity in its essence is eschatological. Indeed it must be. Christ calls His followers out of the world system, which insists on grasping relentlessly to its bonds. Why? Because these bonds will destroy true Life, they will burden the soul and keep it in bondage to death. “Where your treasure is there your heart shall be also,” Christ the Lord reveals (Mat. 6:21).
From the very beginning of this proclamation of the end, the consciousness of the Church has been that She is no longer part of this phantom reality of the world. She has become the ambassador of the World without end. Thus She warns those who call Her their home and mother, “Many lose their true home because they have greater love for the road that leads them there. Let us not love the road rather than our home, in case we should lose our eternal home … Let us keep to this principle, therefore, that we should live as travelers and pilgrims on the road … free of lusts and earthly desires, but let us fill our mind with heavenly and spiritual forms” (St. Columbanus). St. Peter calls us to remember, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). Elder Sophrony warns, “The tragedy of our times lies in our almost complete unawareness, or unmindfulness, that there are two kingdoms, the temporal and the eternal. We would build the Kingdom of heaven on earth, rejecting all idea of resurrection or eternity.”
The attempt of some who masquerade under the name of “Christian” and even “Orthodox” to normalizing, harmonize, the world system of sin with the Church reveals a complete lack of true love, and their complete alienation from the Name which they claim. It reveals a deep spiritual bankruptcy. If Christianity becomes an integral institution of this fallen world something is dreadfully wrong. When it emulates and adopts the fashions and mentalities of mutable fallenness as standards and governing principles, it has completely failed and lost its way. Indeed it can no longer – by any means – be called Christian. And those who actively promote such a move cannot be called Christians, they are indeed apostates, hypocrites and false brethren.
St. Theophan the Recluse warns, “The present means to sustain the institutional Church are borrowed from the elements of the world, things inimical to the Church, and the consequence will be only to accelerate its fall. Nevertheless, the Lord protects the elect and their limited number will be filled.”
The Church can never be corrupted in Her essence, there She will remain pure and spotless to the end, and we as believers are called to enter into and conform our lives to that realm of purity – ever untainted by the filth of the mutable world system. When eschatological vision fails, Christianity becomes a hollow ringing of nicety, an empty gonging of ritual, a sterile structure, it becomes a temporal institution using an eternal message for passing gain. It becomes a dead corpse dressed in fine vestments; a chiming censer without hot coal or incense. Then every woe spoken by Christ to the Pharisees aptly applies in utmost (cf. Mat 23:13-36), for a most sinister event transpires – men twist eternity for their own temporal profit. Therefore it is written, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of this world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 5:4).
True Christianity is always an apocalyptic vision of the eschaton. Thus the book of the age is the book known as Revelation or the Apocalypse. It is the record of the vision of the Church in the last time. It is the revelation of the struggle of this dying age with the coming Eternal One. It is the great and final Exodus, which was inaugurated by Christ Himself and will be consummated by Him, the last journey of the Children of God from the midst of Egypt and Babylon. “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord” (2 Cor. 6:17).
St. Ignatius of Antioch radically councils, “Do not talk about Jesus Christ while you desire the world.” It may be that one of the reasons the book of Revelation is not read liturgically in the Orthodox Church is because the Church Herself is called to be the living manifestation of this Revelation. In Her, as in the Bridegroom, the proclamation of the end continues as the existent reality. Thus we see the Apocalypse reflected in the very essential structure of the Church and Her worship. The Church is not simply a reflection of the coming age, She is now the very unfolding of the revelation and reality of the eternal age in this withering and passing one.
The message is clear: this world is ending and those who cling to it will share the same fate, as will those who seek to conform Christianity to its fallen image. All true believers are constantly reminded by every means possible to lift their hearts and eyes unto the heavens, and by doing so afford the world the only true hope and help possible. This vital eschatological experience must never cease to be the heart of the true Christian proclamation to the world. If those claiming Christ lose this message they simply become members of this world system but with a “Jesus” tag – salt which has become insipid. A Christian is one who is throwing off this world and its hegemony of lusts and passions, one who is leaving behind this decrepit land of bondage and is transferring his “citizenship (to) heaven, from which we also eagerly await the Savior, the Lord Jesus” (Phil. 3:20).
Christ extends His mercy to all, He compassionately delays the final culmination of the end so that humanity may repent (cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-9); yet for how long? He has not left the world without testimony, nor will He until that great and Final Day. Therefore the Church longs for Her Savior, and Her unending cry is the culmination of the age, the exclamation of the end – the eschaton – “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the waters of life freely … Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:17, 20).