[Illustrations in this article added by Joanna]
On the Coming of Antichrist and the End of the World
by Archbishop Nathanael of Vienna and Austria
When reading the grace-filled prophecies of antiquity, one must remember that not only is it impossible to foresee the future without special divine aid, but it is difficult or even impossible to comprehend the prophecies which we read or hear. This is true of the description of the outward condition of future generations of mankind, and even more so of their inner state.
We will cite an example to illustrate this.
During World War II, when much of mankind in many cities of various countries suffered from murderous air-raids, many people applied to the airplanes the well-known words of the Apocalypse concerning the locusts with "breastplates of iron" (Rev. 9:9). This analogy is far from being disputed, of course. Nevertheless, if we agree with it, we should note that these lines of the Apocalypse became intelligible only in our generation, which is acquainted with aviation, and were completely incomprehensible to previous generations.
This is true to an even greater degree in regard to the inner experiences of the human soul. How well could a person of the eighteenth century, let us say, not to mention times more ancient, have understood present-day experiences and attitudes of people? Therefore, when the Lord revealed the vision of the future to the holy Prophet Daniel, He said: " ... the vision ... that was mentioned is true: and do thou seal the vision for it is for many days" (Dan 8:26). This idea is repeated in the twelfth chapter: "And thou, Daniel, close the words, and seal the book to the time of the end" (verse 4); and again: " ... Go, Daniel: for the words are closed and sealed up to the time of the end" (verse 9).*
And the Lord in His address to Daniel adds this: "Many must be chosen out, and thoroughly whitened, and tried with fire, and sanctified, but the transgressors shall transgress: and none of the transgressors shall understand; but the wise shall understand" (12:10).
We wish to share one more thought before passing on to the eschatological pronouncements of the Christian Church.
Many people are troubled and tempted by the fact that intense expectations of the coming Antichrist and the end of the world have seized faithful Christians repeatedly already. What is more, it may be said that from the very beginning of history the Christian Church has lived in the expectation of the quick coming of the end of the ages and the Second Coming of Christ.
But we should not think that those expectations were unfounded or mistaken.
The world's end was, and remains, imminent to each epoch. Indeed, the ultimate significance of this world lies in the preparation for the entrance into the kingdom of God of greater and greater numbers of people saved by the Blood of Christ. And since it is only with the cessation of this process, i.e., the process of the turning to Christ by ever newer and newer human souls, that the meaning of the existence of the world will disappear and its end will begin. (sic)
Christ our Saviour Himself indicated this with the close analogy of the inner state of mankind before the end of the world to that of the human race before the coming of the ancient Flood. The Bible characterizes this state as follows: " ... The Lord God said: My Spirit shall certainly not remain among these men forever, because they are flesh ..." And further: "And the Lord God having seen that the wicked actions of men were multiplied upon the earth, and that every one in his heart was intently brooding over evil continually ..." And further: "But the earth was corrupted before God, and the earth was filled with iniquity. And the Lord God saw the earth, and it was corrupted ... " Lf course the existence of a humanity concerned only with the flesh, i.e., interested only in the physical aspect of things, a humanity whose entire mind is set only upon evil, a humanity comprised not of people being saved, but only of people going to destruction – the existence of such a humanity is meaningless. And the Lord exterminated it in the waters of the Flood.
And the same thing or something similar to this state overpowered mankind more than once since New Testament times. And the end of the world came close in those periods.
When Christianity came into the world, very few followed it at first. The apostles and their co-strugglers took their preaching to the ends of the earth. And the heeding of this preaching, the turning to Christ or not, depended upon the will of those who heard it. And if the preaching of the apostles had proven vain, if mankind had not heeded them, then the further existence of the world would have been manifestly meaningless, and its end would have come then. Who can say that this end was not very close at those times?
People of sensitive soul perceived that. This is one (and not the only) reason why the first decades of Christianity were nourished by eschatological expectations.
the first decades of Christianity were nourished by eschatological expectations
The greatest glory of mankind and the pledge of its entire subsequent history, lies in the fact that a significant portion of mankind followed the apostles, and thus the existence of the world was justified.
Periods when the inner creative and grace-bearing currents dried up in mankind have come not infrequently, and with them their consequences. And each time, sensitive souls have begun to expect the end of the world.
The epoch of the French Revolution reminds one in many ways of the epoch of the Russian Revolution. They share the blatant and unembarrassed triumph of evil and the hatred of God in the sympathy of all those who deem themselves the progressive elements throughout the world. And if now the signs of the approaching end of the world are more numerous than ever before, then these signs during the epoch of the French Revolution were perhaps less numerous than now, yet nevertheless very numerous or more numerous than during all preceding epochs. Therefore the apocalyptic stance and those ideas that compared the image of Napoleon to that of Antichrist, which were mocked in the novel War and Peace by L. Tolstoy, in actual fact were not completely without basis.
The Excommunication of Tolstoy
Orthodox Life May-June 1961
The original indications of the signs of the coming of Antichrist and the proximity of the end of the world are found in the prophecies of Daniel in the 7-12th chapters of his book. We will not repeat them, since they are found in the Bible, and the Bible is sufficiently available, at least in the so-called free world. We shall say only that it is, in general, difficult to understand these holy prophecies, and more especially difficult because in them the historical perspective is missing and prophesies of times separated from each other by at least one thousand years are combined.
For example, it is clear that prophecies in the seventh, eighth, and twelfth chapters relate to apocalyptic times. But the end of the ninth chapter, from verse 22 onward, relates to the coming of Christ the Saviour into the world, i.e., events which were accomplished nearly two-thousand years ago.
But exactly in these lines we can see how clear and precise the holy Daniel's prophecies are.
" ... From the going forth of the command for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem until Christ the Prince there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks ... And after the sixty-two weeks, the Messiah shall be destroyed, and there is no judgment in Him; and He shall destroy the city and the sanctuary with the prince that is coming: they shall be cut off with a flood, and to the end of the war which is rapidly completed He shall appoint desolations. And one week shall establish the covenant with many: and in the weeks of days the sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away: and in the holy place shall be the abomination of desolation ..."
And all this was written exactly 500 years before the nativity of Christ, prior to the crucifixion of the Lord, before the leveling of Jerusalem by Titus. And not only Christians preserve this book of prophecies concerning Christ. All the words quoted here are written in Hebrew (the second through the eighth chapters of Daniel are written in Aramaic, but the ninth in Hebrew) and are preserved in the books of the Hebrews, who are by no means well-disposed toward Christianity. In this there is the age-old providential destiny of the Hebrews: albeit involuntarily, but by that fact especially beyond question, they witness to the correctness of the Christian teachings.
There are apocalyptic prophecies in the Prophet Isaiah, for example: 11:4, 14:12-21, 24:16-23, 27:1,2; 66:15-24. But in his case, as the "Old Testament Evangelist", these prophecies, even more than those of the Prophet Daniel, are conjoined with prophecies concerning Christ the Saviour.
Unsettling in its vividness is the prophecy concerning the resurrection of the dead before the Dread Judgment which we find in the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel. This prophecy is well-known to every Church-goer. It is read at Matins of Great Saturday.
There are powerful prophecies about the end of he world in the book of the Wisdom of Solomon: chapter three and the second half of chapter eighteen.
If the reader of these lines has only a Bible published by the Bible Society, then he will not find in it the book of he Wisdom of Solomon. In the first century after Christ this book was rejected by a conclave of Jewish rabbis in Jamnia, not for its eschatological prophecies, but for what, in their opinion, was an all-too-obvious prophecy about Christ. And the Protestants of the sixteenth century, in the process of defining what they would recognize as comprising the Bible, were guided by the Jewish definitions of the first century.
Although they do not relate directly to the present theme, we shall include, for the reader who does not have a Bible issued by the Orthodox Church, those lines from the book of the Wisdom of Solomon which caused it to be excluded from the Jewish canon.
"Therefore let us set snares for the righteous, for he is useless to us, and is opposed to our deeds, and upbraideth us for sins contrary to the Law, and defameth us for the sins of our education; he professeth to have the knowledge of God, and he calleth himself the son of the Lord; he is become for us a denunciation of our thoughts; he is grievous unto us even to behold, for his life is not like other men's, and his ways are of another fashion. We are esteemed of him as counterfeits: he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness; he calleth blessed the end of the righteous, and maketh his boast that God is his father. Let us see if his words be true: and let us prove what shall happen to him in the end. For if he be the Son of God, He will defend him, and deliver him from the hand of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture, that we may know his meekness and prove his guilelessness. Let us condemn him with a shameful death: for according to his own words shall he be considered. Such things did they imagine, and were deceived: for their own wickedness hath blinded them" (Chapter 2:12-21).
When the writer of these lines used to teach Old Testament in seminary courses which were attended by former Soviet officers who were hearing this prophecy for the first time, one of them said: "It is as if King Solomon overheard 900 years previously what the Sadducees and Pharisees said on Golgotha!" Certainly a book with such lines could not be accepted into the canon by the children and younger brothers of those who cried "Crucify him!" Had they accepted it, they would have had to renounce the terrible deeds of their fathers and fall down before Christ.
Let us likewise consider the astonishingly powerful and poetic verses of the same sacred book on the nativity of Christ: "For while all was held in peaceful silence, and the night in its course reached the midpoint, Thine Almighty Word (O Lord) came down from heaven out of the royal throne as a fierce warrior into the midst of the perishing earth. He brought Thine unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword ... He touched the heaven and stood upon the earth" (chapter 18:14-16). From the first moment of His earthly life Christ our Savior was this "fierce warrior", a fighter against evil, and not the sweet "Baby Jesus" as he is depicted in sentimental Western paintings and stories.
In the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ Himself speaks at length about the last times. For example in the Gospel of Matthew, 24:3-44 (in this place are found the words of Christ that are now so understandable to us: " ... Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." For is it love we find in contemporary debauchees who insolently trample underfoot the laws of both God and man?), and 25:31-46; and in the Gospel of Mark, 13:1-37; and Luke, 21: 7-36.
The end of the world is referred to in many of the parables of the Lord; for example, in the parables of the talents, of the evil vineyard-keepers, of the wise virgins, and others. Scattered in separate passages are the words of Christ on the end of the world, as, for example, His sorrowful words: " ... When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8).
Much is said of the last times in the epistles of the apostles, especially in the Epistle of the Apostle Jude, and in the Second Epistle of the Apostle Peter. The First Epistle of the Apostle John sets forth the main characteristics of Antichrist (2:18 and 22,; 4:3, and II:7). The very term 'Antichrist' was introduced into ecclesiastical thought by the holy Apostle John the Theologian.
The Apostle Paul terms Antichrist the "man of lawlessness". The Epistle to the Thessalonians refers most frequently to the last times in the fifth chapter of the First Epistle and the second chapter of the (text missing)
Finally, the closing book of the Holy Bible, the Revelations, or Apocalypse of the holy Apostle John the Theologian is devoted to prophecies concerning the last times of the world.
We have already mentioned that this book is difficult to understand and interpret. However, as time passes and we come closer to the events foretold in the Apocalypse, the clearer the images of this book become. And we are, of course, closer to them than preceding generations, regardless of how far ahead lies the period of the Apocalypse.
We have seen the white, the red, and the black horsemen. We understand the thought behind the words which come from the souls of those murdered for the word of God: "How long O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (6:10). Who of the faithful, upon seeing the impudent triumph of evil, cruelty, and falsehood in our times, has not cried out to God with these or similar words?
In becoming aware of the catastrophic pollution of the air, water, and earth by contemporary civilization, we understand better than preceding generations the words of the Apocalypse: " ... And the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up" (8:7); " ... And the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died" (8:8, 9); " ... The third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter" (8:11). And the same is said in the sixteenth chapter of the Apocalypse.
It would be difficult to name another book that could become more understandable with the passing of the centuries since it was written.
In the period following that of the apostles, a vast number of the holy fathers spoke and wrote about the end of the world. It would be impossible to enumerate them all.
We will include only a few: St. Hippolytus of Rome, who indicated that the Antichrist will be the son of a debauched woman; St. Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Cyril of Alexandra, and St. Basil the Great (Ethical Rules" No. 6, and Letters 43 and 64).
Particularly important in the commentary of the holy fathers on the prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ is the Homily on the Coming of Antichrist by St. Ephraim the Syrian. This homily is relatively easy to obtain even now, since it was published in the brochure, A Ray of Light by Holy Trinity Monastery in 1964.
still available (2018) through
either Jordanville or possibly SKJP
either Jordanville or possibly SKJP
On par with the "Homily" of St. Ephraim in quality, of the important works that are commentaries on the eschatological prophecies from the patristic period, are the works of St. Andrew of Caesarea, a writer of the fifth century.
It was St. John Chrysostom who explained that under the name of "him that restraineth" in the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Thessalonians, one should understand the Roman Empire (and by extension one can infer also the legitimate successors of the Roman Empire – Byzantium and Russia – the Third Rome).
Of prime importance is the instruction of St. John Damascene which disproves the opinion that arose that Antichrist will be the devil incarnate.
We shall conclude this list of the pronouncements of the holy fathers concerning the end of the world with the narrative of the Synaxarion for Meat-Fare Sunday (the Sunday of the Dread Judgment).
This narrative was formerly included in all the Lenten Triodia and, therefore, could be found in the kleros of every Orthodox Church. Regrettably, in editions published outside Russia this narrative has been omitted. According to the Church Typicon this narrative should be read during the all-night vigil on the Sunday of Meat-Fare, i.e., the Sunday of the week preceding the beginning of Great Lent. But this injunction of the typicon is observed only in a very few churches.
We shall include this synaxarion in a shortened form so that it may be more widely distributed:
When the coming of Christ will be, no one knoweth: for this was hidden by the Lord from the apostles, but it will be made clear when certain signs have come forewarning, as certain of the saints have widely explained. Before His coming will come Antichrist: for this one will conduct himself like Christ (i.e., will imitate Christ), and work miracles like those that Christ accomplished, and will raise the dead. These will work upon the imagination of all, as the apostle hath said; and then the son of perdition will be revealed in all his power and signs and false miracles. In the sermon of Hippolytus it is written that Antichrist will be born of a defiled woman and a pretended virgin, being of the Jews, of the tribe of Dan. And John Damascene saith that it will not be the devil incarnate, but a man born of fornication, who will accept all satanic activity, and will suddenly arise. Likewise he will seem good and meek to all. And then will be great famine. And he will satisfy all. And he will please the people. The Scripture will be fulfilled. And he will love the Jewish race very much. And he will reach Jerusalem and erect their temple. And seven years before the coming of Christ, Enoch and Elias will come preaching to the people not to receive Antichrist. And he will seize them and torture them, and then also behead them. And those desiring to be pious will flee far away to the mountains, where they will be found and be tempted by demons. For the sake of the elect these seven years will be shortened. And there will be great famine, and all the elements will melt with fervent heat, for in a little while all will perish.
And after these things, suddenly, like lightning from heaven, will be the coming of the Lord, preceded by His precious Cross. And a fiery, boiling river shall come forth before Him, purifying the whole earth from defilement ...
We shall conclude this, our brief and very inadequate article about the testimony of the Church, concerning the end of the ages, with the encouraging words of Christ: "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh" (Luke 21:28). And with the radiant, joyous, and tender words of the Apocalypse: "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain ..." (21:4).
"... The time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to reward every man according to his works ...
"Even so, come Lord Jesus!" (22:10-12).
* All Old Testament quotes in this article are according to the Slavonic Septuagint
Translated from the Russian by Timothy Fisher. This article first appeared in Russian in The Orthodox Observer (Montreal), No. 41, April 1977