We are the Church of the End Times

Πρωτεύουσες καρτέλες

Preparing for the final event

Nobody knows the day, not even the heavenly angels, much less we. But the signs are spread everywhere all too clearly. It seems that waiting any longer is useless, and that that terrible moment will come suddenly, that the last secret iniquity will reveal itself and that everything will be finished. And then the long-awaited, so tediously expected moment of Divine Glory… Remember the triumphant words of the Psalm: “That the King of Glory may come in. Who is this King of Glory?”  [296]

But the Creator sees more clearly when his design will precisely take place; not as an example, but completely and irrevocably.

One thing is clear: all of this will happen very soon. Very, very soon. And we cannot vegetate in suffering while we are on the threshold of such an important event. What is more, this is the moment par excellence to ask many questions all over again that had earlier worried our ancestors as well. Humanity has waited for two thousand years for the prophesied second when time will collide with eternity and the created world will face its uncreated origin, its ‘hidden part’. This is called “the last act of the Holy Spirit”, the discovery of its constructive mystery in history.

From all sides and in all directions, we are battered by the winds of the End of Times; they scare us and force us to the ground, while at the same time also implanting a miraculous joy in us. Finally, all will be solved, everything will be explained, all will be weighed, counted, and added up in the final judgement of the One who cannot be mistaken and cannot deviate from the Truth, as he is its totality.

The expectation of and preparation for such an event should not be purely passive. Where did we get the idea that in the end times there will be no room left for action and witnessing, for questions directed to the heavens and for answers to be sent down towards earth? The event is incomprehensible and terrifying, the forces of the lord of this world are gigantic, and our ranks are weakened and few in number as never before. But this is still not sufficient grounds for warranting doing nothing. Our forefathers encountered terrible situations in hard times. And how much did the first Orthodox martyrs and saints have to endure! They endured, but they did not retreat, they did not break, they did not surrender to the crushing will of ‘common sense’.

What about us?

The relevance of “ecclesiology”

Vladimir Lossky [297] was entirely correct when he noted that every era of Christian history has at the centre of its theological interests an individual aspect of Christian teachings that is explicated and made more precise in Church discussions, all fed by the Holy Spirit [1]. And he is no less correct when he said that in the current stage of history, it is “ecclesiology” or teachings about the secret spiritual content of the Church of Christ’s earthly paths that should take center stage. It has also become possible to add that questions of Christian eschatology, questions of the Orthodox view of the contents of the “Book of Revelation” and on the meaning of the End of the World should take center stage. But in a strictly theological context, such an addition would be exorbitant, seeing as all Orthodox teaching is an expanded form of eschatology: both the First and Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ practically adjoin the End of Times, although the First Coming is somewhat of an anticipation of the Second. For the non-Orthodox mind, two thousand years are not a small amount of time at all, but the Christian takes a different stock: it is another measure of time for him. This is even more evident in the supernal worlds, where a human century is equal to an angelic day. Ecclesiology, that is the teachings about the church, is, like everything else in Christianity, a part of eschatology. In this case such is linked to the Orthodox interpretation of history and its most important, most essential aspects.

Orthodox ecclesiology takes account of several key moments and the periods linking them. These moments are possessed of revolving spiritual meaning. In order to correctly outline our perspective of understanding ecclesiology, it is necessary to name these fundamental points.

The first historical period of the New Testament Church (from Pentecost to Constantine)

The Church began with Pentecost, with the moment of the Holy Spirit’s meeting with the apostles in the form of tongues of fire 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ and 10 days after his Ascension. This was, as the Saviour had promised, the sending down of the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, the “completing reason” by which the Holiest of Holies of ecclesiastical Orthodox mystery was sent down to the people. This is the birth of the New Testament Church of Christ: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. From the moment of this gracious descent of the Paraclete, we see the beginning of the development of New Testament ecclesiology, of the house-building of the Holy Spirit in history in its final stage. This is the 33rd year from the Birth of Christ [2].

The first period directly after the Pentecost lasts from apostolic times until Emperor Constantine and the appearance of the Cross in the heavens (“Hoc vinces”) until the christening of the Roman Empire, when Rome became an Orthodox Empire. Here, the key date is the year 313: the year the Edict of Milan was issued. For the sake of fairness, we must note that the first Christians also took an especially reverent stance towards the Empire and prophetically predicted its coming christening. This is the concern of the early Christian teachings about the mission of the descendants of Japhet. These people were fated to lay the foundations for a Universal Kingdom in which the Saviour would manifest and which, in due course, would become the receptacle of His Church. Such is often called the “teaching about the four kingdoms”. The first was the Babylonian Empire, the second the Medo-Persian, the third the Greek (especially the kingdom of Alexander the Great), and the fourth and last was the Roman Empire. This is where the special importance of Rome in Christian eschatology comes from. It is also true that there exists another version of analogical teaching that speaks of seven “righteous” kingdoms. After the last of these falls, the “eighth” unrighteous kingdom takes shape – the kingdom of the antichrist. The last righteous kingdom (the seventh) began with Constantine the Great.

From this early Christian idea of the “final kingdom” appears all of the immense meaning that is accorded in the Gospels to “tribes” and “Hellenes” and its eschatological, house-building meaning [298]. However, during these first centuries in which the Church existed in contact with a world that had not yet accepted the Gospel and remained under the yoke of other powers, Christians lived in deep contradiction with the very essence of their surroundings, both in a societal (governmental) and natural sense. The Church of the first centuries was only a Church, a ship of salvation on the dark waves of a reality still enslaved by the “prince of this world”. This first ecclesiological stage distinguished itself by its special characteristics, a special ethics of contact with the world, and, what is more, by a special ontology, a special approach to two sharply divergent realities: on the one hand, the reality of the Christian Church itself, and on the other hand, that of pagan Empire. The Church was the dwelling place of the uncreated Presence of the Holy Spirit, and the eucharist was the home of the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself. The reality of the Church was qualitatively linked to the uncreated world, drawn away from the yoke of the law that had separated the created and uncreated before Christ and separated His Church from the world around it after His ascension. Christians themselves were essentially different (“new”) people in communion with a unique ecclesiological anthropology (in contrast to the once-born pagans or Jews, they had were twice-born; their second birth was “higher” through the gracious mystery of the Holy Crucifixion). It is necessary to especially emphasise the mystical meaning of the term “new” in Orthodox teaching. This is very important for understanding such realities as the “new man” (applicable to Christianity), the “New Testament” (applicable to the Gospel),  and “new hope” (applicable to Christians). The concept of the “new” in an ecclesiastical sense had no relation at all to chronological sequences or changes in systems or religious forms. The “new” in Christianity is a deeply ontological one. It characterises a special intra-ecclesiastical mode of being which, in contrast to the tragic and unbridgeable gap between Creator and created in the Old Testament in the same way that Divinity is humiliatingly close to creation in paganism, was based on the gracious path of the voluntary deification of creation that the Son of God revealed through his sacrifice. The “new” man is he who has been graciously granted a seed of divine communion. The “new life” built on the “New Testament” is understood to be the gradual realisation of “deification” [3].

Outside the Church of Christ is the domain of other laws and possibilities that are taken together said to be the “old”. “Old” norms are kept there, the “old man” and “old world” live there. What is more, compared to the blessedness of the “new life” in the Church, this inertial “oldness”, stubbornness, and loyalty to un-blessed reality acquire an especially sinister meaning. If before Christ, “oldness” was the sad fate of everyone, then after Christ it is a voluntary decision that must be evaluated in a totally different ethical and ontological system of coordinates. It is on this that Orthodox teaching about the antichrist is based, about the figure that all threads of global “oldness” are pulled towards. In this sense, it is precisely the antichrist who is the chief enemy of the “new” in its Orthodox, salvational, ecclesiastical sense.

There was no intermediary point of any kind between these two realities (the Church and non-Church, the “new” and the “old” in which the old represents paganism – especially in its political, imperial aspect – and Judaism in the religious aspect) on the first ecclesiological stage. They were juxtaposed, yet coexisted without intermingling. However, it is possible that it was precisely teachings about the future christening of the Kingdom (in relation to the first Christians) and about the Thousand-Year Kingdom during which Satan will be constrained and limited in his actions that made the confrontation between the most young Church and the Roman Empire not as sharp as such could have been. This is also where the otherwise unexplainable loyalty of the first Christians towards imperial law and the Roman state itself came from. Christians rejected only the religious side of pagan Rome, an act that they knew no compromise on. It is not by chance that it was the Christians who distinguished themselves by special courage in the Roman legions: for them, death was far from the end, and the martyr’s crown was seen as a priceless gift. The God of the Christians had conquered death. The gates were open to all believers.

The second period (“katechon” and the Orthodox Empire)

The second ecclesiological stage began with Constantine the Great. His Edict of Milan and all that followed (up to and including the founding of the New Rome, Byzantium) was a confirmation of the eschatological predictions of “katechon”, the “withholder”, whom even the first Christians already saw as the Roman Empire and the Emperor, Caesar, himself [299]. From this moment onwards, a specific bridging of reality developed between the Church and the world in the form of the Orthodox Empire, which is founded on the symphony of powers, where political power is harmoniously fused with the fundamental aspiration of ecclesial house-building.

Here, we arrive at the key concept of ecclesiology: the concept of the “ontology and anthropology of empire” and the eschatological meaning of these two branches. In the Orthodox Kingdom, a fundamentally new reality appeared that was radically different from the one that had existed in the three preceding centuries. Now there appeared a new, intermediary area between the ship of the Church (which was directly bound to the uncreated, timeless Godhead) and the domain of the “prince of this world”, the “devil”, in which the old laws that continued to sharpen the mechanism of sin over the centuries continued to be active. This area had been granted (both in its natural and societal dimensions) a kind of special, providential freedom, a fundamental defense against the hegemony of the devil, independence from his rule. It was precisely this intermediary reality that was “katechon”, “the withholder”, that mysterious barrier that prevented the son of perdition, the antichrist, from establishing total dominion over the whole world.

In his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the holy apostle Paul wrote about the “katechon”: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed…” [300] [4]. “The one who now restrains” is the translation of the Greek “katechon” and was interpreted by the Christian tradition as the Orthodox Emperor and Orthodox Empire. The nature of the reality that was sealed by the borders of the Orthodox Empire was fundamentally different from the one outside its boundaries. This applied to physics as well as sociology, to the aspect of human unity as well as natural phenomena [301]. Socially, it was expressed in the grace of the symphonic composition of the state. On the mystical level, it manifested itself as the possibility of cataphatic theology, i.e. in the possibility of approaching the Creator Himself through the examination of His Divine creation (in the framework of the Empire)! “Katechon” was the promised “thousand-year kingdom”, during which and inside the limits of which the power of Satan was temporarily cut off [302], if only temporarily (as is made clear by the Book of Revelations) [303].

The thousand years of this imperial, “withholding” period of ecclesiology coincides precisely with Byzantium. The New Rome was founded as the departure point of the “thousand-year kingdom”, and the entire imperial Byzantine cycle lasted roughly a thousand years. It is important to note here that during this thousand-year period, the ecclesiological emphasis fell precisely on the safeguarding of this special socio-political system, the nature of which was by itself a house-building, eschatological mystery directly related to preventing the “coming of the antichrist”. The “antichrist” was supposed to follow the “thousand-year kingdom”, although in a certain sense, the devil’s power was significantly broader before Constantine. His final (or nearly final, as we will see later) arrival after the “thousand-year kingdom” was supposed to be, in a certain way, a “return”. This comment removes the apparent contradiction between the identification of the antichrist with Nero or Caligula by the first Christians and the expectation of his arrival in the future.

The ontology and anthropology of empire are a forward-thinking expansion of the “new life’s” parameters to a maximal cosmo-social dimension. Alongside the christening of the empire and with the inclusion of “katechon”, the “new” becomes the enormous mass that far outdid its predecessors before Constantine. The possibility of deification and salvation was revealed all over the Empire to all rational and irrational beings that populated it. All of existence, every action, and every – even the most insignificant – event became liturgy, the “common good”. What is more, in contrast to the pagan conception of the “Sacred Empire”, what we are speaking of here is a task, a possibility, a voluntary aspect, a path. The fact of ecumenical, ontological imperial preconisation means that “many are called”. But this does not mean that there is an equal amount of “chosen ones”. This is where the allotment of the active character of “imperial anthropology” comes from. Grace spread over enormous areas is a “planting of possibility”, a call to simultaneous Christian liturgical and socio-political asceticism. It is a special form of sacralisation that is different from Judaic theocratic pessimism as far as the “kingdom” is concerned, and different from the “Hellenic” Platonist optimism on the subject of the notorious “divinity” of empire. Orthodox imperial ontology is precisely such a proactive, universal effort towards realising the seeds of grace with which all lands of the Empire have been industriously sown. The Christianisation of the Empire assumes the perfection and completion of the sowing. But the question of the young sprouts and their cultivation remains open and dependent on voluntary, collective, ecumenical, liturgical activity and public asceticism.

The first signs of apostasy

This second ecclesiological period, which took place under the sign of the Empire and the symphony of powers, is by itself not a homogenous one under the sign of “katechon”. From almost the beginning of the united Roman Empire with its holy axis of Constantinople, the West (including the first Rome) started to break away in a political sense. Between the Western and Eastern halves of the Christian world there appeared an unequal relationship. This is not just a political imbalance, but, most importantly, an ontological and anthropological one. Byzantine ontology is fully imperial, while in the West we see the gradual appearance of a different, disharmonious picture in which the intermediary imperial element is either vague, distorted, or entirely absent. This means that conditions are beginning to develop that are different from the “total sowing” and general state liturgy which are intrinsic to the authentic Orthodox Empire. Ontological and anthropological islands begin to appear on which (because of ecumenical grace) “old” laws appear. These can be called the buds of “desacralisation”, but this concept can only be seen in a purely Christian way. This phenomenon is accompanied by the disintegration of liturgical unity and the fall of the ecumenical, collective reality of salvation, which was the norm and law of Orthodox imperial ontology and anthropology.

The preservation of the Orthodox unity of the Church, the preservation by Byzantium itself of the status of a unified and indivisible eschatological state, partially corrected the situation and compensated for the clear turn by the Christian West towards apostasy, tergiversation, and transgression of the boundaries of the true Faith and true Christian Orthodoxy. But certain worrying traits are visible in very early Western Christian ecclesiology. These traits can be seen in the strengthening of “individual” themes in Western theology, as well as in the distortion of the salvational ratios between secular authority and spiritual dominion [304]. This distortion simultaneously goes in two directions: on the one hand, false teaching is introduced about a strong hierarchy among the apostles, which leads to the affirmation of the dominance of the Popes and to a kind of theocracy; on the other hand, the feudal power of individual secular princes is strengthened, and their claims to independence and self-rule in a certain sense restored pagan principles [305]. Changes in the religious and secular order in the West simultaneously reflected and deepened profound processes of ontological and anthropological mutation. Bit by bit, a special way of life and special kind of man developed in the West – that of the “individual man”, who claims autonomy and sovereignty and who has weakened or totally broken his ties with the liturgical element of common house-building activities. From the Orthodox teaching of “personal salvation”, which concerns the volitional character of the realisation of grace, the West transitions to the concept of “individual salvation” [306], which places this problem outside of the common ecumenical context of the “new being” that is manifested in the Christian Kingdom. In a certain sense, this marks the return to the pre-imperial, pre-Constantine modes of ecclesial existence, but such a return in this context marks a true act of “apostasy”, a “falling away”, a callous disrespect for the providential grace that had expressed itself in the “thousand-year kingdom” of Byzantium.

Being in a state of ontological conditions different from truly Orthodox Byzantium, little by little the Old Rome developed its own ecclesiological formula, which, while externally remaining Christian, sharply deviated from the proportions of the initial Orthodox teaching on “katechon” and from the providential, eschatologically-charged relationship between secular power and spiritual dominion [307].

The Great Schism

This process definitively manifested itself in the Great Schism (1054), over the course of which the Latin Church fell away from true Christianity, insisted on the unauthorized administrative dominion of Rome over all other Christian hierarchies of East and West, definitively cemented earlier – and from a theological standpoint highly suspect p innovations (the Filioque) in the Symbol of Faith, and finally affirmed the heretical doctrine of purgatory.

The question of “purgatory” is telling and directly related to our main subject. It is not only that there are no mentions of “purgatory” in the Church Fathers, and, consequently, the introduction of this category [of being – transl.] is not supported by the authority of the Canon. “Purgatory” is, according to the Latins, a posthumous reality that occupies an intermediary position between heaven and hell, which serves as a place to wash away small, unimportant peccancies from those among the dead who are not worthy of heaven, but who have also not sinned heavily enough to be sent to hell. In a certain sense, it is a continuation of our earthly lives. But the Orthodox are totally right in believing that all events that are placed by the Catholics in “purgatory” already have their place in earthly life, and that the small sphere that is described under this name is nothing but one of the dimensions of our daily lives on earth, even though it is linked to the unseen side of things. In other words, in the Orthodox way of thinking, earthly reality already includes within itself “purgatory” as one of the dimensions of daily life. The Latins, however, have a far more narrow, rationalised, and “desacralised” view, and based on this they place the subtle dimension in the posthumous spheres. This is a very telling example of the ontological meaning of the “Great Schism”.  Orthodox and “Catholics” dealt with different worlds, two realities that were constructed differently. The “Catholic world” sliced the “purgatorial” dimension off of earthly life and lessened the qualitative composition of world and man. This lost dimension that was moved to the posthumous spheres has a very direct relation to the character of imperial ontology. If we somewhat coarsen this delicate subject, it becomes possible to say that the Catholic concept of earthly life is “imperial ontology” minus “purgatory” as its subtle dimension.

It is necessary to examine the schism in the 11th century Church not as the division of a single organism into two roughly equal halves, but as a rotten part falling away from a whole (which remains the way it is, i.e. united and whole). The rotten part did not just declare itself to be equivalent to the healthy whole, but also to be totally superior to it. Actually, the schism of the 11th century was a confirmation of the definitive apostasy of the West, of its falling away from the united Christian Church, of its transformation into a kind of new religious organisation that was (also unjustly) called “Catholicism”, i.e. “whole”. The Orthodox Church remained the only and exclusively catholic (i.e. whole) Church, and it is little wonder that the Fourth Crusade was undertaken by the West against Byzantium. Then the crusaders sacrilegiously desecrated the greatest Christian holy sites and temporarily formed a political and religious dictatorship which “fell to the Western heresy”. The geography of this event, which took place in the second half of the “Constantinopolitan” ecclesiological cycle, is also telling. The Western Church returned, in a certain sense, to the first Rome, to the state when the Empire had not yet been Christianised, when it had not yet acquired the salvational ontology that began in the era of Constantine the Great.

We must emphatically emphasise the ontological and eschatological meaning of the fall of Rome from Orthodoxy, because in the further history of the earthly Church, all that is linked to “Latinitas” would carry the sinister taint of apostasy and the clear stamp of the antichrist.

This becomes clear in the moment that concludes the “Byzantine cycle” of ecclesiology: the tragic fall of Constantinople.

The fall of the “katechon”

1453 is the precise end date of the “thousand-year kingdom”.

Constantinople was taken by the Turks. The Byzantine Empire fell. In line with all characteristic signs, a tragic eschatological fact can be observed: the “withholder” was now “taken from the middle”, and the paths of coming of the “son of perdition” were opened. And this followed in short order after the signing of the Union of Florence, i.e. after the Byzantine Church and the emperor himself acknowledged the essential rightness of the “Latins”. (The fatal Union of Florence was preceded by the Union of Lyons, as well as a significant spiritual degeneration of the Greeks that was more often than not tied to an amenability to influences that came from the West. The period of direct Latin occupation after the Fourth Crusade did enormous damage to Byzantinism: it is from precisely this moment that the destructive processes of the development of “feudalism”, a socio-political form that is alien to true Orthodox teaching and was enforced by the crusaders, began to develop in Byzantium. It is not impossible that with the transition to the three-fingered sign of the Cross, the Greeks were tied down to these “Western”, “popish” tendencies, although this question has not yet received a definite historical answer).

Whatever may have happened, in an ecclesiological and eschatological sense we find a direct link between Constantinople itself falling away from strict Orthodox teaching (and what is more, in favour of a reality which in Orthodoxy is directly introduced in connection with the antichrist) and the political fall of the Eastern Roman Empire with the symbolic trampling of its holy sites by infidels. The Byzantine supporters of a union with Rome essentially rejected “katechon”, the uniqueness of “imperial ontology”, and a short while later, the “withholder”, the Basileus, was “removed from the centre” along with the political and religious independence of the immense Orthodox Kingdom.

Thus ended the second ecclesiological period.

To be more precise, this is how it almost ended.

The Last Rome

In its distinct form, “Orthodox imperial ontology” moved North and was transmitted to the Tsardom of Muscovy, which was lost in the vastness of Eurasia. It is here that after the end of Byzantium we find all the elements of a fully-fledged Orthodox imperial world which had been timely removed from under the dark laws of a reality infected with apostasy. Byzantium falls and succumbs to apostasy, but a new Byzantium, a Third, last Rome arises. This is the new (and last, “for there shall be no fourth”) manifestation of “katechon” according to the Orthodox conception of the term as a direct legacy from the “imperial ecclesiological period”. The “thousand-year kingdom” is providentially continued in the Third Rome, where all fundamental dogmatic teachings of the true Faith in conjunction with political independence and a symphonic relationship between spiritual dominion and worldly power are preserved. The Tsardom of Muscovy, in its dimension as the fulfillment of prophecies regarding the special divine mission of the Russian people and Russian Prince – which were preserved as far back as the “Sermon on the Law and Grace” of Metropolitan Hilarion and which received further development in the “Legend of the White Hood” [308] of the times of the Novgorodian archbishop saints Gennady and Joseph of Volotsk and were finally fixed in the teaching of the Pskov elder Filofei on “Moscow the Third Rome” [309a] – fully took upon itself the eschatological and ecclesiological mission of Byzantium. Rus became Holy in the most direct sense of the term, i.e. as having an exclusive reality extending to nature, society, ontology, and anthropology. The divine election of the Russian people as the people of the Third Rome forms the basis of a special national-religious anthropology that is not clearly written down anywhere but which is felt by everyone. Many provisions of this “Muscovite ontology” are indirectly contained in the points of the Stoglav Synod, which through its authority established the Muscovite ecclesiological period of Orthodoxy.

It is important to note that the new role of Moscow and the Russian Church did not cancel the importance of the Constantinople patriarch in purely religious matters. But in the sphere of “eschatology” and “imperial ontology” (and this could not fail to fall within the purview of ecclesiastical questions as well) the Greek patriarch clearly lost his decisive influence which had earlier been backed by the entire weight of Byzantium’s house-building mission, at least until the Greeks themselves succumbed to the Union and the victory of the Hagarites (the Turks).

The “thousand years” of the second ecclesiological period (the imperial period) were thus providentially augmented by the two-hundred-year period of Holy Rus (1453-1656).

The ways of the Latins had long ago deviated from Orthodoxy, and it would be senseless to talk of “imperial ontology” in this context.

Catastrophe

The end of the Muscovite period meant the end of the gracious addition of time to the eschatological millennium. This is the moment of the Russian raskol, the meaning of which was encapsulated in the passionate testament of the Old Believers on the catastrophic nature of the reforms beginning with Nikon’s corrections up to the horrific finale at the synod of 1666-1667, when the official Church formally anathemised the eschatological teaching of Moscow the Third Rome and the house-building divine election of the Tsardom of Muscovy, compared the points of the Stoglav to dust, and betrayed the Russian church’s rituals to ridicule. These were rituals which, according to the Russian people, were the external ritual expression of the holiness of Rus, of her loyalty to the uncorrupted, ancient Christian Faith.  The Eastern patriarchs, who had sanctioned and inspired such innovations, might have been led by the specifics of their own ecclesiological positions. Having earlier linked “imperial ontology” exclusively to the Second Rome and having lost it along with the military-political fall of Constantinople, the Greeks [309b] transferred their own catastrophic, already post-imperial, post-katechonic experience to Russia itself by rejecting the very possibility that those conditions that had earlier existed in Byzantium itself could have fully survived there. This is where the arrogant loathing of the Russian rite comes from, a rite which, as impartial historians of this question [310/311] have now convincingly shown, was a high-grade and entirely undistorted continuation of the Orthodox tradition itself which was kept by us at the moment when Constantinople fell to treacherous union only to later fell. The Russian rite that was anathemised by the reformers of the fateful Synod of 1666-1667 was an archaic form of the Byzantine rite and nothing else (it was fundamentally the ancient Studite Rule, which was most widespread in Byzantium, with some additions from the Jerusalem Rule; this latter rule had almost fully forced out its Studite counterpart around the 17th century) [5]. The Old Believers’ belief in its superiority over the Neo-Greek form was also fully justified by the eschatological teaching about “katechon” and the spiritual deterioration of the Greek tradition, which had lost its “chiliast” dimension.

The Old Believers’ passionate reaction to Nikon’s reforms up to and including the most radical form that those reactions could take ((self)immolation) was accompanied by a deep and natural feeling of sympathy from the entire Russian people and the Russian Church, especially in the second ecclesiological period of Orthodoxy which was pregnant with an awareness of the ontological and anthropological consequences of a refusal of Rus’ true mission of being the “withholder”. This is where the entirely correct expectations of the arrival of the antichrist come from.

The third period (the end times)

Now, all over the world (except for the mysterious “Whitewater Kingdom” [6], which does not exist on normal geographical maps and where, according to the Old Believers, a true, unspoiled hierarchy, i.e. “imperial ontology”, is still extant), the transition to a new ecclesiological period, the third one, was accomplished. At this point, almost like in the times of the first Christians, the Church found itself in a world without grace, subservient to the leaden heel of the “prince of this world”. The intermediary reality of imperial chiliasm had disappeared. A void had once again opened between Church and world.

It is important to note that beyond the resemblance between the pre-imperial and post-imperial Churches, there are real differences. In the first case, the Roman Empire had not yet become Orthodox, had not yet accepted the mission of the “withholder”. In the second case, the Empire was not a true Empire anymore, i.e., did not fulfill the role of “withholder” anymore. A line of ontological cracking runs between “yet” and “anymore”. When something did not become subject to transformative activity but was still fated to become subject to it: that is one thing. Here, although the exterior might be sinful, internally true paths are ripening. “Not anymore” means that the good and just has stopped essentially being such, that they are only externally so, and that internally they have been totally despoiled. The façade remains holy, but internally, apostasy piles up. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” [312] [7]

The third ecclesiological period casts new light on the problem of relations between the Church and the world; there are no adequate analogies in the earlier two periods. And here we face a question that is incredibly loaded with spiritual content. In this period (of the “not anymore”), can the Church itself (which, in certain aspects, is subject to the terrifying condemnation of Laodicea (“not cold, not warm, but lukewarm” [313] [8]) widely, ecumenically, and in a unified spirit provide a general ecclesiological picture of this horrific incipient cycle, univocally mark its most important aspects, and coolly evaluate the positions of all forces and directions that continue to count themselves as Christians? And what will be the foundation of such a hypothetical ecclesiology, seeing as, a priori, a significant part (to be more precise, the majority) of Christian churches are deeply affected in the secular, historical sense by the catastrophic consequences of the loss of “imperial ontology”?

It is important say a few words about the ontological consequences of such a loss. We are speaking of the disappearance, the closing of that “new life” that formed the essence of imperial reality and its liturgical, ecumenical, collective action which was directed towards deification and which had transformed elements as support. From this point on, the “new life” does not become the norm, but the exception, the transformation of the world into the Divine Kingdom turns into the burning heavens of apocalypse and transitions to the management of separate, fragmentary parts. This is what many Old Believer legends are based on, i.e. that “somewhere in the world there remain secret places, in which the unspoiled, true Orthodox hierarchy was kept safe”. This “somewhere” has an immense ontological meaning. True imperial reality moves from daily existence to the realm of myth and legend, becomes difficult to access, exclusive, and moves from the category of fact to the category of task. Now we see not salvation and “deification” itself, as “holiness” becomes a “task”, but only the prerequisites for such a possibility. The more tragic and catastrophic the understanding of the irreversibility and apocalyptic charge of this event, the deeper and truer faith is, the clearer one’s understanding of the ecclesiological problem of the Church, the more complete and true the theological impulse.

The civilization of the antichrist

The problem of the world that begins beyond the boundaries of the Church, and in the second ecclesiological period beyond the boundaries of the Orthodox Empire, is, strictly speaking, the same as the “problem of the antichrist”. The antichrist is located on the opposite pole of the ecclesiastical house-building that develops between the points of the First and Second Coming of Our Lord. Consequently, the world now develops a special trait. “This world”, which has actively failed to accept the Gospel and salvational Truth, becomes a strongly negative category. It is not just not yet Christianized, i.e. existing as it were in a state of ignorance of the Gospel, but it is anti-Christianized. This is why it is directly grouped with the antichrist and the devil is called the “prince of this world”.

The antichrist provokes the persecution of the first Christians. He convinces heretics to split from the Church. He is directly responsible for the West (the Latins) falling away from Orthodoxy. He leads Constantinople to ruin. He aids the Russian catastrophe of 1666-1667. Later, he enthrones himself everywhere, including in those spheres that had earlier been conquered by the Church. The antichrist is the one being, the one action that is supposed to definitively crystallize itself in a human being in the very last moment of history. But this being will be no more than a signature that fastens the seal on a centuries-long historic making.

This “making” has three different forms, depending on the three ecclesiological stages.

In the first case, the antichrist prevents the Christianization of the empire, i.e. the spread of the transformed, soteriological Christian ontology and anthropology over ecumenical geographical and social space. In this period, during which the Church should transition to the new chiliastic conditions of existence, any barriers on this road (both those erected by outside forces and Christian sects that are directly or indirectly anti-imperial) clearly carry the taint of the “prince of this world”.

Later, the antichrist is put under pressure; he loses control over significant areas of (external and internal) being. His sphere of operations is forced to break up and splinter. His power is bound by the tie of Providence. This occurs during the period of the domination of “imperial ontology”. From this point forward, the second stage of the antichrist’s activity consists in opposing and destroying “katechon”, which is a barrier to his final dominion.

It can be said that this stage’s anti-Byzantine (and later anti-Muscovite) line reveals the more aggressive aspects of the “son of perdition” in whatever form they might take: theology, politics, daily life, culture, mysticism etc.

Finally, the third stage of the accession of the antichrist, which corresponds to the third ecclesiological period, is marked by the unification of his forces and the consolidation of those spaces and realities that are under his control. Now, the antichrist begins to build his civilization, the negative and “disruptive” character of which is increasingly hidden, and destruction begins to be passed off as “creation”, lawlessness as “law”, sin as “virtue”, etc. The peak of the building of this “civilization of the antichrist” should arrive at the moment of his definitive humanization, when all of the preparatory work is completed.

We can draw a most important conclusion from this: ecclesiology is directly linked to the theme of the “antichrist”, as it is precisely this question that is central to the Church itself: to reveal his traits, learn the logic and modi operandi of the “son of perdition”, to show the truth of his unique characteristics, to set out the main fronts and tools in the fight against him, which are so dependent on the nature of the ecclesiological cycle in question – this is the essence of the most relevant theological task.

In this context, the statement of one Old Believer, a representative of the extreme bezpopovtsy “wanderer” congregation [314] (a successor to the famous “runaway” Antip Yakovlev is quite telling: “Hear, my brothers, how those seducers say that it is not necessary to know of the antichrist. Our entire faith is concentrated in the antichrist.”  [9] In a certain sense, this extreme formulation by a rustic Old Believer corresponds more clearly (from the point of view of the third ecclesiological period) to theological truth than the most complex, calming compositions of official Saint Petersburg theology. The most important thing here is the totally justified conviction that under the extreme historical conditions depending on the determination of the character of the antichrist, on the limits of his influence, and the form and intensity of his activities, and depending on all other dogma of the Faith, theological, ethical, ritual, and social norms will have a totally different meaning, seeing as how approaches that were adequate in earlier eras are now no longer applicable. Even for a true prerequisite for salvation the most precise “distinction of the spirits” is necessary, without which even the most externally honorable and dogmatically justified Christian path will turn out to, eventually, be false. If “hidden lawlessness” has come to pass and the “withholder” has now been removed from the center, then there are no further barriers to the accession of the “son of perdition” to the Church itself. For this to be seen, in turn, requires from true Christians a vigilance and critical attitude that were earlier not only unnecessary, but openly damaging as well.

This is why the question of the “antichrist” is the main and primary one for Christians today. [315]

The Heavenly against the Earthly

There are certain grounds for predicting the imminent end of the third ecclesiological period. It is impossible not to acknowledge that all the plans of the antichrist are becoming reality before our very eyes, and that the road to his final manifestation is becoming more and more clear. In addition, not only has the true “withholder” in the form of the Orthodox Empire been “taken from the middle”, but all other, partial barriers against the short-lived but horrifying triumph of the “son of perdition” are also falling.

It is likely that the history of the earthly Church is reaching its conclusion. We know that “the gates of hell will not conquer the Church” [316] and that the mystery of the eucharist will continue until the end of time despite the “abomination of desolation” [317] which the Church will succumb to (is succumbing to) during the end times. The hidden essence of the Church is not subject to the “prince of this world”, it always remains transformed and directly linked to the uncreated reality of the Holy Trinity. But this secret essence is the Heavenly Church, which is bound to the earthly Church, but not identical to it. The Heavenly Church is always expiated and always all-conquering independently of the conditions of the earthly Church, to which it is historically related in a section of ecclesiology. The Heavenly Church is eternal. The earthly Church changes depending on the turns of providential sacred history, entering one state or another with respect to the external (world) and the internal (Heavenly Church). And at the end of the third “post-ecclesiastical” period in which we find ourselves, the Earthly Church finds itself in an extremely complex, contradictory and ambiguous situation.

On the one hand, the actions of the antichrist are penetrating the Church ever more deeply, she lapses ever more deeply into her human and organizational sense. The infiltration of wickedness in the Holiest of Holies during the end times is also predicted in the Holy Scripture [318] [319]. This fall of the Earthly Church is called the “Laodicean Church”, the “Church of the Not Cold and Not Warm” in the Orthodox tradition. In the Laodicean Church of the end times, the highest stage of the alienation of the earthly from the heavenly will be reached, and, gradually, the earthly will begin to openly contradict the heavenly. This is clear most of all in the extreme degradation of the Latin Church and Protestant confessions, where almost nothing of true Christianity survives. Step by step, the Western confessions are gathering into themselves openly antichristic tendencies which are imposed by the virtues of the apocalyptic world. But it is not only the “churches” of the West which have travelled an enormous and shameful distance on the path of apostasy and degeneration, that are “Laodicean”. According to the logic of the ecclesiological stages that we have marked out earlier, it is already clear that the Orthodox have also not been able to escape (although in a different form and to a different degree) similar negative phenomena which are assumed by the vector of the dramatic ecclesiastical history of the last days itself. The first decisive step towards the antichrist was made by the Greek Church when it signed the Union of Florence.

In this sense and this sense only must we understand the consequences of the corrections and activities of the synod of 1666-1667 (despite the deeply patriotic and Orthodox-messianic goal that Nikon initially subjectively picked out for himself). The Petrine reforms and synodial quasi-Anglican line of the Romanov period also had little in common with true Orthodoxy, Orthodox symphony, and the “withholder”. Although gradually the initially purely negative character of the “new rite” was conquered by the popular element itself (monasteries were not destroyed, hesychasm did not disappear, the anathemised Russian eight-point cross returned to the Russian church, edinoverie was instated, albeit for pragmatic reasons etc.), still, only individual fragments and splinters of true Byzantinism and the Holy Muscovite Rus remained in Petersburg-Romanov Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church also failed to conquer the “Laodicean spirit” in 1917, when the Patriarchy was reinstated and serious steps towards an apocalyptic awakening of Russian Orthodoxy were made in the face of the enormous transformations that gripped Russia and the world (today, it is especially important to turn towards the experience of those adherents of the Orthodox renaissance who at the time fought to radically vanquish the consequences of the raskol and the “Romanov era” – Patriarch Tikhon himself, Metropolitan Antonius Khrapovitsky, and Bishop Andrew Ukhtomsky, etc.).

The events which, temporally speaking, directly adjoined the reestablishment of the Patriarchate were highly symbolic: the transfer of the capital from Petersburg to Moscow and the miraculous acquisition of the “Derzhavnaya” icon, which, in an ecclesiological sense, were identical to the establishment of an eschatological monarchy to replace the fallen House of Romanov. The Holy Virgin herself became Tsarina of Russia.

It is also important to note that the first rejection of the fateful synod of 1666-1667 was in a preparatory stage precisely on the eve of the reestablishment of the Patriarchy in 1917. Even more symbolically, Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky, who is renowned for his extreme loyalty to the Soviet government, in his 1929 “Act of the Archpastors” officially revoked, in his own name as “acting patriarchical locum tenens” (the highest religious institution in Russia at that period) and in the name of other lawful hierarchs, metropolitans, and bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate the decrees of the malicious “bandits’ synod”, which had come at a fatal moment and “imputed it as not having taken place”. Tellingly enough, it was precisely a pro-Soviet patriarch that mustered up the courage for such an “Act”, and it was finally confirmed at the synod of 1971 under Patriarch Pimen, who was also entirely loyal to the Soviet government. All of this points to the fact that it was precisely in “post-Romanov”, “post-Petersburg”, “Muscovite” Russia that spiritual eschatological tendencies ripened, tendencies that were geared towards overcoming the apocalyptic catastrophe of the 17th century. By Divine providence it was judged to be good that the “Laodicean principle” in the Russian Orthodox Church did not complete its conquest – all the more so because the historical situation in Bolshevik Russia was extraordinarily difficult for the faithful. At the beginning of our century, true theological consciousness in Russia tried to wake up, attempted to once again give an unbiased response, excavated from the depths of ecclesial dogma and tradition, to current issues, and wanted to formulate a clear position for the Church in a new historical period, a period marked by the clear stamp of the antichrist, but… everything was broken off halfway, there was no final formula, and this high, self-sacrificing drive did not attain the necessary critical threshold.

Once again, for several decades such questioning was swapped out for a halfbaked, edificatory, unconvincing, and vague answers. Instead of theological thought, considerations of a purely moral or ritual character held sway everywhere; the Church refused to univocally determine its relationship to the world, clearly judge the process of apostasy, and identify one or another modern reality with the “antichrist”. It is impossible to hold the Church accountable, since it was repressed and persecuted by an atheist, anti-religious, harsh government. We are purely stating this fact. But it is also impossible not to notice this typically Laodicean attitude with which the flock accepts the wavering, careful position of its pastors. In another situation, everything could have been different.

No matter what, in the bosom of today’s official Orthodoxy as well, there can be neither in sentiment nor dogma that harmonious and solidary relationship between Heavenly Church and Earthly Church which existed up to the certain historical moment of the greatest apocalyptic significance.

We have long been under the sway of the antichrist and his servants. No one is either purified nor free of this spirit, except for the (secret or otherwise) just men and saints.

The Philadelphian tomos

It is clear that escaping the final denouement of world history predetermined by God is impossible (and why would we try to escape it?). The Second Coming and its preceding catastrophes are just as inevitable as the facts of the past. In a certain sense, all of this has already taken place, as in eternity all things and events are simultaneously present, and it is only in time that they succeed one another. Truly, the antichrist of the modern world rejects eternity. He cannot act in any other way, for in this case, the ephemeral moment of his triumph would be but a short episode whereas he would like to extend his time and everything that belongs to his time for an indeterminably long time. Following the antichrist, normal people, for whom such is at best an abstraction and at worst drivel, also snarl at the word “eternity”.

But we are ready for the Second Coming. We know it and joyfully accept it. When push comes to shove, this is the greatest possible joy for a Christian. The pain of the gap between the world and its Creator will end, finite existence will be transformed, the dead will be resurrected, time will disappear, and death along with it.

In view of this long-awaited moment, we can assert a kind of “manifesto of the Philadelphian Church”, i.e., that of an awakened, ecclesiological reality that envisions an end to the wanderings of the Church in a post-chiliastic desert without grace.

What is the ideal structure of this Philadelphian Church? First, it is entirely clear that only and exclusively Orthodoxy is such a Church. We cannot and should not judge and condemn individual Catholics or even Protestants who could, by their personal drive and strength on the path of Christ, gain salvation. “The spirit goes where it pleases”, and the Lord has his own account. But such an allowance does not in any manner lessen the depth of Latin apostasy, which was all the more criminal by virtue of its taking place in the period when, alongside the unnatural conditions of the West, imperial Byzantium flourished and the thousand-year Orthodox Empire and the true withholder stood strong (compared to the latter, even the Ghibelline projects were but a distorted approximation based on voluntarism and usurpation, to say nothing of the totally non-conformist, heretical position of the Roman curia). Thus, a direct link between the Heavenly and Earthly Churches was most present in a harmonious and perfect form in Byzantine Orthodoxy. When we take this standpoint, we must explicate the premises of the fourth ecclesiological period, the traits and limits of the Philadelphian Church, which has remained loyal to the spirit and word of the Christian Faith despite the most difficult times of trials.

Second, the most important focal point of house-building salvation in history is the Tsardom of Muscovy from 1453 to 1656. Despite the Time of Troubles and discord, despite the political and moral tests of the greatest difficulty that befell Russians in this period, it is precisely this period that is a unique temporal pause in the limits of which the cycle of “imperial ontology” continued and the exceptionally existential and social conditions of the “thousand-year kingdom” was prolonged. Therefore, the Philadelphian Church should be a special, exclusive image that is spiritually, culturally, and even geographically linked to Holy Rus, the last sanctuary of the mysterious White Hood.

Thirdly, the sharpest, most dramatic and tragically clear trial in this shift in ecclesiological epochs, or, to be more precise, the universal apocalyptic meaning of the transition from the second imperial period to the third, graceless period, was characteristic of the Russian Old Believer movement, which despaired at spiritual catastrophe and refused to kneel to the inevitability of fate. The Old Believers were (and continue to be) heroes of the ecclesiological Resistance, the last loyalists of Holy Rus, defenders of “imperial ontology”, those who refused to compromise with the spirit of this world, whatever the fair-faced excuses may be. The Old Believers are not conservators nor archaic; they are not supporters of the “past at any cost” and not opponents of any kind of change, as they are often depicted. The meaning and essence of the Russian raskol was that some of the Orthodox rose against the antichristic content of the reforms, and they recognized the catastrophic nature of things from the very beginning, long before the accursed synod of 1666-1667, long before Piotr Alekseevich who in one blow crossed out Rus, Moscow, the Patriarchy, “katechon”, and true Orthodoxy. Consequently, the Russian Old Believers are of foremost significance in our inquiry, and all of this most difficult subject should be at the centre of our attention. These three positions are not subject to doubt. All the rest is more problematic. But we will attempt to express some suggestions.

The division between the Old Believers into several different congregations and groups does not allow us to say that this camp harbors one, univocally true ecclesiological theory that is extremely close to the truth, one that would allow us to attain the reality of the Philadelphian Church if we ran all the others through it. Individual opinions on deep theological questions have set many different congregations against each other in the Old Believer camp itself, and as a result, they have buckled down by turning to dogma that is not open to revision nor review. This is an extraordinarily important point because it shows that the rightness of the eschatological position of the Old Believers does not mean their being directly identical to the Philadelphian Church. The very number of congregations and groups clearly speaks against such a position, seeing as the Church is One. And if this is so, then we must turn to other branches of Russian Orthodoxy.

The Romanov period saw a continuous process of Russian Orthodoxy’s silent return to pre-Petrine times; this was not a conservative-revolutionary path (as with the Old Believers), but a conservative-evolutionary one whose existence was due mainly to the archaic nature of the provincial clerics and the multitude of simple parishioners. In a certain sense, the enthronement of the antichrist in the Church did not fully succeed, despite the fact that during the individual intervals of Peter the Great’s rule the impression formed that this was taking place. Still, because of some higher reasons, the final chord was delayed, even though the forces of the antichrist multiplied tenfold.

Although it was at the price of compromise and adaptability, Russian Orthodoxy maintained its unity, the legality of its hierarchy, eucharistic succession, and loyalty to the fundamental norms of patristic tradition. The Saint-Petersburg stage was characterised by a certain split in the official Church. At the lower levels it moved towards the Old Faith, i.e. towards Orthodoxy in its purest form. At the top, it was oriented towards Western adjustments and norms, as official theology repeated the model of Catholic-Protestant teachings, and the general spirit was fully apostate. Nikon’s reforms significantly damaged both rites and liturgical books. The synod became an administrative agency in a bureaucratic, profane government.

However, it is also important that Russia preserved its political independence, and Orthodoxy remained the state religion. This gave the whole situation an ambiguity that had not existed in, for example, Byzantium, which politically collapsed immediately after it became religiously apostate. And it is not by chance that Orthodox movements striving for the reinstatement of the Patriarchy (the Dashkov position), i.e., a return to the pre-Petrine state of the Church, never disappeared in Russia. Many attempts were undertaken to instate “edinoveriye”, i.e. to unite the “Nikonians” and Old Believers in a single Church (we will not debate the honesty of such attempts). What is more, the Russian clergy has typified furiously anti-Western, anti-Catholic motives resembling an inertial rootedness in Byzantinism and the second ecclesiological period. It can be said that in the Russian Orthodox Church there has been a certain drive towards the “Philadelphian order”, an understanding of the need to give a new theological, ecclesiological answer to the constantly growing power of the antichrist and his deep penetration of social and natural reality. On the secular level, there also were fairly approximate opinions among the Slavophiles and their successors (Dostoyevsky, Leontyev, Danilevsky, several trends among the Narodniki and socialist-revolutionaries, and later the Eurasianists and National-Bolsheviks).

The next important moment, one that divided Russian Orthodox even more, was the October Revolution. The regime fully annulled and destroyed everything in Russia that even nominally remained of “Byzantinism” and Holy Rus. It cast down the monarchy and practically outlawed the Church. But here, too, there once again manifested itself a complex and providential idea often inaccessible to mere human reason. On a secular level and under slogan deeply alien to the people, the Bolsheviks established a harshly anti-Western order, and the contradiction between the Eastern Roman Empire and the West flared up with new strength in the confrontation between socialism and capitalism. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks were even worse than the Romanovs, since atheism, mechanism, materialism, and Darwinism are even farther away from the truth than mutilated Orthodoxy. On the other hand, a strange force also emanated from the Bolsheviks which surprisingly resembled in several aspects the rule of Ivan the Terrible, the oprichnina, and the return to archaic popular-religious elements. It is not by chance that at the first stage the revolutionaries were fairly actively supported by several leaders of the Old Believers (especially the Netovite leader Dorofei Utkin, the famous merchant Savva Morozov etc.) and some Orthodox (not only the loyalty of the “innovators” to the Soviet government is telling, but also that of such “Old Churchmen” as bishop Andrei Ukhtomsky and the “Christian Socialist” movement). Apart from this, it might be necessary to examine the so-called “Sergianite” line of the Moscow Patriarchy in a new light. From one point of view, the “patriotic” and “pro-Soviet” position of metropolitan Sergius Stragorodsky and other Patriarchs of the Soviet periods was not so different from the choice made by Nikon’s supporters and especially by the Russian hierarchs who accepted the decrees of the 1666-1667 synod. We can recall the words of Patriarch Joakhim when answering a question by the Tsar about his “faith”: “My lord, I do not know of an old or new [faith], but that what the leaders decree I am prepared to do and obey them in everything”. Can the inheritors of the traditions of such total spiritual conformism decry the actions that metropolitan Sergius took in such a difficult and paradoxical situation?!

Nonetheless, after the defeat of the Whites, we can once again observe an ambiguity in the Russian Church. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (“Karlovatskian”) saw the Bolsheviks as the “arrival of the antichrist” and on this basis equated the position of the Moscow Patriarchate (and partially that of metropolitan Eulogius, who took a moderate position) with apostasy. This is where the disparaging term “Sergianism” comes from. But this Church itself kept its loyalty precisely to the synodial-Petersburg regime and remained within the theological and socio-political framework of the Romanov period, despite the fact that Metropolitan Antonius Khrapovitsky, before his emigration, had personally been a supporter of the “spiritual healing of the raskol” and was very critical of the “Romanov period”.

The Moscow Patriarchy, in turn, remained loyal to the Soviet government. We have already mentioned the symbolic traits that accompanied Bolshevism: the transfer of the capital to Moscow, the restoration of the Patriarchy in 1917, the acquisition of “Derzhavnaya”, the “Act” of 1929, the Synod of 1971, etc. It is as if some kind of signs hinted towards a complex and supra-rational plan of the Lord for the Church and humanity.

Be that as it may, the “foreigners” as well, who, by the way, found themselves in an exceptionally difficult position, remembered the importance of the role of “katechon” (this is what the canonisation of Nicholas the Second concerned) and the “Sergianites” had their ecclesiological truths, which means that here, too, Philadelphian elements can be found. Antichristic traits among the Bolsheviks are definitely there. But in the liberal West, the forced destination of the White emigration, the degree of apostasy was in no way lesser (if not greater). This is all the more so if we consider that the most harmful and repugnant element in Russian communism was its direct origination in the West. In the West, the antichrist ruled for around a millennium, and his deep infiltration of Western life and ontology could not but be decisive. If we are to judge the Bolsheviks, it is impossible to do so through the eyes of a “progressive humanity” which, to the Orthodox, is a clear concentration of obedient and voluntarily but simultaneously arrogant and aggressive “servants of the antichrist”. Nor is it worth pronouncing a final sentence from the standpoint of the Romanov synodial Orthodoxy, if we remember on what foundation that regime was based. Therefore, here we are going beyond the limits of univocal evaluations. The only thing that is important is that both the “foreigners” and the Sergianites (with, perhaps, an even greater foundation) had their providential truths, truths that must be accounted for in the Philadelphian proposition.

In summary: the Philadelphian Church, which is called to give a final and decisive battle against the antichrist, distinguishes itself through the following ecclesiological characteristics:

1. It is Orthodox and recognises Byzantium as being identical to the “thousand-year kingdom”.

2. It insists on the apostasy of the West (especially after the Schism) and is convinced that the Western world became the first victim of the “son of perdition”.

3. It views the Tsardom of Muscovy as a continuation of Byzantinism for a certain time, with all the ensuing ecclesiological (and ontological) consequences.

4. It acknowledges the tragedy and irreversibility of the Russian raskol by accepting the Old Believers’ conception of the theological and eschatological meaning of this phenomenon.

5. All three main directions of contemporary Russian Orthodoxy (Old Believers, the Russian Orthodox Church, and the “foreigners”) are seen as individually insufficient, but also as harboring individual aspects of ecclesiological truth. The Old Believers have a true evaluation of the raskol. The Russian Orthodox Church has the fact of the Russian Patriarchy, hierarchical fullness, and national solidarity with the fate of the Russian State at any price. The “foreigners” have their emphasis on the eschatological role of the monarchy as “katechon”.

6. These three most important elements of Truth – elements scattered across different movements in Russian Orthodoxy, as well as in several aspects of the Greek Church (especially those linked to monastic deeds, Athos, and hesychasm) and other Orthodox Churches (the Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Moldovan, Macedonian, etc.) – are the theoretical and ecclesiological boundaries within which there can and should take place a renaissance immediately before the end point, the date of which is not to be known by anyone, but should be expected and passionately desired as is our religious duty.

We remember the words of the “Revelation” of John:

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;  I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” [10]

The Last Judgement

There are many reasons why the “Philadelphian plan” for the apocalyptic restoration of Ecclesiastical Unity, which is only and exclusively understandable from an Orthodox point of view, might seem to be utopian. The Church today has not only never been further removed from the possibility of reunification, but is also constantly under threat of further division and continuous decay. Dark heresies, liberal reforms, and the open aggression of the West hurl themselves at this ship of Salvation with a new, hitherto unwitnessed force. It seems as if it would be enough to save what is left and dream of Rebirth…

But this is an overly human approach. It leaves faith out in the cold.

We must seriously – only seriously – contemplate the fiery reality of the Last Judgement, of the opened jaws of hell and the dizzying flare of the Light of Divine Glory; we need only understand the nature and the meaning of the event that we are implacably heading towards, understand how the indefinite appears inessential, how the impossible becomes easy to do, and how the hard becomes the supple and translucent.

Before the face of the Second Coming, there are no constant, stable quantities or irrevocable pieces of evidence. Everything shudders and melts like a thin scroll that is being devoured by an unearthly flame.

There is no inevitability. There is possibility.

The rest depends on those who, despite everything, have remained loyal to the True Church and the True Kingdom, to the invincible Final Kingdom, to the indestructible Sacred Rus that calls out as an anxious toll from the depths of our souls.

Footnotes:

[296] Psalm 23: 7-10

[297] Lossky, V.N. Ocherk misticheskogo bogosloviia Vostochnoi Tserkvi. Dogmaticheskoe bogoslovie.

[298] The first historical milestone in independent Russian theological thought, Kiev Metropolitan Hilario’s “Sermon on Law and Grace”, is dedicated to this topic, the “churching” of “languages” in the “last kingdom.”

[299] See chapter 45 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[300] 1 Thessalonians 2: 3-8. See also chapter 45 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[301] The doctrine of saving the non-human cosmos through the “churching” of man was formulated by Saint Paul the Apostle himself. See Romans 18:19. See also chapter 32 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[302] Revelation 20: 1-3.

[303] Ibid.

[304] See chapters 42 to 46 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[305] The establishment of parodical imperial authority in the face of the Frankish monarchs of the Carolingian dynasty was a genuine spiritual catastrophe. Having fallen away from the real, imperial soteriological unity of Orthodoxy, the West usurped in a distorted form the concept of “katechon”, transplanting it from the Byzantine context into an altogether different cultural-political and social environment. A simple, secular ruler, prince, or king was put in the place of Caesar Basileus who played a soteriological and church role in the Christian empire’s symphonic system. The anointment of Charlemagne (742-814) was parodied on Christmas (December 25th, 800) in Rome by Pope Leo III. But even before this, Popes Gregory I and Gregory II attempted to completely split from Byzantium and its spiritual-political influence. In 731, Pope Gregory II declared excommunication against the Eastern emperor, thus dogmatically preparing all the ensuing steps for the West’s falling away from Orthodoxy. The Popes and Carolingians formally cited the troubled times in Byzantium and the iconoclastic heresy (717-867) which plagued a whole number of emperors. But this in no way justified the usurpers who under temporal and preconceived pretexts rejected the meta-historical and metaphysical doctrine of the Orthodox kingdom. See Uspensky, F.I., Istoriia Vizantiiskoi Imperii (Moscow, 1996).

[306] The doctrine of “personal salvation” does not contradict the Orthodox teaching of the church as a communal, collective reality. In Orthodoxy, the personality is understood as an intermediary instance between the “pre-personal” nature of Old Adam and the supra-personal divine reality of the New Adam, Jesus Christ. See the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22 and 1 Corinthians 9:47-49. The apostle here emphasizes the collective, communal essence of salvation and the merging of individuals into a new essence in the Church of Christ. See also Galatians 3:26-28. It is this soteriological Orthodox anthropology (collective and communal on the horizontal level and supra-individual, deification-striving on the vertical level) that was opposed by the Catholic teaching of “individual salvation.” Of course, the Catholics at first did not reject the Church’s idea altogether, but broke the community into individual human atoms collected together as the archetype of the “human.” A non-dynamic understanding of the “personality” as a transitional soteriological instance that is collective (gathered) and oriented towards overcoming immanent limits (in breadth and depth), which is yet a static view of the atomic individual having (or not having) improvement in his ontological status – this is what Western Christianity’s gradually developing anthropology boils down to, insofar as it lost its spiritual and mystical connection with Byzantium, the New Rome, and the unique reality of the thousand-year kingdom. Later on, this Western anthropology determined the religious, socio-cultural, political, and economic history of the West including Protestantism, capitalism, the trade system, and modern profane society. Catholic anthropology denies the possibility of extending human individuality both in breadth (towards collectivism and the idea of communality) and upwards (towards deification), and in this sense the very term “individual” is rather telling as it literally means “not subject to division” (the Greek word atom means the same). Orthodox Byzantine anthropology had no such notion, since the word “personality” or “person” means “mask” or “conditionally assumed unity”, i.e., nothing divided or other to essence itself. The human “I” in the Byzantine view is not something fundamentally “indivisible”, but is merely the place of the transition, the scene of salvation, the space for transforming something into another. See chapters 7 (especially the footnotes), 13, 95, and 44 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[307] See chapters 18, 40, 44, and 45 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[308] In his book Russkoe staroobriadchestvo (Moscow, 1995), Zenkovsky writes: “The ‘White Hood’ – a symbol of the purity of Orthodoxy and the ‘bright three-day Resurrection of Christ’ – was, according to legend, given by Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester. From Rome the White Hood made its way to Constantinople, the Second Rome, which was the center of Orthodoxy for centuries. From there the Hood was (again, according to legend), ‘sent to Novgorod’, to Rus, since ‘there is truly glorified the faith of Christ.” The White Hood’s presence in Rus was very significant since, according to legend, it suggested not only that ‘henceforth the Orthodox faith is revered there and is more glorified there than anywhere else on earth’, but also promised Russia spiritual glory. Thus, according to the authors of this legend, ‘in the Third Rome, on Russian land, the Holy Spirit blesses.’”

[309a] See the quotations of Filofei in Zenkovsky’s Russkoe staroobriadchestvo: “The churches of the old Rome fell to the heresy of Appolinaris because of their infidelity; the doors of the churches of the second Rome, the city of Constantinople, were split open by the axes of the grandchildren of Hagar. Now this is the third, new Rome, the sovereign of your kingdom, whose holy Apostolic church which will shine stronger than the sun across all the earth until the edge of the universe through its Orthodox Christian faith. Let it be known, sovereign, pious tsar, that all kingdoms of the Orthodox Christian faith have converged into one, your kingdom; you alone under heaven are king for Christians. You ought, tsar, to hold on to this with fear of God. Fear the God who has given you so much. Do not hope for gold, wealth, and glory, for all this is collected here will remain on earth.” Elsewhere: “All Christian kingdoms have come to an end and converged in the kingdom of our sovereign, that is the Russian kingdom, as according to the books of prophecy. The two Romes fell, the Third stands, and there shall be no fourth.” Also, see chapter 46 of Metafizika Blagoi Vesti.

[309b] The tragedy of the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the Nikon reforms and the very sobor of 1666-1667 were participated in by some of the most extremely questionably figures from among the eastern patriarchs (especially Pantaleon Ligarid, Arseny the Greek, etc.), who were not even as competent representatives of the Eastern Churches as they were adventurists, impostors, and possibly agents of papism.

[310] Golubinsky, Kapterev, etc. This subject was investigated in greater detail by Zenkovsky in his Russkoe staroobriadchestvo.

[311] Ibid.

[312] Matthew 5:13

[313] Revelation 3: 14-15

[314] A. Maltsev, Istoriia strannicheskogo soglasiia, Moscow, 1996.

[315] The question of the quality and nature of the antichrist is one of the central subjects of Old Believer debates between the popovtsy and bespopovtsy. The popovtsy are inclined to interpret the antichrist as an historical figure, i.e., literally. They believe that his coming is a matter of the future. This is, overall, the view of the New Believer Church. The bezpopovtsy, who consider the catastrophe of the schism to be more global and irreversible, have developed the theory of a “spiritual antichrist”. From their perspective, the “spiritual antichrist” has already come into the world and rules in both the West and post-reform, abominated Russia. They interpret the Holy Fathers’ legends in an allegorical sense. The bezpopovtsy notion of the “spiritual antichrist” calls to especially emphasize the profundity of the apocalyptic mutation of ontology itself which entered the world and Russia after the fall of the Third Rome and the Russian Church and Russian tsars’ deviation from the Byzantine norms of sacred empire. The most radical bezpopovtsy confessions (the Filippians, wanderers, the spasovtsy, etc.) experience this drama so acutely that they believe it possible, in such an exceptional situation in which the “spiritual antichrist” permeates all reality, to opt for the practice of self-immolation and fasting to death or “red death.” This idea is an extreme case of understanding the whole ecclesiological seriousness of the modern situation of the Church of Christ.

[316] Matthew 16:18

[317] Matthew 14:15 and Daniel 9:24-27

[318] Thessalonians 2: 3-4

[319] Revelation 3:7-13

 

Translator’s notes:

[1]: Vladimir Lossky (1903 – 1958) was a highly accomplished Orthodox theologian and historian of Eastern Christian mysticism. His main work is the 1944 Essai sur la théologie mystique de l’Église d’orient (translated as The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church in 1957).

[2]: House-building (домостроительство) is an Orthodox religious term referring to the fulfillment of the Divine plan for the world.

[3]: Theosis or “deification” (обожение) is, according to Lossky and many others, the end-goal of the Orthodox life. It is a process of achieving union with God or becoming like God through catharsis (purification of mind and body) and theoria (illumination with the vision of God).

[4]: 2 Thessalonians 7.

[5]: The Studite Rule derives from saint Theodore the Studite (759 – 826), who was a Byzantine monk and theologian. He fought harshly against the iconoclasm of his age and is one of the founders of a renaissance in Byzantine monasticism. The Studite Rule involves a somewhat shorter service with less prayers and akafists.

[6]: The Whitewater Kingdom (Беловодье) is a central location in Old Believer myth and folklore. It is located somewhere far in the east and is the seat of a harmonious kingdom that has preserved the old Orthodox hierarchy. Several myths state that the kingdom will appear during the end times, but also that especially pious and holy Christians can find it before then.

[7]: Matthew 5:13.

[8]: Revelation 3:16.

[9]: Bezpopovtsy (lit. priestless) is an umbrella term for a multitude of Old Believer groups and confessions that totally reject any and all Church hierarchy as being contaminated by the antichrist. Thus, they conduct all religious rites without the participation of any priests or other Church officials. The runaways (бегуны, also known as wanderers (странники)) are an extreme offshoot of the bezpopovtsy that practice a life of constant wandering and movement. They also reject official documents and money as symbols of the antichrist. Several more or less extreme variations exist in the group as a whole. 

[10]: Revelation 3:7-8

 

Translators: Yulian Orlov and Jafe Arnold

In the process of translating this text, footnoting inconsistencies were discovered in the original edition and later online versions. These mismatches probably arose during Dugin’s reworking of the original for its significantly rewritten second edition from 1999, which is presented here. We have worked to the best of our ability to realign Dugin’s footnotes and provide some qualifying translator’s notes. – JA