The beginning of sorrows
Mark 13:7ff But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.
Revelation 8:5ff Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Always remain in a state of repentance…for we know not the day or the hour at which the Lord will come.
St. Nilus of Sinai
Facing apocalypse with faith
The rush of natural disasters, hurricanes, wind and fire…the march of terror and war, the hint of economic crash…these images we can no longer ignore. People now ask me, “Is this the beginning of the end?”
It is a serious question.
I try to answer it in biblical terms, without obscuring the intent of revelation. Scripture never emphasizes the when of apocalypse, but always emphasizes the what of apocalypse, as in, “What should be our response in such a time as this?”
“How then should we live?” is the recurring drumbeat of revelation, regarding apocalypse.
The Hebraic prophets called for repentance when faced with national disaster.
One must ask, “Why?” Why did the prophets link morality with physical disaster? Is there some causal link?
The answer, unequivocally, is yes. Yes, our spiritual thoughts, our mental and internal status, affect physical reality. It is a spiritual universe. All that is, is held together by the Spirit of God. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.’
When people repent, they bring their lives into line with the Spirit that holds the whole together. When people worship God with their internal and daily lives, bringing God’s presence into the details through prayer and obedience, an actual connection with the eternal occurs – realized or unrealized.
This is why it is no mere child’s game to say that our prayers affect even physical disasters, such as hurricanes. The prophets emphasized this, repeatedly. And they were only applying the specific covenant promise of God.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there He tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.’
The power of penitence and prayer
Penitence and prayer thus become the most powerful things in the universe – things fluffed off or devalued by modern spirituality, but nonetheless the divine weapons of inner power…strong enough to still a storm or stop an act of terror, if accessed in faith.
Sara Yoheved Rigler, talks of this Hebraic principle of penitential prayer:
A person stealing $100 in Tel Aviv lowers the moral fiber in Mexico City and could encourage massive embezzlement in Melbourne. Conversely, a person doing a mitzvah in Haifa may avert an auto accident in London or prevent complications during open-heart surgery in Los Angeles. The spiritual channels of effect run far below the surface, untraceable but powerful.
Spiritual forces, like ocean waves, do not lose their power over distance.
And this is not the doctrine of karma, but rather, repentance. Karma means you get what you deserve, period. Covenant repentance, on the other hand, means that the power of God comes to bear, to forgive past offenses and grant healing…as God promised himself as healer and deliverer.
Sara describes this difference between Judaism [Hebraic Scriptures] and eastern teachings:
Judaism, on the contrary, teaches the concept of teshuva. Teshuva means that a person can regret and change his/her mode of conduct, and when s/he does, the past actions are spiritually erased. In fact, if one does teshuva from pure love of God, the subterranean channel, the river of fire, turns into a positive force, a river of sweet water.
This is precisely what Judaism endorses as a response to disaster. The Talmud says that when one suffers, one should scrutinize one's deeds, implying that teshuva for wrong conduct can change one's fortune. And what if one is not directly affected, but only hears about a disaster that occurred in a distant place? The Talmud asserts that if a person even hears about a disaster such as an earthquake, one must relate to the tragedy by examining one's own deeds.
This makes sense because of the causal link between spiritual and physical reality. This is why the prophets call for repentance!
The fall of Constantinople as spiritual lesson
In the mid-fifteenth century, Constantinople wallowed in spiritual torpor and creature comforts. The golden capital of the Roman Empire and ‘Christendom,’ Constantinople only reflected a society in love with success and material gain. Aristocrats and commoners alike lived in spiritual ignorance, devoting their lives to getting along in social strata. Christianity was the going thing…mega churches were in full sway, with vast crowds and crafted worship performances.
But it was Christianity to manage Christ, and religious ceremony to build walls against God’s transformative power in daily life.
The monk St. Joseph Vryennios tried to save the city. He preached impassioned sermons, and prayed until his heart would break. Joseph preached in the Palace to the emperor, his entourage, the generals, councils and thousands of people.
People asked him, “Are you happy with the thousands of people listening to your sermons?” He answered, “They may be listening, but they neither abandon their sins nor do they repent. They come for entertainment. It is for this reason that I am returning to my cell to cry for my sins and the sins of the people, because the city will become Turkic.” 
Upon hearing of Joseph’s condemnation of the city, the Grand Duke protested: ‘Surely God will not judge us! Why look at all our churches, monks, nuns and clergy!’
The Grand Duke Doucas Notaras…replied to St. Joseph, “It is written [in Genesis] that even if a city has fifty righteous people, God will not destroy it. Wouldn’t we find twenty or even ten people in our empire, from all the thousands of monks, nuns and clergy, to hold back the wrath of God?” 
St. Joseph replied, “Unfortunately there is not even five.”
Those words, ‘not even five righteous’ in the empire were not hollow words [as events would soon show]. Joseph described how each person in the empire – emperor, patriarch, generals, clergy, parents and teachers – were either directly or indirectly responsible for the evil in the empire, as they ignored the will of God in daily life. He returned to his monk’s cell to pray, and ‘fell asleep in the Lord shortly before the fall of the city.’
The city fell in 1453, to Mohammed II, ‘the Conqueror’ of the Ottoman Empire. Mohammed II celebrated the victory in the palaces of the Byzantines, finding enough gold in the personal coffers of the citizens that would have saved the Roman Empire many times over…
Even more significant and mysterious…the conquerors saw an ominous spiritual sign in the midst of their celebration. Reminiscent of the hand writing on the wall in Babylon, in the Book of Daniel, these Moslem conquerors saw a fearful hand with five fingers flying about the room.
Whilst celebrating, the conquerors saw a hand with five fingers flying around the room they were gathered in, but they could not stop or contain it. The Islamic dream-readers could not interpret this vision, so they asked for Orthodox holy men to interpret it. The Roman chosen to interpret the sign happened to be Gennadius Scholarios. Gennadius then fasted for a week with prayer before the sign was revealed to him. He returned to Mohammed II and told him that the sign meant, “Even if there had been five worthy people in the empire, the empire would have been spared.” 
“Even if there had been five worthy people in the empire, the empire would have been spared.”
Such a mystical, tragic account gives a salient question for our time: “If for five righteous people the empire would have been spared, what does it mean to be righteous?” “What does it mean to be ‘worthy?’?”
The penitence of seeking God in daily life
Righteousness is related to the will, to daily life. And, most seriously, today, just as in the time of Constantinople, Christianity often opposes this actual life of the will, in God.
Kierkegaard is prophetic, here:
All our Bible learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes. When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always something else we have to first take care of. We live under the illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the belief in perfect form before we can begin to live – that is, we never get around to doing what the Word says...
Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close.
We use religion, good works, even worship, mission and giving as excuses for not doing the will of God, for not living out daily life in the calling of God.
Here is the practical denial of God. Here is the practical excusing of God from internal, daily life.
Francois de Fenelon addresses this, in the difference between ‘great acts of virtue’ and ‘small things.’
To do small things that are right continually, without being noticed, is much more important [than doing 'great things']. These small acts attack your pride, your laziness, your self-centeredness, and your oversensitive nature. It is much more appealing to make great sacrifices to God, however hard they might be, so that you might do whatever you want with the small decisions of life. Faithfulness in the little things better proves your love for God. It is the slow, plodding path rather than a passing fit of enthusiasm that matters....
You may need courage to attend to small things at first. It may not be easy. Accept the difficulty as God's discipline which will bring you peace. Things will get easier.
Righteousness is letting God into the small things, and then realizing that He owns all things.
Simply, being worthy or righteous does not mean being perfect. It merely means letting God into the details of daily life. It means that we no longer create “Christianity” and theologies that banish God from the little decisions of life, as if we are in control of daily things, and just reference God for things we can’t figure out on our own.
Here Kierkegaard has the last word:
Biblical Christianity is concerned with our will, with changing the will. Everything touches this, all the instructions [renouncing the world, denying one’s self, dying to the world, and so on, also to hate oneself, to love God] are connected with this fundamental idea: the transformation of the will.
Righteousness is permitting God into the will, partnering with the calling in the details of personal life…refusing to erect religious barriers against His voice.
Our defense against the day of apocalypse is the action of this day. This day! ‘Today, if you will hear my voice,’ says the Lord. ‘Harden not your heart as in the day of provocation…’ ‘Now is the appointed time. Today is the day of salvation…’