A new look at eschatological tables

A while back someone suggested to me that the Tsar was the restrainer of evil mentioned in Thessalonians. I liked the idea, being a monarchist and all, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Lately, though, I am taking it a bit more seriously. Ultimately, I will have to synthesize this with a larger scheme, but I really believe it can be done. I am not dogmatic on it, but hold it as theologumenon.
It is from the book Ultimate Things: An Orthodox Look at Eschatology. I am taking this from an amazon reviewer.

Ultimate Things_ is written as a response to the pre-tribulation rapture propaganda so widespread in the Christian churches in America today. The question is what did the ancient Fathers of the Church understand and teach of the coming of the Antichrist? How does it differ from modern day interpretations? A key discrepancy is of the idea of suffering for Christ in the Church. The “rapture” will supposedly whisk away all true Christian believers and leave the world’s unbelievers to suffer God’s wrath with the rule of the Antichrist for three and a half years. This is contrasted to the traditional Orthodox teaching where the Church is severely persecuted under the Antichrist and Christ returns at the end of time and Judgement Day commences. Chiliasm is the ancient heresy of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth after his Second Coming. This heresy is dangerous because not only will the “rapture” not happen but the man who will reign posing as the Savior of the World will mimic Christ, creating a one world government with signs and wonders, “deceiving even the elect.”

St. Paul refers to the satanic force that is hurtling the world to Apocalypse as the “mystery of iniquity.” Fr. Seraphim Rose is cited explaining that “mystery” in this sense is something that is not working out in the open, but exercising a covert, unseen influence. The Book of Revelation speaks of a “seal” that kept Satan “bound” for the figurative 1,000 years of Christ’s reign, understood as being from the time of the Crucifixion and the period when the Church was free of political opposition and oppression. This seal, explains Engleman, is the Christian Monarchy of the Roman Empire, the “legs of iron” and “fourth beast” in Daniel’s prophecy. It was established when Constantine saw the Sign of the Cross in the sky, and was ordered marked on his soldiers’ uniforms. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium in Greece, which was renamed Constantinople. The Byzantine Empire lasted into the 1400s until the Ottoman Turks overthrew it. By this time, however, Russia and large tracts of Eastern Europe had been converted to Christianity. The Grand Duke of Moscow took the title “tsar/czar” meaning “Caesar” and Russia became the “Third Rome.”

With a Christian monarchy in political power, the forces of rebellion against God had to be kept secret (the cabals of Rabbis, Masons, Illuminati and Alchemists come to mind). The first outward manifestation of Satanic government was the French Revolution and the proclamation of Atheism and “Reason” as the state religion, and the persecution of the Church for “counter-revolutionary” activity. The Roman Empire itself fell in 1917 with the Communist takeover of Russia and the murder of Czar Nicholas II and his family. Bishop Theophan the Recluse and Father John of Kronstadt both warned the Russian people in the late 1800s and early 1900s about what would happen if the monarchy were to fall. “…When the monarchy falls, and everywhere nations institute self government (republics, democracies) then the Antichrist will be able to act freely. It will not be difficult for Satan to prepare voters to renounce Christ as experience taught us during the French Revolution” (p76). Engleman looks forward to a possible repentance in the future of Russia, followed by a brief return to a monarchy under the Czar. This will be short-lived, the “peace in Heaven for half an hour.”

The Antichrist will use all methods at his disposal to deceive the world–technological wonders, false miracles, signs in the sky, world peace, material prosperity–to set himself up. The world capital will be a “spiritual” one, the holy city of Jerusalem. The Third Temple of Solomon will be rebuilt, the culmination of Masonry. The Jews look forward to their messiah, the one whom Christ said “would come in his own name”, not in the name of the Father. The Pharisees looked for a messiah who would lead the Jews in a revolt against Rome and establish a Jewish kingdom, not Jesus who was rejected and handed over to the secular authorities to be condemned. In Phariseesism were the seeds of Revolution planted and this nihilistic Revolution now has open control of all formerly Christian countries. _Ultimate Things_ concludes by stating the Christ will come, “as a thief in the night” when no one will expect it. The Christians of the last days do not know exactly when Jesus will return but are encouraged to be vigilant and watch so they will not be caught off guard when the “Thief” comes to rob Satan’s house.

Symbols of an Anti-Postmodern

In short form,

  • Celebration of ancient battles in which a people’s identity was forged (Tours, Salamis, Kosovo, First Manassas).
  • Singing the old songs, be they Slavic or Scottish. In any case, they are obviously superior to what’s on the radio. Yes, even superior to most country music songs.
  • The Icon. The icon is two dimensional and defies an immediate analysis. Indeed, iconism (e.g., most forms of poetry and two-dimensional paintings, murals, and mosaics) has a depth beyond itself. It is not easily deconstructed. Postmodern deconstructionism does a thorough job at showing how reality is merely a mask for power-plays. But the icon–and I can’t really say why at the moment–is not easily deconstructed. Because it is two-dimensional, and that the vanishing point is in front of the picture (not behind it as in regular art), it is…different. It is not simply “looking at a picture,” but looking at the picture who is looking back at me.

    The postmodern’s claim is that all claims to represent reality are marred by violence and power (I wonder if the postmodern’s claim is also marred by ontology and violence? They usually don’t like to be asked that). The icon, however, represents a depth beyond reality–what reality will be in the eschaton (It’s not saying that THIS *is* the reality of heaven, but is attempting to point towards it).

    (Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being has an interesting discussion on this.)

Early notes on liturgical worship

One encouraging sign from some Reformed communities is the return to (or movement towards) “Covenant Renewal Worship (CRW).” Like all young movements, it has its growing pains (of course; indeed, I was there), but it has a lot that is positive and with many roots in the ancient church. The best book on it is Jeff Meyers book by the same name: Covenant Renewal Worship.

When this movement was happening on the Presbyterian scene about ten years ago (and is showing fairly strong today; and fwiw I am sympathetic to the idea), a strange debate arose from both critics and defenders. The CRW was accused of “going back to temple worship” and the RPW (regulative principle) was accused of taking its cue, not from God but from 1st century Synagogue worship. Temple vs. Synagogue.

I then realized that the whole debate is wrong-headed. Neither charge is correct. First of all, we really don’t know what synagogue worship was truly like. You can’t seriously make the claim that First Pres Jackson is just like a 1st century synagogue, only with a new testament thrown in. And as much as you might not like the CRW guys, they aren’t sacrificing animals at the temple.

Secondly, in the 1st century Jewish world, would there even be an opposition between temple and synagogue? No, there wouldn’t. So it is wrong to say “we worship in the purity of synagogue style worship while you apostate to Temple worship.” No, this purity of synagogue worship had the exact same structure as the Temple, minus the dead cows and libations. Can I prove this? Well, I think there are some indicators.

The early church did spring from Old Testament Judaism (which is not the same as Judaism today). And among the legacy of OT Judaism it inherited was the “hours of the day” and the “liturgical calendar.” I am taking many of the following points from the guys at “our life in Christ” radio program.

  1. Acts 2:42 – continued in THE prayers (in the GreeK), were day by day IN THE TEMPLEā€¦
  2. Acts 5:42, The apostles were continually in the Temple praying and teaching, 6:4 they appoint deacons so they can devote themselves to THE prayers (Greek) and ministry of the word
  3. Acts 10:2-3 Cornelius prayed continually, 9th hour., 10:9 Peter at the 6th hour went to the roof to pray. These were “liturgical hours of prayer”.
  4. Acts 13:2 While they were “ministering” to the Lord, literally in liturgy, the Holy Spirit spoke to them. The Spirit works in liturgy
  5. Acts 15:22, 18:8, 17: “leaders” of synagogue, ie., liturgical worship leaders.
  6. Acts 18:7 “Worshipper of God” house next to the synagogue.
  7. Acts 16:25 midnight praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
  8. Acts 20:6, 16 After the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost are mentioned. Paul says in I Cor. 16:8 that he will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. The early Church kept a liturgical “church calendar”.
  9. Hebrews 8:2 High Priest Jesus a “minister” (lit. “liturgist”) in the heavenly sanctuary
Whatever else early church worship was, and right now we are holding off judgment on icons, incense et al, it was structured. The CRW types (and when possible, I worship in a CRW church and like it) are absolutely right to point this out.

And as many know, structure is inevitable in worship. Even charismatic churches have a structure amidst the chaos (e.g., people start getting the spirit at the usual times).

The RPW guy says that we must worship God the way God commanded. On one level that’s not bad advice. The problem is no one really holds to that. Very few commands to worship are given in the Bible: rarely in New Covenant worship does God say, “Thou shalt do x.” We simply don’t have a New Testament version of Leviticus.

God may not have given us explicit commands, but he has given us patterns. Exodus and Hebrews make clear (as does Revelation) that there is a heavenly pattern of worship.

Post-New Testament Recapitulation

A thought: I was reading the story of St Leo of Sicily (one of today’s saints) and here is following:

When he died, a woman with an issue of blood received healing at his grave.

Now the sceptic (the tenured professor in the religion dept) will say that’s just pious gush ripping off a miracle of Christ. But suppose it’s not, is there anything interesting that this is clearly a repeat of New Testament miracles? Earlier I suggested that the Incarnation of Christ not only repeats types and figures from the Old Testament (recontextualizing them and giving them their meaning and fulfillment), but that it recapitulates history as well.

Since history is part of reality, and Christ’s incarnation recapitulates reality (e.g, “Summing up al things in heaven and earth”), then it recapitulates time as well. Though it’s a small point, I submit that St Leo healing the woman with the issue of blood was a small aspect of Christ’s recapitulating time. Likek a musical, we see The Holy Gospel of Mark, chapter 5 replayed later in history, but in a new time and place.

Review of *Shadowlands* by Tad Williams

Mainly some short-comments on the book. The kingdom faces an invasion from some primeval beings. I don’t know if I would compare them to elves. I think they are some kind of dark Norse elf. The invaders aren’t good, obviously, but they aren’t evil in intention.

The kingdom has to rally support from its southern neighbors. On the other hand, the southernmost kingdom is preparing to invade the Northern kingdom (obviously, this is a reference to the Ottoman empire).

There are main characters interspersed throughout the locales and their lives are slowly woven together.

As far as fantasy novels go, this is series is pretty good. Williams is a talented writer, as evident in his other series (even if he makes some major goofs). I think the setting here is late middle ages, since one empire is referenced as having gunpowder.

Review of Lillith by George MacDonald

MacDonald is one of those “christened” never-read guys in the American Christian world. Many do appreciate his children tales (which are good, if dark) and many see that CS Lewis is heavily influenced by him. So he must be a good guy, right? Well, he is. But most Evangelical bookstores don’t carry him. At least, they don’t carry his adult fair tales (Phantastes and Lilith). The books they carry by MacDonald are a few pieces of historical fiction, which might be okay, but the cover usually has some sultry Evangelical lass on a homestead looking far into the distance.

I don’t think that is what MacDonald had in mind. In any case, on to the present review. I read Phantastes this summer. Besides having an indirect storyline and choppy writing, it was quite good. Very beautiful word pictures painted. Good lesson on “having to die” before you can experience new life (incidentally, this message is in everyone of Lewis’s works if you look carefully). As Chesterton said, every leaf in the story is “sacramental.”

Maybe that’s true of Lilith, too. I couldn’t get the same experience out of it. The book is interesting, but it has many of the same faults as Phantastes with none of its sacramental depth. The story line is indirect (for much of the story, you really can’t know what’s going on). And like some of the criticisms of Tolkien, at times there is too much exposition and too little narrative. Tolkien could get away with this because he had a smooth, flowing style. MacDonald does not.

There are good lessons in this book. There is a scene about theosis (or a dark theosis) where a character transforms into a physical monster but still remains the same character. And while the writing style is choppy and stilted, one could call it, in its better moments, iconic. It gives you an indirect look at reality and forces you to look “behind the depth of things.” Unfortunately, these moments are too few.

So what do we make of MacDonald? Definitely read Phantastes. And you can find Lilith for $5 on Amazon.

Fantasy Fiction Reviews Coming

I’m a sucker for a good fantasy novel. The problem is, there are few good novels. Most of them are literary (and I use that word loosely) rip-offs of Tolkien or Conan the Barbarian. Most of the stuff on the shelf is garbage.

But it looks good and one is tempted to buy it. I realized that I needed to review some works online before I purchased (or checked out from the library–our library at home has few fantasy books). But most of the reviews online are generally useless. Too much information on books I don’t plan to read anyway. So I decided to do it myself (and hey, the reviews, when hit on a google search, might attract the nerds here!).
But why take the time to do fantasy, since much of it is garbage anyway? Well, there is redemptive value to fantasy. And if you look at it from one angle, the great classics like The Iliad and The Aenid are fantasy works. And the Fathers read them (and most of the Fathers liked them!). And there is the Iconic beauty of Lewis and Tolkien. Fantasy, if done rightly, is beauty.
Except it is rarely done rightly.