Part II Conclusion
The Protestant World Outlook as Inspiration for the Teaching on the "Rapture"
and Orthodox Susceptibility to this Outlook
Then we which are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air...
(I Thess. 4:17)
The Protestant World Outlook as Inspiration for the Teaching on the "Rapture"
and Orthodox Susceptibility to this Outlook
Then we which are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air...
(I Thess. 4:17)
Protestants have severed themselves from the sacramental life of the Church, thereby rejecting the means for receiving the Holy Spirit, yet they stubboornly cling to their disdain for the understanding of Scripture as expressed by those who did persevere in that Grace-bestowing life, the Apostles, and then the Holy Fathers. This disdain was evident at the very onset of Protestantism. In 1580 in the collection of letters exchanged between the first Lutheran theologians and the Patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias, we find these words of the Lutheran professors:
Wherefore, entreating your Holiness, honorable sir, we request you to enter into the same manner [of study] with us, and careful ly scrutinize and assess the words of the Sacred Writings (what they are able and what they are not able to support). Do not tolerate the diverse or opposing interpretations and explanations [of Scriupture] of the Fathers, which are obstructed and limited. The true and unadulterated meaning can become clearly ascertained, wherever there is a collation and comparison of the Scriptures.1
Reflecting their reliance not on illumination by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, but on the powers of their intellect the scholars later add:
Truly, we believe that the interpretation of the Scriptures which is the most certain and most secure is that which makes the Scripture interpret itself (that is, by dexterously placing the God inspired words beside each other and comparing them by referring back to the sources of the Hebrew and Greek phrases as the most excellent counselor).2
This legacy of private, literal interpretation and disregard for the writings of the Holy Fathers continues today in the writings of the proponents of the Rapture such as Hal Lindsey and his mentor, J. Dwight Pentecost, a former professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. Pentecost writes, "Literal interpretation had the greatest success in opening the Word of God. Exegesis did not start in earnest till the church was 1500 years old. With the literalism of Luther and Calvin the light of Scripture literally flamed up."3 And in his mocking manner Lindsey complains in his book The Rapture about the "so-called Church fathers from the second through the fifth centuries who believed in salvation by faith plus works."4
So while Protestants claim that they are faithful to the word of God, their various tenets such as sola scriptura and a priesthood of believers simply give rise to a legion of unsubstantiated opinions and false interpretations of Scripture which can provide no foundation of truth.
Frustrated by the relativism and confusion spawned by these doctrines many Protestants are turning now to Orthodoxy, touting it as "the historical Church." This is all well and good, but it must be realized that the Orthodox Church is not simply the historical Church that is discovered through the intellect, but, more profoundly, the Church of right glory [Greek: Ortho - correct; doxa - gloryj of God, which recognizes Christ as God and man. When writing to the Thessalonians Saint Paul was referring to a time when the dead and those still alive would rise to offer glory to God. If we wish to offer that glory at the Second Coming we must begin now, for it is a glory that demands a particular way of life, the life of Christ - of the Cross. Saint John Maximovitch wrote of this way of the Cross:
The Cross of the Lord separated believers from unbelievers, those who followed the path of salvation from those who followed the path of perdition. Today's iconoclasts - Protestants and others who reject holy icons - likewise reject the Cross of the Lord... Those who want to see Christianity only as something rosy and attractive, who think it possible to enter the blessedness of eternity without any particular effort, without forcing themselves, without warring with their passions - they deny all this. They follow the path taken by the thief who hung on the left: they reject all the laws which the Lord Himself delivered and which He sent the Apostles to preach throughout the world; they reject those statutes and writ ings which are sacredly preserved by the holy Orthodox Church.5
And what are those "statutes and writings" but Holy Tradition - listening to the transmission of the voice of Christ. Orthodoxy has, as the Optina Elders phrased it, "Kept what is God's in honor," that is, remained faithful to the fundamental message of Christ, which is that He is both God and man. Thus, the Orthodox Church is not a historical institution, but through the mystery of the Incarnation, "All who believe in Christ and unite themselves unto Him by giving themselves to Him and by the reception of Divine Grace, jointly comprise the Church of Christ, whose Head is Christ Himself, and they who enter into her are her members... The Church is the Body of Christ both because her parts are united to Christ through His Divine Mysteries, and because through her Christ works in the world."6
The Incarnation - this means of restoring man to the heavenly Kingdom - was a point of separation between those who believed in Jesus Christ as God and those who did not, from the very first time that our Lord revealed it to his disciples.
Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day... many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it?.. and many of them walked no more with Him ('ohn 6:54,60,66).
Protestants, like many at the time of Christ, do not listen to the voice, do not want to walk with Him and accept the hard saying, that is, accept the way of salvation and the Kingdom God has prepared. Saint John Chrysostom comments on the character of the ones who turned from Christ at this point:
When He gave them bread, and filled their bellies, they said that He was a Prophet, and sought to make Him a King: but when He taught them concerning spiritual food, concerning eternal life, when He led them away from objects of sense, and spake to them of a resurrection, and raised their thoughts to higher matters, when most ought to have admired, they murmur and start away.7
It was left for Peter to affirm the way of the true disciples of Christ, for when the Lord asked the twelve Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life (John 6:67-8).
The voice of Orthodox Tradition chants "Do Thou, Who as Benefactor and God hast endured the Passion on the Cross and has opened Paradiseto the thief, establish my mind according to Thy will, 0 Thou Who lovest mankind (Octoechos, Tone 7, Sunday Matins Canon, III Ode).
In the Apostle Peter we find precisely this obedient attitude required of one who would be a true follower of Christ. Let us recall one of his first encounters with the Lord.
Now when He [Christ] had left speaking, He said unto Simon [Peter], Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon [Peter] answering said unto Him, Master we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake (Luke 5:4-6).
The experienced fisherman submits his mind, his reasoning to the One Who made the fish, the sea, and the humble fisherman, and "at His word lets down the net."
Saint Peter typifies all those who did not say this is a hard saying; who can hear it, but exhibited virtues of humility and true obedience to the word of God. For this Christ called him the rock. Yet, until the Resurrection, even he did not understand completely the essential message of Christ: that He was both God and man, the Messiah not of an earthly kingdom but of a heavenly one. Peter was still prey to weak belief in Christ, a weakness most evident in his denial at the time of Christ's Crucifixion. But there was one who came to a full awareness of the Incarnation before all others:
"A thief blessed Him, while I denied Him" (Sedalion, Tone 5), Saint Peter lamented afterwards. At that time all the other Apostles likewise doubted the Lord...
The Apostles wavered in their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, because they anticipated and desired to see in Him an earthly king, in whose kingdom they could sit at the right and the left hand of the Lord...
The thief came to belief in the suffering Lord; confessing Him as "the hidden God," he came to know Him before anyone else, and the power of His resurrection, and participation in His suffer ings, being made conformable unto His death (Phil. 3:10); he under stood before anyone else what constitutes the Kingdom not of this world; he came to know what is truth (John 18:36-38)
He was the first to comprehend the nature of Christ's king dom, and therefore he was the first to enter it.8
In attempting to affirm their doctrine of justification by faith, Protestants will say the Good Thief did no good work;9 but they are wrong, for he did the most necessary of works: this is your work that you believe in Me - in the God-man, the incarnate Lord, Who bestows a heavenly Kingdom. In his true confession, we find the "good work" of the Good Thief. This good work cannot be appreciated by Protestants because instead of seeing that our whole life should be an affirmation of the Incarnation by living a continuous life of repentance in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion (for that is the way to our union with God and eternal life), they disavow what man truly is, Who Christ the God-man is, and what our purpose is in this earthly life. They imagine seductive Utopias rather than prepare themselves through struggle for the real Kingdom to come.
And indeed does not this Protestant thinking permeate our society? The best-seller list is abundant with books on near-death experiences such as Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light and comforting treatises on angels like Sophy Burnham's A Book of Angels and the prolific Billy Graham's biggest seller Angels: God's Secret Agents. These works seek to ensure us that every thing is OK, we are all going to heaven. In reviewing America's fascination with angels Newsweek magazine concludes its article with these words:
Burnham, whose books are becoming the angelologists' sacred texts, can only shout "amen." "We need not be afraid to die," she writes with the force of revelation. "That we do not die! This I have learned. This much I have seen with my own eyes." The angels tell her so.10
But as the critic Harold Bloom noted "the yearning to become like angels - to have angels in our own image - is not new. It is the American version of the old Gnostic quest to experience the self as an uncreated spark of God. Stripped of their visions and miraculous stories, says Bloom, the interest in angels is about not wanting to die."11
An interesfing book released last year containing one of the most comprehensive surveys ever done on religion in America confirms Bloom's view. Based on information from that survey, the authors made the following observation:
America's market-oriented religion bears a similarity to the rest of society in its hopeful and optimistic tone and its unwilling ness to face certain uncomfortable realities... With increased life span and the development of increasingly effective medicines, there is a refusal to face the reality of decay and death. Whereas in traditional societies elders were a source of wisdom and taught people how to live, in today's American society they are considered by many to be outdated and out of touch with current reality.12
Raised for the most part with a Protestant religion that has stripped itself of any real knowledge of life after death, many Americans are unarmed, incapable of accepting anything but these tales of angels and near-death experiences which offer the view that death will be peaceful, an entry to a heaven that is just like they want it to be, with little concern for a judgment or how one should conduct himself in this life in order to prepare for the one to come.
Ultimately, of course, this "heaven" is only a projecfion of and a perpetuation of an earthly kingdom. It is no surprise when we find that conservative Protestant fundamentalists really believe little differently from their secular liberal counterparts, for ultimately they have the same problem. On the one hand we have Christians who can be so only in name, for they have abandoned the means for receiving the Grace of God, while modern thinkers, perhaps not with the virulence of a Nieztsche, but all the same, work from the assumption that "God is dead." In either case, as Solzhenitsyn observed, men have forgotten God.
President Bill Clinton, reared as a Bible-toting Baptist, yet nurtured on the liberal humanism ushered in on American college campuses in the 1960's, unwittingly offered a wonderful juxtaposition of these supposedly divergent ideologies of Protestantism and secular humanism in his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic Party convention. Referring to Scripture, but exuding confidence in man's ability to build an earthly kingdom, he said: "We can.. restore our sense of unity and community. Scripture says, our eyes have not yet seen, nor our ears heard, nor our minds imagined what we can build." Unfortunately, Saint Paul actually wrote Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (I Cor. 2:9). Incredibly, the President made a similar misquote of Scriptures at the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994. In his remarks he said: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth." The actual verse reads: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. But sadly, isn't this really the thinking of all "reasonable" men: to prefer to inherit the earth (now) rather than to be called a son of God, to seek to build their own kingdom and not to desire the one God has prepared?
The pervasiveness of this Protestant-inspired impiety, this replacement of God's will with man's reason, makes the wituess of true Orthodoxy even more imperative in these days. It is not the question of an unreasonable man to ask if we are nearing the time of Antichrist. The Russian philosopher Askoldov gave a useful approach for determining whether this is so or not:
When reminded of the "mistakes" of those Christian thinkers in the past who thought their times were also apocalyptic, Askoldov would usually reply that they had not been mistaken then; and he would give an example: It happens that people are near death, and this is known and felt by them, as also by the physicians who are treating them and by their close relatives. But then such a man suddenly recovers. One cannot say that he had not been near death; he had been near death, but then recovered. So also the world has been several times near death, and those who are sensitive in religious matters have felt it, and there was no mis take in this. So also now: the world is near death.13
Though speaking in the 1920's Askoldov's view that "the world is near death," can be recognized by sensitive souls to an even greater degree today. More and more, man does not want what God has prepared, yet the purpose of this earthly life is to impart the Holy Spirit in order to unite man with God once again. Churches espousing the true faith are dwindling as in the time of Noah. Man is rejecting it, seduced by a comfortable, guilt-free christianity. When none are left seeking the truth, the reason for the earth's existence and the continuation of mankind will come to an end. One can perhaps forgive the rhetoric of the president of a secular nation, but it is truly sobering when one considers how deeply this rejection of the way God has prepared has become a part of modern Orthodox thinking.
Billy Graham is acceptable to the Orthodox because "he just goes there [to Russia] and crusades for Christ, and the people go to their own churches. He does not preach any brand of Christianity.
Bishop Maximos of Pittsburgh,
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese14
This facile ecumenical logic is the dominant view of many Orthodox hierarchs today. Relying on our ignorance of Church history and theology and our too often reluctance (shame?) to practice our Orthodox piety in a non-Orthodox society, we are blind sheep listening not to the voice of Christ, but to wolves who are sacrificing the purity of our Orthodox faith on the altar of the supra-doctrine of ecumenical unity. It is a destructive unity which dismisses ofihandedly the very real distinctions in Tradition, ecclesiology, and the way of sanctification between the various Christian denominations.
Russia, for example, is currently being inundated with a modern anti dote: a free-market, democratic system for which Protestantism provides a corresponding ideological basis. Along with being force fed capitalism, the West is avidly flooding the land with a myriad of religious missionaries, not among the least, Protestants of every stripe. A CNN television report on this influx of Protestant missionaries should be of interest to Russian Orthodox here. The news story first showed a portion of an Orthodox church service and then a clip from a revival meeting. The segment sug gests that Russian people were seeking out the "exciting" spirituality of the charismatic preacher rather than the "boring" solemnity of a traditional Russian Orthodox ritual. But it is precisely this "boring" Orthodoxy which the world is so desperately in need of, for within its bosom rests the means of eternal salvation for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The crux of the issue is, if we wish to stand and truly glorify the Lord at His Second Coming we must believe in and follow the way of communion found in Orthodoxy, a way that creates not a utopian structure of unity (the ecumenical Tower of Babel), or a false sense of security (as with the Rapture), but in reality unites us with the Body and Blood of Christ now and for eternity.
This right glorification of God is the path the New Martyrs of Russia of this century died for, preserving a link to the traditional teachings of Holy Orthodoxy. It is not an antiquated message but one that was the voice of the universal Orthodox Church before the 1920's and the shackiing of so much of the Church to the fetters of ecumenism. In their lives is found the preservation of a life that seeks to restore our nature, that opens our eyes to our purpose on this earth, that cultivates within man once again love for the heavenly homeland. Read for example the words of New Martyr Bishop Barlaam written in 1908:
Heaven is our true homeland, eternal, holy, safe from all ene mies, from every destroying act of the elements, which themselves will be burned, and destroyed (II Pet. 3:10)...
No man with a hard heart, or one who serves his sinful pas sions, will ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven. How can one ascend to heaven if for his whole life he has served worldly vanity, if he has been daily languishing in a burning thirst for earthly plea sures or has given his heart over to them and attached himself to them as a magnet to iron, while he has not developed the slightest taste for spiritual and heavenly good things? (I say not that he has failed to strengthen it, but that he does not have it at all.) Just con duct such a one, if only for an example - if such a thing were permitted - into the mansions on high, and he will be bored there, because there are not there such things as are here below: there are none of his favorite objects, none of the earthly treasures by means of which he lullabied and fooled his heart. The dispositions and inclinations of soul which have been acquired here go over with us into that world, and what torment will be there beyond the grave for everyone who died with his sinful earthly inclinations, who always choked and suffocated the heavenly needs of his soul with out succeeding in offering heartfelt repentance for them? This is why there will be an undying worm there, as our Saviour so often says in the Gospel: this worm is our sinful inclinations, living and not dying even after death, which can be satisfied by nothing.. if we sincerely desire to live after death in heaven, we must live in a heavenly way on earth.
The heavenly kingdom is opened, the righteous Judge awaits our conversion to Him, He mercifully calls us to Himself, shows us already the mansions prepared for all who love Him and strive toward Him, and says, Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:27).15
Protestantism, in breaking from the voice of the Church Fathers, seeks to rob man of that struggle with sinful inclinations, and stubbornly clings to earthly life. They use the excuse of fear, of a false humility that cries "I cannot be perfect." But the purpose of our life is not to bury the talent given to us out of fear of an exacting master, but to place our hope in a merciful God. Living a life of godly fear, humbly accepting the path of salvation God has prepared for us, God asks us not to win the battle (for indeed He has won the battle over sin and death), but He does ask that we take part in it, to choose to allow Him to come in to our lives by ever struggling to make a place for Him. This is the Orthodox life of continual repentance, not a life of "assured faith," but of a faith unseen, yet living.
Tell the people: although I have died, I am still alive.
- Saint John Maximovitch of San Francisco
This past year the Synod of Bishops resolved to glorify Archbishop John of San Francisco (†1966). In the life of this newly-glorified, incorrupt saint we find a triumphant response to the deceit of the devil to the distortions of Protestantism that have so infected Western society by implanting in it beguiling notions of love, peace, and unity that seem nice and good and Christian, yet serve to turn us away from the spiritual life of repentance, and blind us to how we are to realistically attain the true victory over death and eternal life in Christ.
Archbishop John was a monastic, a member of that angelic life Martin Luther denigrated and dismissed as gloomy and a rank impossibibility for man to attain. Let us ask Martin Luther (if we could): where is the gloom of a man whose beautiful feet graced three continents where he erected mag nificent temples in which hymns to the glory of God could be chanted? Where is the gloom of a man who built schools and orphanages for those in need, who constantly hastened to the cries of those in hospital beds, often knowing clairvoyantly when one was about to die and arriving in time to give them Holy Communion? Where is the gloom of a man who shep herded his exiled flock of spiritual children literally around the globe until they found safe havens? And finally let us ask, from where was the source, the power of Vladyka John's joyful outpourings of philanthropic love, of truthful theological writings, of missionary endeavor? His goodness did not rely on organized charities or modern commentaries or theological dia logues, but was derived from godly fear, from keeping what is God's in honor, from piously, simply living the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, and trusting in God's mercy. Or better yet, let us not obscure the message with many words - it was derived from living the ascetical way of life! He exhausted his body with little sleep and constant attention to the needs of others, he fasted strictly, and above all he attended divine services faithfully every day, crowned by the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the reception of Holy Communion. His mind and thoughts were filled not with empty, secular knowledge, but "never ceasing to nourish thy soul with the Lives of Saints, thou didst carefully study their every thought, word and action, thereby perceiving their otherworldly mind and spirit and acquiring these for thyself" (III Ode, Canon to Saint John of San Francisco).
We have no excuse that Orthodox Christianity is outdated, unattain able, or must conform to the laxity and impiety of modern man. God does not act lightly, the revelation of Vladyka John's incorrupt relics compel us to ponder on his way of life. Saint John walked the same streets we. He was confronted with the same temptations and the same currents of thought that we are faced with, but he willed himself to constantly listen to that better voice. And Archbishop John continues to affirm the validity of true Orthodox faith, for as the following account shows, even after his death, he is still alive:
Nine months before her death, Mom converted to Orthodoxy, saying, "I don't know why I didn't do this years ago." From the moment that she first began to receive the Life-Giving Sacraments - especially Holy Communion - something began to happen, to change, to grow within her, and God began His "work" on her. Her sufferings now took on a special meaning: she was being refined and purified and made ready for the separation of her soul from her body and the ensuing encounter with the judgment of the Living God. This could not have happened without her terrible and, at times, frightening illness.
During her last six months she never once complained or expressed frustration about what was happening. She accepted everything tranquilly as God's will - something she had rarely been able to do when she was healthy and something of a complainer. In this way, her entire, long, dying process took on a meaning it would not have otherwise had. While she had less and less "quality" in terms of biological life, her soul awakened from its slumber and began to shine like gold.
About ten days before she died, Mom unexpectedly regained the power of speech for just a few hours and urgently told us how "a little, bearded old priest" had been appearing to her regularly. Unbeknownst to her, we had been praying to Blessed Archbishop John to take her with him to heaven. When she told us about this, we knew that he had heard our prayer, had come to her bedside, and was quietly waiting for her.16
Following Archbishop John's example we will not fear the life to come [or unreasonably not fear the life to come by simply denying it], nor deceive ourselves about how we are to attain it. We will understand that we can participate in that joyous life in Christ now, and we will use the time given to us by the Lord wisely in order to have that life within us throughout eternity. Through Saint John's prayers may our approach be not that of the prideful, enraptured ones who sever their links with Tradition and neglect the struggle, yet deludedly cry out "I am saved"; but rather that of the Good Thief who, on the Cross, eyes fixed on Christ, humbly cried out, "Lord, remember me in Thy Kingdom." Only in partaking in this life of faithful obedience to Christ and His sacramental Church, of keeping what is God's in honor through a true confession of Him, can one have a good hope, a realistic hope of meeting the Lord and hearing His divine voice call out on that Final Day the words of eternal salvation: This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.
1) Mastrantonis, Fr. George, Augsburg and Constantinople, Brooldine, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982, p.223
2) Ibid., p.285.
3) Pentecost, J. Lwight. Thing' to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI: Academia Press, 1958, p.11
4) Lindsey, Hal. The Rapture, New York: Bantam Books, 1985, p.198
5) Maximovitch (Shanghai and San Francisco), Saint John. Man of God, Redding, CA: Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 1994, p. IS7. 6) Ibid., p. 168.
7) Chrysostom, Saint John. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XIV: St. Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, and Hebreros, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969, p.164.
8) Man of God, op. cit., pp. 191, 193.
9) see Augsburg and Constantinople, p.126.
10) Woodward, Kenneth L., "Angels: Hark! America's Latest Search for Spiritual Meaning Has A Halo Effect," Newsweek, December 27, 1993, p.57.
11) Ibid., p. 57.
12) Kosmin, Barry A. and Lachman, Seymour P. One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, New York: Harmony Books, 1993, p.282.
13) Andreyev, Ivan. Russia's Catacomb Saints: Lives of the Ne"" Martyrs, Flatina, CA, St. Heernan of Alaska Brotherhood, 1982, p.28.
14) Melnick, Anne, Pittsburgh Press, April 5, 1992.
15) Andreyev, op. cit., pp.266-267.
16) Young, Fr. Alexey, "Redeeming the Time: Dying and the Orthodox Christian," Orthodox America, February, 1994, p.6.
Reprinted From "Orthodox Life" Vol 45. No. 2 March - April 1995