The author of 1 Enoch, for instance, speaks of a future resurrection of the spirits of the righteous. Others believed in a resurrection of the untransfigured body, and still others looked forward to the transformation of the body. They all moved beyond the Old Testament view of a shadowy existence in Sheol, which cannot be described as “life,” and expected much more after death than the teaching about Sheol would allow.
Physical death was not considered by all of them to be an important factor in their concept of resurrection. According to the Wisdom of Solomon, which was written probably by a Hellenistic Jew in the first century B.C., the souls of the righteous do not really die–they are in the hand of God, and only in the “eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died” (3:1-2). The death of the righteous is conceived as of their ascent to the presence of God, who “tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tired them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them” (3:5-6). The unrighteous, the ungodly, go to their punishment.
There is a variety of views among the ancient rabbis with regard to the final destiny of human beings. Their teachings on this subject cannot be reduced to one unified, common teaching. Nevertheless, all their views differed significantly from what the apostles saw and experienced after the resurrection of Jesus. As Joachim Jeremias writes: “Nowhere in Jewish literature do we find a resurrection to glory as an event of history. Rather resurrection to glory–always and without exception means the dawn of God’s creation. Therefore the disciples must have experienced the appearances of the Risen Lord as an eschatological event, as a drawing of a turning point of the world.”
“Eschatology” is the name given to the understanding by religion of the ultimate destiny of the world and of man, the doctrine of the so-called “last things.” Everyone agrees that the early Church was eschatological par excellance. Her whole faith, her whole life, was shaped by her joyful and confident expectation of Christ’s return in glory, her anticipation of the common resurrection, and the consummation of all things in God. “Come, Lord Jesus: Maranatha!” This is the ultimate expression of her faith and worship in the liturgy, in prayer. This eschatology can be termed “cosmic,” for it is distinct, as such, from the individual or personal one.
To put it differently, and in somewhat over simplified terms, eschatology’s interest lies not in what happens to me when I come to the end of my life and die; rather, it is concerned with what will happen to the entire creation when Christ returns in glory and, according to Saint Paul, “All things shall be subjected unto him, and he himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Liturgy of Death, 120-121)
Spoiler Alert: Grigori Rasputin (d. 1916AD), the Russian self-proclaimed savant and mystic charlatan who predicted his own death and the downfall of the Russian imperial family also predicted that the world would end on 23 August 2013.
While some were relieved that the world didn’t end with the Mayan calendar on 21 December 2012, yet another prophecy of the end time may still loom ahead. Less ballyhooed than the Mayan calender’s end, Rasputin, the Russian rascal, apparently predicted the world would end on August 23, 2013. And while some may be breathing a sigh of relief that the date has past, the Pacific Standard magazine reminds us there may be some confusion with the date since he may have meant August 23 OLD CALENDAR, which corresponds with September 5 on our calendar. Ryan O’Hanlon wrote some days ago in the magazine:
“Today is August 23, 2013, which means that today is also the day that Grigory Rasputin said the world would come to an end. If you doubt Rasputin, here is why you are a fool:
• It is said that, as a 10-year-old, he had the ability to read minds and heal sick animals.
• He cured the son of Czar Nicholas II of hemophilia.
• He said that if he was killed by government officials, then the whole imperial family would be killed by the Russian people.
• He was killed by government officials, then the whole imperial family was killed by the Russian people.
• Russia is currently experiencing what some are calling a “pigeon apocalypse.”
If you believe Rasputin, here is why you are a fool:
• The historical success rate for apocalypse predictions is currently zero percent.
• There is some doubt over the Julian/Gregorian calendar conversion, so he may have actually predicted that September 5, 2013, will be the world’s final day.
So, if you are unsure of whether or not you are currently experiencing the apocalypse, look around. If everything you see is being engulfed in what could accurately be described as an “eternal flame,” the world is ending. Actually, no. If you are unable to perceive anything around you because you, yourself, are being engulfed in what seems like what one would consider an “eternal flame,” then most likely, yes, this is the end of the world. If not, then you have until at least September 5. Have a good weekend.”
Rasputin apparently thought he knew what even Jesus Christ said he didn’t know – when the end of the world would take place (Matthew 24:36). Predictions of apocalyptic conflagrations ending the world garnish attention (at least for 15 minutes) and fervent reactions among certain people. There are other images of the end not to be forgotten. In Revelation 20:13 both Death and Hades will give up all the dead in them as neither Death or Hades are eternal. In Revelations 20:14 Death and Hades themselves are thrown into the lake of fire and destroyed forever.
“Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (St. Paul to the Philippians 3:13-14)
Orthodox Christian vision does not orient us to the past, but to the coming eschaton. We read the Scriptures not so much to learn history, but to orient ourselves to what God is doing and to move toward where God is directing us. The Old Testament is about Christ. The New Testament is about the Kingdom which is to come.
“To return to the first centuries of Christianity in the life of the Church is to reject history. The concern of the Church lies not behind her in the past centuries, but in the present and ahead in the future. The true understanding of tradition consists not in a mechanical repetition of the past, but in the principle of the uninterrupted flow of life and creativity, in the undiminished grace that abides in the Church.”(Nicolas Afanasiev in Tradition Alive, pg. 43)
“Chrysostom would be quick to admit that our present situation in the world must also be interpreted in light of God’s ultimate goal and end for human history. The present must be viewed in light of the end, and premature opinions as to the goodness of providence must be delayed until history itself reaches the conclusion God has set for it. Because on the end of history will finally clarify God’s actions in history, our present interpretive stance must be one of patience and humility. At present we know only a little.”
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In the blog series St. Simeon’s Interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46, we encountered St. Simeon’s effort to reread the Parable of the Last Judgment so that it applied directly to the lives of monks. Below is another comment of St. Simeon on the same Parable and we get another sense of how he applied his interpretation to the parable. In St. Symeon’s comments below Christ is “the light” who is speaking.
“For this reason the light speaks as follows: ‘Wicked servant, from your own mouth I will judge you because, as you say, I came and dwelt in you Who am unapproachable to the orders of angels. You, knowing this, allowed Me to lie buried by the darkness of your evils, just as you yourself say. And, while I was patient for so many years, expecting your repentance and awaiting in addition the doing of My commandments, you did not, even to the end, choose somehow to see Me out, nor did you pity Me Who was choked and cramped within you, nor did you allow Me to find the drachmas which I had lost – I mean you – because I was not allowed to take flame and see you and be seen by you, but was perpetually concealed by the passions which are in you. Therefore, you worker of iniquity, depart from me to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels; because I hungered for your repentance and conversion, and you gave Me no food; I thirsted for your salvation, and you gave Me no drink; I was naked of your deeds of virtue, and you did not clothe Me with them; I existed in the narrow and filthy and dark prison of your heart, and you did not wish to come visit Me and lead Me out to the light; you know Me to be lying in the infirmity of your laziness and inactivity, yet you did not minister to Me by your good works and deeds. So, go away from Me!” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, pgs. 162-163)
Studies show that humans have a tendency toward optimism as they look to the future. And it doesn’t take any studies for us to realize people’s memory of the past is often murky. Tali Sharot in the 6 June 2011 issue of TIME magazine, The Optimism Bias, explores some of these ideas from the basis of human evolution. Sharot asks:
Where did these mistakes in memory come from?
Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer: memories are susceptible to inaccuracies partly because the neural system responsible for remembering episodes from our past might not have evolved for memory alone. Rather, the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future — to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result, memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted.
So in this thinking, memory lapses may actually be part of an evolutionary survival tool. We don’t simply record the past, we re– member it, adding and deleting elements in a reconstructive process that also serves to help us survive and want to survive. We re-create the past to allow us to have hope for the future.
To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind. . . . It is easy to see why cognitive time travel was naturally selected for over the course of evolution. It allows us to plan ahead, to save food and resources for times of scarcity and to endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward. It also lets us forecast how our current behavior may influence future generations. . . . While mental time travel has clear survival advantages, conscious foresight came to humans at an enormous price — the understanding that somewhere in the future, death awaits. Ajit Varki, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego, argues that the awareness of mortality on its own would have led evolution to a dead end. The despair would have interfered with our daily function, bringing the activities needed for survival to a stop. The only way conscious mental time travel could have arisen over the course of evolution is if it emerged together with irrational optimism. Knowledge of death had to emerge side by side with the persistent ability to picture a bright future.
Death is a frightening stumbling block to thinking about the future. Yet even in Genesis where death is a bad consequence of human choices and behavior, the text does not despair about humanity. The text is always pushing toward the future, toward a better time and place which becomes part of the woof and weave of the scriptural fabric. There is exile from a better past, but a hope of a better future. Death is not an obstacle to what God is doing and what He hopes humans will do. God continues to work with His people and the people continue to try to figure out what direction God is leading them. By the time of Christianity, there is total hope in the defeat of death, and the promise of a blessed life with God. The mistakes and sins of the past will not prevent the better future from materializing.
While humans seem to have developed an unrealistic optimism about the future, some suffer from depression. Mild depression, which can be debilitating to anyone person, can serve a purpose within the human community: it can help us be more realistic about the future.
While healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased: they expect things to be worse than they end up being. People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is.
This may explain why some people with mild forms of depression are often viewed as being pessimistic by others (those unduly influenced by an unrealistic optimism!), while these people often see themselves as not being negatively pessimistic, but rather as being realists. They are clairvoyant in a way that the unrealistic optimist does not like.
A final point that caught my attention in the article: when subjects in a study were primed with words that would make them think they would do poorly on a test, “the brain…did not show signs of surprise or conflict when it made an error. A brain that doesn’t expect good results lacks a signal telling it, “Take notice — wrong answer!” These brains will fail to learn from their mistakes and are less likely to improve over time.” Those in the study who were primed with positive reinforcement had activity in the parts of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) that are associated with reflection and correction. The brain “remembered” the mistake and attempted to use that information to help deal with the future. The brain thus generates its own optimism – it is possible to learn from mistakes.
The book was written at a time when the establishment of atheistic communism in Russia seemed permanent. Yet Zernov felt events showed communism could not defeat the Orthodox Church, and so the Orthodox Church alone stood as a hope for all Christians against humanistic secularism, materialism and atheism.
The best part of the book to me was the final chapter, “The Future of Christian Civilization.” Zernov portrays Christianity as a “free theocracy,” but humanly speaking the Christians began to fear the responsibility that came with their God-given freedom and so they turned to the state to accomplish the tasks they feared they could not accomplish. In so doing, they gave up their freedom. Zernov feels the reality of Christian life is we each are called by Christ to walk on water as Peter did – but as Peter’s faith failed, so too that of all Christians who could not bring themselves to trust in God and so turned to the state to help them live in this world. Faith melted into fear: not truly willing to rely on God, the masses turned to the state to be their god. I want to quote extensively from this chapter:
“The bulk of Christians preferred to entrust their safety to the protection of a well-constructed boat rather than risk other less usual ways of crossing the sea of life. Thus the Church was gradually transformed and rebuilt on the pattern familiar to the majority of its members. They shaped it in conformity with the universal organization of Imperial Rome…”
“The Church was not called to govern the world, but to transform it from within…”
“Besides a Church shaped like an Empire, the Christians produced Churches organized like city republics, private associations and clubs.”
“The Christians … interpreted salvation as the release of the soul form the burden and responsibility of the earthly struggle.”
“…the Christians have made strenuous efforts to convince the unbelieving world that their main concern is moral improvement and that there is nothing unreasonable and extravagant in their teaching, nothing that is not already contained in the ideals of enlightened humanism.”
“… mankind… needs a cure for sin and not an edifying discourse on the advantages of decent behavior and better education. A Church which can only offer social service is superfluous in the modern world where the State with the greatest efficiency and power can tackle the question of popular instruction and the raising of the economic standard of living.”
“…the whole-hearted belief of the former skeptics and agnostics in the most extravagant promises made by the totalitarian State to establish here on earth the millennium of righteousness, prosperity and freedom. Those who have discarded the Church preaching of the redemption of the world from sin have eagerly accepted the same message when it has been presented to them under the banners of anti-Christian secularism.”
“The Russian writers were certain that … the victory of Christianity could be achieved neither by compromise nor by further withdrawal, but only by bold proclamation of the full Christian truth accompanied by the liberation of the Church from all vestiges of its long association with State, and its inevitable reliance upon compulsion.”
“Before Christianity human beings were often terrified by Nature … The faith in the Incarnation liberated men from this bondage, and opened wide the door to the knowledge of physical laws, and eventually helped mankind to establish control over Nature. But the Church, because it lost sight of its true purpose, failed to teach men the sacramental meaning of science and technical progress. Instead of treating them as the extension of the Incarnation, and as the proof that God has committed to men the task of making this earth sinless and perfect, the members of the Church surrendered these powerful weapons to the charge of secularized forces, and, in the hands of unscrupulous leaders, they became, not means of salvation, but instruments for a base and greedy exploitation of men, animals and plants, and of all physical existence.”
“Fear makes people cruel; the modern man is no longer terrified of Nature, but he is far from being really at home on the earth. He is frightened of life, of himself, of others, and therefore he tortures Nature and destroys his fellow creatures.”
“From the point of view of an atheist, worship of a non-existent god is the most useless of all human activities, and therefore it is tolerated by a godless State, but from a Christian point of view it is the most vital function of man, and, because the worship of the Russian Church is centered round the Eucharist, this divinely-appointed medicine for sin and corruption, its continuous performance has had far-reaching and beneficial consequences for Russian Christians.”
“The atheists in Russia have been defeated because they met a force which is stronger than man.”
Kalaitzidis contends that Patristic Theology emerged by the Patristic theologians engaging their culture – Hellenism. If we acknowledge that we now live in a different culture – post-patristic and post-hellenic – then is simply parroting the Fathers sufficient for engaging our culture? If the purpose of theology is not “to preserve a certain era, a certain culture, a certain language” but rather “to serve the truth of the Gospel and the people of God in every time, in every space” then Orthodoxy must incarnate its theology today in response to the culture and time we live in. This is a very active engagement with culture, not avoiding culture by satisfying ourselves with parroting Patristic writers.
“After all, God’s revelation has always taken place within creation and history, not in some un-historical, timeless universe unrelated to the world. As the late Greek theologian Panagiotis Nellas, founder of the well-known theological journal Synaxis, prophetically noted twenty-five years ago: ‘… it is not possible today to have a true Revelation of God without employing as the material for that revelation today’s social, cultural, scientific and other realities. It is impossible for God to motivate man unless He comes into contact with his particular, historical flesh; it is not possible for Him to save man, unless He transfigures his life.”
“Thus, the Church and its theology cannot move forward in the world while ignoring or devaluing the world that surrounds them, just because this world is not ‘Christian,’ or because it is not as they would like it or the sort of world that would suit them. Similarly, the Church and its theology cannot motivate the people of today, the people of modernity and late modernity, so long as the modern world continues to be scorned and disparaged by the Church, and ignored as revelatory material and flesh to be assumed.”
“…today the wind of traditionalism and fundamentalism is once again blowing violently through the life and theology of the Church. Eschatology is an active and demanding expectation of the coming Kingdom of God, the new world which we await; as such, it feeds into a dynamic commitment to the present, an affirmation and openness toward the future of the Kingdom in which the fullness and identity of the Church is to be found. In other words, the Church does not derive its substance principally from what it is, but rather from what it will become in the future, in the eschatological time which, since the Resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, has already begun to illuminate and influence the present and history.”
“In the light of eschatology, even the tradition of the Church itself acquires a new meaning and a different dimension — an optimistic and hopeful perspective. In this perspective, Tradition is not identified with habits, customs, traditions or ideas or in general with historical inertia and stagnation, but with a person, Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory who is coming. As Saint Cyprian of Carthage reminds us, “The Lord said: I am the Truth. He did not say: I am the custom.” Tradition, in other words, does not refer chiefly to the past; or to put it differently, it is not bound by the patterns of the past, by events that have already happened. Strange as it may sound, in the authentic ecclesial perspective, tradition is orientated toward the future. It comes principally and primarily from the future Kingdom of God, from the One who is coming, from what has yet to be fully revealed and made manifest, from God’s love and the plan He is preparing for us, for the salvation of the world and man. So the eschatological understanding of tradition appears as the counterpart to the Pauline definition of faith: ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (Heb. 11:1. cf. Heb. ch. 11; Rom. 8:24), or as analogous to the eschatological or ‘future’ memory as this is experienced in the Anaphora Prayer at the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom: ‘Remembering therefore this saving commandment and all that has been brought about for our sake: the Cross, the Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the ascent into heaven, the sitting at the right hand and the glorious Second Coming.’ And this is because, according to the scholia on the Areopagitic writings attributed to St Maximus the Confessor (but whom scholarship now identifies as John of Scythopolis), the entire Divine Liturgy represents not some eternal heavenly archetypes or some reality in the realm of ideas, but the eschatological Kingdom which is to come, a reality of the future where the truth of things and symbols is located.”
“Therefore, just as it is the last things that give being to the first things, and eschatology to protology, so it is the Kingdom of God —the fullness of life and of truth which will come to completion and be fully revealed at the eschaton— that defines and gives meaning to the tradition of the Church. The future is therefore the cause and not the effect of the past, since, according to Metropolitan John Zizioulas, the reason for which the world came into being is the eschatological Christ as the union of created and uncreated in the eschatological times.”
“Or, to recall the apt words of the late Greek theologian Nikos Nissiotis: so the Tradition of Orthodoxy […] is not history but witness; it is not the completed and fulfilled event of past centuries, but the summons to fulfil it in the future […] Tradition as it has been understood from the very Beginning is the ‘new’, that which erupts into the world in order to make all things new once and for all in Christ, and then continuously in the Holy Spirit through the Church.”
“Looked at from this angle, then, Tradition is not the letter which kills, a nostalgic repetition or uncritical acceptance or continuation of the past, but a creative continuity in the Holy Spirit and an openness to the future, to the new world of the Kingdom of God which we await.”
“The future is not merely something exacted or awaited – it is something created … And genuine historical synthesis lies not in interpreting the past, but in creatively fulfilling the future.” (Fr. George Florovosky)
Genesis 7:11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
With almost scientific precision and disinterested objectivity we are told exactly to the day when the flood began. For the modern reader this lends historical accuracy to the story. The ancients were often interested in numerology, and the numbers may have symbolic value lost on us. But using the calendar historians believe was in effect when the story was written,after Noah’s building the ark for 100 years, the flood begins on a Thursday. It will end according to this version of the flood story on a Monday.
“..the great deep burst forth… and rain fell…” After 100 years of building and preparing the ark according to the P-Source, the flood seems to almost suddenly and unexpectedly burst forth. Our Lord Jesus himself interprets the advent of the flood as a humanly unanticipated and completely unexpected judgment being visited upon the world: “Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” … For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of man be in his day. … As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all’” (Luke 17:20-27). Christ uses the Genesis story of the flood to warn that with an equally unexpected force the Kingdom of God will suddenly appear. We won’t have to go looking in the Holy Land or Jerusalem, for the coming of the Lord will be a cosmic event; the news of it will not spread slowly but rather the world will be instantly transfigured by its happening – which is what happened to the world when the flood burst forth upon it. And in the end of the world, those chosen to be saved by God will be in the ark of salvation – the Church where they will ride out the final storm. One hundred years of warning and preparation are not enough alarm and time for the earth to be ready for God’s judgment. “When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). This is the lesson we are to learn from the flood, and we are to learn it well.
One interesting aspect of the flood is that while God certainly promises to unleash the cataclysm, His role in this chapter is mostly that of the sustainer and protector of Noah and all aboard the ark. The storm that rages is described in mostly naturalistic terms with little reference to God’s own involvement – the deep bursts forth, the rain fell, the windows of heaven were opened but none of these things are directly attributed to God. The text is amazingly careful to avoid saying God did these events that brought about the destruction of the world. God promised the destruction, but then the cataclysm seems to “just happen.” God as Creator, Sustainer and Protector of life is very much emphasized in the story rather than God as destroyer. Noah and his family and the animals on the ark are central to what is happening – they are being saved by God’s providential warning and grace. All that really is being destroyed is wickedness. The story carefully avoids any idea that God is a wicked, mean, petty, vengeful, capricious, cranky, purposeless or immoral destroyer. God’s goal is not to destroy, but to rid the world of evil. God is not evil, He is destroyer of evil. God is not destroying life; He is preserving life on the ark and only destroying wickedness. And all of this comes out of God’s heart which is full of grief and sorrow because of the wickedness of the world. The story is not emphasizing God as angry judge, but one who is brought to grief by evil, and destroys the evil to preserve and save that which is good in His creation. The flood itself is not life-giving, rather it is purifying. The flood is not enriching the soil so that it can be more productive, it is cleansing the earth of evil. The story upholds God as holy, Creator and Savior.