Today I would like to speak on a subject which is very relevant to our times: the end of the world; more particularly, the signs being fulfilled in our times which point to the end of the world.
There have been a number of times in the past when this subject was of great interest. In fact, you can even call them “apocalyptic” times. The Apostles themselves felt that their times were very apocalyptic. (Later I will present some of the statements they made in the Scriptures which show that they really expected the end of all things to be very close.) At various other times – for example, in the West, around the year 1000 – there was a great expectation of the end. In Russia near the end of the 15th century, again there was a period when the end was expected shortly. This was because the year 1492, according to the chronology of the Old Testament, was the year 7000 from the creation of the world. And many people in our own times have this same feeling that time is running out, that something big is going to happen. Often this is bound up with the number 2,000. That is, we have come to the end of two millennia of Christianity; a millennium is thought of as a big thing, a whole thousand years, and two of them means some great crisis must be approaching; and many people place this in the terms of the end of the world. Of course, that does not necessarily mean anything, since we don’t know the day, or the hour, or the year when the world is going to end (Matt. 24:36). I will try, however, to go into what our attitude should be toward this expectation of the end.
Nowadays, when you think about “apocalyptic awareness,” you think of Protestant sectarians of various kinds, who have definite ideas about what is going to happen at the end of this age. It is not only religious thinkers, however, but also ordinary secular philosophers who talk about the end of the world in a very bold way. I will give you an example, one who should be close to us because he is an Orthodox writer: Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He has been outside of Russia since 1974, and has written about life in the Soviet Union and especially in the Soviet labor camps, the infamous Gulag. He is not what one would consider a “mystical” or “vague” thinker, or someone who’s up in the clouds; he is very down-to-earth.
Almost three years ago he gave a talk at the Harvard University commencement, in which he spoke boldly to the people of the West (just as before that he had spoken boldly to Soviet leaders), telling them that their civilization is collapsing and is in danger of being taken over by Communism, that modern humanism is not deep enough to satisfy the human soul, and that it is no model that can be followed by Russia, if Russia should overthrow Communism. At the end of this address he used the following words to express his idea of the depth of the crisis which is now occurring in the world:
“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.” Here he speaks seriously of the possibility of the “end of the world,” based on his observations that it is impossible for men to live long without deep spiritual roots, which have been uprooted in the East by Communism and in the West by worldly humanism.
In his other writings, Solzhenitsyn, like many realistic thinkers today, speaks of specific reasons, quite apart from the spiritual ones, why he thinks that such a period of great crisis is facing humanity. He mentions things that you will find in any serious analysis of today’s news: namely, such things as the nearness of the exhaustion of the earth’s resources (if they are used at the present rates); the disastrous pollution of air and water and soil (which is much worse in Russia than in America); the overpopulation of the world and the approaching disastrous shortage of food which seems to be coming; and, of course, the development of weapons in the last few decades, which makes the virtual annihilation of human life possible.
All this relates to the physical signs of an approaching great crisis, the end of the modern age, and perhaps the end of the world itself. But much more remarkable than these are the spiritual signs that are multiplying in our times. This is what I would like to mostly talk about