But why should we speak of the end of the world at all? Are we really living in the end times? And why should we link the future of Russia with the end of the world?
Now even Soviet writers speak of “end times,” apocalyptic times. And, in truth, examining the problems which concern the world in our times, – such as the depletion of water and food reserves, overpopulation, race against time, – we must not lose sight of the general picture of all that is happening.
It has already become impossible to deny the fact that all these problems indicate the approach of an immense crisis in human history, which can put an end to all living beings on earth.
At the same time contemporary religious philosophers point out the flourishing of non-Christian religious movements and prophesize the beginning of a “new age,” in which a “new religious consciousness” will possess human thought and will put an end to the 2000-year reign of Christianity. And the very fact of the approach of the year 2000 inspires many people to think that a new epoch must soon arrive, totally different from the previous one. Astrology calls this epoch the “Age of Aquarius.” Among many non-Orthodox Christians these ideas have created a teaching called “chiliasm” or “millenarianism,” i.e. the belief that Christ will soon come down to earth and will reign with His saints for a thousand years until the very end of the world.
This teaching is a heresy condemned by the Church Fathers; it stems from an incorrect interpretation of the Apocalypse. The Christian Church teaches that the reign of Christ and His saints, during which the devil will be chained for a thousand years, is precisely the time in which we are now living (the number 1000 symbolizes completeness), i.e. the time between the first and the second coming of Christ.
During this period the saints reign together with Christ in His Church, but this is a mystical kingdom of course, which should not be understood literally in a political sense, as is now being interpreted by the chiliasts. The devil is, in truth, tied up during this time, because he is restricted in his actions against mankind, and the faithful who live in the Church and partake of the Holy Mysteries live a grace-filled life which prepares them for the eternal Heavenly Kingdom.
The non-Orthodox, on the other hand, who do not take communion and do not participate in the true life of the Church, cannot understand this mystical kingdom of Christ and try to explain all events in a political sense.
Thus the future of the world, in which Russia will undoubtedly occupy a central place, is closely linked to the idea of its end – both in the physical and in the cultural meaning of the word.
Several contemporary philosophers have interpreted the place which Russia will occupy in the new age from a chiliastic point of view. And, in fact, if we acquaint ourselves more closely with the philosophy of Communism, which has been holding Russia’s social consciousness completely in thrall for the past 60 years, we will see that this teaching is actually a secular version of the idea of chiliasm; it also teaches of the forthcoming new historic era of Communism and of the fact that when Communism finally takes over the world, happy mankind will be freed from all the fetters of the past. Now, after 60 years of the Communist experiment in Russia and a briefer one in other countries, we see how insane were the Communists’ beliefs.
Communist reality turned out to be not a paradise on earth, but the Gulag; and mankind was not freed, but completely enslaved. However, Russia, which was the first enslaved country to experience this heavy yoke, will also be the first to awaken from sleep; despite all the measures employed to oppress the Church, atheism could not enslave the Russian soul, and the religious renaissance there can also become a sign of something immense and spontaneous, indicating the recovery of the people’s soul from the plague of atheism. All of this can serve to indicate the fact that Russia is able to bring special tidings to the world which is under the threat of falling into the same atheistic trap from which Russia is freeing itself. And this fact is precisely the reason why in a religious sense the future of Russia is so closely linked with the future of the entire world.
Before paying special attention to the prophecies dealing with Russia, I would like to sum up the Orthodox teaching on what will happen at the end of the world. This will give us the opportunity to make a logical deduction and to determine the future place of Russia according to these prophecies.
The events preceding the end of the world are described in many places in the Holy Scriptures: chapter 24 of Matthew’s Gospel and parallel places in the other evangelists; the major part of the Book of Revelation, particularly chapter 8 and further; chapter 2 of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; chapter 3 of the Second Epistle of Peter; several chapters in Daniel, and other places.
The Apocalypse describes these events as a series of visions, some of which are clear and positive, placing hope in God’s justice and in the salvation of the elect, while others are gloomy and negative, indicating the plagues and the famines that will appear on earth as a result of mankind’s sins. Often, seeing the increase in evil all around us, we pay too much attention particularly to these gloomy visions; but this is due to our lack of faith and worldliness – we must not let out of our sight the overall picture of all that is happening.
When the end of this world comes, then truly there shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be, and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, wars, persecutions, false prophets and false Christs, and the love of many shall wax cold. But at the same time this Gospel shall be preached in all the world, and he that shall endure until the end, with the help of Christ shall be saved. Evil and false religions will reach their apogee during the reign of the Antichrist, master of the world, who, promising to bring peace to the troubled earth and imitating the coming of Christ, will rule the entire world from the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
But there will be those whom he will not be able to deceive. Among them will be two Old Testament prophets who had never died and who will return to earth: Elias in order to convert the Jews, and Enoch in order to preach to all the other peoples. The Antichrist’s brief reign (three-and-a-half years) will end in war and unrest, and then Christ will come amid all these trials and tribulations, preceded by the sign of the Cross; then the entire world will be engulfed by flames and renewed, while the bodies of the dead will arise from their graves and will become joined with their souls in order to stand before God’s tribunal.
Such, briefly, will be the events of the end times of human history. And now let us turn to the prophecies dealing with the future of Russia.
The future of Russia
In the 19th century many prophets were known in Russia, among them even some laymen such as Dostoyevsky, who foresaw the coming of the revolution as a result of disbelief, worldly vanity, and a purely outward performance of rites which lacked the ardent and sacrificial faith required by Orthodoxy.
Some of them looked upon this as a disaster that befell the Russian land. For example, watching the lack of true faith among so many people, Bishop Theophanus the Recluse exclaimed: “What will remain of our Orthodoxy in a hundred years?”
Others believed that this lack of faith would result in a terrible revolution which would then spread throughout the entire world. In a sermon given in 1905, St. John of Kronstadt said: “Russia, if you fall away from your faith, as have already fallen away from it many members of the intelligentsia, you will no longer remain Holy Russia. And if there will be no repentance from the Russian people – the end of the world is near. God will deprive you of your righteous Tsar and will send a scourge in the person of iniquitous and cruel rulers, who will flood the entire land with blood and tears.”
And in truth, we now see a great deal of the world flooded with blood and oppressed with the tyranny that began in Russia with the revolution of 1917. At the same time the question arises: is there any hope of liberation, or will atheism devour the entire world, preparing it for the kingdom of the Antichrist?
However, we have sound reasons to doubt that future events will develop in such a simple manner, at least from the fact that the country in which the dominion of Communism began is at the present moment undergoing a religious renaissance that is impeding the spread of atheism in the world. Moreover, according to Orthodox prophecies, the Antichrist will not be a common tyrant such as Stalin, but will be a more “spiritual” individual, who will at first attempt to seduce people, not make them accept him by force.
The holy men of Russia who were alive at the beginning of the revolution realized that this event was, in essence, an apocalyptic one, and knew that many years of tribulation were to be expected. But they also foresaw that an end to this tribulation would come. The elder Alexis of the Zosima Hermitage, attending the election of the Patriarch at the Chudov Monastery, heard people crying and loudly exclaiming: “Our Russia is lost, our Holy Russia is lost!” But the elder replied in a loud voice: “Who is saying here that Russia is lost, that it has perished? No, no, it is not lost, it has not perished, neither will it be lost, nor will it perish, but through great trials the Russian people must be cleansed of sin. You must pray with heartfelt repentance.”
Shortly before the beginning of the revolution, the elder Barnabas from the skete of Gethsemane prophesied that Russia would be subjected to severe tribulations and that a cruel persecution awaited the Orthodox faith. He said: “The persecution of faith will increase continuously. Unheard of sorrow and darkness will envelop everyone and everything, and the churches will be closed down. But when there will be no more strength to endure, liberation will come. And a time of renaissance will arrive. The churches will again be re-opened. There will be a renaissance before the end.”
The hieroshemamonk Aristoclius said shortly before his death in 1918: “We are now living in pre-Antichrist times. But Russia will be saved. There will be much suffering, much martyrdom. All of Russia will become a prison, and we must entreat the Lord at great length for forgiveness. We must repent of our sins and be afraid to commit even the slightest sin, and we must try to do good, even the very slightest good. For even the wing of a fly has some weight, while God’s scales are very precise. And when the smallest bit of good will tip the scales, then God will show His mercy to Russia.”
In 1920 Elder Nektarius of Optina said: “Russia will arise and will be poor materially, but rich in spirit, and in Optina there will be seven more luminaries.”
In 1930 Archbishop Theophanus of Poltava summarized the prophecies he had received from the elders who were able to foresee the future: “You ask me about the immediate future and about the coming end times. I am not telling you anything from myself, but only that which was revealed to me by the elders. The coming of the Antichrist is approaching and is already very near. The time dividing us from his coming can be measured in decades. But before his arrival Russia is destined to be reborn, at least for a short while. And there will be a Tsar there, chosen by the Lord Himself.. He will be a man of ardent faith, profound mind and iron will. That is all that has been revealed to us about him. And we will await the fulfillment of this revelation. Judging from many manifestations, the time is approaching, unless because of our sins the Lord revokes His promise. According to God’s word, this can also happen.”
Thus we see that all the prophecies of these divinely-inspired men in the beginning of last century speak of the expectation of a renaissance of Holy Russia and even of an Orthodox Tsar shortly before the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world. But this event will be more of an extraordinary and miraculous nature rather than a regular historic event. And at the same time it will depend to some degree on the Russian people themselves, since in such a case God acts through man’s free will.
Just as the city of Nineveh was spared after its people repented, and Jonah’s prophecy about its destruction thus turned out to be false, so the prophecies concerning the resurrection of Russia may turn out to be false if the Russian people do not repent.
Saint John of Shanghai wrote in 1938: “The entire Russian people committed great sins that were the cause of their tribulations, specifically perjury and regicide. Civil and military leaders reneged on obedience and loyalty to the Tsar even before his abdication, coercing it from the Tsar who did not wish internal bloodshed, while the people loudly welcomed the event, never openly expressing their disagreement with it. It is not only the physical perpetrators who are guilty of the sin of regicide, but the entire people, who rejoiced over the dethronement of the Tsar and who allowed his humiliation, arrest and exile, leaving him defenseless in the hands of criminals, which of its own accord already predetermined the end.
Thus the disaster that struck Russia is a direct consequence of heavy sins, while its resurrection is possible only through the cleansing of these sins. However, up to now there has been no real repentance, the crimes that were committed have still not been condemned, while many active participants in the revolution continue to assert even now that it had been impossible to act otherwise in those days. By not expressing open condemnation of the February revolution and the revolt against God’s anointed one, the Russian people continue to participate in this sin.”
Regicide, of course, is not the only sin to lie heavily on the conscience of the Russian people. It is a symbol of the Russia that had fallen away from Christ and true Orthodoxy – a process which took place throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and only now, perhaps, has changed its course. It is interesting to note that in modern-day Russia the issue of the glorification of the Tsar and the New Martyrs is seen as being tied in with the lifting of the curse which lay on the Russian land from the time of their martyrdom.
It would, of course, be very superficial to conclude that the glorifiction of the New Martyrs and the Royal Family will lead to a restoration of Holy Russia. But if the Russian Orthodox people, both in Russian and in the diaspora, embrace this event whole-heartedly, it could serve as a stimulus towards repentance of sins, while its effect on Russia itself would be immeasurable.
One of the most significant prophecies about Russia’s future was known to only a few before the revolution; it was so daring that church censorship did not allow it to be published. It was found among the manuscripts of Motovilov, who was known for his famous “Discourse with the venerable Seraphim on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.” This prophecy, which has now been published, concerns the future resurrection of St. Seraphim right before the end of the world.
This is what St. Seraphim said to Motovilov:
“Many times, – writes Motovilov, – I heard from the lips of the great saint of God, the elder Seraphim, that his body will not lie in Sarov. And so I once dared to ask him:
– Batyushka, you are constantly telling me that your body will not lie in Sarov. Do you mean to say that the Sarovians will give you away?
– Your Kindness, the Lord God has allotted to me, the humble Seraphim, to live well over a hundred years. However, since by that time the hierarchs will become so iniquitous that their iniquity will far surpass that of the Greek hierarchs in the time of Theodosius the Younger, so that they will no longer believe in the major tenet of the Christian faith, it has pleased the Lord God to take me, the humble Seraphim, away from this temporal life for a time and afterwards to resurrect me, and my resurrection will be like the resurrection of the seven youths in the Okhlon cave in the days of Theodosius the Younger.
Having revealed to me this great and awesome secret, the great elder added that after his resurrection he will move from Sarov to Diveevo, and there he will embark upon the preaching of universal repentance. A huge number of people will gather from all corners of the earth to hear this preaching, but even more so to witness the miracle of the resurrection; Diveevo will become a Lavra, Vertyanovo – a city, and Arzamas – a province. And, while preaching repentance, the holy Seraphim will uncover four relics in Diveevo, and afterwards will lie down among them himself. And then soon after that the end of everything will come.”
In another discussion with Motovilov, speaking of the spiritual state of the last Christians to remain loyal to God before the end of the world, St. Seraphim said something very important to support these confessors of Christ:
“And in the days of that great sorrow, of which it is said that not a single soul would be saved were not those days to be curtailed for the sake of the elect, – in those days the remainder of the faithful will experience something similar to what the Lord Himself had experienced when, hanging on the cross, being perfect God and perfect man, He felt Himself so abandoned by His Own Divinity that He cried out to Him: My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Matt. 27:46).
A similar abandonment of mankind by the grace of God will be experienced by the last Christians, but only for a very brief while, after which the Lord will not tarry to appear in all His glory, and all His holy angels with Him. And afterwards will come to pass in all its fullness all that was predetermined from the beginning of age in the Pre-eternal Council.
The message which Russia will bring to the world
In the New Testament, in St. John the Theologian’s Book of Revelation, there is a detailed description of the events preceding the end of the world: And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour (Rev. 8:1). Some people interpret these words of the Scriptures as signifying a brief period of peace preceding the final events of world history, or more precisely, a brief period of the restoration of Russia, when the universal preaching of repentance will begin with Russia – this will be that very “last and final word” which, according to Dostoyevsky, Russia will bring to the world.
In modern circumstances, in which events in any country become immediately known to the entire world, Russia, purified by the blood of its martyrs, will truly possess the possibility of awakening the world from its deep sleep of atheism and lack of faith. Father Dimitry Dudko and others have often said that it is impossible for the blood of countless Russian martyrs to have flowed in vain; it will undoubtedly become the seed of the last and vivid flourishing of true Christianity. However, it is easy just to dream of the future of such a world and of what may happen in Russia. The resurrection of Russia depends on the efforts of each individual soul; it cannot take place without the participation of all Orthodox people, without our universal repentance and our universal spiritual labor. It attracts into its sphere not only the people of Russia, but all those in the diaspora and all Orthodox people in the entire world.
St. John of Shanghai spoke in 1938 about the apocalyptic mission of the Russian people abroad:
“While meting out punishment, the Lord simultaneously showed the Russian people the way to salvation, having made this people the advocates of Orthodoxy throughout the entire world. The Russian diaspora has acquainted all corners of the earth with Orthodoxy, for the mass of Russian refugees (for the most part subconsciously) has been an advocate of Orthodoxy.
Russians living abroad have been given the task to shine with the light of Orthodoxy all over the world, so that other people, seeing their good deeds, would glorify our Father Who is in heaven, and would thus acquire salvation… The diaspora must turn to the path of repentance, and having implored forgiveness, having become spiritually reborn, it must become a loyal partner in the revival of our suffering homeland.”
Thus, in conducting themselves as befits Orthodox Christians, the Russians living abroad will pave the way for the preaching of universal repentance by St. Seraphim. To some extent this is already happening, if one notes the fact that on a par with the revival of Orthodoxy in Russia there is a genuine awakening to Orthodoxy not only in America, but also in many other countries outside of Russia.
However, the future depends on us: if we reprise a truly Orthodox life, then Holy Russia will be restored; if not, then the Lord may take away His promise. May God forbid!
Father Seraphim (Rose)