St. Paul himself, who was very filled with awareness of the coming end of the world and the second coming of Christ, warns Christians even in his time not to be excited about the end of the world. He says in II Thessalonians 2:2-3: “Be not quickly shaken in mind or troubled… as though the day of the Lord is just at hand. Let no one deceive you: that day will not come except the falling away come first and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the son of perdition.”
This is a very important sign of the end: the falling away or apostasy and the coming of the man of lawlessness, which is Antichrist. On this subject I would like focus quite a bit of our attention. This concept of apostasy is a key one with which to understand the events of our times. It is too big of a topic to go into completely now. But briefly: a student of history, looking at the whole past two thousand years of history, especially Western history, can see a continuous thread of development. And in these last nine hundred or thousand years, you can see the various strands which go to make up our modern history and modern civilization. The civilization of today is shaped by the events and developments of yesterday.
When Solzhenitsyn speaks about the coming of a great world crisis or even the end of the world, he is referring to the fact that this historical current, which has been going on for the last thousand years at least, is now coming to its end. There is no place further for it to go: it must either change drastically or destroy mankind. Solzhenitsyn traces it back to the end of the Middle Ages. Actually, it goes back further. If you examine it historically, I think you can see that it traces back to the time when Rome broke away from the Church, i.e. the year 1054, the middle of the 11th century. Something happened in the West: the West chose to go its own way.
This breaking away on the part of Rome was the beginning of what can be called the mainstream of apostasy. Apostasy means “falling away,” even a very small falling away. If you look at Rome in the 12th century, it was still fairly close to Orthodoxy. Nonetheless, it had begun to deviate in its various ideas about the importance of the Pope, and so forth. Once this movement of apostasy began, it went step by step, very logically, to produce the world we see today. Rome broke off from the Church because worldly ideas of Church government – the papacy – became dominant. And once the Roman Church was independent of the Churches in the East, these innovations began to enter the life of Rome until it became, over the centuries, increasingly different from Orthodoxy.
Worldliness in the Western world produced the pagan Renaissance, and the departures in the Roman Church from the true Christian practices of the earlier Church (most notably the Roman Catholic idea of “indulgences” and especially the selling of them) produced the Protestant Reformation, which gradually threw out almost all of the ancient Christian traditions together with the various superstitions and false practices against which it was supposedly rebelling. This, in turn, produced the reaction which we know as the Age of Enlightenment, the eighteenth century, which threw out religion altogether and tried to base life upon human reason and common sense. This is basically what civilization is trying to live on today. And this is what has produced the Communism out of which Solzhenitsyn came, and against which he is protesting. Communism is the last and most consistent form of trying to make life on earth solely fit human ideas, not divine ones.
If Rome had not fallen away from Orthodoxy and started this whole process of apostasy, world history would have been much different. We can see even now that in the East, Orthodox countries like Greece and Russia did not have a Renaissance, or a Reformation, or even an Enlightenment period, as did the West. And if they are now bound up with the same kind of worldview as is the West, it is because they have in the last century or two finally accepted all these ideas and been poisoned by them. Therefore, they have become part of the whole world which is now involved in one single civilization, i.e. Western civilization – which is, as Solzhenitsyn rightly sees, in its dying phase.
In the same passage in which St. Paul mentions the apostasy (II Thessalonians 2:7), he gives a second name for this movement. He calls it the “mystery of iniquity,” or the “mystery of lawlessness.” He says: “The mystery of lawless-ness is already at work,” preparing for Antichrist, who is the “man of lawlessness.” If we look around at our 20th century civilization, the word “lawlessness” or “anarchy” is perhaps the chief characteristic that identifies it.
A few examples: By the beginning of the 20th century, all the various schools of modern art dissolved into what can only be called a “lawless” state: Cubism, Futurism, ending in just blocks on the canvas – or, what Jackson Pollock was doing twenty-five years ago: standing in the midst of a large canvas, he would get “inspired,” dip his paint brushes in pails, and throw the paint (and sometimes whatever came into his hands) on the canvas. You cannot seriously call it art if you consider what the ancient masters created was art, because they were meticulous and careful and there was a whole art or science to what they did. Therefore, you can say that, compared to ancient art or even the more recent art of previous centuries, this is a kind of lawlessness, because the artist are letting themselves go and doing what is against all the laws.
In modern music it is the same way. An historian of music – Alfred Frankenstein – wrote a complete history of Western music, and when he came to the 20th century he stopped and said: I cannot write anymore, because what comes from here on is no longer music as I know it. That is, he appreciated that there was something there, but he said it does not obey the laws that music obeyed up until the end of the 19th century; therefore, it is something else; let somebody else write about it. Because, again, some kind of lawlessness, a new principle, entered into life.
Once you get this far, really, there is no place else to go – that’s the end of that. That is why Solzhenitsyn has this feeling that something is coming to an end, because you cannot keep going down. Something else has to happen. Either there has to be an explosion – a totally new principle has to enter in, like when Christianity came in Roman times and totally transformed everything – or else, if something new does not happen, then the whole civilization simply winds down, and that is the end of it.
In the realm of moral teaching, it is quite noticeable, especially in the last twenty years or so, how lawlessness has become the norm. Even people in high positions within the clergy of liberal denominations – usually of Catholics, Protestants, and so forth – are sometimes quite willing to justify all kinds of things which before would have been considered immoral; now they are considered according to a new morality – “situation ethics,” and so forth.
Whereas most civilized people (and even wild pagan tribes) had a fairly good sense of right and wrong and decent behavior up at least to the Second World War, since then the philosophy has taken hold of many that one can “do whatever one feels like,” and even so-called Christians justify and promote behavior that until now was everywhere considered a total loss of decent standards, not only Christian but even just human. This is a deep sign of lawlessness in contemporary society. This could not happen wherever people have basic religious and moral views of any kind. It is a direct result of the abandonment of Christianity and the “falling away” from Truth.
This is a sign of what St. Paul calls the “mystery of lawlessness,” – a mystery in that it is something which is not fully revealed in this world; it is something which comes from the other world. The “mystery of righteousness” is the whole story of how God came from heaven and became incarnate in order to save us. The “mystery of lawlessness” is the opposite: it is a mystery coming up from hell, which breaks into this world and changes it. Therefore, this is the mystery of lawlessness or anarchy which is preparing for the coming of the “man of lawlessness,” who is Antichrist.