All that we have described are very negative signs, and, of course, a Christian is supposed to be prepared for the most negative things possible. Nonetheless, we should also be prepared and look out for the positive signs of the end of the world.
First of all, one of the positive signs is Israel. Of course, the state of Israel is a totally neutral thing, but the very fact that it looks as though there is beginning in the Jewish people some kind of stirring, as though the process of coming back to Christ may be beginning – that is a very hopeful, very positive thing. This is what St. Paul wrote about, saying that he would rather be in hell for the sake of his people if only they would wake up and receive Christ, Who came for them first of all. When they finally come to Christ, that means it is the end of the world, because all the peoples have been called in, and they are the last ones, the faithful remnant, to come back.
Then there is the movement of conversion to Orthodox Christianity which we see in many parts of the world. In Africa, for example, just in the last fifty years there has been a tremendous movement of conversion of people in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, the Congo (Zaire), and other countries. They are very, very pious and faithful to Orthodoxy. It is just such simple-hearted people that Christ wants, and it is such people who are coming into the Orthodox Church now.
The same thing is happening in other countries. In fact, right here in America we see that more and more people are waking up. Often for no apparent reason, they are finding out that Orthodoxy is the real Church. This is happening also in Western Europe and in other countries.
Then there is suffering Russia. This is a subject that deserves many talks by itself. It is certainly a remarkable thing that this country, which for over sixty years now has suffered under Communism, under atheism, has endured. According to all the Communist laws, since religion is only a superstitious remnant of the past, there should be no religion left after all the old ladies die. But now, after sixty years have passed and all the old ladies (at the time of the Revolution) have died, religion is coming back stronger than ever. Something is therefore wrong with the Communists’ idea, and this “something” is that they do not realize that the soul wants God, wants Christ. Therefore, this people has for sixty years endured the yoke of atheism – which is a very powerful thing, with the whole of society based upon godlessness – and now, having stuck it out, they are coming back to believe in God.
Solzhenitsyn says about Russia and other countries which have endured Communism: “Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system, in its present state of spiritual exhaustion, does not look attractive… A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe – during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience” (from the Harvard speech).
Fr. Dimitry Dudko, in particular, says very similar things. He makes a very important point also: when someone once told him how much better it was to be in the West because there they have freedom and are able to practice their Christianity in freedom, he said: “But there they have spirituality with comfort. Here we have spirituality with suffering, and therefore it’s deeper.” On the basis of suffering and martyrdom there can come a seed of Christianity, because “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” That is why something very deep is happening in the Russian people and those who have suffered under Communism.
In this hopefulness coming from Russia, which is waking up to its Christian roots, we have a very practical lesson: Russia, during these last sixty years, has gone through the experience of living in catacombs, under persecution, in torture chambers, with the refined torture techniques of the modern Gulag – and the people have survived. We have records of how they survived: we know how they were tortured and how they got through it. Therefore, if this persecution comes here, we already have a beginning, something to rely on; we even have more hope that we can endure the same thing that they endured.
Finally, the whole outlook of Orthodox Christianity is a positive one. Even in the earliest times, when the whole Roman world was against the Church and simply hunted out Christians from the catacombs and put them to torture and death, the Christians went to their death singing. Therefore, since the essence of our faith is that we are preparing ourselves for the world to come, our outlook is basically positive. All the negative things, all the evil things which the devil can devise against us and which men’s evil will can torture us with – these are small compared with the joy which is to come in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Of course, today we have more than ever before the experience of all the past centuries of Orthodox saints, Holy Fathers, martyrs, ascetics: all those who have lived for Christ in this world, from all the different lands, in the west, the east, the north, and the south. This experience is ours to know, and it gives answers to basically all the contemporary questions which arise. We can have living contact with the saints of all ages, as well as with those who are suffering today for Christ, such as the many people who are in prison camps in the Soviet Union. It is very encouraging to see how they do not give up in the midst of all kinds of tortures. They are really extremely courageous, and this gives courage and inspiration to us, that we also can be faithful to Christ. In the conditions we have now of freedom, there is no excuse for us not to be offering our struggle to God.