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Introduction – We are Back; Apologies; Some Changes
I ask everyone’s forgiveness for waiting so long to record another class. But I do hope, and have reason to believe, that many did benefit, during Great Lent, from my recording the daily Genesis readings and my little commentaries, which, published in book form, I call The Eternal Sacrifice. If my words helped you in any way to enjoy a more profitable Great Fast, I am deeply grateful to the Lord who enabled me to do this, and Who granted you the grace to grow in understanding, and in love, for His Holy Word.
Last time I indicated that we were going to be back at St. Irene doing real classes with our parishioners and recording them, but it has not turned out that way. In this, as in so much of what I am doing here, I ask your pardon for changes of direction, for saying we are going to do one thing and then doing another. This Orthodox Survival Course is a work in progress, and thus you are saddled with me thinking out loud as we go along. If the world goes on, and one day a more disciplined mind than mine hammers these talks into a more respectable shape, your children can say to their grandchildren, “Mom and Dad were there when Fr. Steven was muddling through all this for the first time!”
So we may have some real classes at St. Irene and record them, or we may simply go back to this solo recording approach for the most part. I much prefer the former, and probably you do too, but we shall struggle to keep going at any rate. You will also probably notice that I have returned to writing an entire script of what, more or less, I am going to say, rather than simply writing an outline and then extemporizing. This deprives us of the greater liveliness of an extemporaneous talk, but it also it prevents me from using unguarded language that could detract from the seriousness of the talk’s content.
And here is another change of direction: Last time, we talked about specific theological mistakes that disable the Church’s mission to prophesy, to correct, and to teach, mistakes that run rampant through the Orthodox milieu today, in both “World” and “True” Orthodox circles. I announced that I would devote the next few classes to correcting these mistakes by means of teaching what the Scriptures and the Fathers really say about them. Well, now, we are going to make a little change: I still intend to deal with these theological subjects, but we are going to alternate theology talks with history talks. One of our listeners wrote awhile ago and said, “Why did you leave off your history course before the Bolshevik revolution? Are you going to get back to it?” And he is right. The purpose of our course, oft-repeated, is to construct an Orthodox lens through which to view history and current events. Today, in the spring of A.D. 2020, we are certainly suffering current events that call for accurate viewing, and therefore now, during the Third Week of Pascha, I recognize an urgency that I did not recognize at the beginning of Great Lent, an urgency to provide an historical understanding, from an old-fashioned, traditional Orthodox mindset, to help you deal with something specific that is going on right now and profoundly affecting everyone. Of course I am am talking about this COVID-19 or Corona virus thing, or whatever you want to call it. Let’s call it the Corona Chaos, or CC for short.
To grab everyone’s attention, I suppose I should have entitled this talk, “Orthodox Survival Course: Our Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” since everyone else, from heads of state to the corner hotdog vendor, has published something like that, exuding grave urgency, the most approved humanitarian sentiments, and altruistic civic piety. I beg pardon for the spirit of lofty unconcern reflected in today’s title. Seriously, though: I know that a lot of you who have listened to our little course have probably been saying to yourselves, “When is Fr. Steven going to talk about this Corona thing? After all, the Orthodox Survival Course is not an academic exercise but a practical project to help us deal with what is going on around us. Well, something big is going on now, so let’s hear it! Come on, Fr. Steven, say something.” And you are right: I have indeed waited for what, in the 21st century, is a coon’s age, as the saying goes, to say anything. But things worth saying take time. My thoughts had to gestate for a bit, and now I shall offer a few thoughts. The few thoughts today will address the CC, but my larger purpose is to link those thoughts to our history course, in order to provide a framework to understand not only the current madness, which is, after all, but one stage in something much bigger that has been going on for awhile now and will continue, a stage that will pass and give place to another, more advanced stage of the same process. The framework – the tools, the lens – you use to understand the Corona Chaos, you can take with you to the next stage to understand that when it happens, and say, “Oh, yes, I was expecting this. I see what is going on.”
Well, let’s get on with it.
I. The Great Imposture: Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Antonio Gramsci
I entitle this new section of our history course, “The Great Imposture.” I could have called it The Great Revolution, but the revolutionary stage of this thing – what, earlier in our course, I called the Age of Revolution – is, for practical purposes, over; it has, for now at least, succeeded, and we, who oppose this Revolution, are now forced to be the revolutionaries, albeit counter-revolutionaries. I could have called it The Great Conspiracy, but “conspiracy” has by now become such a controverted and overused term that it has also become nearly useless, though I plan to discuss this term before I finish today. I settled on the term “imposture,” because that describes well what is going on, which is this: the Revolution (or the Conspiracy if you prefer) has now succeeded, and the former Revolutionaries, who are now the People in Charge, have constructed a vast Imposture, a great fake, a new order that pretends to be legitimate order, and even clothes itself with the legitimacy of the old order, but which in fact is an engine of disorder, a nihilistic mocking substitution for legitimate order, a constantly mutating phony order that is not order, that in fact is a pandemonium of chaos, a lunatic juggernaut, driving itself and us, with satanic energy, into an endless process of centrifugal spiritual fragmentation, a measureless mess whose messiness the People in Charge use to justify their imposing greater and greater outward control; and as they squeeze harder and harder, guess what? The mess gets worse and worse. The only constant is their will to power. Their god is the Devil, and they worship his nothingness, as he worships his own nothingness but can never be happy, because he cannot really destroy anything God has created, including himself. Because God’s creation, God’s order, is so vast – one human heart, after all, is larger than the entire physical universe – these people could go on for a long time trying to destroy it, and they will go on, until God puts an end to it. And He will put an end to it. We have only to be loyal to Him in the time that we have been given.
Here is an image to help us understand what is going on here: In the 1950’s science fiction movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, aliens from outer space try to take over the world by inhabiting the bodies of real human beings. Their great power lies in the affection and reverence that people naturally feel for their friends and relatives. When the person in front of you looks like Uncle Joe, it’s really hard to accept that he’s not Uncle Joe, that Uncle Joe is dead but his body is being animated by an evil thing that wants to destroy you. The power of today’s Imposters lies in the affection, reverence, loyalty, and love people have for their traditional, reliable institutions and the leaders who are the face of those institutions: Church, government, education, medicine, science, and so forth. When the people in front of you bear the revered titles of patriarch or bishop or president or governor or professor or doctor or priest, and so forth, and you naturally want to trust them and follow them, it’s really hard to believe that what you are looking at are merely the old shells of those authorities, now inhabited by some evil thing that wants to destroy you. This is the diabolic genius of what in political theory is called the Gramscian method or the long march through the institutions.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a Marxist theorist who advocated, instead of violent overthrow of the old Christian order, a gradual, quiet takeover, in which, instead of destroying the old institutions, the revolutionaries would gradually, by a long and patient process, place their men in higher and higher, and more and more, positions of authority within the institutions. This kind of revolution, he argued, would be both less visible and therefore less effectively opposed, and its results would be permanent and predictable, unlike violent revolution, which of its nature is unstable and unpredictable, as war by its nature is unpredictable.
As it turns out, we have, in the Age of Revolution which began with the French Revolution, suffered from both methods, the violent and the gradual. Spasmodic bouts of enormous violence and bloodshed – the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, World War I, the Bolshevik and other Communist revolutions, World War II, etc. vast, orchestrated nihilistic orgies of physical destruction – have alternated and have have gone on side by side with the quiet, steady placement of nihilists in all the time-hallowed positions of greatest power. These people are not completely in charge – only God is completely in charge, and even in the visible, human sphere there are still localized centers of legitimate authority trying to carry on and do their best. But at the top levels, the Body Snatchers are firmly in place. If they are the “World-Something,” you can with complete confidence, for all practical purposes, act on the working assumption that they are up to no good, and that it they are guided with diabolic wisdom by diabolic intelligences. You have, say, a 99% assurance that this is the case. If it is the “National-Something,” you have a 75% assurance, and so forth on down. I don’t mean the numbers literally, of course – you get the idea. And I do not mean to say this applies only to the government; it applies to the media, the banks, corporations, universities, and so forth, as well. The bigger and more prestigious it is, the more likely it is that evil people have been put in charge. That is the nature of the Gramscian revolution.
II. The Katehon Has Been Taken Away
Earlier in our course, we have referred more than once to the consensus of the Holy Fathers regarding the words of St. Paul in II Thessalonians, chapter two. Here is the entire chapter, so that you may see the key term in context:
 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
 Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
 And now ye know what restraineth that he might be revealed in his time.
 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now restraineth will restrain, until he be taken out of the way.
 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
 Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
 And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
 That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
 Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
 Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
 Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
The key term here is to be found in verses 6 and 7. In verse 6 it is το κατέχον – “that which restrains – and in verse 7 it is ο κατέχων ῏- “he that restrains.” The consensus of the ancient Fathers is this: “That” which restrains is the lawful Christian government considered as an institution and “he” which restrains is the Christian emperor. Our most recent Holy Fathers, including holy men of the Russian Church Abroad like St. John Maximovich, St. Philaret of New York, Archbishop Averky and Archimandrite Konstantin of Jordanville, et al, all agree that the Russian Empire and the Tsar-Martyr St. Nicholas correspond to these two restraining powers, and that therefore the reign of the demons, preparatory to the period of Antichrist, began with the Bolshevik revolution. All of the circumstantial evidence of historical events since that time, and all of the direct evidence of the often and openly publicized intentions of those who have seized the civil and ecclesiastical power since the matryric death of Tsar Nicholas, corroborates this application of St. Paul’s words by these saints to our time. For an Orthodox teacher today, it is far more speculative and risky- dare one say irresponsible? – to ignore or to downplay this interpretation of the present situation than to teach it and to emphasize it.
This is not to say that we should hope confidently to apply each eschatological prophecy of Holy Scripture – especially in the apocalyptic literature – in a one on one correspondence to particular current events. Many have tried and failed. But to grasp this overall understanding – that the spirit of Antichrist now dominates the public sphere and that actual forerunners of the Antichrist hold the levers of earthly power – is not speculative, risky, or deluded. At this point in our history, to reject this understanding is in fact the far less tenable position, if we are to believe revealed Truth, the guidance of the saints, the historical evidence, and common sense.
III. The Corona Chaos
A few thoughts now, on the CC (the Corona Chaos). We have the “official” or “establishment” position on the topic, and we have various dissenting opinions. The official position – eerily and absurdly uniform throughout the world – is that this is an illness so deadly and so contagious that it requires that unrestricted power be given to those in authority to wreak an unprecedented destruction on the most basic forms of social relationships, human freedom – including religious freedom – and economic activity throughout the inhabited earth. And, ironically, to wreak destruction on the entire medical system and on our very bodies’ own immune systems. That by itself is so drastic and self-contradictory a claim as to be self-evidently absurd: “We are going to save you, ” in other words, “by destroying you.” One immediately calls to mind the Orwellian principle that Big Brother always uses Newspeak, in which the meaning is always the opposite of the words: War is Peace, Evil is Good, and so forth. When people talk like this, we may safely conclude that they are up to no good.
The dissenters from the establishment vary widely, as dissenters always do, because unlike the establishment, which by nature is highly controlled, the rebels are by nature a disorganized lot. But all of the dissenters agree on one thing, which is that, quite apart from the question of the origin of this disease, which we need not determine, regardless of its real potential for spreading and causing people to die, which is highly controverted, the Usual Suspects are using the disease as an excuse to establish, by means of threats and coercion, far-reaching, unprecedented control over the bodies and minds of the entire populations of the nations of the world. Viewed through an Orthodox lens, this project obviously reeks of the spirit of Antichrist, the mind of Antichrist. It is obviously the Babel Tower project all over again. We don’t need to know when the person of The Antichrist will show up in order to know when the mind of Antichrist, which expresses perfectly the mind of Satan, is at work. There have been many antichrists since the beginning of the Church, as testified by St. John the Theologian (I John 2:18). Our duty is to resist them in every generation, not to beg be excused from the struggle because we cannot obtain scientific knowledge of the precise date of the Second Coming of Christ and thereby work backwards to calculate the time of the coming of the personal Antichrist in order to mark it on our social calendar.
IV. Conspiracy Theorists and Paranoiacs
Therefore, as an Orthodox pastor – God knoweth how – and, also – God knoweth how – willy-nilly, a bumbling but well-meaning minor league Internet voice, I have the responsibility to encourage all of you not to be silent when you see that there is devil’s work in all this COVID-19 business. After prayer, counsel, and careful consideration, speak the truth as you see it. Do not let anyone discourage you by saying that you are a “conspiracy theorist” or that you are “paranoid.” These words are not arguments; they are just insults, and they don’t prove anything. Let’s examine these two terms:
“Conspiracy” – A conspiracy has two elements: concerted action by a group of people acting towards a common end, and secrecy. Unless you believe that history is an utterly random series of unconnected events, and that the great events of history were the result of atomistic individuals bumping into each other – an idea utterly at variance with sanity, with all human experience and common sense, much less with a Christian philosophy of history – you must accept that groups of people do get together to make things happen. As for secrecy: The plans of today’s global elite have been laid out clearly and publicly in their own published books, articles, interviews, movies, broadcasts, and so forth – the entire array of communications media we have called the Great Stereopticon – at least for one hundred years, if not more. At this point, I fail to grasp how anyone need speak of a secret plan. It is an open plan, and a great deal of it is already openly accomplished. Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot: it is those who oppose the theomachist authorities who are forced often to conspire, to act in secret. The theomachists may parade their intentions in broad daylight. So much for “conspiracy.”
“Paranoid” – I get nervous when I hear anyone accusing anyone else of being “paranoid.” Paranoia, strictly speaking, is a diagnosable clinical condition, an actual psychosis. I realize that most people mean it in a careless fashion, meaning only to say that the person so categorized is simply overly fearful or suspicious. The problem, however, with the widespread, careless habit of using such a powerful term to stigmatize another person’s mental state is that it creates the social conditions in which a critical mass of people will go along with the authorities in identifying their opponents as being mentally ill and locking them up. The Soviets did this all the time. I am extremely grieved when I hear Orthodox Christians, and especially those in authority, stigmatize pious and intelligent Christians as “paranoid” simply for expressing a healthy skepticism of the intentions of civil authorities who have a long track record of opposing the most fundamental goods of Church, society, and family.
V. Where to Next
In our next class, we will return to the great holocaust of the Orthodox Christians and the suicide of Christian Europe, which began with World War I and the Bolshevik coup against the Imperial Russian government. Meanwhile, let us redouble our prayer and struggle for attentiveness! “Be of good cheer” saith the Lord. “I have overcome the world.”