Orthodox America


  ALPHA & OMEGA


The arrival of a new year traditionally prompts reflections and resolutions, and when this new year brings with it not only a new century but a new millennium, it simply expands our time frame. Our thoughts are drawn back to the origin of time and the creation of the world, and forward to the end of time, to the end of this world and the beginning of "a new heaven and a new earth."

When the new millennium was still some distance away, there was a noticeable increase in end time speculations, heightened by the spectre of a Y2K disaster. But the millennial fervor cooled as the media downplayed the prospect of a catastrophe. Ministries and ministers, such as Jerry Falwell and Midnight Cry, who marketed end-time messages, did not find the anticipated demand for their tapes and other materials. Meanwhile, the Center for Millennial Studies, when asked whether it would close its books, indicated that it would turn its attention to study disappointment about failed prophecies in end-time groups (Religion Watch, Dec. 1999). In the mid '70s, I was involved in a group that had grown out of the Jesus Movement. The fervor and singular devotion of its members was due in part to a perception that Christ was coming "soon." One fellow told me, only half jokingly, that if Christ did not come within five years, he was going to leave the group and, presumably, his faith in Christ. It may be that this came from being immersed in the New Testament -where one does find the expectation that the Second Coming is imminent - without an appreciation for the two intervening millennia of church history. In any case, these Protestants often quoted passages such as, Believe on the Lord Jesus and ye shall be saved (Acts 16:31; cf John 3:16), but never, He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved (Matt. 24:13), or, In patience possess ye your souls (Luke 1:19).

Guarded by Sacred Tradition, Orthodox are less prone to eschatological speculation. It is understood that while we should know the signs of the times, we should be more concerned about the end of our lives than about the end of the world. Here we have as much need for a lesson in patience and endurance as our Protestant friends.

Ours is a fast-paced world, where speed and efficiency are regarded as virtues. We drive fast cars, we eat fast food, we expect fast service; technologies compete to provide us with instant communication, instant gratification, and the more they succeed, the further they raise our expectations. Anything that interferes, that causes delay, that causes us to have to wait, anything that disrupts our tight schedules, becomes reason for annoyance, vexation, irritation: we fume at the slower drivers on the highway, we become irritated with ourselves for invariably choosing the slow line at the checkout, we itch to get going when someone stops to chat. (It is one of the blessings of old age that time ceases to be such a relentless task master.) Daily we encounter numerous occasions that test our patience. They are not inconsequential.

The Holy Fathers emphasize the need for patient waiting and perseverance in the Christian struggle. It is not at the beginning but at the finish line that crowns are awarded. The Apostle Paul writes: We are of Christ's household if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Heb. 3:14); and the Apostle James writes, Behold, we count them happy which endure (James 5:11), bringing to mind the patience of Job. Tertullian wrote a most instructive homily on the subject of patience, revealing it to be an essential companion of many other virtues. "[Patience] fortifies faith, is the pilot of peace; assists charity; establishes humility; waits long for repentance; sets her seal on confession; rules the flesh; preserves the spirit; bridles the tongue; restrains the hand; tramples temptations underfoot; drives away scandals; ... is beauteous in either sex, in every time of life." (Of Patience, XV.) Saint John Chrysostom writes further, "Patience means practicing forgiveness." (Homily on Ephesians)

Patience is essential to prayer. The Apostle Paul enjoins the Ephesians to pray always, with all perseverance and supplication for all saints (6:18). The current situation in Jericho calls precisely for perseverance in prayer. For weeks now, the two nuns have been enduring very difficult and unpleasant conditions (see page 7): they are living in a damp room with a concrete floor, their washing "facility" is an outdoor faucet; they are surrounded by Palestinian soldiers and Soviet-style thugs who act towards them in a most crude and shameless manner; when the nuns are able to receive Holy Communion, it is through the iron bars of the gates into the compound, gates which keep them isolated from their monastic brethren and from the rest of the world. The very least we can do is to support them through our prayers. And to persevere in this support to the end of their ordeal.

Patience cannot be sustained without hope. The farmer patiently cultivates his fields with the hope that they will yield fruit in due season. The athlete runs with his eye on the prize. It is in the hope of a just settlement that the sisters continue to endure. Similarly, it is the hope of eternal blessedness promised by our Lord Jesus Christ that gives us the will to persevere in the Christian struggle.

Jesus Christ is our consummate desire, the very reason for our patience and perseverance, the object of our hope. In Him we embrace all eternity, for He is eternal, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last (Rev. 22:13). It is He Who set in motion the millennia, and it is He Who shall halt their advance. For centuries, science has been trying to unlock the mystery of creation. For us it is sufficient to know that God created the heaven and the earth, and the time will come when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and these, too, shall be "good." As Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes: "When we know that the beginning is good, then we know that it tends towards good and that its end will be good. Lo, in the words about the beginning there is already hidden a prophecy about the end. As is the beginning, so will be the end. The end will be found in Him Who made the beginning."

Therefore, if we desire to partake of this good, Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.   (Heb. 12:1-2)

EDITOR


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