“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Become therefore as wise as serpents and guileless as doves. But continue being on guard against men …” (Matt. 10:16-17a)
Our Lord rebuked the Pharisees because they were proficient in discerning the changing weather but were ignorant with regard to the spiritual state of the times in which they lived. They were rebuked because, as the evident spiritual leaders of the Jewish people, they should have known in what times they were living.
“Hypocrites, you know how to scrutinize the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it that you do not scrutinize this time? (Lk. 13:56).
“Hypocrites, on the one hand, you know how to discern the face of the sky, but on the other hand are you not able to know the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3).
It takes God-given wisdom to truly discern the times; every time has its own place and purpose. One of the primary works of offering spiritual leadership is to offer, at least basically, an understanding of the spirit of the times that be.
Our Lord instructs elsewhere, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: Whenever its branch at once should become tender and put forth leaves, you know that summer is near. Thus you also, whenever you see all these things, know that it is near …” (Matt. 24:32-33).
As profitable as it is to be capable of reading natural events, the more vital vocation is to understand the spiritual signs and realities which are being manifested in the times.
I would like to share a small section from a book that made a deep impression on me. I read this book for the first time years ago, it is Russia’s Catacomb Saints. Fr. Seraphim (Rose) was known to call it “the survival manual” for Christians of our times. The book is currently out of print.
There are those who feel that with the fall of what was left of Orthodox Russia in 1917, together with the general global turmoil, such as two World Wars that literally reshaped the face of the world, the Church entered into a “martyric age.” St. John Maximovich, while commenting on the significance of the Last Tsar, teaches, “The meaning for world history of the martyr’s death of the Imperial Family, something that likens it to the most significant Biblical events, consists of the fact that here the Constantionopolitan period of the existence of the Church of Christ comes to an end, and a new, martyric, apocalyptic age opens up.”
Standing in an epicenter of global reconstruction in the early years of the Soviet terror, Hieromartyr Damascene, records some sober considerations which are pertinent to our times and well worth our contemplation. Indeed, we are, it may be, only further down the path of the “new age” of which St. John spoke.
Hieromartyr Damascene speaks on the seal of the Antichrist, when he does so, he does not make some conjecture about its possible physical manifestation, no, first and foremost he warns against mentalities and actions which are seated in a spiritual state. These he understands as the fundamental realities of the seal, which if physically manifested will simply be a material confirmation of an already existing spiritual mentality, disposition, and action. That is, first and foremost the seal is an existing spiritual reality.
The martyr comments, Why is it that the seal of the Antichrist, as St. John the Theologian affirms, will be placed not upon the forehead and the hand simultaneously, but upon the forehead or the hand? Likewise, St. Andrew, Archbishop of Caesarea, writes: ‘He will strive so that the mark might be placed on everyone’ … In some it will be on the right hand, so as to instruct those who have been deceived to be bold in their deception and darkness. This will occur because at that time there will be people who will affirm that it is possible and permissible to recognize the God-fighting authority of Antichrist if only one remains a Christian in one’s soul.
The New-martyr observes a dangerous mentality, one that is starkly opposed to that of the early Christians who would not even pinch incense on Caesar’s altar. There are many accounts of the early martyrs being told by pagan authorities that they can pinch the incense outwardly while inwardly holding their faith and thus save their lives. The early martyrs refused because the outward and the inward cannot be synthetically split. They ultimately represent a whole. If outwardly one pinches incense then one has inwardly betrayed the faith.
This dichotomy of spiritual contradiction is fundamental to deconstructing true Christianity. It seems that many may begin to believe that we can outwardly do certain things while not doing them in our hearts. The New-martyr says this is a ploy of the Antichrist spirit.
From such ones the Antichrist will not demand that they share his way of thinking; in other words, upon all such ones he will not place the seal on their forehead, but will demand of them only recognition of his authority, which is, according to St. Hippolytus, the seal on the hand, since through recognition of the human authority which will be God-fighting and against God, lawless and filled with every impiety, a Christian by this very fact will cut off from himself every possibility of doing good and righteous deeds, for in his faith there will be missing the chief sign of uprightness – the confession of God as God and the recognition of Him as Being that stands above all. All such ones, even though they might bear the name of Christian, in very deed will be, according to the works of their hands, true servants of Antichrist, who has deceived them by the worship of his image, which is the mark of the beast.
The New-martyr seems to imply that on a certain level some will be allowed to “theologize” about “Christian” ideas, and even retain a symbiance of outward “worship,” as long as they ultimately recognize godless authority. The goal is to subjugate everyone to the “authority” of godlessness through whatever means.
He goes on to make this weighty observation,
The banishing of the grace of the Holy Spirit through the mark of the beast fills the heart of all such ones with the first sign – fearfulness – which will bring them to an easy destruction. St. Hippolytus writes: ‘On the contrary, if anyone will be deprived of the Holy Spirit, that is, if one will not have upon himself or has lost the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit which was given in Holy Chrismation, he will fight with fear in a cowardly manner, will hide, will be afraid of the present temporal death, will conceal himself from the sword, will not endure chastisement, since he is constantly thinking about this world.”
Contemplate upon the place of fear in the work of the evil one. Also notice that those who begin to lose the savor of Christianity will fight in a cowardly manner, thinking only of things of this world. May God keep us from such a fate!
It behooves us to be mindful of this sign of our times.
May we be ever diligent that the outward working of our hands, our actions, are ever reflecting the essential life-giving message of Resurrection and the conquering of death and hades by Christ the Lord. What we believe inwardly will inevitably be manifested in our outward actions. They are inseparably one.