THE WORD OF GOD – APRIL 6 (MARCH 24), 2015


Passion Week: Great Monday.
Great Lent. By Monastic Charter: Strict Fast (Bread, Vegetables, Fruits)

Forefeast of the Annunciation.
Venerable Zacharias the Recluse of Egypt (4th c.).
St. Artemon, bishop of Seleucia (1st c.).
New Hieromartyr Vladimir priest (1920).
Venerable Zachariah, faster of the Kiev Caves (13th c.).
Martyrs Stephen and Peter of Kazan (1552).
Venerable James the Confessor, bishop of Catania (802-811).
“The Clouded Mount” Icon of the Mother of God.
Hieromartyr Parthenius, patriarch of Constantinople (1657).
St. Savvas the New of Kalymnos (1948) (Greek).
Eight Martyrs of Caesarea in Palestine (Greek).
Venerable Martin of Thebes, monk (Greek).
St. Thomas, abbot of the monastery of St. Euthymius (542).
St. Severus of Catania (802-811).
St. Artemius, bishop of Thessalonica.
St. Dunchad, abbot of Iona.

The Scripture Readings

Matthew 21:18-43 (Bridegroom Matins Gospel)
Matthew 24:3-35 (Gospel)

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About the Second Coming.

(Mat. 24:1-51; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-38).

After leaving the temple, the Lord and His disciples headed to the Mount of Olives. Along the road, He predicted the destruction of the temple, which occurred in the year 70, when Jerusalem was taken by the Romans and converted it into ruins. Then shortly after, Emperor Traian obliterated the last traces of the city. In spite of the Roman commander Titus’s wish to save the temple as a miracle of art, God’s will was fulfilled: because of the flaming torch thrown accidentally by a Roman soldier the temple burnt down. A magnificent view on the Jerusalem temple opened up from the top of the Mount of Olives, and the disciples continued the conversation, concerning their future with the Lord. Christ’s disciples assumed that Jerusalem would stand till the end of time, and consequently posed two questions to Him as one: “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” The Lord responds, apparently not separating the two events, like they supposed that to be. In prophetic visions, distant and imminent events are sometimes seen as though in one perspective, they as if blend into one, especially if the imminent event serves as the representation of the following one.

Here the fact that the destruction of Jerusalem and the horrible events following it, as the representation of those horrors that will occur before the end of the world, and Christ’s Second Coming, leaves no doubt. At the same time, the Lord gives a chance to understand clearly that His Second Coming will not happen soon after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The Lord presents the appearance of false “christs” as the first sign of the coming of God’s judgment day. Joseph Flavius, the historian, testifies that before the fall of Jerusalem, there really appeared many false messiahs-deceivers.

The second symptom will be the wars, local and distant ones (“And you will hear of wars”). But even these wars and natural calamities will only be the beginning of the coming agonizing horrors, which by their gravity are compared by the Lord with childbirth pains.

The Lord presents as the third sign the severe persecutions of His disciples and their followers, which are described in the Book of Acts and about what the history testifies as for e.g. Nero’s persecutions and others. The very word “a Christian” was truly hated by the heathen, which resulted in the emergence of countless martyrs for the sake of Christ. “Then many will be offended”,i.e. they will renounce from their faith in Christ and will begin to betray — to hand over their brothers for torture and death — in order to save themselves. Many false prophets will appear. During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, those false prophets promised to the Jews the help from heaven. “He who endures to the end shall be saved,” — those who will endure all the calamities without betraying Christ, and succumbing to the false prophets, will earn eternal salvation.

The fourth sign of the God’s Judgment coming close will the preaching of the Gospel throughout the whole world. The New Testament will be preached “as a witness to all the nations,” i.e. the Lord will not come before the Gospel would be preached. This sermon will then become the accusing witness at the judgment against those who after hearing it, did not believe.

“Then the end will come.” The closest image is the destruction of Jerusalem, although all these signs will be foretelling the coming of the end of the world and the Dread Judgment. These signs are common for the both of these events. Thus: 1) The Judgment of Jerusalem arrived as the consequence of its iniquities and impoverishment of love within its walls (“love of many will grow cold” for “lawlessness will abound”); likewise, the end of the world will arrive as the result of the iniquities multiplication and diminution of love among the people, who will forget that they are brothers in Christ; 2) Jerusalem fell only after the Lord did everything to save it: it was resounded with the evangelical sermons: likewise, the end of the world will come only after all its nations will hear the Evangelic sermon, so that at the Dread Judgment — like the Jews — they would stand speechless. The Lord then continues to enumerate the particular signs that concern the very destruction of Jerusalem.

“Abomination of desolation,” about which Prophet Daniel spoke in 9:27, — this is about the Roman soldiers, entering into the half-ruined temple with the banners bearing images of the emperor and eagles, which they worshiped, as idols. “Flee to the mountains,” where there were many caves and shelters to hide from the Romans. “Let him who is on the housetop not go down…” The rooftops were flat and were used for walking or seclusion: during the calamity, those found on the rooftops should immediately flee and not waste the time to go into the house to take the belongings. Likewise those working in the fields should flee to the mountains without returning home to retrieve their clothing, as they normally worked in the fields without their outer garments.

The historian Eusebius testifies, that the Christians in Jerusalem, having remembered that prediction of the Lord, really ran to Pella and the other beyond-Jordan towns, when the Romans were approaching, and thereby avoided the horrors that fell onto the besieged city. The Lord persuades them to pray so that these calamities do not occur when one cannot flee very far away. On a Sabbath — according to the interpretations of the Scribes, one could not travel more than 1 mile away. “For then there will be great tribulation…” i.e. such calamities that everybody would have perished if there had been no “chosen” among the Jews (those who believed in Christ), for whose sake those days “will be shortened.”

Historian Joseph Flavius testifies that indeed, “all the calamities that had befallen on the different peoples of the world, are insignificant compared to those that had been inflicted on the Jewish people.” During the siege of Jerusalem and its outlying areas, more than a million Jews perished within those boundaries. Many perished from starvation, which was so great that one mother killed and ate her own infant. A vast number of Jews were crucified, thereby fulfilling their own curse when they demanded from Pilate the crucifixion of Christ: “His blood is on us and on our children” (Mat. 27:25). All those disasters were the fulfillment of the prophecies uttered by Moses (Deut. 28:49-57). Titus, who surrounded Jerusalem, originally wanted to force the Jews to surrender the city by hunger. However, the affairs of the Empire demanded his speedy return to Rome, so he decided to take Jerusalem by storm, thereby shortening the period of suffering for the besieged.

The Lord then proceeds anew with the speech on His Second Coming. “False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs…” — this means the false miracles, which will sometimes mislead even the righteous. According to Ap. Paul (2 Thes. 2:9-10) and Revelation (chap. 13), these signs will be performed by antichrist and his servants. The Son of God’s appearance will be like a flash of lightning, i.e. undeniably evident to everyone. Contrary to the false messiah (who will be hiding in the wilderness or in hidden quarters), the true Messiah, in commencing His judgment over the world, will make it evident and frightening everywhere where will be the spiritually dead sinners — just like eagles gather where there are corpses.

“After the tribulation…” the calamities that had befallen Jerusalem will end and people will become indifferent, which is mentioned further on (Mat. 24:37-39). Saint Luke adds that “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” — the long period of time must pass from the destruction of Jerusalem to Christ’s Second Coming, during which (according to Ap. Paul), the great number of heathens will enter Christ’s Church, and will become the new spiritual Israel (Rom. 11:25).

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” — these words are not as definitive as those of Luke’s verse 24 (about Jerusalem being trampled by heathens for a lengthy period), telling about the significance of the period between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. However, they do let know that before the end of the world, the totally different days, which through their frightening events will surpass every imagination, will arrive. The Greek text of this particular verse, gives the basis for the following paraphrasing: “Do not think that immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem, My Coming and the end of the world will follow. No, it will be otherwise. For that to happen, there will come the different days. Then the sun will darken and the moon will not give its light etc…” Saint Matthew applies the word “abbeya” (then). However, in the Holy Scripture, it doesn’t normally mean “immediately, straight away, following that” but simply: “unexpectedly, suddenly”, which is like it is translated in the Russian text. Bishop Michael states that sometimes under this ancient Prophetic word “abbeya” many centuries might be meant.

“Powers of the heavens will be shaken,” i.e. the whole structure of earth will be shaken. Saint Luke in chap. 21:25-26 points at the characteristic features of those frightening times: there will be despondency and confusion among the nations of the world: the seas will roar with agitation, people will begin to moan from fear and anticipation of the arrival of calamities, coming over the universe. “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven” — Saint Chrysostom considers that it will be the sign of a Cross, which will appear before the coming of Christ the Savior Himself, just as an earthly king is preceded by his royal heraldic banner. It will be that sign, which will force the unbelieving Jews and denying God, in the late and fruitless burst of repentance, to exclaim involuntarily: “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” And seeing how they had been deluded, living previously in the darkness of disbelief, all the unbelievers “will mourn.” “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”

On the signal of the mysterious trumpet, all the dead will resurrect and be gathered by the Angels from all the corners of the world. Moses used to call the Jews for gatherings by blowing into silver trumpets: this form of convening became a custom and was used by the Jews thereafter (Lev. 25:9; Num. 10:2; Jud. 3:27). This is why the Savior uses this descriptive form, familiar to all the Jews, to denote the act of God, on Whose order the Angels “will gather together His elect from the four winds,” i.e. from all the ends of the earth. The Angels will gather the “elect” for eternal glory, as well as “all the workers of iniquity” for eternal suffering.

“Now learn this parable from the fig tree…” Just as about the coming of Summer it was judged by the branches of the fig tree, so is it necessary to judge about the coming of the end of the world by the signs of the times, which the Lord had enumerated previously. “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” — the word “this” is contrasted to “that”, about which it is said further in verse 36. Indeed, the destruction of Jerusalem took place during the Lord’s contemporary generation. However, this expression can be related to the end of the world: then, as Saint Chrysostom interprets, the words “this generation” can be understood as “This is the generation of them that seek him” (Psalm 24:6), the generation of the believed in Christ, which despite all the horrors will endure till the end. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” — this confirms the irrevocability of the said prophesy. Having witnessed the precise fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem, no one can have a doubt that the prophecy about His Second Coming will also be fulfilled with equal accuracy. “But of that day and hour no one knows,” and according to Saint Mark, not even the Son — naturally, as a human, not as God (your word knows everything that you know, but not always can be spoken; in this sense, the Son, the Word of God, “does not know” – ndM).

According to Saint Luke, just as before the Great Flood during Noah’s times, people will be living quite care-freely, and the day of Christ’s Second Coming will arrive unexpectedly like a net, snaring all living matter on earth (Luke 17:26-27 and 21:34:35). This comparison of the last days with those of Noah’s times is found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. “Then two men will be in the field…” — these words show how swiftly and decisively the separation between the righteous and the unrighteous will occur, even though at the moment of Christ’s Second Coming they would be very close to one another, involved in the same activity, and even if they slept in the same bed (Luke 17:34).

“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” — from this naturally comes out the necessity for constant vigilance: the Lord desires that we should not sleep spiritually, should not be indifferent, but be attentive to the signs of the times and always be ready to meet Him by leading virtuous live. Because of its unexpectedness and suddenness, the Lord’s coming is often compared to the appearance of a thief. The ensuing parable about the faithful overseer or servant and the negligent one, is aimed at suggesting the necessity of constant spiritual vigilance. This parable has an especially close relation to the clergy and civil leaders, who consequently must fear to be negligent in fulfilling their responsibilities, remembering that they will have to give an account of their actions.

By Archbishop Averky (Tauchev 1906-1976)

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