1 Timothy 1.15-17

Luke 18.35-43

Luke 21.8-19

The Gospel of blind Bartimaeus crying out a form of the ‘prayer of the heart’ – ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ – is the Gospel for today. This Gospel is the ‘signpost’ announcing to us that we have entered the foothills leading up to Great Lent. Next Sunday’s Gospel is of the Canaanite woman; the Gospel for the following Sunday is Zaccheus; and the Gospel for the Sunday after that is the Publican and the Pharisee, the ‘gate’ that opens the Lenten Triodion.

This morning as well, we honor the New Martyrs of Russia, and our Gospel assigned for their commemoration is the LORD teaching His disciples about the signs of the end times. A mere chance juxtaposition of assigned Gospels?

The evils that signify the beginning of the last days, which the LORD gives to His disciples in this morning’s Gospel for the New Martyrs of Russia, began to manifest themselves in an unprecedented way in the unspeakable evils and sufferings inflicted on the Russian people at the hands of the Bolsheviks in the 20th century—in addition to the Nazis and other atheistic totalitarian regimes that have come onto the world stage in the last 100 years; but in just the last few years, even in the last year, in the last few months, we are seeing the seeds of these evils sprouting throughout what was once upon a time the ‘free world’, and even in our own country.

To discern the signs of the times is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that this gift is what’s most needed in our day, and it is the gift most sorely lacking. It is found, however, in a number of holy fathers from the 20th century, and also in holy fathers recognized by the faithful as living saints in our own day. They have been warning us—and they have identified certain signs happening in our own day to prove it—that the antichrist prophesied in Holy Scripture may be very near, and that his ‘ministers’ may already be here. Yet, one has observed that these warnings fall on deaf ears and are met with a measure of derision, even by bishops and priests.

Discerning the signs of the times is centered on discerning Truth from the lie, discerning the true Christ from the many false christs, the trumpets and puppets, wittingly or no, of the anti-christ. But how can one discern Truth from the lie if one is not seeking the Truth in a spirit of repentance and the confession of one’s sins according to the Holy Gospel of Our LORD Jesus Christ?

We can read our two Gospels this morning as one. The fear awakened by the LORD’s description of events signaling that the end is near—a fear all the greater when we see these events happening today, in our own country—should drive us, however, not into fear and anxiety, but to prayer in the fear of God, the prayer of blind Bartimaeus this morning: ‘LORD Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a blind man, a sinner!’

For, of the evils and sufferings that will be poured out on the earth to signify the last days, the LORD says: ‘These things must be! But when you hear of wars and disorders (what might be translated as anarchies; and, as He says in other places, when you see earthquakes—not geological earthquakes, but, as the holy fathers tell us, seismic shifts in cultural values when, following Isaiah, darkness is called light, and evil is called good)—do not be terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not yet.’ (Luk 21:9)

‘Do not be terrified,’ the LORD says. There is comfort in that. It tells us that these evils are not catching God by surprise, and that the LORD God is watching over His faithful ones—those who seek refuge under His wings and in the embrace of His Holy Mother, and who flee from the wisdom and lies of worldly powers that have become puppets of the ruler of this age, and from the spirits of evil that are working death in the sons of disobedience.

The signs that our world is descending with increasing speed into anarchy are becoming more blatant and obvious. The successful production of what has been called a mass psychosis of fear has settled over the world as a dark cloud, seizing people with fear and anxiety because it ‘blinds’ them to the Light of Truth, and in their effort to escape, they seek deliverance in science, in political solutions, or they seek escape in drugs, or in indulging impure carnal desires, or in gluttony, or perhaps even in social media, video games and the like.

In the midst of the madness, the anarchy, the insanity, the wars and earthquakes happening in the world now with increasing frequency and intensity, the Church remains unchanged. She is the Body of Christ, the Fullness of Him who is all in all. In Her LORD and Bridegroom, She is eternally victorious and triumphant over the gates of hell; and in Her Motherly Compassion, She calls out to Her faithful ones to get ready to step onto the Path of Great Lent and to come to Her Son and Her LORD in the closet of their heart, to descend far beneath the madness of the world to find there, in the closet of one’s heart, the Ladder that ascends to the God who has conquered hell and destroyed death by His death in the Glory of His Holy Resurrection. Giving heed to Her call, we turn in repentance away from the fear of the world and toward the fear of God, and we begin calling on the Name of the LORD in prayer and repentance, and in the confession of our sins, the confession of our blindness, of our weakness, of our fears and anxieties, of our paralysis, we take up our cross to begin the spiritual and saving work of knitting our souls and bodies with the LORD’s Soul and Body in which He has destroyed our death by His death. In this, we are taking refuge not in princes or in sons of men in whom there is no salvation, but in the LORD who reigns forever.

Do not be terrified, the LORD said. But here are words of the LORD that may terrify us, and they should. They come from His holy apostle, Peter: ‘For the time [has come] for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what will [be] the end of those who do not obey the Gospel of God?’ [1Pe 4:17]

It is this word of the LORD given to us through the holy apostle Peter that connects us to this morning’s Gospel of blind Bartimaeus; but it does so by way of this word of the LORD that we read in St Mark: ‘And He began to teach His disciples that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and [of] the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.’ [Mar 8:31]

These things, these evils of the last days, must be, the LORD says; and of His own suffering and death, He says that they must be. Do you hear in this that the suffering of the LORD’s Pascha is one with the suffering of the last days; that the evils of the last days are of one piece with the evils inflicted on the LORD Jesus Christ in His trial and crucifixion? But precisely this, it seems, is why we should not be terrified when we hear of wars and rumors of wars and all the other evils that will happen when the end draws near. If we are running to the House of God, the Church, and seeking to learn and to live the way of the LORD Jesus, then the LORD’s ‘judgment’ becomes divine instruction on the way of salvation, the way of deliverance. If we keep ourselves in the House of God, if we continuously subject ourselves to the LORD’s judgment in repentance and in the confession of our sins, then His judgment becomes His healing mercy by which He heals our blindness and cleanses us of our sins, and illumines us so that we see Him Who is the True Light coming into the world. Ah! We see Him on His Judgment Seat in the way that is hidden from the ages. We see Him high and lifted up on the Cross—this is His Judgment Seat! And on it, He destroys death by His death. By His Blood, He washes away our sins and heals us of all our infirmities, and raises us up that we may follow Him as did Bartimaeus. Follow Him where? Up into the heavens that were opened at His Baptism in the Jordan—as Bartimaeus says to the LORD: ‘I want to look up!’ For if we are subjecting ourselves daily to Christ’s judgment of us, if we are daily confessing our sins in the spirit of repentance, ceaselessly praying the LORD to have mercy on us, then we are rooting our hearts in the victory of His Cross, in the mercy of His Judgment Seat. And if we are taking up our Cross to follow Christ, we need not be afraid; for we are walking in the Light as He is in the Light. And if in our suffering we are found in Christ, then our suffering in this world, and especially the sufferings of the last days, are found to be, by Christ’s victory on the Cross, our participation in His suffering and death; and if we suffer with Him in the likeness of His death, we are given to know from the manifest presence of His Holy Spirit in our hearts, that we are being raised with Him in His Holy Resurrection.

Therefore, do not be afraid. Or rather: fear God, not the world that hates God and seeks to destroy Him. In patience, possess your souls. That is, take up the ascetic work of turning our mind away from the fear of the world and turn our mind, in repentance, toward the fear of God. Seek refuge not in the sciences or political solutions of the world, but in the Faith born from the prayer of the heart given us by the Church herself—LORD Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! In this work, take possession of your souls; do not let the world take possession of your soul, and offer your souls to the LORD Jesus Christ as a living sacrifice in fear and trembling, in joy and thanksgiving. And receive the LORD Himself in the joy found in secret in the Cave of Bethlehem, in the Cave of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, in the cave of your heart! It is the joy of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself who is risen from the dead, destroying death by His death and giving life to those in the tombs, pouring out His Grace to overflowing on all who fear Him and love Him and seek to do His will! Amen!