61. Orthodoxy and the Destiny of Russia
(Matt. 24, 14)
Orthodox Fathers, not least among them Blessed John (Maximovich), have interpreted the above verse in the following way: before the end of the world, Orthodoxy has to be preached to all the peoples of the Earth. The fact that the Gospel has been translated, mainly through the efforts of Protestant missionary societies, into over a thousand tongues is not enough. The fact that many peoples and tribes in the Americas and Africa have heard of the Gospel, mostly through the efforts of Roman Catholic colonists and administrators, is not enough. No, - the peoples of the world must understand the Gospel in spirit and truth, in other words, in the light of the fullness of the Christian Faith, in the light of Orthodoxy.
Even a hundred years ago, many, even Orthodox, would perhaps have doubted the validity of this interpretation. It must be added that few at that time were thinking that the end of the world might come soon. Many still naively bathed in the optimism and material 'progress' of the nineteenth century. Moreover, much of the Orthodox world seemed too paralysed to think of preaching to Peruvians or Papuans, to West Indians or West Africans - or for that matter to West Europeans. Balkan and Arab Orthodox were at that time still confronted with the dying Ottoman Empire and Islam. True, the Russian Empire had its missions in China, Japan and North America - but most of the world seemed 'immune' to Orthodox Christianity. The Russian Revolution changed all that. It is difficult today to think of a single country where there are not at least a few native Orthodox. I have met both Papuan and Peruvian Orthodox, both West Indian and West African Orthodox, come to Orthodoxy through acquaintance with the Russian emigration or missionaries from Greek-speaking Churches. Having said this, however, it is also clear that billions of people do not know the fullness of Christianity, Orthodoxy. And many of those, ironically, are in countries like Russia, formerly Orthodox, but only now painfully returning to the Faith of their forebears, with the baptism of millions in the last decade.
There are many who are now 'searching the Scriptures' and praying over the prophecies of the Saints, inspired from the Bible and spiritual revelations, such as the one above. Some of these prophecies are dark and sobering. According to the pre-revolutionary Russian writer, S. A. Nilus in his work On the Bank of the River of God, St Seraphim of Sarov predicted thus: 'At that time Russian bishops will become so ungodly that their impiety will exceed that of the Greek bishops who lived in the reign of Theodosius the Younger. They will not even believe in the most important dogma of the Christian Faith the Resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection'. 1 Other saints spoke darkly of an 'Eighth cumenical Council': 'The last times are approaching. Soon there will be an cumenical Council which will be called 'holy'. But it will be that very 'eighth council which will be a synagogue of the godless'. All faiths will be united into one during it. Then all fasts will be abolished, monasticism will be completely destroyed, bishops will be married. The new calendar will be introduced'. 2 St Nectarius of Optina altogether denied the possibility of a genuine Eighth Council - 'Only individuals will be united to our Church'. 3 However, lest we should grow disheartened, let us turn to another prophecy, most ancient but only recently discovered, which gives us hope in an ever-darkening world.
These are the little-known words of the Ever-Memorable Seraphim, Archbishop of Chicago and Detroit, writing in 1959 in The Destinies of Russia:
"Recently during my first pilgrimage to Palestine, the Lord made me, a sinner, worthy to discover new and hitherto unknown prophecies which cast new light on the destiny of Russia. These prophecies were revealed 'by chance' to the learned Russian monk Fr Antony of St Sabbas monastery, near Jerusalem. He discovered them in ancient Greek manuscripts. They are written by unknown Fathers of the eighth and ninth centuries i.e. contemporaries of St John Damascene, and these prophecies are couched in the following terms:
These prophecies are set forth in various manuscripts with variants, but basically they all agree.
I would remind readers that these prophecies were found in authentic Greek manuscripts of the eighth and ninth centuries when nobody had ever heard of Russia as a State and the Russian plains were settled by more or less savage, warring Slavic tribes and other peoples.
What more can I add? I believe that these prophecies relate to the Russian people and that it is the third chosen people. I believe that these astonishing prophecies disclose the coming destiny of the Russian people and that all will come to pass as was foretold over a thousand years ago."
It is perhaps difficult to add to the words of Archbishop Seraphim, who revealed the contents of these manuscripts to the Russian world 35 years ago. True, in the light of recent events in Russia and the collapse of the Soviet Empire, these prophecies may seem less unlikely to doubting human reason. But for them to come true a number of events would still have to occur inside Russia:
On this basis of a return to Orthodoxy one could hope for unity between this renewed and canonical Patriarchal Church and the parishes of the Russian emigration, 'that part of the people providentially sent ahead into the diaspora, who will create centres of Orthodoxy - churches of God, all over the world'. And then would begin the final mission of the Body of Christ - 'that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem' (Luke 24, 47).
However, should our hopes be raised too high, we must remember in all sobriety that for any of this to happen, there must first be collective repentance. Repentance in Russia, which like Pushkin, its greatest writer, is either to duel with death or else to return to its sources; Russia where today crime, vice, corruption and abortion hold sway. But repentance also among ourselves, for we are so steeped in sin that we have not through personal witness and mission been able to bring more than a few to the light of Orthodoxy, we who were 'providentially sent ahead'. The task of repentance must begin with ourselves and our daily struggle 'to quench not the Spirit'. Lord, give us strength.
1 This is quoted at length in a new Russian book which gathers many quotations from sources of varying authority, regarding the end of the world. See Russia Before the Second Coming, compiled by Sergei Fomin, Trinity-Sergius Lavra, 1993. 100,000 copies of the book, which relies heavily on quotations from the righteous of the Russian diaspora, have so far been printed.
2 Hieroschemamonk Kushka (Velichko), 1875-1964, monk of the Patriarchal Church in Russia. Printed in The Orthodox Word, 1991, No. 158, pp. 138-141.
3 Fomin, p. 286.
4 This recalls the words of Blessed John at the 1938 Church Council in Belgrade: 'In chastising the Russian people the Lord has made of them preachers of Orthodoxy all over the world. The Russian diaspora has made Orthodoxy known to the ends of the Earth Russians in exile have been granted the mission to shine forth the light of Orthodoxy all over the world '
See Martyrs, Confessors and Pious Ascetics of the Russian Orthodox
Church of the 20th century, compiled by Hieromonk Damaskin Orlovsky,
Book I, Tver, 1992. (100,000 copies printed). A work of variable quality,
with many unexplained gaps - but nevertheless it has been published, which
would have been impossible just a few years ago.
More details of the book "Orthodox Christianity and the English Tradition" and where to buy it, can be found on
The English Orthodox Trust page of this site.