In the following talk,1
Fr. Seraphim speaks to us from almost
1. WHY STUDY THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES?
twenty years ago, and yet his words are quite relevant to our times
as we approach the end of the second millennium. Although some of
the individual examples he gives are now dated, there are now even
more extreme examples of the same phenomena of which he speaks. As
always, he humbles his understanding before the holy
their interpretation by the Orthodox Holy Fathers, and thus his teaching
about the times remains timeless, free of the intellectual fashions and
prejudices of this world. As time goes on, the Orthodox world-view
from which he received his wisdom will become ever more
necessary for the spiritual survival of true Christians.
THE SUBJECT of this talk is watching for the signs of the times. First
of all, we have to know what it is meant by the phrase "signs of the
times." This expression comes straight from the Gospel, from the
words of our Saviour in Matthew 16:3. Christ tells the Pharisees and
Sadducees who came to Him, "Ye can discern the face of the sky," that
is, tell what the weather will be; "but can ye not discern the signs of
the times?" In other words, He's telling them that this has nothing
to do with science, or with knowing our place in the world, or anything of the
sort. It's a religious question. We study the signs of the times in
order to be able to recognize Christ.
During the time of Christ, the Pharisees and Sadducees did
not study the signs of the times in order to see that Christ had come, that the
Son of God was already on earth. There were already signs that they
should have recognized. For example, in the book of Daniel in the Old
Testament, there is a prophecy concerning the seventy weeks of years, which
means that the Messiah was to come about 490 years from the time of Daniel.
Those Jews who read their books very carefully knew exactly what this was all
about, and at about the time that Christ came they knew that it was time for
But this is an outward sign. More importantly, the
Pharisees and Sadducees should have been watching for the inward signs.
If their hearts had been right with God, and if they had not been merely trying
to fulfill the outward commandment of the law, their hearts would have
responded and recognized God in the flesh when He came. And many of the
Jews did—the apostles, the disciples, and many others.
This same passage in the 16th chapter of St. Matthew speaks
further about signs. Our Lord told the Jews, "An evil and adulterous
generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but
the sign of the prophet Jonah." The events of the Old Testament
contain prefigurations of events in the New Testament. When Jonah was
three days in the belly of the whale, this was a prefiguation of our Lord's
being three days in the tomb. And this sign—the sign of Jonah-was given
to the people of Christ's time.
Our Lord was telling the Pharisees and Sadducees that an
evil and adulterous generation seeks for spectacular events, that is, fire
coming down from heaven, or the Romans being chased away, angels manifesting
themselves and banishing the foreign government of the Romans, and things of
that sort. Christ told them this kind of sign would not be given.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks after this, but those who are pure of
heart seek rather something more spiritual. And the one sign that is
given to them is the sign of Jonah. Of course, it is a great thing that a
man should be three days in the grave and the rise up, being God.
Thus, from our Savior's words, we know that we are not to
watch for spectacular signs, but we are rather to look inwardly for spiritual
signs. Also, we are to watch for those things which according to
Scripture must come to pass.
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