Monday, September 29, 2008

Excerpt from:
Archbishop Averky, HIS SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE ECUMENICAL ORTHODOX CHURCH
by Fr. Seraphim Rose


All of the writings of Archbishop Averky bear one and the same character of love for God's truth, righteous zeal in expressing it, and urgent exhortation to others to follow it.

The abundance with which his golden lips gushed the sweet honey of the pure teaching of Orthodoxy, especially in his most fruitful last years, has perhaps helped to hide from us the rarity and even uniqueness of his teaching in our evil days. We have grown so used to his flaming and bold words that we have not noticed that he was virtually the only hierarch of any Orthodox church writing in any language with such boldness and uprightness in defense of Orthodoxy.

In earlier centuries the Church had many Holy Fathers writing in defense of Orthodoxy against the numerous heresies which attacked her singly or together. But in our day, when Orthodox Christians are losing the savor of Orthodoxy and virtually all the Local Orthodox Churches are giving in to the apostasy of our times, his voice was almost the only one to continue speaking the truth with such vigor and boldness, even amid the many infirmities of his old age. Truly, he was a champion of Orthodoxy in our age when faith is growing cold.

His view of the contemporary world was sober, precise, and entirely inspired by the Sacred Scripture and Holy Fathers of the Church: He taught that we live in the age of the Apostasy, the falling away from true Christianity, when the "mystery of iniquity" has entered its final stage of preparation for the "man of sin," Antichrist (II Thessalonians 2:3-12). Archbishop Averky traced the development of this Apostasy in particular from the time of the schism of the Church of Rome (1054 AD), through the era of Humanism, the Renaissance and Reformation, the French Revolution, 19th-century materialism and communism, culminating in the Russian Revolution of 1917, which removed the last great barrier to the working of the mystery of iniquity and the coming of Antichrist. (See his book, True Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World, pp. 18-21; the quotes that follow are all from this book).

In such an age, he writes, "to be a true Orthodox Christian, ready unto death to preserve one's faithfulness to Christ the Saviour, in our days is much more difficult than in the first centuries of Christianity" (p. 17). Although often open (in the lands under communist control), the persecution against Christianity today is more often hidden. "Under the covering of a deceptive outward appearance that looks good and leads many into error, in actuality there is occurring everywhere today a hidden persecution against Christianity… This persecution is much more dangerous and frightful than the previous open persecution, for it threatens a complete devastation of souls—spiritual death" . He often quoted the words of St. Theophan the Recluse about the latter times: "Although the name of Christian will be heard everywhere, and everywhere there will be churches and church services, all this will be only an appearance, while within there will be a true apostasy" .

In fulfillment of these words in our own days, Archbishop Averky writes, "The Christian world, it is frightful to say, presents today a frightful, cheerless picture of the most profound religious and moral decadence" . The temptation of worldly comfort and prosperity drive God away from the soul. "The servants of antichrist more than anything else strive to force God out of the life of men, so that men, satisfied with their material comfort, might not feel any need to turn to God in prayer, might not remember God, but might live as though He did not exist. Therefore, the whole order of today's life in the so-called 'free' countries, where there is no open bloody persecution against faith, where everyone has the right to believe as he wishes, is an even greater danger for the soul of a Christian (than open persecution), for it chains him entirely to the earth, compelling him to forget about heaven. The whole of contemporary 'culture,' directed to purely earthly attainments and the frantic whirlpool of life bound up with it, keeps a man in a constant state of emptiness and distraction which give no opportunity for one to go at least a little deeper into his soul, and so the spiritual life in him gradually dies out" . All of contemporary life, on the public level, is a preparation for the coming of Antichrist: "All that is happening today on the highest level of religion, government, and public life… is nothing else than an intense work of preparation by the servants of the coming Antichrist for his future kingdom" , and this work is being done as much by "Christians" as by non-Christians .

After painting such a grim picture of the present and future, Archbishop Averky calls on Orthodox Christians to struggle against the spirit of this world that lies in evil. "All who in the present day desire to preserve faithfulness to Christ the Saviour must guard themselves especially against every attraction towards earthly goods and against being deceived by them. It is extremely dangerous to give oneself over to every desire to make a career for oneself, to make a name for oneself, to obtain authority and influence in society, to acquire wealth, to surround oneself with luxury and comfort" .

To those willing to struggle to preserve their faith, Archbishop Averky offers a sober and inspiring path of confession: "Now is the time of confession—of a firm standing, if need be even to death, for one's Orthodox faith, which is being subjected everywhere to open and secret attacks, oppression, and persecution on the part of the servants of the coming Antichrist" . We must be true Christians, not given in to the spirit of the times, making the Church the center of our lives . Giving thanks to God for the existence of our Russian Church Outside of Russia, "which has not tainted itself by submitting to the dark powers of Antichrist that are acting in the contemporary world" , we must be "its faithful and devoted children, and at the same time its missionaries, fighters for the true faith of Christ, both in the non-Orthodox environment that surrounds us and among the Russian people who have fallen away or are falling away from it" . We must lead a conscious life of prayer, nourished by the reading of Scripture and the Holy Fathers and by frequent confession and reception of Holy Communion .

The path ahead of us, despite the deceptive promises of modern "progress," is a path of suffering: "The Lord has clearly said that it is not 'progress' that awaits us, but ever greater tribulations and misfortunes as a result of the increase of lawlessness and the growing cold of love; when He comes, He will scarcely find faith on earth (St. Luke 18:8)."

The strength of the true Christian in the terrible times ahead is the apocalyptic expectation of the Second Coming of Christ: "The spirit of a constant expectation of the Second Coming of Christ is the original Christian spirit, which cries out in prayer to the Lord: Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Apocalypse 22:20). And the spirit opposed to this is undoubtedly the spirit of Antichrist, which strives by every means to draw Christians away from the thought of the Second Coming of Christ and the recompense which follows on it. Those who give in to this spirit subject themselves to the danger of not recognizing Antichrist when he comes and of falling into his nets. Precisely this is the most frightful thing in the contemporary world, which is filled with every possible deception and temptation. The servants of Antichrist, as the Lord Himself has forewarned us, will try, 'if possible, the deceive the very elect' (St. Matthew 24:24). The thought of this, however, should not oppress or crush us, but on the contrary, as the Lord Himself says, Then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth night (St. Luke 21:28)."

It is such a man, a true Holy Father of these latter times, filled with the Christian apocalyptic expectation of Christ's Second Coming and with the sober Orthodox spirit of preparedness for it, who is the author of a patristic commentary on the culminating book of the New Testament Scriptures, the Apocalypse of St. John the Theologian. Although his interpretation of the book is based solidly on the early Fathers of the Church, the very fact that he himself is s o much in their spirit, and in the spirit of St. John, is a pledge for us of the accuracy of his commentary, as well as of the fact that it can speak not merely to our curious minds, but also and above all to our believing hearts. Archbishop Averky was an Orthodox scholar in the unbroken tradition of patristic thought which has come down to us from the ancient Fathers to our own days, and which he imbibed most of all in his own teachers, the 19th-century St. Theophan the Recluse (†1894) and the 20th-century Theophan of Poltava (†1940), a modern day cave dweller and an unblemished teacher of the Orthodox moral and spiritual life, he is also an unrivaled theological and patristic guide for us.

There are few saints left in our pitiful times. But even if we do not see about us now such upright and righteous ones as he, his teaching remains with us and can be our guiding beacon in the even darker days ahead which he foresaw, when the Church may have to go into the wilderness, like the Woman of the Apocalypse (ch. 12)—the Church of the last times.

Reprinted from The Orthodox Word,
Vol. 17, Nos. 5-6 (100-101) September—December, 1981


Go to top