Standing in line at the supermarket is such an education. As I’m placing my grocery items on the conveyor belt and watching them slide toward the cashier, I glance toward the ubiquitous magazines there in the check-out line and read headlines screaming at me that Big Foot has been seen again, the latest Hollywood starlet has been cheated on or has cheated on her spouse, an aging actor tells all, and (most importantly) the Pope has been contacted by an alien race informing him that the world will soon end! Fascinating!
What drives such curiosity or behavior? The truth is these tabloids wouldn’t exist if there weren’t folks to pay to read their stories. And they’ve been around as long as I can remember. So, what’s behind this strange fascination with this kind of sensational writing? Well, fascination with the bizarre isn’t new. But something is really gripping about the “end of the world!”
And doesn’t the Church teach Jesus will return? Yes, in the Scriptures, our theology, and the Creed we declare in our worship that we believe in the Parousia (the Second Coming of Christ) AND the Final Judgement. But we do not teach these blessed truths for the purpose of base curiosity about this or that world event occurring or for some scare tactic to get people “saved.” And we don’t sensationalize this promised Second Coming with Hollywood movies or threats. But that doesn’t mean we don’t tell people to BE READY. We do, and you should!
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Matthew 24:13-28:
The Lord said to his disciples, “He who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.
“So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Lo, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; if they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.”
The Lord goes on to tell the disciples about terrible days soon to come and He warns them when terrible days occur that when they hear “‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.”
So, no “secret Rapture” where the Lord comes secretly and takes all the “good guys” to heaven and then plunges the world into all sorts of horrible tribulations. In fact, the whole purpose of the teachings of the Lord about His return and turbulent times isn’t about satisfying curiosity or even giving us “signs of the times” to let us “know” when all this will happen! No, not at all! The Lord and the Church give us these teachings to do what all the faith is supposed to do: Strengthen and motivate us toward Endurance, Faithfulness, Hope, Confidence, and Love. All these teachings of the Faith are meant to help us do what the first part of the passage declares “He who endures to the end will be saved.” If you run your race faithfully if you don’t give up and succumb to the fears and temptations of your day to lose heart if you stay faithful, you’ll be safe, and secure, and none of the terrors of the world will harm you!
Being ready for the Parousia (the Second Coming) is no different than being ready for your own physical death. The preparations are the same; to have the “right answer before the awesome Judgement Seat of Christ.” And all of the wisdom of the Church is meant to help you with this. The disciplines and the practices of the Faith transform your life from an inattentive stumble through the dark to a wide-awake person knowing your priorities and living out your trust in God. And it’s, frankly, so easy to tell the difference between these two paths of life IF you’ll just pay attention!
St. Myron suffered greatly for his Christian faith around the year 250 AD. He lived in the region called Achaia and the local leader there was named Antipater. Antipater entered the church in the area during the Christmas celebration to arrest and torture the Christians to get them to abandon the Fasith and worship the idols of Rome. Myron stood boldly against this sacrilege and Antipater had the saint tortured horribly to scare the other believers. But the torture did not do what Antipater had hoped. Finally, St. Myron was thrown to the wild beasts in the arena, but the beats refused to attack him and, instead, stood around him as a guard! When Antipater saw this display, he was so overcome by shame that he killed himself. St. Myron was then sent to the main city of Cyzicus where the proconsul had him beheaded. No physical suffering or torment could sway St. Myron because he was already prepared for this moment by years of formation in the wisdom of the Faith. He was ready!
Today, use the message of the Parousia as your motivating factor that while the world may experience earthquakes, war, famine, and various apocalyptic events, don’t let those distract you from your purpose. You are to endure! You are to stay faithful regardless of the circumstances of the world. You have all the tools you need to finish your life well and have “a good answer before the Awesome Judgement seat of Christ.” Being Orthodox on Purpose ensures you’re ready!
P.S. Since you loved Christ from childhood, O all-lauded one and strictly kept His precepts and divine commands, you ran whole-heartedly unto Him, O Myron, and found rest and with Angels glorify Him, while asking divine forgiveness for us all.