Reprinted From "Orthodox Life" Vol 45. No. 2 March - April 1995
WILL YOU MEET THE LORD
IN THE "RAPTURE"
OR IN REALITY?
as Inspiration for the Teaching on the "Rapture"
and Orthodox Susceptibility to this Outlook
Then we which are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air...
(I Thess. 4:17)
Protestants have severed themselves from the sacramental life of the Church, thereby rejecting the means for receiving the Holy Spirit, yet they stubboornly cling to their disdain for the understanding of Scripture as expressed by those who did persevere in that Grace-bestowing life, the Apostles, and then the Holy Fathers. This disdain was evident at the very onset of Protestantism. In 1580 in the collection of letters exchanged between the first Lutheran theologians and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias, we find these words of the Lutheran professors:
Wherefore, entreating your Holiness, honorable sir, we request you to enter into the same manner [of study] with us, and careful ly scrutinize and assess the words of the Sacred Writings (what they are able and what they are not able to support). Do not tolerate the diverse or opposing interpretations and explanations [of Scriupture] of the Fathers, which are obstructed and limited. The true and unadulterated meaning can become clearly ascertained, wherever there is a collation and comparison of the Scriptures.1
Truly, we believe that the interpretation of the Scriptures which is the most certain and most secure is that which makes the Scripture interpret itself (that is, by dexterously placing the God inspired words beside each other and comparing them by referring back to the sources of the Hebrew and Greek phrases as the most excellent counselor).2
The Cross of the Lord separated believers from unbelievers, those who followed the path of salvation from those who followed the path of perdition. Today's iconoclasts - Protestants and others who reject holy icons - likewise reject the Cross of the Lord... Those who want to see Christianity only as something rosy and attractive, who think it possible to enter the blessedness of eternity without any particular effort, without forcing themselves, without warring with their passions - they deny all this. They follow the path taken by the thief who hung on the left: they reject all the laws which the Lord Himself delivered and which He sent the Apostles to preach throughout the world; they reject those statutes and writ ings which are sacredly preserved by the holy Orthodox Church.5
Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day... many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?.. and many of them walked no more with Him ('ohn 6:54,60,66).
When He gave them bread, and filled their bellies, they said that He was a Prophet, and sought to make Him a King: but when He taught them concerning spiritual food, concerning eternal life, when He led them away from objects of sense, and spake to them of a resurrection, and raised their thoughts to higher matters, when most ought to have admired, they murmur and start away.7
Now when He [Christ] had left speaking, He said unto Simon [Peter], Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon [Peter] answering said unto Him, Master we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake (Luke 5:4-6).
"A thief blessed Him, while I denied Him" (Sedalion, Tone 5), Saint Peter lamented afterwards. At that time all the other Apostles likewise doubted the Lord...
The Apostles wavered in their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, because they anticipated and desired to see in Him an earthly king, in whose kingdom they could sit at the right and the left hand of the Lord...
The thief came to belief in the suffering Lord; confessing Him as "the hidden God," he came to know Him before anyone else, and the power of His resurrection, and participation in His suffer ings, being made conformable unto His death (Phil. 3:10); he under stood before anyone else what constitutes the Kingdom not of this world; he came to know what is truth (John 18:36-38)
He was the first to comprehend the nature of Christ's king dom, and therefore he was the first to enter it.8
Burnham, whose books are becoming the angelologists' sacred texts, can only shout "amen." "We need not be afraid to die," she writes with the force of revelation. "That we do not die! This I have learned. This much I have seen with my own eyes." The angels tell her so.10
America's market-oriented religion bears a similarity to the rest of society in its hopeful and optimistic tone and its unwilling ness to face certain uncomfortable realities... With increased life span and the development of increasingly effective medicines, there is a refusal to face the reality of decay and death. Whereas in traditional societies elders were a source of wisdom and taught people how to live, in today's American society they are considered by many to be outdated and out of touch with current reality.12
When reminded of the "mistakes" of those Christian thinkers in the past who thought their times were also apocalyptic, Askoldov would usually reply that they had not been mistaken then; and he would give an example: It happens that people are near death, and this is known and felt by them, as also by the physicians who are treating them and by their close relatives. But then such a man suddenly recovers. One cannot say that he had not been near death; he had been near death, but then recovered. So also the world has been several times near death, and those who are sensitive in religious matters have felt it, and there was no mis take in this. So also now: the world is near death.13
Billy Graham is acceptable to the Orthodox because "he just goes there [to Russia] and crusades for Christ, and the people go to their own churches. He does not preach any brand of Christianity.
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese14
Heaven is our true homeland, eternal, holy, safe from all ene mies, from every destroying act of the elements, which themselves will be burned, and destroyed (II Pet. 3:10)...
No man with a hard heart, or one who serves his sinful pas sions, will ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven. How can one ascend to heaven if for his whole life he has served worldly vanity, if he has been daily languishing in a burning thirst for earthly plea sures or has given his heart over to them and attached himself to them as a magnet to iron, while he has not developed the slightest taste for spiritual and heavenly good things? (I say not that he has failed to strengthen it, but that he does not have it at all.) Just con duct such a one, if only for an example - if such a thing were permitted - into the mansions on high, and he will be bored there, because there are not there such things as are here below: there are none of his favorite objects, none of the earthly treasures by means of which he lullabied and fooled his heart. The dispositions and inclinations of soul which have been acquired here go over with us into that world, and what torment will be there beyond the grave for everyone who died with his sinful earthly inclinations, who always choked and suffocated the heavenly needs of his soul with out succeeding in offering heartfelt repentance for them? This is why there will be an undying worm there, as our Saviour so often says in the Gospel: this worm is our sinful inclinations, living and not dying even after death, which can be satisfied by nothing.. if we sincerely desire to live after death in heaven, we must live in a heavenly way on earth.
The heavenly kingdom is opened, the righteous Judge awaits our conversion to Him, He mercifully calls us to Himself, shows us already the mansions prepared for all who love Him and strive toward Him, and says, Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:27).15
Nine months before her death, Mom converted to Orthodoxy, saying, "I don't know why I didn't do this years ago." From the moment that she first began to receive the Life-Giving Sacraments - especially Holy Communion - something began to happen, to change, to grow within her, and God began His "work" on her. Her sufferings now took on a special meaning: she was being refined and purified and made ready for the separation of her soul from her body and the ensuing encounter with the judgment of the Living God. This could not have happened without her terrible and, at times, frightening illness.
During her last six months she never once complained or expressed frustration about what was happening. She accepted everything tranquilly as God's will - something she had rarely been able to do when she was healthy and something of a complainer. In this way, her entire, long, dying process took on a meaning it would not have otherwise had. While she had less and less "quality" in terms of biological life, her soul awakened from its slumber and began to shine like gold.
About ten days before she died, Mom unexpectedly regained the power of speech for just a few hours and urgently told us how "a little, bearded old priest" had been appearing to her regularly. Unbeknownst to her, we had been praying to Blessed Archbishop John to take her with him to heaven. When she told us about this, we knew that he had heard our prayer, had come to her bedside, and was quietly waiting for her.16
10) Woodward, Kenneth L., "Angels: Hark! America's Latest Search for Spiritual Meaning Has A Halo Effect," Newsweek, December 27, 1993, p.57.
11) Ibid., p. 57.
12) Kosmin, Barry A. and Lachman, Seymour P. One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, New York: Harmony Books, 1993, p.282.
13) Andreyev, Ivan. Russia's Catacomb Saints: Lives of the Ne"" Martyrs, Flatina, CA, St. Heernan of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, p.28.
14) Melnick, Anne, Pittsburgh Press, April 5, 1992.
15) Andreyev, op. cit., pp.266-267.
16) Young, Fr. Alexey, "Redeeming the Time: Dying and the Orthodox Christian," Orthodox America, February, 1994, p.6.