Sermon for the Sunday of the Dread Judgment 2017

March 07, 2017

Sermon for the Sunday of the Dread Judgment 2017

Over the previous two Sundays, we have seen how God reveals His compassion to those with a humble heart. On the first Sunday, His compassion was shown to the Publican who would not even lift his eyes up to God but instead cried out, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” On the second Sunday, it was shown when the prodigal son “comes to himself,” presents himself to his father and admits, “I am not even worthy to be called your son.”

Today, for those of us who are hard of heart, the compassion of God gives way to his severity, and we are instructed instead by the Last Judgment. Behold the goodness of God but also behold the severity of God (cf. Romans 11:22)

In the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, we will soon chant: The end is drawing near, my soul, is drawing near! But you neither care nor prepare. The time is growing short. Rise! The judge is at the very doors. Like a dream, like a flower, the time of this life passes. Why do we bustle about in vain? [1]

Why indeed when the Lord will come as a thief in the night (1 Peter 3:10), in the glory of His Father with His angels (Matt. 16:27), on that day when the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll (Isa. 34:4), the elements will melt and the earth will burn up (1 Peter 3:10), and the Lord will come with the winnowing fan in His hand to purge the threshing floor (Matt. 3:12), to separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff (Matt. 13:24-30); those not wearing the wedding garment will be bound hand and foot and cast into the outer darkness (Matt. 22:1-14). On that day, all nations will be gathered before him (Matt. 25:32) and on that dreadful day all the works of men done secretly or in the light of day, from their birth until death will be revealed as “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13). As the Apostle Paul says, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Those who have done good, to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29).

Jean-Claude Larchet, summarizing the teaching of the Fathers on this subject, describes three characteristics that reveal this judgment to be dreadful. It is dreadful in that,

  1. Man’s entire life will be laid bare, and nothing will be hidden from before Christ, the angels, the saints and all men;
  2. On that day there will be no one to help, and only our deeds will be before us. There will be no neighbor, no counsel, no relative, no brother, no father, no sister, no mother, no friend; and
  3. The statement decreed from the Lord will be eternal and irrevocable. It is, truly, the “last” judgment.[2]

On what criteria will we be judged? Based on our love towards our neighbor. As our Lord says, when your neighbor, that is when Christ, was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned, did you care for him?

St. John Chrysostom observes that the burden of our requirements is very light, saying:

And in return for what do they receive such [rewards]? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely, as I have said, the sick and he that is in bonds seeks not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But [God], being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more.[3]

Is it simply by a few deeds of charity that the Kingdom is bestowed? No. St. Gregory Palamas says that these deeds of charity are the fruit of one’s acquisition of love and the crown of all the other virtues which is only attained through much patience, ascetic effort, and humility.[4]

This is how we also understand St. Symeon the New Theologian’s interpretation of today’s Gospel reading. He notes that the manifestation of our love through work is not only through seeing our neighbor as Christ but also seeing Christ within ourselves. This is where our work begins and from which love flows to our neighbor. When we love Christ we conduct our own lives in a manner which reveals our love towards Him. For those who are negligent of this, St. Symeon asks: How is it then that we miss seeing Christ within us? He answers by revealing how it is that Christ is in us, saying,

… because I hungered for your repentance and conversion, and you gave Me no food; I thirsted for your salvation, and you gave me no drink; I was naked of your deeds of virtue, and you did not clothe me with them; I existed in the narrow and filthy and dark prison of your heart, and you did not wish to come visit Me and lead Me out to the light; you knew Me to be lying in the infirmity of your laziness and inactivity, yet you did not minister to Me by your good works and deeds. So, go away from Me![5]

If we cannot find Christ within us and love Him, how then can we love Christ through our neighbor?

How is one to conclude such matters? With what attention and awareness to death and the Last Judgment which follows it, are we to proceed from this moment in order to live fully in the light of Christ and the expectation of the future judgment? It may best be stated by St. Isaac in a rather lengthy passage. Beginning with sleep as the image of death, wherein we look at our bed each night as this image, he says:

When you approach your bed, say to it, “This very night, perchance, you will be my tomb, O bed; for I know not whether tonight instead of a transient sleep, the eternal sleep of death will be mine.” And so, as long as you have feet, run after work, before you are bound with that bond which cannot be loosed again once it is put on. As long as you have hands, stretch them out to Heaven in prayer, before your arms fall from their joints, and though you desire to draw them up, you will not be able. As long as you have fingers, cross yourself in prayer, before death comes, loosing the comely strength of their sinews. As long as you have eyes, fill them with tears before that hour when dust will cover your black clothes and your eyes will be fixed in one direction in an unseeing gaze and you will not know it. Nay, fill your eyes with tears as long as your heart is controlled by the power of discernment and before your soul is shaken by her departure from it and the heart is left like a house deserted by its owner. O wise man, do not be enticed by expectancy of long life! For just as the rose wilts at a breath of the wind, so at a little puff on even one element of which you are composed your knees will suddenly grow feeble without your expecting it. And while you are thinking it is nothing and you are caring for the ailment, suddenly the stern one will draw nigh, he who ridicules the wise. O the wretchedness of our nature! How are we held fast by the love of this substance wherein God does not wish to leave us!

Fix your departure in your heart, O man, by always saying to yourself: “Behold, the messenger is at the door, he who comes for me. Why am I idle? My going forth is forever; there will be no return.” Pass the night in this reflection; muse upon this thought throughout the day. And when the time of departure comes, greet it with gladness, saying: “Come in peace! I knew that you were coming and I have not neglected anything that could prove useful to me on the way.”

 

THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF OUR HOLY FATHERS, LORD JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD, HAVE MERCY ON US. AMEN.

 

[1] The Great Canon: The Work of Saint Andrew of Crete (Jordanville: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev,), 8 (Monday, Song 4, Trop. 2); cf. The Lenten Triodion, trans. Mother Mary and Archim. Kallistos Ware. (South Canaan: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2002), 45.

[2] Life After Death According to the Orthodox Tradition. (Rollingsford: The Orthodox Research Institute, 2012), 263.

[3] Ibid., 476.

[4] Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies. Christopher Veniamin (trans. And Ed.). (Dalton: Mount Thabor Publishing, 2014), 29-30.

[5] On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, trans. Alexander Golitzin. (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 162-163.




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