ARMAGEDDON? REFLECTIONS ON THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
(Rev. 16, 16)
However, there have been many prefigurations of apocalyptic events in history, especially in the last century. Both World Wars were such. Hiroshima was such. The war in Vietnam was such. So was the first Gulf War. So was the terrorist destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001. ‘The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her…cried when they saw the smoke of her burning…Alas, alas, that great city…for in one hour she is made desolate’ (Rev. 18, 15-19). So also the invasion of Iraq, the Babylon of old, was a prefiguration of the Apocalypse. Such apocalyptic prefigurations are in fact rehearsals for the real thing, the great Apocalypse. All the earthquakes, floods, fires and volcanic eruptions, of which we so often hear, belong to this same category. And of course, with the modern media, we know far more of these than we knew before.
Similarly, Antichrist has also had many apocalyptic forerunners: Nero, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Peter ‘the Great’, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot. Perhaps we will in our own lifetimes see yet more forerunners, bloody tyrants who are about to appear (or perhaps who already have appeared) on the world stage. After all, many such bloody tyrants were elected according to the modern fashion of ‘democracy’. Hitler was one. Mussolini too was very popular. Similarly, the regimes in Cuba, Communist Vietnam, Iran and Islamist Afghanistan, if not supported by a majority, have or had widespread support, not to mention the present democratically elected governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.
In reality, democracy only suits the Western Powers when it is pro-Western. The above regimes were or are anathema to the US and other Western governments. The latter only support governments which support the West. It seems that for them there are good democrats and bad democrats, that is, pro-Western democrats and anti-Western democrats. For instance, some fifteen years ago, at French and American insistence, Algeria held democratic elections. The result was an Islamist government. The Western Powers quickly backtracked and helped an anti-democratic military junta take over. A civil war followed and by the year 2000 over 100,000 were dead. Democracy is here irrelevant, as we have seen in other Western support for dictatorships in South and Central America, Africa, Spain under Franco, Portugal under Salazar, Greece under the junta, South Africa under apartheid, Iraq under Hussein, the corrupt Ukraine under Yushchenko and umpteen other ex-Soviet Republics, which have divided, oppressed or even massacred their own peoples.
Nevertheless, could the present war in the Middle East not be the beginning of the end of the world? Furious crowds in the Lebanon, desperate and dispossessed, cry: ‘Israel (= the soldier of God) – the enemy of God’. The whole Arab and Muslim world is seething, seeing the pitiful charred corpses of Lebanese women and children and the apocalyptic destruction in the Lebanon, reckoned at $6 billion at present. The recent actions of the Jewish State have made Jewish people, sixty years ago the most pitied in the world, the most hated people in the world. And, in terms of hatred, after them come the Americans and the British, led by Mr Blair who long ago appears to have lost all contact with reality.
As a result of the war, at a reported cost of $250 million a day, Israel (and therefore the USA) is going bankrupt. And the once pro-American Lebanon has turned anti-American and pro-Iranian. Fanatical Iranians are now seen by many as the only defenders of the Muslim world. Notably, it is said that after 22 August, Iran is preparing to take revenge for the barbaric Israeli slaughter in the Lebanon. Perhaps the Iranians will stop selling their oil to the Western world and bring economic chaos. Or else there is the possibility of Iranian aeroplanes crashing into specific strategic targets on suicide missions in Israel - or in Western countries - and slaughtering tens of thousands. God forbid. But everything is possible: both bloodshed on a gigantic scale and also repentance. For it is only repentance that can put off the coming of Antichrist and the end of the world.
Let us be clear. The end of the world may come very soon, but it may also be thousands of years away. Nobody knows and anybody who says that he knows is foolish. Indeed, as long as there is war in the Middle East, the end will not come. There must be peace first. Antichrist has to reconcile those who now seem irreconcilable – Muslim and Jew. For my own part, I will go on living, preparing for my own end, my death, which is certain to come relatively soon and also far more likely to come before the end of the world. But can we at least say something about how the end of the world will come?
I recall a few decades ago the late Fr Sophrony (Sakharov) saying that with nuclear weapons, we now knew how the end of the world would come. With all respect to him, he may have been wrong. In those days of the Cold War, people lived with the threat of imminent nuclear holocaust. Since Chernobyl in 1986 we have seen things differently. Chernobyl is still killing thousands of leukaemia in France and other affected European countries. And as you know, Chernobyl means ‘Wormwood’ (Rev. 8, 11). It too is an apocalyptic prefiguration, ‘many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter’, that is, made undrinkable, at the end of the world. There could be more Chernobyls. Today, as oil resources run out (‘see thou hurt not the oil’ - Rev. 6, 6), governments are turning back to nuclear power.
Others, as in Brazil, are turning to biofuel, made from sugar cane. Now Indonesia is burning its rain forests also, in an attempt to find land to plant sugar cane and so fuel itself. This creates terrible pollution in south-east Asia, adding to global warming. Thirty years ago, nobody had heard of this global warming. Of course, nobody knows the extent to which it is caused by human activity and nobody knows how fast it will go. The apocalyptic predictions of some doomsayers may be nonsense. On the other hand, in France this year, many sea-creatures died because the water was too hot. There comes to mind words of the Book of Revelation: ‘And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died’ (Rev. 8, 9). And later: ‘And every living soul died in the sea’ (Rev. 16, 3).
In the south of Europe, whole forests are destroyed every summer by fires. One thinks of the Book of Revelation: ‘And the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up’ (Rev. 8, 7). Rivers are regularly running dry. Again we are reminded of the words of Revelation about how the water of ‘the great River Euphrates’ was dried up (16, 12). And it is not only in Western Europe. In the former Soviet Union, through criminal Soviet incompetence, the Aral Sea, once bigger than Belgium, has all but dried up, reduced to a salty and lifeless pool. In the USA the Rio Grande, ‘the Great River’ has been reduced to a trickle through ruthless exploitation. In Chad and northern China deserts advance rapidly. We can foresee a time when the population of southern Europe may shift north, doing the opposite of what it has recently been doing, moving south. It is now too hot for many in the south of Europe. One thinks of the Book of Revelation: ‘And the fourth angel poured out his vial on the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat’ (Rev. 16, 8-9).
But I sense that I am veering towards pessimism. There is still hope. Some, for instance, hope that Roman Catholicism will be able to stand up to contemporary Western decadence. I would like to think so, but it must be said that its Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s was largely responsible for the final desacralization of the West. It may be too late to find resistance here. Looking back at that Council, one cannot help thinking that a large number of Roman Catholic bishops who attended it had already lost their faith. That loss of faith was in fact the fruit of the Roman Catholic and general Western refusal to heed the words of the Mother of God at Fatima in Portugal in 1917. Then the West was told to repent, otherwise the Holy Father, Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow, would have much to suffer. The West did not heed, did not repent for its sins against Holy Orthodoxy, our Holy Father Tikhon reposed in agony, perhaps poisoned, and so the Western world brought on itself chastisement throughout the twentieth century.
True, the last Pope, John Paul II, acted as a brake on the decadence of contemporary Catholicism. But he had a fatal flaw; as a Pole of his generation, he could not understand the importance of Russian Orthodoxy. Thus, he referred to Catholicism and Orthodoxy as ‘the two lungs of Europe’ This was and is nonsense. The Church cannot be two lungs; the Church is the Body of Christ, not a pair of organs. Rather it is the Orthodox saints of East and West, through whom we breathe, who are the two lungs of Europe.
As regards the present elderly caretaker Pope, he has at last realized that the future of Europe depends on returning to what he calls ‘the Christian roots of Europe’ (i.e. Orthodoxy). This means the fullness of the Russian Orthodox Tradition, the ultimate development of our Christian roots. Only this can now slow the worldwide process of apostasy. After Pope Benedict XVI, I rather fear for the future of Catholicism. To my mind, the only hope for the survival of Roman Catholicism as any sort of living force, is an African Pope who can reverse the decadence of the West. I see no hope in a South American Pope. In South America, political activism, which has little spiritual significance, has gone too far.
But even as regards Russian Orthodoxy, we should be cautious. The revival there is only just beginning. True, according to statistics, 85% of Russian Orthodox are now baptized (a far higher proportion of the population than in Western European countries), 28,000 churches are open, there are 7,000 seminarians at the moment and it is the younger generations who are the most active. This is all the opposite of what is happening in Western Europe. For example, only last week, a huge three-ton cross was transported by helicopter to be set up on the highest hill in the Moscow region. This could not and would not be done around London. No doubt it would be forbidden by those who would consider it ‘offensive to Muslims’, or some such nonsense. Such attitudes merely show that the West has lost its faith. Political correctness is the new puritanism without Christ.
Yes, this situation in Russia is a miracle compared to only a few years ago. Today, the Revolution is being repented for. Today, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation has only 133,000 registered members, but there are 133 million baptized. However, only 3% of these are true practising Orthodox. The rest, for the moment, are only ‘cultural Orthodox’. There is still far to go. I calculate that if Orthodox Russia is to be restored (so far only Russia has been restored), there should be ten times as many churches - 280,000. Then we would be able to talk seriously. God knows, this may happen. In this way, Russian Orthodoxy could at last have a great spiritual influence in China, India and Africa, where billions still await Orthodox baptism, let alone the hundreds of millions in Western Europe and North America. This would put back the Apocalypse. For as long as there are still souls to be saved, the end cannot come.
True, there is a prophecy that Western Europeans will one day sail to St Petersburg to receive baptism (presumably, because by then baptism will be forbidden in Western Europe as against human rights). But all such prophecies are conditional on our repentance. At present, I see no sign of the Western European or North American masses repenting and seeking Orthodox baptism. Many of those who do turn to Orthodoxy appear to choose not the fullness of the authentic Orthodox Tradition, but a spiritually reductionist, provincial, Westernized, intellectualized, ‘reformed’ version of the Orthodox Faith. This is a self-invented semi-Orthodoxy, an Eastern-rite Catholicism, Anglicanism or Protestantism, with pews, organs, clerical collars and all the rest, impoverished in the Tradition, monastic life, liturgy, calendar, art and architecture, dependent on ecumenism and compromise.
We have seen signs of this only recently in England with the foundation of a new Orthodox grouping. The Vicariate of Amphipolis is named after the northern Greek town of Amphipolis, so called because it is the town (polis), surrounded on both (amphi) sides by the River Strymon. Its very name is symbolic of its situation. It is indeed surrounded, isolated, suspended, cutting itself off from the rivers of life, the streams of the Living Tradition of Universal Orthodoxy. Such groupings justify themselves, imagining that Orthodox Russia is anti-Western. This is a myth. Orthodox Russia is not anti-Western, but anti-atheist. It is therefore only too keen to discover the authentic Christian Orthodox roots of Western Europe, read the Lives of its Saints and venerate their icons, pray at liturgies in Western languages and hear choirs singing in them.
Of course, if the West definitively takes the side of atheism, then it will make itself into an enemy of Orthodox Russia. Unfortunately, this is the present trend of the West. The West is in love with liberalism, and there is nothing so intolerant or totalitarian as the Western religion of liberalism, the fruit of the still unrepented for French Revolution. It was that Revolution which brought forth Napoleon, who had himself crowned Emperor by the Pope. The English called him ‘the Devil Incarnate’, and the Russians plainly ‘an Antichrist’. And today, the West is now identifying itself with the fruit of that Revolution, atheism. No wonder that we foresee a time when we Western Orthodox will be forced to take refuge in Russia, as nearly ninety years ago, Russian Orthodox took refuge in the West. With us we too shall take our liturgical books and icons and there set up our churches in exile under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of All Rus.
Nevertheless, I remain an optimist. How can a Christian not be an optimist? We know that whenever the end comes, whether in a decade or in a thousand years from now, Christ will bring it. And then the vain babbling of the words of men will fall silent before the Word of God. For His words will be the final words of Judgement on all human history, the last words and seal of the whole history of the universe.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
27 July/9 August