The following is a sample chapter from the book Ultimate Things: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on the End Times, by D.E. Englemen. Although Orthodoxy does not have an official and dogmatic position on the later times, this book provides very useful information from the Holy Fathers and Scripture.
The Beginning of the Last Days
“Who places earthly kings on their thrones? He who alone sits on the throne of fire from eternity, and alone, in the true sense, rules over all creation. Authority, power, courage, and wisdom is given the Czar from the Lord to govern his subjects.”
—Saint John of Kronstadt
The prospect of Satan’s thousand-year bondage eventually ending, even though for a short while, has worried people since before it began. It has been an ominous cloud on the horizon which has loomed larger and blacker with each passing century. Though the event was distant for them, the Bible’s Prophets and Apostles described it in the direst terms: “That day is a day of wrath . . . a day of darkness and gloominess” (Zephaniah 1:15); “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1); “in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1).
The Beginning of the Last Days
“The last days”—this one biblical phrase conjures up frightful images, and anxious people have predicted the “end of the world” throughout history. Although Christ said that the actual moment of His Return is a secret known only to God, the Holy Scriptures do offer specific guidance as to when the end times are to begin.
The Bible teaches that God assigned angels the task of binding Satan at the beginning of his thousand years in the bottomless pit: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:1, 2). Yet no angel is charged with keeping the serpent bound!
The Withholding One
Saint Paul revealed that it is actually a man (though one with a divine commission), not an angel, who is to restrain the evil one in his bondage. The Apostle further warned that this human guardian will eventually himself be removed, “taken out of the way,” allowing the evil one to escape his prison: “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped. . . . And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He [or he] who now restrains will do so until He [or he] is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8).
While he is locked up, Satan’s influence is limited and clandestine, “the mystery of lawlessness” [KJV, “iniquity”] . According to Father Seraphim Rose, it is called a mystery “because a mystery is something that is not fully revealed in this world, that comes from another world. The mystery of righteousness is the whole story of how God came from heaven and became incarnate in order to save us; and the mystery of iniquity is the opposite—it’s a mystery coming up from hell that breaks into this world and changes it. This, therefore, is the mystery of lawlessness which is preparing the world for the coming of the ‘man of lawless-ness.’
After the passage of a millennium, the withholding one is to be forcibly removed. Then Satan will be loosed for a “little while,” as Saint John says in Revelation 20. This catastrophic event can be said to mark conclusively the beginning of the end, which will culminate with our Lord’s Return and the Last Judgment.
Some have speculated that he who restrains” is the Holy Spirit or the Church. But speaking of the Holy Spirit the Lord says, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16). And He further promises, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). These passages testify that neither the Holy Spirit nor the Church, which is His visible expression, can ever be “taken out of the way.” Blessed Augustine also states, “There shall be a Church in this world even when the devil shall be loosed, as there has been since the beginning, and shall be always.”2
Who, then, is this guardian, also described as the “seal” which the angel of Revelation 20:3 set upon Satan, “that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished”? The first glimpse of him in manifest history came in the year A.D. 312, as the Roman Emperor Constantine led his troops into battle. Looking up, Constantine saw in the sky a glowing cross emblazoned with the words, “By This Sign, Conquer.”
Though himself a pagan at the time, Constantine ordered that the sign of the cross be inscribed on the shields and banners of his army, which then went on to wage victorious campaigns against great odds. As a result, the emperor accepted Christ. He then moved his capital to Constantinople, the “second Rome,” and created a government and a culture based upon Christian principles.
Birth of the Christian Monarchy
Thus, Constantine became the first Christian monarch, combining the authority of earthly kingship with the piety of Christian faith. “The Christian Emperor was not an ordinary ruler,” wrote Father Michael Azkoul.
“He was vicarius Christi. His coronation was a sacrament, for he was anointed, as was Saul, David and Solomon, to protect and guide God’s People. . . . His authority was not simply political or administrative but spiritual. He was expected to be holy that he might lead his nation into holiness.”3
“[The emperor’s] coronation,” adds Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey, “was not a mere ceremony, but a historical occasion and solemn consecration. It was preceded by fasting and seclusion … [the emperor] reciting aloud the confession of the Orthodox Faith; himself alone on his knees, offering up the prayer of intercession for the Empire.”‘
The Christian monarchy nurtured a Christian society through a hierarchical authority based on divine order. Father Azkoul continues, ‘As Jesus Christ was both God and man, so Orthodox monarchical society likewise possessed two dimensions, one earthly and one heavenly, united as the two Natures in Christ. The Basileus or Tsar, the imperium, Emperor, represented the humanity of Christ and the priesthood or sacerdotium was the analogy of His Divinity. They collaborated in the perfection of Christian society even as ‘the Whole Christ’ works for the salvation of the world.”5
Kings were not incidental—they were essential for a fully Christian society. And emperors were needed for a fully Christian empire. They helped to protect the Church from heresy and schism from within, as well as protecting the empire from domination by non- Christian invaders.
Governments reflect godliness or the lack thereof in their very structure, noted Saint Gregory the Theologian in the fourth century. “For Anarchy is a thing without order; and the Rule of Many is factious, and thus anarchical, and thus disorderly. . . . But Monarchy is that which we hold in honour.”6
The Guardian Revealed
Constantine the Great thus became the first of the guardians who “seal” the mystery of iniquity. Saint John Chrysostom explained in the fifth century that the Christian monarch was in act none other than the restraining one” whom Saint Pau had referred to. `When Roman authority ceases,” Chrysostom wrote,
“the Antichrist will come. And right y so, because as long as people will be afraid of this government, no one will hasten to submit himself to Antichrist; but after it has been destroyed, anarchy will abide, and he will strive to steal all, both human and divine authority.”
Recently canonized Saint John Maximovitch, Bishop of San Francisco, characterized the imperial authority of the Christian monarchy as “lawful.” It was established by God’s Law, and it dispersed that Law to mankind. In the realm of human conduct, the condition of lawfulness versus lawlessness is probably the most visible difference between Christ and Antichrist.
“Before the advent ofAntichrist,” Saint John Maximovitch wrote, “there is already being prepared in the world the possibility of his appearance: The mystery of iniquity doth already work (II Thes. 2:7). The forces preparing for his appearance fight above all against the lawful Imperial authority . . . St. John Chrysostom ex- plains that the ‘withholding one’ is the lawful pious authority: such an authority fights with evil. For this reason the ‘mystery’ already at work in the world, fights with this authority; it desires a lawless authority. When the ‘mystery’ decisively achieves that authority, nothing will any longer hinder the appearance of Antichrist.”‘
In the 1800s Saint Theophan the Recluse anticipated the evil which would attend the eventual loss of the Christian monarchy: “When the monarchy falls,” he said. “…and everywhere nations institute self-government (republics, democracies) then the Antichrist will be able to act freely. It will not be difficult for Satan to prepare voters to renounce Christ as experience taught us during the French Revolution. There will be no one to veto the movement. . . . Thus, when such a social order is instituted everywhere, making it easy for antichristian movements to appear, then the Antichrist will come forth.”
It is also instructive to note that Saint Hippolytus referred to the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s great image as democracies: “The ten toes of the image are equivalent to (so many) democracies.”
Growth of the Holy Church
The unprecedented integration of earthly and spiritual authority in the person of a Christian monarch had profound and far-reaching implications. Once “he who restrains” was a living, human reality, the Holy Church flourished. Christianity exploded into the world, being carried by zealous missionaries west to Ireland, north to Finland and Russia, east to Armenia, south to Africa, and to all points in between.
In the tenth century the Slavic Prince Vladimir accepted Christianity for himself and his people, and patterned the Russian nation after the Byzantine model. His countrymen so embraced the riches of the Faith that their land came to be called “Holy Russia.”
For over a thousand years Constantinople remained the capital of the Eastern Christian world. Emperor succeeded emperor, and although some sullied their personal reputations, the monarchy itself never wavered.
In the fifteenth century, Islamic incursion into the ancient Christian domains grew relentlessly. One by one, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem all fell into Moslem hands. Finally, Constantinople herself was under siege. On May 29, 1453, following a long and hard-fought battle, the city was taken and her last emperor, Constantine XI, died fighting.
Russia Becomes “Third Rome”
But the Christian monarchy was not lost. Being the spiritual heirs of Byzantium, the Russian royalty assumed the guardianship of Orthodox Christianity. Russia became the “third Rome,” and her sovereigns received the anointing of the Holy Spirit to maintain order and peace in the world. The capital of the empire was moved to Moscow, and the emperor adopted for his symbol the Byzantine double-headed eagle and for his title, “tsar” (derived from the Roman “caesar”).
So fundamental was the Christian monarchy for protecting the peoples of the earth during the Church age that history cannot be properly understood apart from it. The secular view of the emperor as a mere political or administrative head ignores his far more important function as spiritual guardian. For this reason Saint Paul urged the ancient Christians to pray “for kings and all who are in authority,” so “that we [the citizens] may lead a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timo¬thy 2:2).
Without this spiritual perspective, the succession of monarchs—especially those who displayed incontestable shortcomings—will appear to be merely a ludicrous confusion of personal and national interests. “Only if we understand the unique place of the Christian Roman Empire in the divine Economy will the history of the Christian Church make any sense,” cautioned Father Michael Azkoul. “Only then will the preeminent role of the emperor or king in that history be understandable.”
The events surrounding the monarchy’s demise have been greatly misunderstood by secular historians. This is predictable, since they omit Christ as operative in the world of men. History is far more than a dateline of occurrences, however.
“History,” wrote Father Seraphim Rose, “. . . is not a chronology of political or economic events; it is what happens in the souls of men, for good or evil, and only then is reflected in outward events. In the whole 19th century there were only two ‘historical events’: the progress of the worldwide Revolution, which is to say, the progress of unbelief in men’s souls; and the attempt of one power to stop it: Orthodox Russia. . . . Similarly, in the 20th century only one historical event is very visible to us as yet: the progress of Revolutionary atheism (or anti-theism, to use the Socialist Proudhon’s more accurate word) once it has come to power.””
The Mystery of Iniquity Strikes
Throughout the Church age, the mystery of iniquity worked subtly and insidiously to foster unbelief. Satanically inspired humanism, which had received such impetus during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, reached its nihilistic nadir in the early twentieth century in the form of atheistic communism. The utopian ideology which is at the root of communism, and in fact of most secular thought, is seldom clearly realized even by its adherents; it has become part of the unexamined ideological inheritance of the post-Enlightenment era.
“One has to realize what Communism is,” insisted Father Seraphim Rose. “Not merely a power-mad political regime, but an ideological-religious system whose aim is to overthrow and supplant all other systems, most of all Christianity. Communism is actually a very powerful heresy whose central thesis . . . is chiliasm or millennialism: history is to reach its culmination in an indefinite state of earthly blessedness, a perfect mankind living in perfect peace and harmony.”12
Communism specifically attacked the land which had most nearly retained her ancient Christian traditions—Holy Russia. Propaganda portrayed Bolshevism as a political/social uprising, which is what gullible individuals throughout the world still imagine it to have been. But the “revolution” was far more than this—it was actually a battle against Christianity.
The Bolsheviks hated not only the emperor, but everything he represented. They were not content to see him deposed, but wanted him and every member of his family killed, so that the ancient link of Christian monarchy extending back to Constantine the Great would be forever severed.
The Russian Revolution was clearly satanic, and its entire success depended on the extermination of the last Christian monarch. If communism had failed in Russia, it would have died the inglorious death it deserved.
The Last Tsar
The Russian emperor, Tsar Nicholas II, was a pious man whose Christian priorities were as misunderstood by Western observers as they were despised by Lenin. Following the monarchist tradition, he was, in the words of Saint John Maximovitch, “the bearer and incarnation of the Orthodox world-view that the Tsar is the servant of God, the anointment of God … He was thoroughly penetrated by this awareness; he viewed his bearing of the Imperial crown as a service to God. . . . He was a living incarnation of faith in the Divine Providence that works in the destinies of nations and peoples and directs Rulers faithful to God into good and useful actions. Therefore he was intolerable for the enemies of faith and for those who strive to put human reasoning and human faculties above everything.”13
The tsar attempted to resist the Revolution, but eventually his own people, beguiled by the intellectual darkness of communism, abandoned him. Thus, though most of the world was and still is ignorant of what really happened, the greatest calamity of modern times occurred on July 17, 1918, when Nicholas II and the entire royal family were assassinated.
Priest Paul Ciamensky wrote that “the murder of Czar Martyr Nicholas II . . . is a precise indicator that Antichrist is at the door and behind him is the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgement. The ‘withholder’ has been taken out of the way and Satan works un bridled.” ‘4
The Romanovs’ murder was only the first gust of a storm of martyrdoms which would lash every land touched by communism. Father Gleb Yakunin, who personally suffered under the godless regime, wrote, “The meaning for world history of the martyr’s death of the Imperial Family, something that likens it to the most significant Biblical events, consists of the fact that here the Constantinopolitan period of the existence of the Church of Christ comes to an end, and a new, martyric, apocalyptic age opens up. It is begun with the voluntary sacrifice of the last anointed Orthodox Emperor and his family.”‘ 5
Archimandrite Constantine of Jordanville offers this opinion: “The fall of Russia signaled a beginning to the pre-Antichrist epoch through which we are currently living. This cataclysm did away with the ‘restraining power’ in the world, setting Satan free from his temporary (`thousand-year’, as the Scriptures allegorically call it) bondage.”‘ 6
Free At Last!
With the tsar’s death, the “times of the Roman Empire” were “fulfilled.” As the last Christian monarch in the unbroken line which stretched back to Constantine the Great, Nicholas II was in a sense a “star fallen from heaven.” His demise opened the “bottomless pit” in which Satan had been bound.
Saint John the Theologian expressed this as follows: “And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit” (Revelation 9:1, 2).
No longer was the evil one restrained from the full exercise of his perverted will. All that he had striven to do surreptitiously could henceforth be done in broad daylight. Beguilement of individuals could escalate to wholesale deception of nations. “Now when the thousand years have expired,” wrote Saint John, “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle” (Revelation 20:7, 8).
The dragon was free at last, but “having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 1 2: 1 2). He has only a little while to bring the world to a fever pitch of apostasy, degradation and violence through the person of Antichrist. As Archbishop Averky wrote, “By the ‘loosing of Satan out of his prison’ is to be understood the appearance of Anti-christ before the end of the world. The liberated Satan will strive in the person of Antichrist to deceive all the nations of the earth.”‘ 7
The First Victims
Although Satan will ultimately deceive the entire world, he is particularly vengeful toward his first victims, “Gog and Magog.” These are the ancient tribes which flourished in the land we now call Russia. It is no surprise that the country which had both bound Satan and borne the Christian empire to its end would be the first to suffer his demonic wrath. Blessed Augustine also points out that these tribal names suggest that Satan is reclaiming his “house” in which he was bound so long: “The meaning of these names we find to be,
Gog, “a roof,” Magog, “from a roof,”—a house, as it were, and he who comes out of the house. They are therefore the nations in which we found that the devil was shut up as in an abyss, and the devil himself coming out from them and going forth.”18
Loving death, Satan has lost no time in gathering the nations “together to battle.” Since the destruction of the monarchy, the world has suffered evil of such monstrous proportions that nothing in previous history compares to it. Daniel’s prediction of “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1) has begun to come true with a vengeance. One generation has seen two world wars, innumerable and continuous smaller conflagrations, annihilation of entire cities with atomic bombs, mass murders of millions, Nazism, fascism, communism, virulent epidemics, and worldwide falling away from the Faith. It is more than evident that, as Father Michael Azkoul writes, “the fall of the Christian Roman Empire has wrought everywhere the collapse of civil and ecclesiastical order.”19
The experience of Russia since 1917 illustrates in microcosm what the last days will bring to the entire world. “We can clearly see,” wrote Monk Zachariah Liebmann, “that since the removal of `he who restraineth’ the power of Satan is no longer held back. We stand as horrified witnesses to the unleashing of evil which has occurred since 1917 in all aspects of life. The world is rushing to embrace and enthrone antichrist in a way that was not possible before. Instead of the visible manifestation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church on earth, we see warring ‘jurisdictions’ outstripping each other in worldliness . . . the selling out of the soul of the Church through `Sergianism’ and the ecumenical movement.
“In the world today examples of godlessness abound—nuclear weapons, dangerous genetics experiments, pollution, wars, famines and terrible new diseases. In the realm of morality, shameless excesses are committed. Millions of unborn children are slaughtered each year. Perversity has become an accepted `choice.’ Drug use is killing off young people, who are listening to so-called music with satanic overtones. And one could go on.”20
The experience of Holy Russia may be unique, since it was an Orthodox Christian culture prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. A greater manifestation of evil was therefore required to overcome many centuries of devotion. Sadly, for most of the world, no such Chris-tian depth exists. The harsh methods employed by communism are not required in today’s spiritually tepid societies. Unbridled materialism and debauchery will serve nicely. Antichrist has many tools for binding mankind—”whatever makes you feel good” being the most effective.
“We’re living in the last times,” taught Father Seraphim Rose. “Antichrist is close, and what hap¬pens in Russia and other countries like it is the normal experience of our times. Here in the West we’re living in a fool’s paradise which can and probably will soon be lost. Let’s start to prepare—not by storing food or such outward things that some are already doing in America, but with the inward preparation of Orthodox Christians.”2′
In the face of such signs and testimony, Christians should neither despair nor fear, however. The Lord has promised never to forsake His own, and to preserve them in all times of trouble. Armed with the sure knowledge that the last days have begun, and that all that has been prophesied will soon be fulfilled, Christians can prepare themselves to heed the Lord’s admonition to watch and pray, “that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass” (Luke 21:36).
‘ Christensen, Not of This World, p. 997.
2 The City of God, Book XX, ch. 8, p. 722.
Sacred Monarchy and the Modern Secular State, pp. 10-11.
Quoted by Paul Marshall Allen, Vladimir Soloviev, Russian Mystic, p. 4. Sacred Monarchy and the Modern Secular State, p. 4.
6 Third Theological Oration, “On the Son,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. VII, p. 301.
7 The Last Judgement, p. 176.
8 A Ray of Light, Archimandrite Panteleimon, comp., p. 38.
“Treatise on Christ and Antichrist,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V, p. 209.
m Anti-Christianity: The New Atheism, p. 102.
” Not of This World, p. 616.
12 Ibid., p. 379.
13 Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, pp. 1-2.
14 “In Memory of the 75th Anniversary of the Murder of Czar Martyr Nicholas II,” Orthodox Life, Vol. 43, No. 4, July-August 1993, pp. 2, 6.
15 Quoted by Fr. Seraphim Rose, Heavenly Realm, p. 94.
16 Ecumenism, Communism and Apostasy, p. 3.
The Apocalypse of St. John, p. 202.
18 The City of God, Book XX, ch. 11, p. 729.
19 Antichristianity: The New Atheism, p. 103.
20″ “The Life of Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II,” The Orthodox Word, Vol. 26, No. 4 (153), July-August 1990, pp. 223-224.
21 Not of This World, p. 877.