Signs of the Times

Pantocrator

The gospel reading established for the Saturday before the Sunday of the Last Judgment (the final pre-Lenten Sunday in the Orthodox Church) is an amalgam of verses which come from chapter 21 of St. Luke’s gospel. The subject matter of these verses addresses the last days and Christ’s second coming. I break these verses into three sections and offer a commentary on them.

 

LUKE 21: 7 – 9

And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” And he said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified; for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.

Our Lord states there will be false Christs that present themselves to the faithful to deceive and to gather to themselves followers to support their egos and pride. We are all aware of the “Moonies”, the Branch Davidians, and the now long dead “disciples” of Jim Jones. These and other frauds all met their ends, and any survivors may still cling to their lies. But, we are to know better. In many places within the Divine Liturgy, and even in greetings among Orthodox Christians, we say, “Christ is in our midst!” The reply to this is, “He is, and ever shall be!” By this declaration we inform ourselves that Christ is found among us in the Divine Liturgy, in the services of the Church, in the reading of the Scriptures, our prayers, and our hymns — and especially our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. We know that Christ is found in the Church until the day of his second and glorious coming!

LUKE 21: 25 – 27

“And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of nations in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and its waves, men fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

These words of our Lord speak of political and social turmoil, and they prefigure the words from St. John’s Apocalypse. Signs in the sun, moon, and stars speak of the disruption of the standing of angelic Powers and Principalities of the heavens and the nations — there is a shift toward chaos and upheaval. The “sea and its waves” refer to masses of humanity reacting in distress, and even violence, to the political and social troubles of the day.
We have a tendency to see our days as the most pivotal and important — all else pales in comparison to our present experiences and circumstances. However important these times of the early twentieth century may be, we are not the only generation that has lived through calamity, evil and distress. Think of the Black Death that swept through so many places in Europe and Asia over so many centuries. One in three died from both bubonic and (the more lethal) pneumonic plagues. Death and despair were ever present, and this Plague brought and end to the european feudal system. Think of the horrors of World War I, the brutal chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution, the terrors brought about by Hitler and Stalin, and the global violence of World War II. Our days and their troubles may, or may not, lead to the Parousia, the second coming of Christ. In any case we are to heed Jesus’ words: “…Now when these things begin to happen, look up and raise your heads, because you deliverance is drawing near” (Luke 21: 28).

LUKE 21: 33 – 36

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Be on your guard lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of everyday life, and the day come upon you suddenly as a snare; for it will come upon all who inhabit the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Given its place in the liturgical cycle of the Orthodox Church, we find ourselves on the threshold of Great Lent. We are about to reenter its disciplines, prayers, and actions. Yet, these disciplines are to have a place in every day of our lives (as are the joys of Pascha!). The troubles and trials of these days, when approached with faith, watchfulness, prayer, and thanksgiving, can be used to transform us if we encounter them in this manner. By so doing, no matter what these days bring to us, Christ will come to us and manifest his presence in us more fully and completely. Our relational union will be made more sound and whole, and Christ will be our destiny!

The following is a corresponding sermon:

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus



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