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The Kingdom of God:

"Progress" or the Cross?

by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse [of Blessed Memory]

ON AUGUST 1, according to our Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, our Holy Church begins the celebration of the Precious and Life-creating Cross of the Lord, which reaches its climax on September 14, the great feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, and concludes with the Leave-taking (Apodosis) of the feast on September 21.

Why is this? Is it not enough that we commemorate the Crucifixion of the Lord on the Cross on Great Friday, and that the Holy Church glorifies the Cross of the Lord every Friday?

A profound, inner meaning is concealed in this celebration of the Cross of the Lord: the Holy Church, our concerned mother, wishes to direct our particular attention to this great and saving sign, against which the world, "which lieth in wickedness" (I Jn. 5:19), has always waged, and in our days continues to wage, a deliberate and unrelenting battle—the world which has now plainly fallen away from Christ and is preparing itself to worship Antichrist.

Can anyone dare call himself a Christian who shuts his eyes to all the horrors taking place in the world today, and soothes his conscience, and the consciences of those around him, with assurances that everything is an incidental, transient phenomenon, and that in general the world is moving towards "progress," towards the establishment of the "Kingdom of God on earth"?

It is frightening to think that we are hearing such assurances more and more often in our days, not only from non-believers, not only from the sectarians who are "chiliasts" (those whose doctrine includes belief in a thousand-year kingdom on earth), but even from certain Orthodox clerics, including some who bear the rank of bishop!

It is difficult to say what these people believe who have apparently been appointed to instruct the people in the pure teaching of the Word of God and the holy Fathers of the Church, and why they are so disposed, marching to the tune of the sectarians at times, and at other times with those who do not believe in God and with the "Christian progressives." Either they are naive in the extreme and completely ignorant of the clear teaching of the word of God, or they themselves do not believe in anything, but say that which is required of them by the overlords who provide for them, whom they faithfully serve, fearing to lose those worldly goods received from them: money, titles, jobs, high rank in society, pleasures, etc.

The word of God does not give us even the slightest foundation for belief in the establishment of a "Kingdom of God on earth," or in any worldly progress for humanity; quite the contrary. It foretells much suffering for true followers of Christ and the "bearing of the cross" in imitation and following of the Lord Who bore the Cross; and for this world, which lieth in wickedness, it foretells an inevitable end. The promised "Kingdom of Christ on earth" is by no means tangible, but noetic—within the souls, of those who truly believe in Christ, for Whom the Lord became King.

Surely it is not in vain that, laying down the whole course of a true Christian's earthly life, Christ our Savior said: "Whosoever, will come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me" (Mk. 8:34); and at the Mystical Supper before His suffering: on the Cross, He forewarned His disciples "In the world ye shall have tribulation" (Jn. 16:33). Neither in vain did the holy Apostles, in complete accord, with these words of the Divine Teacher, instruct Christians, "We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22), or "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow His steps" (I Pet. 2:21).

But this transient, earthly world in which the "progressives," despite the sorry witness of their own eyes, promise the people some completely illusory, happy, "paradisiacal" life with total well-being and prosperity for all, is doomed to destruction on the "day of the Lord," according to the clear, teaching of the word of God, when "the heavens shall pass away, with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (II Pet. 3:10).

Modern thinkers do not want to hear of this, saying that this might happen "some day," "many million years hence," but "never today." By such statements they liken themselves to the "scoffers" the holy Apostle also refers to, alerting Christians to the dangers lurking for the morality of Christian people. "Know this first, that there shall come in the last days deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation" (II Pet. 3:3-4). It is a characteristic indication that those who speak thus are people who are "walking after their own lusts!" To such "lusts" have they surrendered themselves, darkening the eyes of their souls so that they no longer see anything, for they look at everything only from the distorted point of view of their "lusts," which occupy all their attention and interest.

Yet, our Lord Himself clearly taught us not to think of relegating His Second Coming to some vague remote future "millions of years hence," but commanded us to expect Him always, comparing His arrival in its suddenness to that of a thief: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief would come he would have watched and would not have suffered his house to be broken into. Therefore, be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Mt. 24:42-44). The "faithful and wise servant" never says that the Second Coming will be "sometime after many, many years;" and that it is thus not necessary to trouble oneself with this thought, for he knows that the Lord Himself" has forbidden him to say: "my Lord delayeth, His, coming" (Mt 24:48).

What, then, can be said of these who not only do not consider the possibility of the nearness of the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ, which many signs indicate to us, but believe in some imaginary progress of humanity and the approach of a general well-being and prosperity, although all of modern life, with its total decline of true faith and morality, with its terrible, destructive inventions which deal death to man, simply cries out against this. Such people are totally alien to Christianity, even though they bear the exalted positions and titles of Christian clerics and hierarchs!

One must know and remember that it is such earthly "Progress," such illusory well-being and prosperity of man on earth, that Antichrist, Christ's opponent, promises to give to the people. His servants, who are preparing for his reign on earth, are already striving beforehand in like manner to influence the people, shouting and preaching everywhere about this "paradise on earth" which supposedly awaits the people. And all those who strive for this earthly "progress" forgetting Christ's words: "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Mt. 6:33), who avoid bearing their cross as Christ commands, but think only of how they might make the world better and more free, richer and more carefree, enjoying all the earthly goods and pleasures, are in the same camp with the servants of the imminent Antichrist, working consciously or unconsciously for his swift appearance and reign in the world.

Such as these are not of Christ, but of Antichrist. But we, if we are true Christians and do not falsely or hypocritically bear the name "Christian," must gaze constantly upon the Cross of Christ, that saving sign of God's love for us, the token of our salvation, and drawing therefrom abundant and grace-imparting powers "which pertain unto life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:3), must bear our cross as the Lord has commanded us, and must regard this transient earthly life as but a sojourn in a hostel, whence we must return home to those "heavenly mansions" which the Lord has prepared for us by His suffering on the Cross (Jn. 14:2).

With the great Apostle, we must "consider all things as dung in order to win Christ" (Phil. 3:8). And we must thus forsake all our purely earthly concerns, all controversies, quarrels, disputes and altercations, from which no one receives any benefit, but only spiritual harm. "Our life is in Heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). This we must ever constantly keep in mind.

Soon all will come to an end—all this temporal, transient, corrupt earthly world. Surely we shall not lose our hope of eternal life by surrendering ourselves to our petty passions and lusts! "Seek those things which are above," the holy Apostle Paul thus exhorts us, "where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:1-2).

From Orthodox Life, Vol. 28, No. 6 (Nov.-Dec., 1978), pp. 23-26. Translated from True Orthodoxy and the Modern World, by Archbishop Averky (Jordanville, N.Y.: St. Job of Pochaev Press, 1971), pp. 295-299.