I am a veteran of Antichrist whodunit.
In my short life, I was taught that any one of a number of Popes could be the AC. Or Khrushchev. Or Brezhnev. Or (and especially) Kissinger. Someone suggested Ronald Reagan once since the numerology was spookily simple, but I suspect that was in jest.
Now, as one might expect, there is the snake-handling theory that nominates our sitting president for the post. The theory even has Biblical exegesis (and an enlightening word study) to buttress its argument. Here it is. Try to be respectful and not engage in Gargantua's favorite pastime.
Of course, everyone remembers Tim LaHaye's excursion into the novel world. Singlehandedly, he turned eschatology into melodrama, and made the Rapture and Tribulation and the 144,000 virgins and the Seals and the Lake of Fire into bestselling entertainment (wait a sec … maybe not so singledhanded). I have a personal beef against LaHaye's crossbreeding of Star Wars and Billy Graham. The name of the Antichrist in the LaHayean alternate universe (if you reverse the polarity of the transporter dampers you could get there, sans your brain of course) is Nicolae Carpathia, and the name of the religion of the Antichrist in the second half of the Tribulation is Carpathianism.
I happen to be a priest in the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church, whose people came from the very mountain chain that LaHaye slanders. And I serve under the omophorion of Metropolitan Nicholas.
Yes, I know: LaHaye aimed this crap at Nicolae Ceausescu, so I should get over it.
So I will, sometime.
But I cannot get over the foolishness of popular (and idiotic) misconceptions like LaHaye's, or of the squamous lunacy of the YouTube "Fun with Word Numbers in Strong's Concordance" as seen above. Or of all the failed nominations to Antichrist-hood during my stint with the "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" crowd in the 70's and 80's.
Just to be clear, I will say outright that there is no such thing as the Rapture. The sudden disappearance of Christians from the world is an escapist fantasy that itself is a product of pride, fear, and a loutish rejection of Tradition. The Rapture mare's nest has more to do with the gnostic romanticism of the mid-1800's than with Scriptural exegesis: a 14-year-old pubescent female invented the "doctrine of the secret rapture" in an 1830 enthusiasm-spectacle in England presided over by Rev. Edward Irving (read about it here if you want).
Orthodox Christianity never shies away from entering into Tribulation – and there have been many of those throughout time. At the beginning of today's Gospel (Matthew 24.13-28), our Lord says "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." No one who puts his faith in escape-hatch Rapture theory has a faith that will enable him to endure to the end. A Christianity that does not produce Saints and Saints who can become Martyrs at any moment in history is not Christianity.
Ergo. Rapture Christianity is not durable Christianity. QED.
You would expect me to say something insensitive like that, since I'm an adherent of a religion that is buoyed up by the incessant prayers of over 100 million martyrs (and not a single one of them blew himself up).
But what of the Antichrist?
No, he/it is neither Reagan or Obama, Kissinger or a Pope. No, the Antichrist is not from an ethnicity or race that just happens to not be your own. Therefore, he is not black if you're not black. He is not Russian or Slav if you're not one of these (numerous lower lips are bitten here). He is neither a communist/socialist, nor is he a democrat/republican. There is a lot of sheer racism and bigotry in pop-eschatology. I would like to think he's a skinhead Aryan, or the head of an off-planet multi-national biotech hybridization of WalMart and Exxon, but he's surely not, and that is my own prejudice that needs battening down here.
Who is he?
Out of the long and detailed study of Scripture in the Orthodox Church, several prophecies have emerged. A pedigree from the lost tribe of Dan is often mentioned. A life of complete depravity and cooperation with Satan is also emphasized. Moreover, there is a warning about a concerted attempt by the Antichrist to duplicate some of the public characteristics of the actual Christ. In less Patristic and less reliable sources, I have seen attempts to relate various historic events and even personages to specific moments in St. John's Apocalypse. These attempts are unfortunate, and most of them are distempered.
I still wonder whether the Antichrist is human at all. I have long wondered, in my luddite melancholia, whether the AC will be particularized into an AI (i.e., "artificial intelligence") nexus: with a world already communing regularly in virtual reality, who will ever know the difference whether he is real or not? Will it even matter?
(Do you really know for sure whether your favorite celebrities are real? Does it matter?)
That is all I will say of projections into the future, of the identity of the Antichrist. With the exception of the Fathers, these projections are all fraught with a decline of wisdom and charity.
So if not who, then what is he?
That is a question with an answer. Our Lord calls him the "abomination of desolation … standing in the holy place." This term is particularly horrible: "bdelygma eremoseos" is something that elicits abhorrence and disgust. "Abomination" means "foul desecration," the worst uncleanness and pollution. Moreover, it is an abomination that actively desolates everything around it.
Certainly, this took place a number of times in the history of God's people. It happened, in the first fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy (in 12.13) and the first anticipation of our Lord's statement (Matthew 24.15), in 167 BC, when Antiochus IV Ephiphanes set up an image of Zeus in the Temple. It happened again in AD 70 when the Roman Titus set up a statue of himself in the Holy of Holies before the Temple's final destruction. And, likely, it will once again occur in the Final Tribulation – that endtime of sorrows that our Lord describes like this: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24.21).
In each of these historical moments, the faithful people of God recognize, with horror, the overturning of order and the perversion of the Sign of God. That is why the instructions are given to flee from Judea to the mountains, and to get there in a hurry. Civilization is no longer a comfort, but it has turned into a place of disorder, despair and peril. The city, which is ideally the perfection of community, has become desolate hell, and virtue must take root now in solitude.
It is foolish to look for the Antichrist and his identity, when his (or its) hegemony is all around us. The "god of this age" has slipped blinders over the eyes of the cognoscenti and most everyone else, and they cannot recognize this "abomination" and "man of lawlessness" for the totalitarian humanivore that he/it is already.
It is better for us to leave off, for now, searching for his name. He does not have one, for one thing. And for another -- the search for his name is simply a false road, a dead end wrong turn in the labyrinth of modern opinion and virtuality and the TV Land whose signal never goes out. There are too many Orthodox Christians who have been led astray down this distracting path, cajoled by their fundamentalist friends, and there are even monks among them.
Let us stop this Jack Chick voodoo science fiction, and stop looking for secret societies and emblems and cabals. It is nonsense like this that flatulated the Protocols of Zion on one hand, and freemasonic tweets on the other. Let us be Scriptural, Patristic, take communion, pray and fast and think like an Orthodox Christian about what time it is.
It is better, far better, to discern the conditions of the Antichrist. It is for good reason that Scripture and Tradition call these conditions "desolation." The providence of God in Creation and in the wisdom that apprehends His Order is distorted and overturned. Passions are thus allowed to run amok. Passions are given new names to make them more palatable in parlance: e.g., "lust" is now called "orientation"; "avarice" is now "laissez faire"; "pride" is now "self-acceptance."
In his creepy (but very good) article in the 8/09 First Things, Rene Girard ends up discussing the development and final appearance of Antichrist as the culmination of violence. He observes, rightly, that the unprecedented twentieth century bloodbath is not only a failure of Hegel's rationalistic myth (shared by and communed in all the modern "wise and discerning"), but it is patently religious in a patently Satanic manner. Setting aside the fact that I simply cannot believe that a neocon journal is publishing this, this article points to the unsettling fact that Clausewitz' dark prophecy of "war without restraint" is finding amassed fulfillment in the cult of terror, and that our modern, antichristian mindset is hurtling us, swathed in comfort and blinders, toward apocalypse.
Moreover, there is a program -- even pogrom -- against any image of God that remains, even -- and especially -- against humanity. That is why abortion and human vivisection has a mystical, chthonic element to it that evades economic and political analysis. That is why abortion has been paired illogically with "feminism" and "reproductive rights." Abortion may turn out to be an essentially religious act -- especially in Girard's terminology: a sacrifice of the innocents for the "good" of society (haven't you heard the argument that it is cheaper -- i.e., expedient -- to abort an unwanted child than to raise him?). I suggest that if something makes no sense like this, then mystification is going on, and there is something in the works much more profound and disturbing than we'd care to admit.
And finally, the mere mention of the Trinity and the Incarnation, especially the word Jesus Christ, is made war upon. These exclusivistic terms are now held to be insensitive, patriarchal and even dangerous in a terror-prone age. And thus, the Antichrist has already, in its viral despite against the Incarnation, used the Taliban to rid the agora of the Name Jesus.
For the meantime, until the historical moment of a true Tribulation -- which this moment is definitely not, and if you think so, then you do not know the conditions of true persecution -- it is wiser, and quieter, and humbler, to think of the "desolation" we encounter most of all, and much closer to home.
That is why we must take the phrase "abomination of desolation," along with its cognate "man of lawlessness" beyond its particular historic meaning. I offer this passage from Metropolitan Hierotheos' great work, Orthodox Psychotherapy:
The nous was blackened, darkened, sickened by the fall. It ceased to be perfect. The same thing happens every time man commits sin.
The devil's first battle is with the nous. The demons try to enslave it when a man subsequently gives his consent and commits sin. St. Maximus teaches that the demons, taking advantage of the passions which exist in the soul, arouse impassioned thoughts [i.e., logismoi], through which they fight the nous and force it to give its assent to sin. A great battle is waged by the demons to capture the nous and attract it to the impassioned thought. When the nous has been defeated, "they lead it to sin in the mind and, when this has been done, they induce it, captive as it is, to commit the sin in action." But the evil does not stop there. After having desolated the heart by means of passionate thoughts, the demons retreat. Yet in spite of that, the idol of sin remains in the nous. St. Maximus, referring to the Lord's words: "when you see the 'abomination of desolation' … standing in the holy place …" (Matthew 24.15), says that the man's nous is a temple of God in which the demons, having desolated the soul by means of impassioned thoughts, "set up the idol of sin" (St. Maximus).
This is the sickness of the nous. Not only is it captured but it also falls ill, since the idol of sin remains as a continuing wound and a cause of new sin. We say that in this situation the nous has been captured by the devil and the passions, and "a nous dominated by the passions thinks base thoughts." This is manifested by words and deeds (St. Thalassios). All that a man says and does manifests the sickness or health of his nous. Therefore those who have the gift of discrimination discern the condition of every man's nous by his outward movements and his words. Attachment of the nous to the senses "enslaves it to bodily pleasure" (St. Thalassios). The nous, instead of turning towards God and uniting with Him turns to unite with the senses and so becomes a slave. This slavery, this captivity, is sickness of the nous. And naturally this sickness causes the death of the nous. (Vlachos, pp. 133-134).